The Peace Research Institute in the Middle East (PRIME) constructs an innovative textbook juxtaposing the historical narratives of two peoples in seemingly endless conflict.
Developed by a group of Israeli and Palestinian teachers, this text will prove useful not just to the young, but to anyone who quails at the thought of even attempting to unravel the knotty history of the Middle East. Under PRIME’s auspices, editors Adwan (Education/Bethlehem Univ.), Bar-On (now deceased) and Naveh (U.S. History/Tel Aviv Univ.), recognizing that the hostilities run deep and the divisions remain bitter, have set aside any attempt at consensus. They have “settled” instead for dual, oftentimes dueling, narratives of Israeli and Palestinian history, from the 1917 Balfour Declaration through 2000, the end of the Clinton administration and the outbreak of the Second Intifada. On alternate pages, literally “side by side,” the editors present both the Palestinian and Israeli versions of significant events that have marked the fraught decades of the 20th century. This device—along with a short introduction explaining their methodology—helps demonstrate the scrupulousness of their enterprise and underscores the differences between the parties, but it unfortunately makes for cumbersome reading. Alternate chapters would have served just as well to illustrate the stark divisions between these longtime antagonists. One side’s “War of Independence” is the other’s “catastrophe”; for Israel, the 1967 Six-Day War was “a huge victory in a war it didn’t initiate or intend,” where the Palestinians see it as an act of pure “aggression”; for the Israelis, America prosecuted the Gulf War to “maintain stability in the Middle East, “ understanding “its first priority was to achieve a political order acceptable to all sides,” while the Palestinians condemn the U.S. for using “its achievements in the war to enhance its hegemony even on its European allies.” Readers shouldn’t expect fine writing; this is a committee project where the goal is to avoid the flashy or the incendiary, to present, as honestly as possible, each side’s point of view.
A small but important step, if not toward peace, then perhaps toward understanding.