It was supposed to have been an exercise in cross-cultural reporting; to find a story that would cut across borders and highlight the common humanity shared by all nations and peoples.
As a Jordanian and an Israeli, we felt we were a logical pairing. There is no country geographically closer to Israel than Jordan and, of course, both have been part of a regional conflict that has raged for so long we felt there would be many areas of potential cooperation we could highlight.
Environment, water, human trafficking, arms smuggling and refugees were among many subjects we discussed before settling upon the idea to focus on the next generation in each of our nations, namely through education. We began to wonder, what are our children learning? Or more importantly, what are our children learning about the people on the other side of our shared border?
When the peace treaty between our countries was signed in 1994 there was a clear emphasis on taking steps towards normalizing ties in all areas -- social, cultural and economic -- not just political. However, we are both acutely aware that the focus has remained on politics at the expense of all other issues. Unfortunately, with the political situation being what it is today, this emphasis has led to the deterioration of relations between our two countries to the point where they are now arguably worse than before the treaty was signed.
We are both ashamed to admit that the stereotypes and myths held by our fellow citizens about our neighbors are certainly not the beliefs that would allow peace to move in a positive direction.
As we both started to research our respective nations to see what school children were learning -- Jordanians about Israel and Judaism; Israelis about Islam and the Arab world -- we both became surprised and dismayed.
In Israel, we found that the education system is surprisingly in favor of teaching children Arabic and Islamic studies. Every Israeli student is encouraged to learn spoken Arabic from 6th through 12th grade, while Islamic Studies, which focuses on the religious, cultural and historical aspects of Islam, is optional. However, out of the 1.5 million students who study in any one of Israel's three Jewish school systems -- secular, religious and ultra-Orthodox -- only 500 end up reaching to matriculation level in Islamic studies.
"No one is interested in studying about the Arabs," one young woman, a former Arabic student, told us. Her comments were backed up by Professor Nurit Peled an expert on language education and discourse analysis, who has been studying Israeli school text-books over the past decade.
"The Arab population [in Israel] is really not represented at all," she said, referring to other areas of study such as geography, history and civics. "They are missing entities."
In Jordan, the situation is even more disheartening. Students there are not even offered the chance to study Judaism at all, let alone Hebrew or any of the positive aspects of Israeli life or culture. Moreover, younger children are often told by their teachers that Israel is "the enemy", with common held myths such as Israeli children get excited by seeing the blood of Palestinians. These were shocking revelations.
We discussed our story at length and the findings of our research. The gloomy picture of the growing hatred between our nations was tough for us to accept and we quickly realized that publishing such a story was not only not in the spirit of this project, but was downright impossible.
The story itself would not succeed in crossing borders and reaching out to the people on either side, but rather would have had the opposite effect. If our own people got wind of how the other nation perceived them or what the other country's children were learning, it would only fuel hatred further.
In addition, who would print such a story? For any news editor in Jordan, publishing this piece would be career suicide, not to mention potentially life-threatening.
If the story was printed in an Israeli publication, the other side would dismiss it as biased or untrue. It clearly would not get the recognition it deserves.
Finally, for the international media to run this clearly negative piece about the Middle East would only expound what the West already believes about Israelis and Arabs -- that they will never find peace.
The fact that this is such a difficult article for us to write is a clear indication to both of us that it is in fact an incredible piece of journalism. As seasoned reporters, we both felt a gut instinct that "this could possibly be a scoop." Or, if not a scoop, certainly an original story that no other pairing of journalists, especially not an Israeli and a Jordanian, would ever succeed in. That was enough for us to know it was something special.
However, as people of this region, both with a deep desire to see peace and calm prevail, we heard another voice. This was the voice of humanity; the words of reason and compassion telling us that despite what our children are learning, not all of them will grow up to hate the other.
Of course we are under no illusion that moving beyond stereotypes and standing up against what has been engrained into your brain from an early age is an easy task.
However, we can also tell you from first-hand experience that this is exactly what we have done. Our friendship started more than a year before the conference this past February that brought us together on this particular project. We met by chance at a workshop run by the European Union for journalists in the Middle East region. For both of us it was the first real time we had spoken to a person from "the other country" and for both of us breaking barriers was not easy.
Some of the other Arab journalists at the conference disapproved of the contact and the Israelis made the divisions between us perfectly clear: we could be friends, but never forget which side we were on.
Months on, after visiting each others country's, meeting friends and families and realizing that human beings are the same whether they are Jewish or Muslim, Israeli or Jordanian, we now know that change is possible. If we can do it, then anyone can.
Both of us grew up under the shadow of mistrust, but at the end of the day we just want to live and enjoy our basic human rights -- a common humanity that is stronger than any propaganda.
If we were to write our feature story on education, which only highlights what extremists already know and espouse in their rhetoric, then we would be further contributing to the propaganda machine and working against our common humanity. We would not be cross-culturally reporting: we would be doing exactly the opposite.
Writing our opinions as a united voice that speaks out for peace, friendship, trust and humanity seems to be far more responsible and appropriate. While our findings were shocking and would boost the sales of any tabloid, we hope you understand and respect the fact that we just couldn't tell this story...
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