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SMALL PEACE RESEARCH GRANTS

GRANT AWARDEE: Rafi Nets-Zehngut (Israel)

“Mapping the Israeli Collective Memory of the Israeli-Arab/ Palestinian Conflict” 2007

Abstract – About the Project:
Mapping the Israeli-Jewish Collective Memory of the Israeli-Arab/Palestinian Conflict
By: Rafi Nets-Zehngut

Collective memory of conflicts is central in determining the eruption, continuation and resolution of conflicts, as well as in reconciling the parties. Typically, it presents the events of the conflict in a biased self-serving manner, portraying the party holding it positively and the rival one, negatively. Such a memory promotes conflicts and prevents peace, and thus should be thoroughly researched.

This project explored for the first time the Israeli-Jewish collective memory of the Israel-Arab/Palestinian conflict – a major conflict in the world. This was done by conducting in summer 2008 a public opinion survey among a representative sample of 500 Jews in Israel. The survey dealt with about 25 major issues associated with the Israeli-Arab conflict, ranging from the late 19th century to the beginning of 2000, documenting the perceptions towards these issues. In addition, the survey documented various characteristics of the surveyed population such as socio-demographic (e.g., age, gender, income, education) as well as other less-surveyed characteristics such as personality traits, openness to new information, memory of anti-Semitism and past persecution, emotions towards the Arabs and support for peace solutions.

The survey provided a wide scale data, which after it was statistically analyzed, resulted in wide scale surprising and important findings. These findings can be divided into descriptive aspects (i.e., what is the content of the memory regarding various issues) and explanatory aspects (i.e., correlating the memory with various variables in order to understand the determinants and consequences of the memory).

As far as the descriptive aspect, as a whole, the Israeli-Jewish collective memory of the conflict was found to be situated between a moderate Zionist narrative (i.e., partly self serving, such as putting the blame mostly but not totally on the Arabs/Palestinians) and a balanced-critical narrative (i.e., more self-reflective, such as putting the blame on both parties). This means that the Israeli-Jewish society has under gone a substantial positive process (for example, compared to the 1950s-1970s) of transforming its collective memory of the conflict to become somewhat critical. Such a process can contribute on a psychological level to peace and reconciliation between the parties to the conflict. However, regarding some events of the conflict the study found the memory of the conflict to be highly inclined towards a Zionist narrative or biased and largely in accurate. This means that this process still has a significant way to go, towards additional transformation, of course – when there is a factual basis for such a transformation.

As far as the explanatory aspects, the findings were also illuminating. Some of these findings dealt with the determinants of the memory and it was found, for example, that older people, people who are more religious, with an authoritarian personality, high degree of attachment to a Jewish identity and a strong memory of Anti-Semitism and persecution of the Jews in the past – are more likely to hold a Zionist narrative. With regard to the consequences of the memory, it was found, for example, that the stronger people hold to a Zionist narrative, the higher their level of negative emotions such as fear, anger and hatred toward Arabs/Palestinians, and the lower their support for peace solutions with the Palestinians and Syria. An important part of the findings can be found at http://www.tc.edu/news/article.htm?id=6812.

The aim is to publish the findings of the study in a few academic articles as well as in a book. However, in the meanwhile I recently went out to the press with the findings of the study. To date, it seems that the study is gradually gaining some resonance in the media and public sphere in Israel and various places in the world.

In sum, the IPRA Foundation grant allowed us to successfully conduct what seems to be a pioneering and somewhat important research with scholarly and practical implications in promoting peace and reconciliation in the Israeli-Arab/Palestinian conflict, as well as in other conflicts. My gratitude to the Foundation and its members, mainly to Prof. Ian Harris, who mostly dealt with my application and grant.

Small Peace Research Grants – Final Report (parts 1+2)
About the Project:
Mapping the Israeli-Jewish Collective Memory of the Israeli-Arab/Palestinian Conflict
By: Rafi Nets-Zehngut

General
This project aimed at exploring for the first time the Israeli-Jewish collective memory of the Israel-Arab/Palestinian conflict (hereafter “the conflict”). This was done by conducting a public opinion survey among a representative sample of the Jewish society in Israel. As mentioned in the research proposal, the research was conducted in cooperation with Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal from Tel Aviv University.

Preparing the Research
The first part of the research dealt with deciding which major events of the conflict to include in the survey. To this end the research used the results of another face-to-face interview research conducted by Daniel Bar-Tal, Amiram Raviv and Rinat Arbiv from Tel Aviv University which examined, using open-ended questions, what the Israeli-Jewish people see as the major events of the conflict. These events range over about a century, since the beginning of the conflict to the present. Getting these results took some time as this latter research is in progress and is not finished yet. Following this, thorough research was conducted regarding the literature of the history of the conflict in order to find out which versions/narratives exist about these major events (e.g., Zionist, post-Zionist narratives or combinations of them). Then, gradually, the questions in the survey questionnaire were constructed in the proper manner, taking into consideration not only the historical content of questions, but also various survey-related issues. These last considerations included, for example, using relatively simple language, constructing short questions, making the questions clear in their structure and meaning and building the answers to the questions in proper statistical scales which will allow proper statistical analysis.

Parallel to this I began to look for a survey center to conduct the survey, looking for high quality but still in an affordable price. I have chosen “Dialog” survey center, which is a respectable and experienced center, used by leading institutions in Israel in academic, media and the governmental and commercial sectors.

As the research progressed, two thoughts came to mind. First, there were too many questions (compared to the budget for research awarded by the IPRA grant) which should be asked about the collective memory. The second thought related to the additional data we wanted to explore, which dealt with determinants and consequences of the collective memory. Initially, the aim was to correlate the data regarding the collective memory only with these variables: three questions about the ethos of conflict (i.e., various beliefs about the conflict), three questions about the emotions towards the Arabs/Palestinians (e.g., fear or hate towards the Arabs/Palestinians) and a few socio-demographic variables. Nonetheless, excited as we were about conducting this pioneering research we felt it would be regrettable if we will not correlate the collective memory data with more data than the relatively limited variables described above. While debating these two issues, Daniel Bar-Tal mentioned that he is collaborating with another scholar on constructing a survey which will deal with psychological barriers to peace in Israel (e.g., personality traits, openness to new information, emotions towards the Arabs and willingness to change or compromise in general and in the Israeli-Arab peace process in particular). Thus, it was decided to conduct a public opinion survey much wider than the one intended using only the IPRA grant, one which will include two parts – one regarding the collective memory (mine in cooperation with Daniel Bar-Tal) and one about the psychological barriers (that of Bar-Tal and his colleague). The payment for this dual-part survey is paid in equal parts, each half according to the even proportions of each study in the survey, by the IPRA grant and by Bar-Tal through his research fund at Tel Aviv University. Each study will is able to use the findings of the other study, which, from the collective memory study’s point of view, will allow for correlating the data regarding the collective memory with about five times more variables than initially planned.

It should be noted that Bar-Tal agreed to include in the article which will be published with the psychological barriers’ findings an acknowledgement of the partial support of IPRA for this public opinion survey (which indirectly partially supported the publication of this article of his). As I understood after submitting the first part of the final report, the IPRA Foundation had no objections for such collaboration or for mentioning such support.

Following the unifying of the two studies, the questionnaire also was unified and modified according to the characteristics of the two studies. This allowed us to deal in the survey with about 25 major issues associated with the Israeli-Arab conflict, ranging from the late 19th century to the beginning of 2000. After it was finalized, and since collective memory has never been researched in Israel in a public opinion survey, I conducted a face-to-face interview pilot with 15 people regarding the collective memory part of the unified questionnaire. Then, the whole questionnaire was sent for the review of a few experts in the history of the conflict or regarding surveys, as well as the “Dialog” survey center, in order to get their feedback. These checks allowed for additional consolidation and refinement of the questionnaire, which at the end included 96 questions in total.

As soon as the questionnaire was ready, the survey started and it was conducted among a representative sample of 500 Israeli-Jews. “Dialog” assigned its best interviewers and they were thoroughly guided in person by me about the general characteristics of the questionnaire as well as reviewing specifically each question. I also attended parts of the survey in person, listened to the conversations of the interviewers with the interviewees, answered questions, etc. A few times while conducting the survey a data file, containing the data collected up to then, was sent to us by “Dialog” in order to verify the quality of the data collection – and it was found most satisfying.

The Findings
The survey provided wide scale data which can be used for a wide range of statistical analysis. Although there are many more possibilities, to date Bar-Tal and I conducted a wide scope analysis of the data which resulted in a lot of surprising and important findings. These findings can be divided into descriptive aspects (i.e., what is the content of the memory regarding various issues) and explanatory aspects (i.e., correlating the memory with various variables in order to understand the determinants and consequences of the memory).

As far as the descriptive aspect, as a whole, the Israeli-Jewish collective memory of the conflict was found to be situated between a moderate Zionist narrative (i.e., partly self serving, such as putting the blame mostly but not totally on the Arabs/Palestinians) and a balanced-critical narrative (i.e., more self-reflective, such as putting the blame on both parties). For example, 46 percent of Israeli-Jews hold the critical narrative, believing that Israel and the Arabs/Palestinian people have been equally responsible for the outbreak and continuation of the conflict between them, versus 43 percent who hold the Zionist narrative blaming Arabs/Palestinians primarily and 4 percent who blame Jews primarily (About 7 percent said they did not know.) Thirty-nine percent also believe that expulsion by Israel was one of the factors that led to a Palestinian exodus in 1948 (in addition to their own fears and calls by Arabs/Palestinian leaders) – only slightly less than the proportion (41 percent) who accept the Zionist narrative that Palestinians left due to their own fears and calls by leaders. Eight percent believe that the refugees were primarily expelled, and 12 percent said they did not know.

These findings about the memory being relatively critical are most surprising for a few reasons. First, typically, societies involved in intractable conflicts like the Israeli-Arab/Palestinian conflict adopt a collective memory of the conflict that is biased to a large degree and self-serving, as the Zionist narrative of the conflict in some ways is. The fact that the discussed memory was found to be somewhat critical suggests that the Israeli-Jewish society has changed to become more mature and self-reflective, allowing it to partially adopt less biased narratives despite the hardships it has endured in the course of the conflict. Second, since no previous similar studies have been conducted, we cannot say with precision how much Israeli Jews have changed their memory. Still, it can be assumed with a high degree of confidence based on indirect studies that if such research had been conducted in the 1950s to 1970s, a much higher percentage of the Israeli Jewish public would have held the Zionist narrative. Third, typically, such a transformation of the memory will occur in the post-conflict phase, after the conflict is resolved. In our case, the discussed conflict is only party resolved (i.e., the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, which are, however, manifested in “cold” peace relations), the conflict is still partly going on, and still, the memory is quite critical. The above discussion allows us to conclude that the Israeli-Jewish society has under gone a substantial positive process, one which can contribute on a psychological level to peace and reconciliation between the parties to the conflict.

However, this is only part of the conclusion from the findings, though a significant one. Regarding some others events of the conflict the study found the memory of the conflict to be highly inclined towards the Zionist narrative. For example, 50.6 percent hold the Palestinians responsible for the failure of the Oslo peace process in the 1990’s, while only 28.4 percent hold both parties equally responsible and 6 percent hold Israel responsible (though a significant portion – 15 percent – did not know.) The memory regarding other events was found to be biased and largely inaccurate. For example, 59.6 percent think that according to the United Nations 1947 Partition resolution of the Land of Israel, the Palestinians got a part of the land which was equal or bigger than their representation in the population at that time (20.4 percent think they got an equal part; 23.8 percent – a smaller part; and the rest, 26.6 percent, did not know). This, despite the fact that the truth is the opposite – the Palestinians composed about two thirds of the population and got only about 44 percent of the land.

In sum, the descriptive findings were surprisingly positive showing that the Israeli society underwent a significant positive process of transforming its collective memory of the conflict to become somewhat critical. However, this process still has a significant way to go, of course – when there is a factual basis for such a transformation.

As far as the explanatory aspect, the findings were also illuminating. Some of these findings dealt with the determinants of the memory, such that are usually examined. For example, the research examined the relations between memory and age and the extent of being religious and found that older people and those who are more religious were more likely to hold the Zionist narrative. However, the research examined other determinant variables, those that are not usually examined. It was found, for example, that people with an authoritarian personality, high degree of attachment to a Jewish identity and a strong memory of persecution of the Jews in the past (including the Holocaust) are more likely to believe the Zionist narrative.

Still in the explanatory aspect, but as far as the consequences of the memory, it was found, for example, that the stronger people hold to a Zionist narrative, the higher their level of negative emotions such as fear, anger and hatred toward Arabs/Palestinians. Similarly, those supporting that narrative were significantly less likely to support peace agreements with the Palestinians and Syria. This last finding is most significant in exploring the importance of a less biased collective memory – the more critical the memory is, the stronger is the support for signing peace agreements.

We believe, that the findings have various implications in promoting peace and reconciliation, mainly in Israel, as well as generally, with regard to other conflicts. This relates to implications in the scholarly sphere, as well as in the practical one (e.g., by allowing more efficient and effective peace oriented activities).

The Dissemination of the Findings
The aim is to publish the findings of the study in academic articles as well as in a book. However, meanwhile we decided to go out to the press with the findings. To this end, a press release was recently put out by the External Affairs Department at Teachers College, Columbia University, where I am currently affiliated. It seems that the study is gradually gaining some resonance in the media and public sphere in Israel and various places in the world. To date, a comprehensive article was published in Hebrew and English in the weekend-journal of the Ha’aretz, the most prestigious daily newspaper in Israel. The IPS (Inter Press Service news agency, which disseminates articles to hundreds of newspapers) also just written an article, to be disseminated soon – which we believe will result in more articles; and the ‘Le Soir’ newspaper (the leading Francophone newspaper in Belgium) has already published two articles about the study and its implications. In addition, we received numerous responses from scholars, peace activists and lay people and the findings were uploaded and mentioned in at least dozens of websites, world-wide. Notwithstanding, I am continuing my efforts in various ways to disseminate the findings in various media channels, world-wide (including the New York Times), in addition to presentations at seven conferences/symposiums/speaker series talks until summer 2009.

Needless to say the IPRA grant was and will be mentioned in all activities in disseminating the findings about the research (for example, in the Teachers College press release and the ‘Ha’aretz’ article). Some of the data which focuses on the collective memory is posted on the Teachers College website (http://www.tc.edu/news/article.htm?id=6812).

The Financial Part
The check which was sent to me by the IPRA treasurer for $3,000 was deposited in my bank account and was worth (then) 12,890 New Israeli Shekels (NIS). The total cost of conducting the survey was 25,288 NIS, which divided by two is 12,644 NIS – my part. Thus, from the 12,890 NIS, after subtracting 12,644 NIS, there remains of the grant money 246 NIS (equivalent to about $70). This sum was used for paying for the statistical analysis of the data, an expense to which I added from my own money.

In Conclusion
The IPRA Foundation grant allowed us to successfully conduct what seems to be a pioneering and somewhat important research with scholarly and practical implications in promoting peace and reconciliation in the Israeli-Arab/Palestinian conflict, as well as in other conflicts.