Israeli - Palestinian Youth Encounter Workshops
In the framework of the IPCRI Educational Peace Project:


Basic Summary of Research Findings

January 1999


By Dr. Yifat Maoz, Social Psychologist
Communications Department, The Hebrew University in Jerusalem.



Background

The following is the research analysis of the Israeli B Palestinian Youth Encounter Workshops, that were held in the framework of the IPCRI Educational Peace Project. These workshops paired participating Israeli and Palestinian schools, in most cases bringing together 20-30 10th grade pupils from each school. Participation was voluntary, based on the choice of the youth themselves.

Each workshop lasted two days, including activities in small, mixed sub-groups. Each subgroup consisted of 6-8 Israeli and 6-8 Palestinian youth, and two discussion leaders, one Israeli and one Palestinian. In addition to these bi-national activities, there were other activities for which subgroups were divided differently, with all the participants and the discussion leader of the same nationality.

The study is based on meticulous follow-up after encounter workshops with three pairs of Israeli and Palestinian schools, including observation, recording the minutes, interviews and discussions with participants, leaders and organizers, as well as questionnaires at the opening and conclusion of the project. The questionnaires explored cognitive positions, experiences, impressions and sensitivities, in the context of the Israeli BPalestinian conflict and particularly in the context of these workshops. Additionally, the study included the collection and analysis of documents relevant to the project.

The following are important findings of the study, based on the statistical computation of data from the opening and conclusion questionnaires, analysis of interviews and observations, and key characteristics that were consistently prevalent beyond the particular individual, group or workshop.

Characteristics of Questionnaire Respondents

Sixty-seven Palestinians responded to the questionnaires including 29 boys and 35 girls, pupils from the three participating schools, all in the vicinity of Bethlehem. Twenty-four from the St. Joseph School for Boys, 26 from the Tara Santa School for Girls, and 17 from the co-ed Talita Komi school. Among the Palestinian participants, 19% indicated dovish positions on the Israeli B Palestinian conflict, 58% indicated that their views are centered between dovish and hawkish, and 23% indicated hawkish positions.

Sixty-four Israelis responded including 28 boys, 33 girls, and 3 who did not indicate their gender on the questionnaire. These pupils came from the three state schools, and were paired with the aforementioned Palestinians. Twenty from the Shelon School in Kiryat Gat, 21 from the Ziv School in Jerusalem, and 23 from Public School 4 in Tel-Aviv. Among the Israeli participants, 47% indicated dovish positions on the Israeli B Palestinian conflict, 32% centrist, and 22% indicated hawkish positions.

Findings of the Opening Questionnaire

The vast majority of participants (80% of respondents of each nationality) had either never, or hardly ever, interacted socially with youth of the other nationality prior to the project. Likewise, the vast majority (85% of the Israelis, 67% of the Palestinians) indicated that they do not have friends of the other nationality. Some 80% of each nationality indicated either unconditional or conditional support of the Oslo Accords.

Approximately 2/3 of the Israelis and 1/2 of the Palestinians ** indicated that they are either very or extremely eager to participate in the project. Roughly 2/3 of the Palestinians and 1/2 of the Israelis * indicated that they are either very sure or extremely sure of this eagerness. (The last two items found an obvious difference between positions held by Israeli and Palestinian participants.)

The most important goals of the vast majority of participants were to learn more about the other nationality, and to get to know the youth of the other nationality better. The Israeli participants saw as particularly important the goal Athat the other nationality will learn more about my nationality", whereas that goal was seen as significantly less important ** by Palestinian participants.

The following goals were either very or extremely important to the vast majority of Palestinian participants, but were significantly less important ** to the Israeli participants:

"to talk with youth of the other nationality about relations between the two peoples"

"to work in cooperation with youth of the other nationality"

"to develop lasting ties with youth of the other nationality"

"to become refreshed and to get away from the routine"

"to enjoy social activities"

"to spend time with people of my age"

These differences indicate that the Palestinians were more highly motivated than the Israelis to form a connection with the other nationality, and correspond with the aforementioned finding that the Palestinians were more eager to participate than were the Israelis. Likewise, the findings indicate that the Palestinians give much greater value to the social aspect of the workshops than the Israelis do.

The Israeli participants agreed with the following statements to a greater degree ** than did the Palestinians:

"The Israeli - Palestinian conflict is intricate and complex."

"It is important that Jews know the Arabic language."

"Friendly relations will develop between Jews and Palestinians"

The Palestinian participants agreed with the following statements to a greater degree ** than did the Israelis:

"A large portion of the claims of the other side of the conflict are unjustified."

"I would like to be able to speak the other language better."

Among the Israelis and Palestinians alike, there are negative stereotypes about the other. The findings show that negative perceptions held by Palestinian participants of Israelis were worse than the Israeli participants= perceptions of Palestinians were. This corresponds with earlier research, which showed that Israeli stereotypes of Palestinians focus on cognitive dimensions and ambition, while the harsher Palestinian stereotypes of Israelis focus on effective dimensions and interpersonal relations.

The Palestinian participants had a significantly greater tendency to characterize their Israeli counterparts as educated, clean, orderly, intelligent, self-confident, ambitious, and well rounded. The Israeli participants had a significantly greater tendency to characterize their Palestinian counterparts as hospitable, straightforward, modest, helpful to the other, family-oriented, friendly, keeping their promises, warm-hearted, polite, considerate of the other, devoted to work, giving, brave, and willing to make sacrifices for peace. These differences appeared at a level of 0.001 or more.

The Process of the Workshops

The workshop programs and the reactions of participants and organizers featured two essential qualities and goals. The interpersonal component and the political aspect of the Israeli B Palestinian conflict. The workshops began with activities that touched on the interpersonal component. Activities focused on personal acquaintanceship, and mutual familiarity of the two societies and cultures. Throughout the first day of the workshop, or towards the end of the first day, a transition was underway towards activities that focused on the political component, discussion of the Israeli - Palestinian conflict.

Initial analyses of the activities and the participants= impressions reveal that each of these components manifests itself in a meaningful way, within the workshop experience. Similarly, the gradual transition of workshop activities from interpersonal to political had a positive affect on the experience and impressions of the participants. Beginning activities with an interpersonal emphasis helped establish a common ground of mutual familiarity, friendly relations, and a shared feeling between the two sides as youth. This helped the participants with the difficult task of dealing with political positions and feelings.

Again the harsh background of the Israeli - Palestinian conflict, and the uncompromising sensibilities and pain wrapped up in this conflict that expressed themselves on both sides throughout the workshop, the structure of the workshop can be seen as extremely important, allowing a transition from "light to heavy". The structure facilitated the formation of a relaxed atmosphere, bringing the two sides closer together, before the transition to dealing with the conflict.

Another extremely important component of the workshops was the single-nationality forum. Here too, against the harsh background of youth dealing with the Israeli B Palestinian conflict, the single-nationality activity groups were important, creating a supportive sub-environment in which participants could express themselves and further clarify their feelings, throughout the workshop.

In activities relating to the conflict, meaningful content arose from the shared feelings of Palestinian participants, regarding their lives in the current political situation. They spoke of difficulties with limitations to their movement, problems with the supply of water, and negative treatment by the Israeli authorities and army. Many of the Israeli participants revealed that the workshop was their first exposure to personal descriptions of the conflict from the Palestinian perspective, of which they were previously unaware. Both the Israeli and Palestinian participants valued the opportunity afforded by the workshops, to learn from the life experience of the other side in relation to the conflict.

This learning aspect of the workshops was more obvious among the Israeli participants, who came to the meetings with relatively little knowledge of the other side. In contrast, the Palestinian participants came with more knowledge of the Israeli perspective, which reflects characteristics documented by academic literature on the asymmetrical conflict. In addition to the valuable exchange of knowledge that occurs in the workshops, the relative lack of prior knowledge of the Israeli participants suggests the usefulness of additional preparation work prior to the workshops, especially for the Israelis, regarding the conflict and the Palestinian perspective.

In bringing Palestinian and Israeli youth participants together, it was necessary to use various techniques to bridge the language gap, since most Israeli youth do not speak Arabic, and most Palestinian youth either do not speak fluent Hebrew, or do not speak Hebrew at all. Analysis of observation records reveals that the most effective tactic was the use of English as the language of the meeting. Activities that were conducted in English show the greatest symmetry in terms of participants= ability to express themselves and be understood.

In sharp contrast, the discomfort of Palestinian participants was perceptible during a number of activities that allowed limited use of Hebrew with translation to Arabic, creating asymmetrical communications patterns. These patterns featured dominance and advantage of the Israeli youth, in terms of their ability to express themselves, to transmit messages, to be understood, and to be related to by the other side.

In each of the workshops, the comparison was consistently drawn between the experience of the encounter, allowing Israeli B Palestinian contact without intermediaries, and the prior knowledge and experience of the participants. The Palestinian participants report negative prior experience and knowledge, especially with the Israeli army and border patrol. The Israeli participants report that their prior knowledge of Palestinians was based almost exclusively on images from television, featuring violence and giving expression to aggressive and extremist elements of Palestinian society.

In contrast to such negative prior knowledge, participants emphasize the positive experience of their encounter with the other side. The Palestinians repeatedly comment on the Israeli participants= moderation and openness to dialog. The Israelis repeatedly emphasize the dissimilarity between the Palestinian on television, and that across from him in the room. The powerful influence of negative prior experiences on the images of each side toward the other, further accentuates the importance of the potential contribution of direct encounters between Israeli and Palestinian youth.

As often mentioned by Israeli youth during the encounter, personal acquaintanceship with Palestinians enables them to moderate negative and one-dimensional stereotypes of Palestinians, such as "all Palestinians are rock throwers or terrorists", which result from television being the almost exclusive source of information about Palestinians to which Israelis are exposed.

Findings of the Concluding Questionnaire

The data gathered from concluding questionnaires indicate that most participants, both Israelis and Palestinians, perceive the project as having made strong contributions in most of the categories mentioned by the questionnaire. The project made especially impressive contributions in the following:

"A better understanding of the positions and opinions of members of the other people"

"Discussions with the members of the other people about the relations between the two sides"

" I learned more about the other nation."

(*Between 70-90% of participants of each side indicated that the project made great contributions in these categories. The Palestinians indicated significantly greater contributions in the last two categories.)

In the following categories, the project made huge contributions to the Palestinian participants, and meaningful contributions to the Israelis:

"Familiarity with the culture of the other nation"

"Increasing the openness of the members of the other nation towards my people"**

"Clarification and formation of my own positions regarding the Israeli - Palestinian conflict"**

"Forming ties with the members of the other nation"**

"Intensifying the common feeling between me and the members of the other nation"

"Helping me personally, to deal with the Israeli B Palestinian conflict"

"Departure from the school environment"*

"Enjoyment of the social activities"**

(80-90% of the Palestinian participants and 50-70% of the Israeli participants indicated meaningful to very meaningful contributions felt in these areas.)

In the category "Increasing my openness toward the members of the other nation," participants on both sides indicated that a meaningful contribution was made (64% of the Palestinians and 59% of the Israelis indicated contributions from meaningful to very meaningful, in this category).

In the category "Increasing my ability to work in cooperation with members of the other nation," mainly the Israeli participants indicated a meaningful contribution** (52% of the Israelis and 42% of the Palestinians indicated contributions from meaningful to very meaningful, in this category).

In the category "Increasing my knowledge of the political subjects," the Palestinian participants indicated an especially meaningful contribution** (84% of the Palestinians, and only 36% of the Israelis indicated contributions from meaningful to very meaningful, in this category).

Only a mediocre contribution was indicated by both sides in the category "Increasing my trust in the members of the other nation" (45% of the Palestinians and 37% of the Israelis indicated contributions from meaningful to very meaningful, in this category).

Statistical analysis reveals that most of the participants, both Jews and Arabs, viewed the activities of the project in an extremely positive light. Most of the participants indicated that they viewed the encounters as enjoyable or extremely enjoyable** (52% of the Israelis and 76% of the Palestinians). They indicated that they felt they were full partners to the discussions during the encounters (64% of the Israelis and 75% of the Palestinians), and that the subjects of the meetings interested them* (54% of the Israelis and 91% of the Palestinians).

Similarly, few participants (less than 25% of each side) agreed with the following statements, attributing negative or problematic traits to the encactivities:

"The language issue bothered me."

"It bothered me that I couldn't speak to the members of the other nation in their own language."

"I took almost no part in the discussions of the meetings."

"The meetings were boring."** (The Palestinians indicated greater disagreement with this statement).

"I felt that the other side knew more about my history than I know about them."

However, the degree to which participants agreed to each of the following statements indicates a certain problematic nature of the encounter activities:

"I spent most of the time during the breaks with members of my own nation" (56% of the Israelis, and 47% of the Palestinians).

"I spent time during the breaks with members of the other nation" (only 27% of the Israelis, and 28% of the Palestinians).

Also, only the Palestinian participants agreed to the following statements in significant numbers:

"I felt that I know more about the history of the other nation than they know about my history"** (47% of the Palestinians and only 19% of the Israelis either agreed or emphatically agreed to this statement).

"It bothered me that the members of the other nation spoke with one another in their own language"** (50% of the Palestinians and only 22% of the Israelis either agreed or emphatically agreed to this statement).

Participants agreed that the personal acquaintanceship of members of the other nation (73% of the Israelis and 78% of the Palestinians), and dealing with the political issues in the project (77% of the Israelis and 75% of the Palestinians) were of great to extreme importance to them. The majority of participants (61% of the Israelis and 59% of the Palestinians) indicated that the project met their expectations, either very much or to a great extent. The vast majority (82% of the Palestinians and 73% of the Israelis) indicated that they would recommend that their friends participate in the project.

In contrast to the mostly positive results concerning the workshops themselves, results concerning the school curricula on peace-related studies and preparation for the project show mixed feelings, even less positive among the Israelis. Only 26% of the Israeli participants and 90% of the Palestinian participants indicated that the school curriculum on peace studies and preparation for the project made meaningful to very meaningful contributions.

Only 48% of the Israelis and 78% of the Palestinians indicated that their school program correlated with the project, either very much or directly. Likewise, only 20% of the Israelis and 61% of the Palestinians indicated that they received either very or extremely adequate preparation for the project.

More specifically, only 30% of the Israelis and 67% of the Palestinians indicated that their school program was either very or extremely satisfactory preparation. Approximately 10% of the Israelis and 61% of the Palestinians indicated that the meeting that the advance meeting that was held with the encounter coordinators represented between poor and mediocre preparation. (Note: The figures regarding the last two questions are based on only 23 Israeli respondents and 18 Palestinian respondents, to whom these questions were asked.)

The Effects of the Workshops on Stereotypical Positions and Perceptions

The findings of the study show that the workshops significantly influenced stereotypical opinions, positions and perceptions of participants, in a number of important ways. Compared to before the workshops, participants felt that the other side understood their opinions and positions better at the conclusion of the workshops. This difference ** is seen both among the participants in general, and within each national group.

Participants indicated that they exerted more of an effort to cultivate warm relations with the members of the other national group towards the end of the workshop (with a disparity between over-all figures for all the participants, and figures specific to Israeli participants). They also felt considerably more sure* at the conclusion of the project that normal relations between the two nations were possible (with a disparity between over-all figures for all the participants, and figures specific to Palestinian participants).

The figures show that the workshops had a similar effect on the readiness of participants for social relations between the nations, albeit on paper. Regarding participants= willingness to associate with members of the other national group, and "[my] willingness to receive a member of the other national group as a tenant in my apartment", there was an increase of this readiness from the beginning to the end of the project.

Among Palestinian participants, there was an increase in their readiness "for a Jew to be in charge of me at work", and an increase in their readiness to receive a Jew as a neighbor (here too, figures are close to outstanding). Outstanding results* were found regarding the difference between participants = perceptions of the other national group=s hatred toward their national group, from before the project to after it (with significant changes over the course of the project recorded for over-all participants, as well as specific figures on the Israeli participants).

The most impressive effect of the workshop was the change in stereotypes each group had of the other. Both groups arrived at the workshop with negative stereotypes of the other in several areas. The contact between the two groups in the workshop achieved significant success in moderating those stereotypes. In the following categories, Israeli and Palestinian perceptions of each other improved significantly over the course of the project:

helpful to others*

friendly**

good hearted**

tolerant**

polite**

considerate**

giving*

open to change*

willing to make sacrifices for peace*

Compared to the beginning of the workshop, at the end the Palestinians viewed the Israelis as more modest*. The Israelis viewed the Palestinians as more trustworthy*, reliable to keep promises*, straightforward*, educated**, intelligent**, cleanly*, and well rounded*.

General Summary of Research Findings

Both Israeli and Palestinian participants came to the meeting with little to no interpersonal and/or educational experience with the other nationality, and with an abundance of negative images of their counterparts. And yet, the desire of both sides to meet youth of the other nationality and engage in dialog with them was clear. The Palestinian youth showed greater willingness to associate with the Israelis.

The workshops afforded participants the opportunity to become familiar with one another personally, socially, culturally and politically, and were conducted in such a way as to preserve the symmetry of participants = status in different ways. This was accomplished through the use of English to conduct a significant portion of activities, the careful choice of discussion leaders (one Palestinian and one Israeli leader in each group), and the equal socioeconomic status of participants (middle class and upper middle class Israelis and Palestinians). It appears that these characteristics of the encounter, and the unique opportunity of positive, direct contact between the two sides, allowed the workshops to have a positive effect on stereotypical opinions, positions and perspectives of participants. This, despite the harsh political reality of the conflict, and an abundance of negative prior experience of each side with the other (not based on interpersonal exchange).

The Israeli and Palestinian youth that participated indicated that the project made especially valuable contributions, allowing mutual acquaintanceship and understanding on both social and political footings, notwithstanding the stronger emphasis of the Palestinian participants on the contributions of the workshops.

Participants on both sides demonstrated a significant change for the positive, in their positions toward one another, over the couof the workshops. The findings regarding the participants= perceptions of each other both before and after the workshops are particularly relevant in light of the project goal, to increase mutual understanding and help the two sides to reco. These results showed that following the workshops, participants on both sides saw each other as significantly more tolerant, open to change, and willing to make sacrifices for peace. These conclusions point to the great importance of conducting workshops of this kind in the current political situation, and illustrate the effectiveness of these workshops in furthering the goals of promoting mutual understanding, reconciliation, peace building on the grass roots level and among the future leaders of both nations.

The findings point to a number of problems stemming from the language(s) issue in conducting the encounters, and the subject of preparation prior to the workshop. These issues require further consideration for upcoming workshops.

NOTE:

* One asterisk signifies a statistical variance of at least 0.05, in the designated category, between the Israeli and Palestinian groups.

** Two asterisks signify a statistical variance of at least 0.001.

* One asterisk signifies a statistical variance of at least 0.05, in the designated category, between the figures of the Opening Questionnaire and the Concluding Questionnaire.

**Two asterisks signify a statistical variance of at least 0.001.