Dual Construction of History Textbooks

During the work on the German-Polish recommendations, the idea emerged to prepare them, if the necessity arose, partially in the form of a juxtaposition of Polish and German positions on specific historical events and processes on which consensus seemed impossible. Had such action been necessary then the emerging recommendations would have been, though less valuable than those eventually published, certainly better than a complete failure of the process. Indeed, any attempt to communicate one’s view of a shared and difficult history to the other ‘side’ of a conflictive relationship, using factual and noninjurious language, represents an initial step toward mutual understanding. This is particularly the case where conflict is ongoing; a situation that tends to put bridging narratives beyond the reach of the imaginations of those involved. One example of such a situation today is the animosity between Israelis and Palestinians.

A team composed of members of each ‘side’ of the conflict convened in 2002 around Israeli Dan Bar-On and Palestinian Sami Adwan, under the aus?pices of the binational NGO PRIME (Peace Research Institute in the Middle East) and subsequently sought to undertake just such an attempt. Their intent was not to produce recommendations which would entail a structured juxtaposition of Israeli and Palestinian historical narratives, but rather to create an actual textbook in accordance with this principle.2 The book’s principal educational innovation was to be its layout; the two parallel narratives were to be placed to the left and the right respectively of a central, empty column. In this column the student was to be invited to formulate his or her own version of events, to be arrived at in class over the course of a number of lessons. The PRIME team drew their inspiration from the dual narrative approach used in the field of therapeutic practices in relation to Holocaust research. In this context, seminars using dialogical story-telling had proved to be helpful for the development of mutual recognition and acceptance of opposing narratives, which appears to be a primary intractable issue in the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis.

The textbook was composed between 2002 and 2006 by two subgroups, working on a relatively autonomous basis, each of which formulated one of the two narratives (PRIME, 2006). In the years that followed, numerous meetings and discussions led to modifications, more nuanced and less controversial portrayals, and amendments to the language to make it less inflammatory. Fundamentalist positions had been excluded from the outset. The book’s authors constructed a narrative which was purposefully susceptible to inconsistencies and ruptures, in order to reflect in essence the majority view of the event on their ‘side’. The narratives are not in complete parallel, as the timeline running through the book features different events on each side at a number of points. The book reflects the conflict between the two sides and the intertwinement of their narratives in the context of the history of their relationship. It is the first set of teaching materials available to teachers to apply the principle of multiperspectivity to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Academic workshops and seminars took place during the process of its creation, and parts of the material were tested in schools. A teachers’ guide to accompany the book, available online, both made the project public and increased its transparency, as well as inviting interested parties to become involved (vispo. com/PRIME).

The project, funded by the USA and the EU as well as individual European countries, drew a great deal of attention worldwide. In the region around which it revolved, however, the textbook was less enthusiastically received. Official authorities in Israel and Palestine alike have rejected its use in history teaching on political grounds. Criticism of the book has also come from academic circles; there have been claims that the two narratives it presents are too normative and authoritative in character and that they fail to include minority positions such as that of Israeli Palestinians. A further criticism has been that it would be precisely the overstepping or transcendence of the two narratives with their monolithic structure that would provide a real opportunity to make the ideological boundaries between them more fluid.

In spite of these concerns, Achim Rohde, who acted as an independent observer to the project, considers PRIME’s approach to constitute a meaningful innovation; emphasizing this significant character, he regards the project as ‘a civil society initiative that creates bottom-up pressure on politicians by juxtaposing conflicting historical narratives in a collectively authored textbook designed for use on both sides of the barricades’ and sees in it ‘the potential to become a point of reference in the field of peace education’ (Rohde, 2013: 189).

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