Peace Scholar Post: Memory and Our Future Through Peace Education

This is part of a series of blog posts written by the 2014 Peace Scholars as they experience their summer program in Norway. This post was written by Aimée Fisher from Augustana College, Sioux Falls. 

As I have been conducting my research on peace education in Israel and Palestine, I am continually struck by the question of memory or history as a force in opposition to successful peace. Theories may lay out a set framework for how peace education can succeed, but what truly matters are the facts on the ground. This only confirms how difficult peace and reconciliation are, especially in a situation where the conflict evolves day to day. 

aimeepic2When we go to school we bring along our biases and ideologies that our parents and communities reinforce. Many times our experiences in class only reiterate these biases and ideologies, further distancing us from “the Other.”  In conflict situations, especially intractable conflicts, these views may be in direct opposition to the thought of reconciliation and the peace process.  I’ve understood competing histories, such as those in Israel and Palestine, as deeply-rooted, conflicting memories.  In his Nobel Lecture on December 11, 1986, Elie Wiesel stresses the importance of memory in building peace. Wiesel states, “Without memory, our existence would be barren and opaque, like a prison cell into which no light penetrates; like a tomb which rejects the living. Memory saved the Besht, and if anything can, it is memory that will save humanity. For me, hope without memory is like memory without hope.”  Wiesel’s words from almost thirty years ago impact us today, just as memory from over 2000 years ago seems like yesterday to many in Israel and Palestine.  In a situation of such animosity, is it possible to come together to form a collective memory without disrespect to each other’s pasts?  Our past experiences are crucial in the formation of our future, but in the formation of a collective future how do we reconcile these differences?

The vulnerability both Israelis and Palestinians feel in reaction to past atrocities unto each other and other nations shows us the need for peace education to strengthen internal and external relations, but also why peace has been so difficult. My research and experience thus far in Norway has pointed toward the need for dialogue and grassroots efforts to begin this conversation with “the Other.” Past attempts at peace have proven that trust and understanding are difficult to filter down into all aspects of society if only top tier officials are involved in dialogue with “the Other.”  Education, as a foundational element to every society, gives us space to think critically and objectively when given the right tools and guidance.  As educators we have a duty to aid younger generations in facilitating reconciliation to build a culture of peace. Instead of waiting for the conditions theory states will be most successful, we need to dive in and act now.  Memory demands that we act, but also that we have hope to create our future together. 

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