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My Peacebuilding

My interest in peace, and in women power for peace, began when I was about 12 years old, when my grandmother invited me to serve cakes at one of her "Women for Peace and Equality" meetings. As strange as it may seem, this was in Cairo, Egypt, where I was born, just after the Second World War. I was amazed to see at this meeting so many women of all ages: Moslem, Jewish and Christian women and young girls, crowded in my grandmother's sitting room, many of them sitting on the carpet, because there were no more free chairs. They had bright eyes and were enthusiastic and hopeful. Young as I was, I was caught by their spirit, and their claims for equal rights and for peace. Their message: "Women of the World Unite and Bring Peace and Equality to the World", deeply spoke to me, and it penetrated to the roots of my being. I felt I was a part of them, and their earnest cause went straight to my heart and mind. These women are with me to this day, and have influenced much of my ensuing life and peace activities.

Shortly after that, together with my Arab school friend, Kadreya, we started a school magazine, called "The Rainbow", at the "Alvernia English School for Girls", in Zamalek, Cairo, where devoted Irish Franciscan nuns instilled in me a deep love of English Literature. Shakespeare, Henry Fielding, Bernard Shaw, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and so many other writers I loved and read avidly, became my teachers of democratic and peace values. I realize today, that "The Rainbow", the magazine we founded with so much love and devotion was our way of thanking those wonderful writers for all they had given us, and our attempt at contributing back ourselves some of the values they had inculcated in us.

The motto of our "Rainbow" magazine was: "To Abolish Wars Forever". The British Peace Poet, Wilfred Owen, whom we studied at school, influenced it and his peace message as expressed in his moving poems, such as "Arms and the Boy", went straight to my heart. Owen spoke to me directly; he strengthened the peace values I had gained at the women for peace meeting, and he opened my eyes still wider to the sheer absurdity of the very concept and the practice of war. I learned from history that all wars ended with a Peace Treaty, or a Peace Agreement, so why, I asked myself, and all my friends and family, do we not start with the Peace Treaty, before we kill our children in absurd wars?

It is in this early period of my life, that I became a peace builder. I carried my thoughts and perceptions of peace to the youth movement "Maccabi" which I joined, and I was quickly made chief of the children's section, which we called "Pioneers for Peace".

All my life, since those first formative years, "world peace", and peace education, have been major and integral parts of my being. My love of peace and hatred of war deepened still more, when together with my family and the 100,000 people of the Jewish community in Egypt, of which I was part, were exiled in 1949, after the State of Israel was established (1948). Out of the 100,000 Jews in Egypt then, there are only eighty Jews left in the whole of Egypt today. I went through the pain and deep suffering of losing much that was dear to me: my friends, home, books, school, almost everything, and we had to emigrate and leave all our belongings behind. We were among the lucky ones. Those who stayed on until 1956 suffered much more. My family remained in Paris, France, as we were of French nationality, but I decided that I would go to the Kibbutz in Israel, together with my group from the Maccabi, to help build Israel as a Land of Peace. I have written the story of the Second Exodus of the Jews from Egypt, in a historical novel entitled "From The Nile To The Jordan", based on my peace conception.

Today, when I am a professor of "Conflict Resolution", and research "The Arab/Palestinian Conflict and Peace-making", I tell my Palestinian friends and colleagues, that I identify with them wanting a country of their own, and fully understand them, because I myself underwent the tragedy of an uprooting, and the pain of not having a country that I could really call my own, as Egypt did not give most of its Jews Egyptian citizenship. I also share my thoughts with my Palestinian colleagues in the IFLAC Tent of Peace, that war and violence never solve anything. They always bring pain and suffering on both sides, and they do not help to solve conflicts, but only worsen them.

After I came to Israel, four cruel wars made "war" my personal enemy, and peace became the main theme of my research, writing, teaching, and one of my main activities in life. During the Yom Kippur War, I sent a letter and peace poem to the late President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, and was surprised and delighted when he said, when he came to Jerusalem, in 1977, "let's make Ada Aharoni's poem of peace a reality". This strengthened my belief in the power of the word and in literature as a vehicle of peace.

When I think about the sources of my peace values, I realize today that literature was one of their main and deepest sources, as a child and as an adult. This is why I agree with Herbert Read, whose book "Education for Peace", spells out the advantages of relating peace to the arts. His premises are that the arts are the best tools for developing personal values and moral virtue. The function of the arts in society and education is to expand human capacities and potentialities. He criticizes the over-emphasis on science and technology, and on mainly abstract thinking at the expense of emotive wisdom, or what is termed today EQ - Emotional Quotient, versus IQ, feelings, imagination and vision that can be acquired through the arts. He shows that they are even more important than abstract thought and ideas, for they involve not only the mind but also the heart. Aesthetic education properly conceived, is also moral education, for the ethical and aesthetical are intimately linked. Culture and Art, are the means by which the deepest levels of the mind combine with the deepest levels of the heart, and they are expressed through great works of art and literature. Consequently, the moral function of culture, literature and art and of aesthetic and literary education is to unite humanity in a common bond and common ideals. The theory and conception of the establishment of a peace science and culture through the arts, are especially valuable and pertinent today, and should be at the basis of the new revolutionary "global peace culture" required for sustainable global development.

Education of both the young and adults provides an important context and channel for the respect and love of humankind, and for the creation and establishment of a powerful and effective peace culture. For that to take place, modern reform of the education system is needed, as well as a transformation of the methods and aims of traditional education. This entails telecommunications as an enhancement for teaching the science of peace, peace literature and conflict resolution. Peace educators throughout the globe have established new dimensions of networks, websites, and e-mail group lists, to advance various aspects of peace research and education, including conflict resolution, non-violence, and concern for the environment. The growing boom and expanding dimensions of the Internet and telecommunications indeed offer revolutionary new opportunities and directions for the promotion of a peace culture, and a global peace science.

Recognizing the importance of this new trend, in 1997, UNESCO convened a conference on "The Impact of Information and Communication Technologies on Teaching and Teachers", to strengthen international co-operation in the pursuit of peace and international understanding.

The important and valuable links and partnerships that are created through such conferences and through telecommunications, make it possible to integrate multicultural values and views, based on global understanding and cooperation. Teachers and youths participating in such intercultural projects, acquire the potential to move beyond narrow ethnic and group identities, and to assume a wider knowledge and identification as global citizens, and as promoters of a culture of peace.

Today, as a lecturer and researcher, I wonder why peace literature is not more used in education at all levels. Probably, no area of the curriculum in education is more neglected than peace literature and the arts. They are seldom accorded a central role in the plans of those who develop educational policies and design school and college curricula, program and television. Why is it that literature and art are such an important part of our culture and of our lives, and yet are so neglected in education, and in the mass media? The use of literature as a tool for teaching peace education has received relatively little attention and it has not as yet been researched comprehensively. I hope there will soon be positive developments in this direction.

From my experience, I realize today that using literature in "Peace Education" and "Peace Studies" should become a crucial part of curricula in schools, colleges, and universities, as literature is an effective way of educating creative, imaginative, critical and self-reflective children and adults, with deep commitments to values and ethics. Literature and the arts are important sources for the promotion of ethical and liberal values, and they could become a means of fostering value consciousness, as well as sensitivity to lacks and deficiencies in our lives and in our world. They can indeed promote the building of a better world "beyond war". Schools and colleges are suitable forums where the building blocks of personal identity are built, upon the values, culture, ideals, ethics, and worldview, we acquire from books we read, films we see, TV programs we admire, and teachers we respect.

My contribution to Peace Education and Peace Culture, has mainly been in five major directions:

Copyright (c) Ada Aharoni