As with every previous re-occurrence of awful violence between Israelis and Palestinians, the unprecedented brutal aerial assault on Gaza following the murderous Hamas incursion in to Israel has prompted debate among educators as to whether this conflict should be a topic for discussion in our schools.
The arguments against doing so are not insignificant or easily dismissed- inaccurate histories, bias and misrepresentation of this complex 75-year-old conflict would certainly be detrimental to effective and impactful learning. Fear of stoking tensions among students, staff and the wider community in general is another serious consideration for educators.
Indeed, every cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians has always directly corresponded with increases in violent Islamophobia and anti-semitism in societies all around the world. Underpinning both of these important considerations, however, is a lack of teacher confidence when it comes to addressing the origins, evolution and contemporary trajectories of this conflict.
Why do teachers feel under equipped to effectively address this conflict and navigate its associated complexities? Quite simply, because our teacher’s teachers couldn’t do it either. The vast majority of students in the UK still leave school today with little to no understanding of the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
That is not an accident, for the origins of this conflict are tethered to the UK’s colonial history. The Balfour Declaration issued by the British Mandate in Palestine in 1917 promised a ‘national home for the Jewish people’ who were, then, a minority in a territory mostly lived on by Palestinians.
This was the moment that the territorial dispute was born – everything that has happened since then is a consequence and repercussion of Balfour’s promise.
Our failure to reckon with our colonial past is contributing to the status quo – a global collective failure to resolve what is in fact a very basic territorial dispute about sovereignty and the right to national self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians.
However, educators in Scotland are uniquely placed to start challenging this status quo. Social justice, global citizenship education and decolonising the curriculum are core pillars of the revised teacher’s professional standards. All teachers in Scotland are committed to developing their practice in line with these principles.
Addressing the Israel-Palestine conflict couldn’t be a more appropriate context for decolonising our curriculum; it envelopes multiple disciplines – history, geography, modern studies, RMPS and PSE, to name a few. Student and wider learning community wellbeing is another important reason why it is incumbent upon schools to address this conflict.
Pupils, families and staff in our school communities with family or religious connections to Israel or Palestine are deeply affected and traumatised by the ongoing conflict. Friction between students with opposing views is a common occurrence in our schools, which itself can manifest violently.
For pupils affected it can be extremely alienating to be completely immersed in the conflict at home and then come in to school to find that precisely no one appears to be even remotely engaged in what feels like a monumental man-made crisis and humanitarian catastrophe.
For these pupils it is as though their home and school identities have become completely separated and disconnected. The result is an acute feeling of alienation and isolation. This can manifest as withdrawal, distraction and ultimately, depression. This is detrimental both to student’s wellbeing and learning.
Teachers must take advantage of the unique educational landscape available to them in Scotland to tackle controversial issues that are of real-world relevance to our children and young people. That landscape, coupled with the growing availability of high quality teaching resources for addressing all aspects of the Israel-Palestine conflict, should enable teachers to have the courage to challenge the status quo and guide our young people to develop the knowledge, empathy and compassion that our world so desperately needs in order to finally resolve this bloody conflict.
Dr Jehan Al-Azzawi is a Transition Teacher in Edinburgh. Her PhD is in Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies.
Highland OneWorld have collated and curated a range of excellent resources on this Padlet: Approaching the Israel – Palestine Conflict With Learners (padlet.com)
Further HWB Resource: Processing the Violence in Israel and Gaza | Facing History & Ourselves