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Two Peoples, One Land

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Sunday, May 12, 2002
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A discussion guide
These questions and activities are designed to help teachers and parents better explore the contents of this special section and use it in discussions about the conflict in the Middle East.

Shared roots | Claim to the land | The peace process

1 After reading the histories of the Palestinians and Israelis, write what you think each of their defining cultural narratives is — their most important story or stories about who they are as a people. Do they have any similarities? Why do you think shared stories and myths are important for a national identity?

2 Abraham is widely known as the father of three religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. In what ways does the story of Abraham and his sons mark the beginning of the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis, and how does it apply today?


A family story. Does your family have any shared stories that are treasured and told again and again? Talk to your parents and grandparents and gather a few of these stories to share with your class. How do these stories help shape how you see yourself as a family? Do they make you feel closer to your family? How do they make you feel about where you've come from?

As you read through the history of the Holy Land, take note of how many different conquerors have claimed the territory. The two combatants for the land today, the Israelis and Palestinians, base some of their claims in ancient and divine origins, and resolutions to this land dispute will not be easy.

1 The city of Jerusalem is sacred to three religions. Discuss what makes it sacred to each of these religions. Is there any way to determine the "rightful" owner of sacred lands? Are there any alternatives to claiming one owner?

2 In the late 1880s, Jews, as part of the Zionist movement, started returning to Palestine. Why did they want to move back to the area? Why did they think that they had a claim to this land?

3 The United Nations has tried to resolve the conflicts in the Middle East through a series of resolutions. What did each of the resolutions seek to implement, especially U.N. resolutions 181, 194 and 242? Why do you think they have failed to bring peace?


Mock Trial. Have your class present a mock trial over the land disputes in the Middle East. Designate students to represent the Israelis, Palestinians and a jury.

Each side should prepare and then present arguments in support of its claim to the disputed lands. Start with God's statement to Abraham, "To your offspring, I will give this land," as the first piece of evidence. Can either party use this statement as supporting evidence for its claim?

Consider other "evidence": who was there first, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Balfour Declaration, the White Paper of 1939, U.N. Resolution 181, the United States' recognition of Israel, lands acquired during the 1948 war, U.N. Resolution 194, the 1967 expansion, the Oslo accords. Can any of these support your side's position? Can any support both sides?

1 Discuss ways that have been used to try to resolve disputes in the region ... U.N. resolutions, peace talks, terrorism, wars, intifada. Have any been effective? Why or why not? List the pros and cons of each method. Does terrorism ever accomplish anything?

2 What does each side want concerning the three main barriers to peace (Jerusalem, the settlements and the return of the Palestinian refugees)?

Jerusalem represents a main point of contention.


Peace talks. Stage your own peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis. Select negotiating teams for each side, plus a team of mediators. Negotiators should concentrate specifically on building on the Oslo accords and the Taba talks and on trying to resolve the three main barriers to peace.

Other Voices. Using The Seattle Times and, try to find stories in which modern Israelis and Palestinians are talking directly about their situation. How do their perspectives differ? Try to find examples of any claims they make to the region. What kinds of arguments do they present? How do they think they'll ultimately find peace? Compile these differing perspectives and do an in-class reading.

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Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company

Useful resources

Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations - Provides history of the Palestinians and an overview of the peace process from a Palestinian perspective.

Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Explains current events from the Israeli government perspective and offers links to timelines, histories and a guide to the peace process.

United Nations' "Question of Palestine" - Provides an overview of the conflict from the U.N. perspective.

U.S. State Department Middle East Peace Process - Provides news from the U.S. government perspective and links to important texts such as the April 2001 Mitchell Report and the Camp David Accords.

MideastWeb - A site created by Arabs, Jews and others interested in coexistence. Provides history, maps and views in Arabic, English and Hebrew.

Noble Sanctuary - A site that explains the history and significance of the main Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.

Israeli government's Jerusalem site - The official site of the Jerusalem municipality offers links to information on the city’s Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious sites. (Click on the English link, then on the "Links Index" link at top, then on the "Religious Landmarks" link on left.)


"A History of Israel from the Rise of Zionism to Our Time," by Howard Sachar, 1,152 pgs., Knopf. A thorough review of Israeli history from the rise of Jewish nationalism in the early 19th century to the present.

"Palestinians — The Making of a People," by Baruch Kimmerling and Joel Migdal, 396 pgs., Harvard University Press. A scholarly but readable work that chronicles the Palestinian people, from the creation of their national identity to their conflicts with Zionists and Israelis.

"From Beirut to Jerusalem," by Thomas Friedman, 541 pgs., Anchor Books. A fascinating account of the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist's experiences as a foreign correspondent in Lebanon and Israel.

"The Middle East — A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years," by Bernard Lewis, 433 pgs., Simon and Schuster. A leading American scholar of the Near East, Lewis offers a sweeping history of the region.

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