Monday, 27 January 2020

Neil Rogall on Teaching the Israel-Palestine Conflict (2003)

Teaching the Palestine/Israel conflict
Written By: Neil Rogall
Date: January 2003
Published In LSHG Newsletter Issue 17: Lent 2003  

In the last twenty years there has been a shift in public attitudes towards the Palestine/Israel conflict. As a Humanities teacher for the last decade in Inner London, I have particularly seen this massive sea change in attitudes, both amongst students and teaching staff. The old myths of “plucky little Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East” have been slowly undermined by the events of the last two decades. Yet widespread ignorance remains even amongst students whose gut reactions to American imperialism, refugees and corporate globalisation is laudable. Often they are not aware of the modern creation of the Israeli state, assuming it has existed for centuries. Or, closer to home they identify Judaism with the Chasidim of Stamford Hill.

As a Marxist of Jewish origins, Israel has always been a touchstone for my politics. Until recently my own experience of teaching the history of the region has been a post World War II International Relations A-level history paper. There, the nature of the syllabus meant that everything was reduced to the policies of states, and of the wars between them. The literature aimed at A-level students often read as if it was written by an Israeli PR agency.

Two years ago I decided to produce a module on Palestine/Israel as a part of the History Access course that I teach. The emphasis in Access is about providing mature students with the skills they need to survive at university (essay writing, deciphering academic texts, seminar presentation etc.). However within that framework, there is a tremendous scope for developing units on issues that matter. Over the last decade I have developed short courses on topics such as Apartheid, “Nationalism and Colonialism in 20th Century India”, and 1968. I am hoping to develop one on the Vietnam War for next year. But little did I realise how relevant a module on Palestine/Israel would be in March 2002.

Finding materials is much easier than it once was. Evidence and analysis that used to be found only in pamphlets and texts written by the far left can now be found in the books of the new Israeli historiography. Historians of the calibre of Ilan Pappe or Avi Shlaim have transformed the mainstream literature. On the other hand the works of Palestinian historians are harder to find - the result of “orientalist” prejudice and Israeli destruction of the Palestinian academy. However Nur Masalha's “Imperial Israel”, an account of the evolution of post-67 Israeli politics provided an excellent source material.

I had six three-hour sessions to teach the course. I was keen to cover a great number of issues. The course I put together in the end is reproduced below.

This particular module was to be assessed by an exam. Given that the students faced this exam a week following the end of the course, I provided a source-based paper rather than an essay-based one. This went down very well.

Overall I was quite happy with the way the module had gone. Students found the content both surprising and interesting - though some of the materials I used were a little too difficult. I often found myself, having to play devil's advocate given that the majority of the students were very pro-Palestinian. One very sharp argument concerned the reasons for American support for Israel - with many students accepting the “Jewish lobby” explanation. The discussion concerning solutions was extremely heated - with most students seeing “a two state solution” as the most “just” (not my view!), but ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from the occupied territories as the most likely.

I do wonder what would have happened if I had had a student with Zionist views in the class. The biggest problem though was I really tried to do much - there were just too many themes. I would love to hear from anyone who has suggestions on how to improve my module, on materials available or who has experience teaching similar courses.

Module outline

Class One - Zionism and the British Empire
1. An investigation of the origins of Zionism through an analysis of the situation facing Jews in late 19th century Europe. I had students try and work out what the possible political options for Jews were
2. A worksheet on the aims and attitudes of the early Zionists using some terrific quotes taken from Benny Morris's Righteous Victims
3. A lecture on British actions and policies in the Middle East during World War I, and its consequences
Class Two: The Mandate 1920-39
1. An introductory lecture on the development of the Jewish community (the Yishuv) in Mandate Palestine up to 1939
2. Group discussion based on homework reading of sections of Gershon Shafir's, “Zionism and Colonialism” (from Ilan Pappe (ed.) The Israel/Palestine question). The students found this text very difficult
3. Short background lecture to the Palestinian Rebellion of 1936-39, followed by group discussion analysing its consequences
Class Three: Israeli War of Independence/Nakba
1. Class discussion of the impact of World War II on Palestine (based on homework reading)
2. Lecture on UN partition plan and war of 1948-49 (involving students analysing maps)
3. Group work using a worksheet on “Explaining the Israeli Victory” cannibalised from parts of an article by Avi Shlaim
4. Final discussion on Legacies of 1948
Class Four: 1967 and its consequences
1. Discussion of homework - What did Israel gain territorially in 1967?
2. Lecture: How the Six-Day War transformed Israeli politics (“Messianic Zionism”) based on Nur Masalha's writings
3. Group discussions using a worksheet on “Why Does the USA Support Israel?” This listed a number of alternative explanations which students had to evaluate.
Class Five: Palestinian Resistance
1. Group discussions using a worksheet on the options for Palestinians following the 1967 War. This consisted of short extracts on the evolution of Palestinian society from 1948 to 1970, followed by questions on possible strategies for the Palestinians.
2. Lecture on the development of Palestinian Resistance from 1964 to the first Intifada
3. Video and discussion: The Road to Palestine (written by Robert Fisk)
Class Six: From Oslo to the Second Intifada
1. Lecture on “The Peace Process” involving student investigations of maps showing what was offered to the Palestinians (taken from the “New Intifada”)
2. Group discussion: Is There A Solution? Students were presented with a worksheet of alternative solutions. They had to decide which one was the most “just” and which was the most likely.
3. Video: Settlers (1999)

No comments:

Post a comment