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Israel is my country, good or bad

Posted By Abigail Klein Leichman On April 12, 2010 @ 12:00 am In | No Comments

Prof. Gavriel Salomon has been volunteering, working, writing, researching and educating for peace since he was a young boy.

Hanging on the wall of Prof. Gavriel Salomon’s office at the University of Haifa is an original poster announcing an April 1955 youth demonstration “to celebrate friendship between Jewish and Arab youth.”

The event took place when Salomon, the outgoing director of the Center for Research on Peace Education (CERPE) at the University of Haifa, was in the 11th grade, and it turned out to be a lifetime’s passion.

As a member of “quite leftist and peace-seeking” youth movements as a child, and later an idealistic kibbutz resident, Salomon has dedicated himself to building a tolerant Israel.

“Our generation grew up very ideological, in the most positive sense,” he says. “We cherished high values and we still do. When we were 18, the country was just eight years old, so everything was geared to contributing to the country – the country came before our own wellbeing.”

Developing peace education

Born in Tel Aviv in 1938, Salomon recently received the Greeley Scholar for Peace Studies Award at UMass-Lowell for his work as director of CERPE, which brings together educators, psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, economists and historians from across the world to develop modes of peace education.

The center’s research demonstrates that intense but short-term peace-fostering projects, such as weekend workshops, have a correspondingly short-term effect on participants. Therefore, the center developed methods “to resuscitate the positive changes that take place and gradually become eroded.”

It was also discovered that joint activities between populations needn’t preach coexistence because they naturally model it. “Bi-national soccer clubs for youth do not have any peace education purpose as their major goal,” Salomon says. “Nevertheless, they have strong and stable effects on attitudes, beliefs and feelings. The same would be true of joint orchestras, choirs and theater clubs.”

This isn’t the first time Salomon has received a prize for his work. In Salomon received the Israel Prize in 2001 for his work in education research and in 2006 was elected a fellow of the International Academy of Education.

Salomon first became interested in education long before he started his bachelors degree in education and geography at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He worked as principal of an evening school for young adults who wanted to earn high school diplomas in Ma’alot, at that time “a very new, drowning-in-mud, no-electricity, immigrant town” near the Lebanese border. “I identified with the plight of the people,” Salomon tells ISRAEL21c.

From zoo animals to academia

Supporting himself through graduate school by working with children in after-school clubs and feeding animals at the zoo, Salomon earned his master’s in education and psychology and then a doctorate in education, communication and psychology at Stanford.

Back at Hebrew University in 1969 as a lecturer, his main interest was the interaction of media, cognition and learning – which later became the title of the first of his four books. He served in the 1973 Yom Kippur War as a front-line psychologist and stayed on another year as the army’s first division staff officer for psychology. Eventually he returned to academia, this time at the University of Haifa.

“In 1987, we went to the States for a year and it stretched to five,” recounts Salomon, who taught during this period at the University of Arizona at Tucson, and describes it succinctly as “desert and cowboys.” Afterward, he was appointed dean of Haifa’s faculty of education and earned a reputation as a critic of the way technology is used in education.

“But being a critic is not a career,” Salomon confesses. So in 1999, he combined ideology with expertise to establish CERPE. One of his main accomplishments at the center, he believes, was making scholarly research “a legitimate accompaniment” to numerous non-governmental organizations’ activities regarding the Arab-Israel conflict.

Now, over a decade later Salomon is retiring from the center. “It is time to put me on ice,” he jokes. He believes his successor should develop new and closer ties and partnerships with NGOs that do the work in the field.

Can peace education make a difference?

Despite a lifetime of work towards peace, Salomon is not necessarily sanguine about the prospects for peaceful coexistence in the embattled Middle East.

“Can peace education make a measurable difference? Not right now,” he declares, relating that the former minister of education had appointed him and an Arab colleague to formulate a policy for compulsory partnership education for grades one through 12, but the present minister of education “buried the whole thing.”

Yet he is not ready to give up on the country he loves. “Altogether I lived for 12 years in the United States, but I never considered living permanently in a country where… nobody gives a damn about what’s going on,” he says. “Here, I’m angry, frustrated, excited – I’m alive. Israel is my country, good or bad.”

Besides, he has his family’s future to consider. He and his wife, Esti Neeman, a psychotherapist whom he married 18 years ago, have five children and 11 grandchildren between them. “I care very much what kind of country we leave behind,” he says.

Aside from a one-semester residency on campus at UMass-Lowell – a prize of the recent award – the avid reader of historical biographies is also planning extensive world travels for his retirement, and wants to write another book. “It will be the ruminations of an old man about education. Finally I will say whatever I want to say without trying to be academic,” he promises.

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