A Road Map for Israelis and Palestinians: A Resource Unit

Readings and activities to help students explore the conflicting views, history, and possibilities for peace among Palestinians and Israelis.

To the Teacher:

With the acceptance of a new "Road Map for Israelis and Palestinians," Israelis, Palestinians and the "Quartet" (the U.S., Russia, the UN, and the European Union) have begun another effort to resolve tensions in the Middle East. This activity provides detail on the road map and on two major issues, Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the territories. Earlier sets of lessons on this website, "Israel, the Palestinians and the United States" and "The Current Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," include additional background readings for students on the history of the struggle, the refugee issue, U.S. support for Israel, suicide bombers, and the resistance of some Israeli soldiers to serving in the territories.

Student Reading l:

"A Clash Between Right and Right"

What are the major issues dividing Palestinians and Israelis?

1. As many as 800,000 Palestinians became refugees in 1948 during what they call al-Nakba, "the catastrophe" and Israelis call their war for independence. Those refugees are still alive and their descendants now number 4 million, many of them living for decades in refugee camps. They claim the right to return to their lost properties.

2. After its victory in a 1967 war with neighboring Arab nations, the Israeli government encouraged its citizens to make settlements on what had been Palestinian land. Today, 200,000 Israeli settlers live in East Jerusalem; another 200,000 live in 150 settlements dotting the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Some 3.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and they have frequently been subject to Israeli military control. The Palestinian Authority wants the Israeli settlements closed down and the land returned to Palestinians.

3. The 1967 war also gave Israel complete control over Jerusalem, which had before that been divided between Israel and Jordan. Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital.

4. Violence between Israelis and Palestinians has occurred on and off for decades. In recent years, the Israeli military has attacked Palestinian areas in what it says is an effort to destroy munitions and kill militants. Palestinian suicide bombers have killed civilians in Israeli settlements and cities. Each side wants security in its own state.

Meanwhile people on both sides suffer and die. The very large and very profitable Israeli tourist business is virtually dead. The Israeli economy is in decline and unemployment grows. Israelis are blown up on buses taking them to work or to school, in shopping malls, walking down the street. Israelis decide not to go to a movie, not to eat in a restaurant, not to ride a bus. Israelis feel the fear of a personal attack. They fear what may happen to their children. And in Israeli schools children are learning how to identify people who might blow themselves up. Hundreds of Israelis have been horribly injured or killed over the past several years when people have done just that.

Palestinians are worse off. They are prevented from leaving their towns and villages for months at a time. They watch as their houses are demolished, their vineyards and olive groves uprooted, their orange trees bulldozed, their land confiscated and turned into Israeli settlements. Thousands of Palestinians are imprisoned as suspects and without charge. Palestinians see their towns turned into ruins as Israeli tanks flatten cars, shops, and homes. They see their water pipes smashed, their electricity poles snapped, their telephone lines torn down. They see family members and friends shot or blown up. Many Palestinians are without work, without health care, without adequate food and water. More than 25% percent of Palestinian children suffer from malnutrition. Palestinians live with fear. Three times as many Palestinians as Israelis have been maimed or killed over the past several years.

Amnesty International, a human rights organization, has issued reports declaring that attacks by Palestinians on Israeli civilians are "crimes against humanity" and that some Israeli attacks on Palestinians are "war crimes."

On both sides of the chasm between Israelis and Palestinians are individuals who see that the gap must be bridged or there will be no hope of a decent life for anyone. The Israeli novelist and essayist Amos Oz writes: "As I see it, the confrontation between the Jews returning to Zion and the Arab inhabitants of the country is not like a western or an epic, but more like a Greek tragedy. It is a clash between right and right (although one must not seek a simplistic symmetry in it). And, as in all tragedies, there is no hope of a happy reconciliation based on a clever magical formula. The choice is between a bloodbath and a disappointing compromise, more like enforced acceptance than a sudden breakathrough of mutual understanding....We are here because this is the only place where we can exist as a free nation. The Arabs are here because Palestine is the home of the Palestinians, just as Iraq is the homeland of the Iraqis and Holland the homeland of the Dutch." ("The Meaning of Homeland" in Under This Blazing Light )

Sari Nusseibeh has been a representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Like Amos Oz, he says that Israelis and Palestinians must each give up something of what they treasure most. Specifically he says that Palestinians must give up their claim that Palestinian refugees and their descendants should be allowed to return to homes they lost in 1948; and Israelis must give up most, if not all, of their settlements in the West Bank and Gaza and must share sovereignty over Jerusalem. On Jerusalem, for example, he says that a Palestinian who rejects a Jewish connection to the Temple Mount "is blind to history. It's totally absurd to deny Jewish history in this land—the deep connections, emotional, historical, existential. [But] it is equally absurd to deny that Christians and Muslims have connections as well. Anybody who doesn't see the full richness and variety of the various religions and cultures in the very special geographic region is totally uneducated basically. It's a reflection of ignorance, and can only cause provocation and widen the gulf."

A successful effort to make hope a reality for Israelis and Palestinians must answer four interrelated questions.

What solution should there be for:

1. 4,000,000 Palestinian refugees and their descendants?

2. Israeli settlements on what Palestinians regard as their land?

3. Control of Jerusalem?

4. Israelis and Palestinians to live in security, each in their own state?

Student Reading 2:

A "Road Map" to Peace?

There is a new peace plan for Israelis and Palestinians. A "Quartet," led by the United States and including Russia, the United Nations and the European Union, agreed to it in December 2002. The plan also has the support of three Arab nations—Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The Quartet waited to present the plan formally to both sides until April 30, 2003, just after the end of the war in Iraq.

The text of the plan opens by declaring: "The following is a performance-based and goal-driven road map, with clear phases, timelines, target dates, and benchmarks aiming at progress through reciprocal steps by the two parties in the political, security, economic, humanitarian, and institution-building fields, under the auspices of the Quartet. The destination is a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict by 2005, as presented in President Bush's speech of June 24 [2002]...."

The plan does not lay out a detailed peace process. It does not state how the Israelis and Palestinians are supposed to reach the desired destination. And it offers no way to answer questions about the four major issues that have divided Israelis and Palestinians for a long time:

  • What is to happen to the Palestinian refugees and their descendants?
  • How is the problem of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza to be resolved?
  • What is to be the fate of Jerusalem?
  • How is violence to be stopped and Israelis and Palestinians to live in security, each in their own state?

The"road map" offers only a route and provides three phases which include "reciprocal steps." For example:

Phase 1: "Palestinians declare an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism...." They take visible and strong efforts "to arrest, disrupt and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere." At the same time, Israelis stop attacks on civilians and "confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and property....," and their military "withdraws progressively from areas occupied since September 28, 2000" (the start of the most recent conflict). Israel also is to close down all of the dozens of small settlements established in the West Bank since that time.

Phase 2: The Palestinian government builds "a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty," and at an international conference the Quartet launches "a process, leading to establishment of an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders."

Phase 3: A second international conference leads to "a final, permanent status resolution in 2005, including on borders, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements...and progress toward a comprehensive Middle East settlement between Israel and Lebanon and Israel and Syria...." And finally, "Arab state acceptance of full normal relations with Israel and security for all the states of the region in the context of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace."

Will the road map lead to an end of many decades of violence and to a compromise that Israelis and Palestinians can live with?

Both sides have taken steps forward. Under intense international pressure, the Palestinian Authority's President Yassir Arafat named and shifted some power to a new, more moderate, prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen). In a speech accepting his new position before the Palestinian parliament, he denounced Palestinian terrorism and said, "We do not ignore the sufferings of the Jews throughout history. And in exchange, we hope the Israelis will not turn their backs on the sufferings of the Palestinians." He has accepted the road map.

Israel's government has for the first time officially accepted a Palestinian claim to eventual statehood. It has also accepted the road map, although Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has a number of serious reservations about what his government regards as the needs of Israeli security. In the first high-level meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in more than two years, Sharon met with Abbas but resisted the "reciprocal steps" called for in the road map. Sharon first insists that all acts of Palestinian terror stop and that violent groups be disarmed. Abbas has stated repeatedly that he cannot take the security measures Israel wants unless, at the same time, Israel meets its own Phase 1 obligations.

Sharon has said that Israel is willing to make "painful concessions" for peace. What exactly these are he has not publicly said. But according to the New York Times , Sharon's advisors say he "envisions a Palestinian state far different from the one outlined in the road map or sought by Mr. Abbas.... He is said to believe that only after years of peaceful coexistence will Israelis and Palestinians have the confidence to come to enduring terms on precise borders. Mr. Sharon sees a final Palestinian state as holding less than half the West Bank, with no presence in Jerusalem, no military and no control of its own airspace. This may be posturing before negotiations, but his allies say they doubt it." ( New York Times, 4/25/03)

Meanwhile, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, said peace talks would be meaningless unless Israelis begin dismantling settlements. "It's either settlements or peace," he said. "Both cannot go together." ( New York Times, 5/14/03)

"Sharon would dismantle settlements only under the pressure of the Americans and Europeans," Yaron Ezrahi, a political science professor at Hebrew University, told the New York Times . 'The Israeli economy is very fragile now and depends heavily on American aid. The United States, only secretly of course, only behind the scenes, could definitely use this to force him to move more forcefully and more quickly on the issue of settlements." ( New York Times, 5/4/03)

Palestinian groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad oppose any two-state solution for they oppose the continued existence of Israel. They made their opposition explosive with a series of five attacks, just as the first meeting between Abbas and Sharon was taking place. The attacks killed or injured scores of Israelis. There are also Israelis who oppose a two-state solution and hard-liners in the settlements who would almost certainly resist an agreement that required them to turn the settlements over to Palestinians. In the meantime, Israeli troops in Gaza and the West Bank continue their efforts to capture or kill Palestinian militants and to uncover bomb-making operations, but in the process kill or wound Palestinians who are not militants and who are not making bombs.

President Bush, however, believes in the road map, even though he expects it to be "a bumpy road." He has also declared his personal commitment to the road map process, saying he would "make it very clear that my country, and I, will put in as much time as necessary to achieve the vision of two states living side by side in peace."

At a meeting in June 2003, President Bush and prime ministers Sharon and Abbas affirmed their intention to make the road map work. But almost immediately afterward, Israeli and Hamas attacks continued, wounding and killing dozens on both sides, most of them civilians, including children. Israel aims its attacks at Hamas militants who are quickly replaced by others. The Hamas suicide bombings result in renewed Israeli efforts to kill Hamas members. Commented Yaron Ezrahi: "Both sides have crossed the line where self-defense has turned into self-destruction." ( New York Times, 6/15/03)

However, at the end of June, Abbas persuaded Hamas and other militant Palestinian organizations to accept a three-month truce. At the same time, Sharon ordered the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip. But by the middle of August the cycle of violence resumed: Palestinian suicide bombings and Israeli strikes at Hamas militants that also killed and wounded innocent bystanders.

Neither Prime Minister Abbas nor Prime Minister Sharon had met their
Phase 1 commitments by September, when Mr. Abbas resigned, complaining,
"The fundamental problem was Israel's unwillingness to implement its
commitments to the road map." But he also complained that the Bush
administration had not pushed Israel hard enough and that Yasir Arafat,
the Palestinian leader, had not given him enough support. Ahmed Qurei, a
close Arafat associate, accepted the prime ministership even though he
had said he wouldn't unless Israel halted its military operations. But
Israeli military attacks against Hamas leaders continued as did the
Palestinian suicide bombings (more than 100 have occurred in the pasts
three years). The Israeli government also threatened to seize and expel
Mr. Arafat. The road map peace process seemed to be barely alive.

Student Reading 3:

The Problem of Jerusalem

Jerusalem is a major issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both sides claim the city as their capital. Both sides describe a history of the city supporting that claim. Both sides ignore the claim of the other. For example, Israelis distributed information sheets on the 3,000th anniversary of David's establishment of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The sheet celebrated "the unique and eternal bond between this city and the Jewish people," but said nothing about Arab history in Jerusalem. In the Museum of Islam on Haram al-Sharif ("Noble Sanctuary"), which Jews call Temple Mount, there is no mention of Jewish history in Jerusalem.

In his history of Jerusalem, Meron Benvenisti asks, "Who is right?" and answers, "The question is superfluous. The chronicles of Jerusalem are a gigantic quarry for which each side has mined stones for the construction of its myths—and for throwing at each other." But a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires a resolution to each side's claims to Jerusalem.

A few facts about Jerusalem:

  • In the Hebrew language, Jerusalem is Yerushalyim, meaning "City of Peace." in Arabic, it is Al-Quds, meaning "The Holy,"
  • Much of Jerusalem's history is based on archaeological excavations, not historical records, so only approximate dates are possible.
  • Semitic tribes called Canaanites who were probably from Arabia arrived in the area about five thousand years ago in 3000 BC.
  • Hebrew tribes invaded about 1800 years later, in 1200 BC. In 1000 BC, the Hebrews, under the leadership of David, conquered a Cannanite tribe, the Jebusites, and established Jerusalem. Some years later in Jerusalem King David's son Solomon built the First Temple.
  • About 800 BC came the first of a series of conquests of Israel by Assyrians and then Babylonians, both of whom drove Hebrew people into exile. The Persians conquered the Babylonians in 515 BC and permitted exiles to return.
  • Over the next 1000 years Greeks, Romans and, again, Persians ruled Jerusalem. During the latter period the Jewish population dwindled.
  • Arab forces took control of Jerusalem in 638 AD, and for almost 1300 years, Jerusalem became an Arab city under a succession of Arab dynasties—Omyyad, Abbasid, Fatamid, Ayoubid, Mamluk and Ottoman. During this time there were several relatively short periods of Christian Crusader rule, most of it in the 12th century.
  • The defeat of the Ottomans in World War I ended Arab rule and led to British control from 1920-1947.
  • Following Israeli's victorious war of independence over Arab nations in the area, Jerusalem was divided between Israel (West Jerusalem) and Jordan (East Jerusalem). But the city was unified under Israeli control after the six-day war of 1967. More than 200,000 Palestinians live under that control and more than 1,000,000 Palestinians live in the area.
  • Jerusalem is sacred to three religions, each of which has holy sites in the city: (1) Judaism has many biblical associations with Jerusalem. Jewish temples once stood on Temple Mount—the first of these was destroyed by the Babylonians and then rebuilt but destroyed by the Romans. A remnant of the Second Temple stands today as the Western or "Wailing" Wall, where Jews pray. (2) Muslims have two mosques in Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa (built in the century after Arabs took over the city). Both stand on the mount that Muslims call Haram al-Sharif, from which, according to Islamic belief, the prophet Mohammad took his night journey to heaven. (3) Christians view Jerusalem as sacred because of the city's many associations with Jesus Christ. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, according to Christian belief, was built over the places where Jesus was crucified and buried and from which he ascended to heaven.

Is there a solution to the problem of Jerusalem?

Serge Schmemann, a long-time New York Times correspondent in Israel, writes, "For most Jews any talk of dividing Jerusalem is blasphemy." ( New York Times, 10/27/96) They regard Jerusalem as "the eternal capital of Israel." Many Arabs believe that Jerusalem belongs to them. Sheik Mohammed Hussein, director of Al-Aqsa Mosque on Haram Al-Sharif, has said, "This is a place for Muslims, only Muslims....There is no place for argument."

Others see only two paths for Jerusalem: Either unending violence or some sharing of sovereignty. A.S. Khalidi, a professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Chicago, writes: "There is no good reason why Jerusalem cannot have two separate coexisting sovereignties within nominal, open borders that demarcate the Arab and Jewish areas. Freedom of movement and access to holy places could be guaranteed without redivision of the city." ( New York Times, 2/11/97)

John V. Whitbeck, a lawyer who has written frequently on the Israeli-Palestinian situation, says, "In the context of a two-state solution, Jerusalem could form an undivided part of both states, constitute the capital of both states and be administered by an umbrella municipal council and local district councils....In the proper terminology of international law, Jerusalem could be a 'condominium' of Israel and Palestine." ( The Nation, 6/9/97)

Adam Goodheart, a writer and editor of Civilization magazine, insists, "Any resolution of Jerusalem's status that settles exclusive control on one group will be not simply unjust but untrue to its past." ( New York Times, 10/1/96)


Student Reading 4:

The Settlements

In 1978 Yoel Tzur was one of the original settlers in Beit El, near the Palestinian city of Ramallah. He has a number of children, but his wife and youngest son were killed in a drive-by shooting by Palestinians in 1996. But Yoel Tzur has an unshakeable vision. "All the prophets prophesied that the people will return to the land of Israel....It is a divine promise. We believe it will come true."

Beit El is a small Jewish settlement in the West Bank, where more than two million Palestinians live. But for Yoel Tzur the West Bank is the Judea and Samaria of the Bible and it was now liberated. "After 1967," he says, "....Jews returned to the land of Israel. This process cannot be stopped." As for the Palestinians living in the area, he believes some solution will be found—"population exchanges or compensation." ( New York Times, 4/6/98)

1967 is the key year in the history of settlements like Beit El. In that year, Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies massed on Israel's borders. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser declared, "Our basic objective will be to destroy Israel."

Instead, in what has become known as the Six-Day War, Israel defeated the Arab countries and took over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula (since returned in a later peace agreement), the Gaza Strip (also in Egypt), the Golan Heights of Syria, and East Jerusalem and the West Bank (of the Jordan River), which had been under Jordanian control.

Successive Israeli governments then encouraged settlements in what had been Arab land and where Palestinians had lived for centuries. They offered significant incentives to settlers, including sharp reductions in mortgage rates and tax breaks. Israelis like Yoel Tzur, however, moved into a settlement for religious, not economic, reasons. Like many other settlers, he believes that God gave the land to the Jewish people. But according to a 2002 study by the Israeli group Peace Now, 80 percent of the settlers moved to settlements for the better quality of life made possible by government financial incentives and the lower cost of living in settlements.

Successive Israeli governments have also seen political and military reasons for the settlements. They create "facts on the ground." The physical presence of Israelis and the towns they built, Israeli leaders thought, would prevent Palestinians from establishing their own state and deter invasions from Jordan or Iraq. The settlements, they thought, would make the country more secure.

The table below shows how the numbers of Israelis have increased in the occupied Palestinian territories:

  West Bank and Gaza East Jerusalem
1972 1,500 6,900
1992 110,000 141,000
2001 214,000 170,400

Today, more than 400,000 Israelis live in the above areas amid a population of 3,500,000 Palestinians.According to estimates made in 2001, the Israeli government spends at least $1 billion yearly to subsidize, develop, and defend
its settlements. The U.S. finances this policy indirectly through the approximately $4 billion in support it provides to Israel each year.

But where Israelis have seen flourishing settlements, Palestinians have seen their land confiscated. They have been forced to live under the control of the Israeli military. Their communities have been squeezed into small areas served by poor roads and an inadequate water supply (Israeli settlements use a disproportionate amount of the available water). Their applications to build new roads, new schools, water pipelines, improved homes—have all been denied.

Nothing has radicalized Palestinians more than the growing West Bank and Gaza settlements. During the second "Intifada" (Palestinian uprising) that began in 2000, organized Palestinian guerrillas began attacking settlers on the roads near settlements and occasionally even in their homes. The Israeli settlements have also contributed to Palestinian anger at the United States. This is because the U.S. grants Israel yearly $2 billion in security assistance and approximately $1 billion in economic aid that help make the settlements possible.

According to David Grossman, an Israeli writer, "The majority of Israelis take comfort today in believing that the horrifying deeds committed by Palestinian terrorists [means] that all the guilt for the current state of affairs rests on Palestinian shoulders....Of course, the Israeli occupation is not the entire story....Palestinians contributed their share to the march of blood and folly....And we must not forget that the Six-Day War was not a war that Israel wanted. Yet despite this, the historical story that Israel chooses to tell itself is astoundingly obtuse and superficial.

"The story that now reigns nearly unchallenged in the media and political discourse obliterates more than 33 years of roadblocks, thousands of prisoners, deportations and killings of innocent people. It's as if there were never long months of closures to cities and villages, as if there had been no humiliations, no incessant harassment, no searches of houses, no bulldozing of hundreds of homes, no uprooting of vineyards and olive groves, no filling up of wells and, especially, no construction of tens of thousands of housing units in settlements and large-scale confiscation of land, in violation of international law." ( New York Times, 10/1/02)

According to international law (Article 49 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention), which Israel signed, "The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies."

Israel's position has been that legally the territories are not "occupied" because the West Bank was taken from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, and neither of those countries had internationally recognized sovereignty over these areas. Therefore the West Bank and Gaza are "disputed territories," whose future must be settled by negotiations. Israel also claims that the words "deportation" and "transfer" were used in the Geneva Convention to refer to Nazi practices and have no relevance to Israelis who move voluntarily to places in the "disputed territories."

A number of United Nations resolutions going back to 1967 also point to the illegality of the settlements. A 1980 resolution, for example, declares Israel's policies and practices in the territories to "have no legal validity." Israel's answer is the same as that for the Geneva Convention.

For more than a year, Israel has been building what is projected to be a 200-mile fence to separate it from Palestinians. The Israelie say the fence is a temporary security measure. But it has already had serious consequences. The fence surrounds three sides of the Palestinian town of Qalqilya, where it has wiped out Palestinian farmland, groves of olive and fruit trees, and greenhouses.

The fence, which will have guard towers, will appropriate about 10 percent of the West Bank. It is to encompass most of the Israeli settlements in the territories but also takes in many Palestinian towns and villages that are close to the settlements. Estimates are that this will add another 150,000 Palestinians to the Israeli population who will not be citizens. More than 200,000 non-Israeli citizens already live in East Jerusalem. Grossman writes, "Does anyone seriously believe they will not turn to terrorism? When that happens, they will be inside the fence, not outside it, and they will have unobstructed passage to Israel's city centers. Or will Israel confine them behind yet another second fence?" ( New York Times, 7/12/02)

No Israeli official is more responsible for the nation's settlement policies than Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. As the minister in charge of the occupied territories in two Israeli governments, he was a driving force in creating settlements. But on May 25, 2003, he announced Israel's official support—with some reservations— for the "road map" peace plan, which requires Israel to freeze settlement activities and will eventually mean the withdrawal of many settlers.

A member of the prime minister's party, Likud, asked him what the settlement freeze meant for Jewish families in the West Bank and Gaza. Sharon's answer: "There is no restriction here, and you can build for your children and grandchildren, and I hope for your great-grandchildren as well." At the same Likud meeting Sharon also said, "Ruling three and a half million Palestinians cannot go on indefinitely. You may not like the word, but what's happening is occupation. Holding 3.5 million Palestinians is a bad thing for Israel, for the Palestinians and for the Israeli economy." How the prime minister intends to resolve what appear to be contradictory statements remains to be seen.

One settler in a community south of Jerusalem was upset by Sharon's statement. "I was very, very surprised by the prime minister, and angry. I don't feel like one who occupies area. It's our area, our homeland." ( New York Times, 6/1/03)

In an earlier interview with the writer Avishai Margalit, another settler said, "We are here because every Israeli government told us that here is where we should be. We are obedient citizens, and if we are told to leave, we'll leave. All we ask is to be offered a respectable solution." Margalit added, "I believe most of the settlers—who are driven neither by nostalgia nor ideology—would agree with them. A 'respectable' solution can and should be offered to all the settlers. As for the settlers who reject such a solution, they will fiercely resist and threaten a civil war." ( New York Review, 8/22/01)



1. An Inquiry-Oriented Approach

Begin with a question: What are shuhada? Probably no one will know the answer.

Shuhada is the Arabic word for martyrs, people who in American media are usually called suicide bombers and, sometimes, murderers. What do students know about these people? Why do they deliberately blow themselves up to kill as many Israelis as possible? What do they hope to accomplish?

Divide the class into groups of three for five to ten minutes' worth of discussion. Ask each group to name a reporter to summarize its conversation for the class.

Reconvene the class and list student responses on the chalkboard without comment. Then invite discussion:

  • Which explanations seem most reasonable? Why?
  • What uncertainties do students have? What additional questions?
  • Examine these questions as detailed in "The Doubting Game" section of "Teaching Critical Thinking" on this website and begin an inquiry into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The readings in "A Road Map for Israelis and Palestinians" can provide some of the background.

2. A Current News Approach

Discuss with students the latest events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially any having to do with the Quartet's road map to peace. On the basis of this discussion, use the readings and other classroom suggestions in "A Road Map for Israelis and Palestinians" for a study of basic issues.

3. Discussion Questions for the Readings

Reading 1:

  • What are the four basic issues dividing Israelis and Palestinians?
  • In each case, why has this issue not been resolved over the past half century?
  • What does Amos Oz mean by calling the struggle "a clash between right and right"?
  • Do you agree with him? Why or why not?

Reading 2:

  • What are some of the road map's ingredients?
  • Where is the map intended to lead?
  • What problems are likely to arise?
  • Why does Mr. Ezrahi regard American pressure as vital?
  • Why do you think he said that it must be exerted "secretly" and "behind the scenes"?

Reading 3:

  • Why is Jerusalem an obstacle to peace?
  • Summarize Israeli and Palestinian views on Jerusalem and why they hold them
  • What are possible solutions to the problem?
  • Why are they difficult to achieve?

Reading 4:

  • Summarize the reasons why Israelis have settled in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
  • Why do Palestinians oppose the settlements?
  • Is Israel in violation of international law? Why or why not?
  • What problems do you think Prime Minister Sharon would have if he ordered the dismantling of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip?
  • What problems if he doesn't?


4. Writing Assignments

Discuss one of the following quotations, offering specifics to support your opinion of it:

A. "...there is no hope of a happy reconciliation [for Israelis and Palestinians] based on a clever magical formula. The choice is between a bloodbath and a disappointing compromise." —Amos Oz, Under This Blazing Light

B. "The Israelis humiliate us. They occupy our land, and deny our history."
—Responses of volunteer shuhada (martyrs) or suicide bombers when asked why they are willing to kill themselves and others. Nasra Hassan's "An Arsenal of Believers," The New Yorker, 11/19/01

C. "The only peace worth its name is an exchange of land for peace on the basis of rough parity between the two sides."—Edward Said, The Nation, 9/8&15/97

5. For Further Inquiry

A. What are the major reasons why the United States provides Israel with some $3 billion per year in security and economic assistance?

B. Why didn't Palestinians accept the 1947 United Nations decision to divide Palestine into two states?

C. Why did about 800,000 Palestinians become refugees during Israel's war with Arab countries in 1948?

D. Why does Hamas oppose a two-state solution to the conflict as well as the continued existence of Israel?

E. What are major reasons why the Oslo peace process launched in 1993 failed?

6. For Student Action

Possible student activities on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict include writing letters to U.S. officials expressing their views of the situation and what the U.S. should do about it, organizing school-wide informational programs on the subject and polling neighbors and relatives for their views. (This activity which would probably call for instruction on how to prepare and conduct a poll)



The New York Times (various issues)
The New York Review (various issues, including R. F. Sheehan, "The Map and the Fence," 7/3/03)
Anti-Defamation League, ww.adl.org
Meron Benvenisti, City of Stone: The Hidden History of Jerusalem
Max Dimont, Jews, God and History
Amos Elon, The Israelis: Founders and Sons
NOW with Bill Moyers, 6/6/03
Roane Carey, "Bumps in the Road Map," The Nation, 6/30/03

This lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email them to: lmcclure@morningsidecenter.org