A peacemaking initiative bringing 30 Israeli and Palestinian teachers together is taking place in Geneva.This content was published on August 17, 2002 - 18:06
The meeting aims to underline the importance of education in a future peace agreement between the two sides.
Supported by the Swiss authorities, the project is taking place under the auspices of the Middle East Children Association (MECA), a non-governmental organisation jointly led by the Israeli, Adina Shapiro and the Palestinian, Ghassan Abdullah.
Shapiro explained that the seriousness of the present situation in the Middle East would normally make it difficult for the 15 Israelis and 15 Palestinians to meet.
"Since the second Intifada [in September 2000] it's almost impossible to meet up where we are, except on rare occasions, because the Israeli authorities are stopping their citizens from going into the Palestinian territories and the Palestinians from coming into Israel."
It is often necessary to go abroad and Geneva, in the heart of neutral Switzerland, offers an ideal meeting place.
Switzerland is a keen promoter of Middle East peace initiatives and this week's meeting has been financed by the Swiss government, the city of Geneva and the Swiss-based children's rights organisation, The Friends of Dr Janusz Korczak.
"For us Palestinians, Geneva is a peaceful haven," Abdullah told Swissinfo. "The Swiss people we have met have not taken sides."
One of MECA's aims is to encourage the development of respect and tolerance between the two peoples though the education of children.
But Abdullah says this has become more difficult since the abandonment of the peace process.
"Even at this meeting, you will find suspicion and stereotyping, even when the participants are former members of MECA," he said.
The project also looks at the conflict from both sides, with the aim of promoting understanding.
"The Israelis recognise the reality of the occupation," said Shapiro. "But they consider it the only way to assure their safety. We try to make them say what upsets them about the occupation, even if they agree with it."
For the Palestinians, the organisation has raised the issue of recognising Israel as a country. "But as long as the occupation continues, it is difficult to talk about tolerance with our pupils," said Abdullah.
Despite these differences, both sides agree that the education of children is an essential building block for future peace.
Frédéric Burnand in Geneva
Geneva is to host a forum for Israeli and Palestinian mayors and finances a crèche for children from both sides in Jerusalem.
Switzerland supports the human rights organisations, the Israeli Bt'selem and the Palestinian LAW.
Almost half of the Swiss agency for development and cooperation's budget goes to the Middle East.
Thirty Israeli and Palestinian teachers are meeting in Geneva to discuss peace through education.
The project is also backed by the Swiss authorities who are keen to promote peace initiatives.
Geneva is an ideal meeting place because it provides a neutral setting in surrounding remote from the troubled region, according to Middle East Children Association (MECA), the Israeli-Palestinian association holding the talks.
Both sides have their differences, but agree that education is essential to the peace process.
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