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Israeli, Palestinian Scholars Team Up to Teach US University Students

As the United States works to renew flagging peace efforts in the Middle East, other forms of diplomacy are also at work. One such effort takes place in the classrooms of Monmouth University in the Northeastern state of New Jersey, where a Palestinian scholar and an Israeli psychologist are teaching a class on peace-building efforts. VOA's Kane Farabaugh attended some of those classes, and talks about how two men from different backgrounds are hoping they can be the example for future generations.

They are an unlikely pair.

One, a former soldier in the Israeli army, stationed in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt during the 1967 war.

The other, a former member of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

But like magnets, these opposites attract. Now, in this interview, as in their lives, Israeli psychologist Dan Bar-On and Palestinian scholar Sami Adwan are side-by-side in an effort to promote peace.

"I think that we needed time to get to know each other,” says Bar-on. “And we used our first encounters to build trust. I think there is no trust between Israelis and Palestinians, so you need time to work that through, and I think we gave ourselves that time, by doing some joint projects, by meeting at some conferences."

Meeting at those conferences in the 1990s helped create a lasting personal friendship and professional collaboration between these two men -- a collaboration that has now found its way into the curriculum at Monmouth University in New Jersey.

They are members of the Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence program, partly funded by the U.S. State Department. It enables professionals from abroad to lecture in the U.S.

Here at Monmouth University, they present different perspectives from opposing sides of a bitter conflict that is older than they are.

Despite the differences of their communities, Dan Bar-On admits that he and Sami Adwan make a natural pair. "The understanding that came later in our life that by just thinking of ourselves without the other would not make sense… in this region."

The bonds they have managed to form in the middle of a conflict have been tested many times in the last 12 years as events in the Middle East unfold. But Sami Adwan looks at their work as a vanguard for peace in the Middle East.

"Sometimes we feel that we are working on a minefield, or walking on eggshells. We don't know what will break, or happen when we step into an area. In that sense, I think it is a peace building under fire, or under conflict. It could be a very modest model of being the vanguard in this situation," Adwan says.

The sparks of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict fueled many wars in their lives. It is that very conflict and danger of future war that drives these two scholars to help subsequent generations understand the difficulties that divide their two people.

As founders of the Peace and Research Institute in the Middle East, or PRIME, one of their major projects was to create narratives of the conflict for middle school students in both Israel and the Palestinian territory.

Each narrative, one on either side of the page of a textbook, gives a perspective on history as told from each point of view.

Adwan tells us, "The value of this work came out after a deep analysis of both Palestinian and Israeli school textbooks where each side does not teach the others or does not include the others. It only teaches their monolithic narrative. So that is where we come from -- to allow both sides to realize that this other narrative exists, and it could be completely opposite to them."

As a political science professor, Saliba Sarsar helped get Adwan and Bar-on on the curriculum at Monmouth University this spring as part of the university's sixth annual Global Understanding Convention.

He hopes their lectures are the first of many such encounters for a student body that is now more aware of the dangers of conflict in the world.

"To bring people from India, Pakistan, from South Africa, from Ireland, and other war zones,” says Sarsar, “to enable people who really feel very deeply about peace-building to have a safe zone, a safe environment, in which they can actually discuss and practice, and also teach others how to practice peace-building."

When their lectures this semester wrap up at Monmouth University, Bar-on and Adwan return to their work in the Middle East.

There, tensions continue to run high as Hamas militants announced an end to a five-month-old cease-fire. The announcement comes on the 59th anniversary of the founding of Israel.