Israeli schools as agents of citizenship: The role of history in creating civic identities


Publication date



Høgskolen i Oslo. Avdeling for lærerutdanning og internasjonale studier

Document type


Master i flerkulturell og internasjonal utdanning


Education has a unique opportunity to affect people’s attitudes and behavior. It can both encourage respect and promote cooperation between peoples, as well as fuel conflicts by reinforcing social divisions, prejudices and mistrust. The purpose of this study is to investigate how education is used as a tool in the development of civic identities among Jews and Arabs living in Israel and how distinct narratives are dealt with in the subject of history. Narratives are conveyed to the younger generation through the subject of history, which makes history an essential aspect in the development of a history consciousness. Consequently, the subject of history can be an important forum for reconciliation and conflict-resolution. The study was conducted at two Israeli Arab high schools and two Israeli Jewish high schools. Altogether, 36 Arab and Jewish students as well as one Arab English teacher participated in focus group interviews. Additionally, three semi-structured interviews were conducted with two Jewish and one Arab history teacher. The findings of this study reveal that questions of citizenship are controversial. Although the individuals vary in their conceptions and opinions of citizenship, there is a divided civic identity among Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. A majority of the Arab respondents regard citizenship merely as a judicial status, while most Jewish respondents additionally add a feeling of belonging to the state as crucial. Furthermore, this study reveals that the creation of civic identities and a critical history consciousness depend on each teacher’s willingness to include various narratives and perspectives when teaching history. The teacher participants, with exception of one teacher, all teach history in accordance with their own particular narrative. As of spring 2011 it can be concluded that only students with teachers who teach beyond the requirements of the Israeli Education Ministry are exposed to history education that aims at greater understanding of “the other”, peace building and overcoming prejudices. These findings indicate that it is the responsibility of individual teachers to create environments open to debates and contradicting views. One explanation emanating from this study is the important functions collective memory and narratives hold in Israeli society as a result of the ongoing conflict. Finally, the findings of this study show that the subject of history is regarded as of minor influence compared to the importance of primary socialization, such as knowledge received from home.


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