Uri Pilichowski
Author, Educator and Father - Brother to All

You Can’t Force Palestinians to Educate Themselves – A response to David Horovitz’s latest Op-ed

In a recent opinion essay entitled, “Advice for Trump’s Would be Peacemaker,” Times of Israel founding editor David Horovitz summarized the current conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians and offered words of advice for President Trump’s special peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt, who was in Israel talking to Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Mr. Horovitz wrote, “The Israeli mainstream …doesn’t trust the Palestinians. We think we would be vulnerable to aggression they might initiate. And even if we were to put aside our doubts about the current regime of Mahmoud Abbas, we know he could be easily swept aside by Hamas or other extremists were the Israel Defense Forces no longer deployed in the West Bank. And were Hamas or other extremists to take over there, as they took over in Gaza after we left in 2005, Israel would be paralyzed. Everywhere in Israel is within rudimentary rocket range of everywhere in the West Bank. We managed to function, somehow, during 50 days of war with Hamas in Gaza in 2014. We would not be able to function for a single day with Hamas in control of the West Bank.”

Horovitz went on to write, “How, then, in this near-impossible context, Mr. Greenblatt, as a lover of Israel and doubtless as a seeker of peace, are you to succeed in your mission? Peacemaking requires both decisive leadership and grassroots support — each benefiting from the other. There is grassroots Israeli support in principle for an agreement …But there is no parallel on the Palestinian side…because the widespread Palestinian conviction remains that the Jews have no right to be here, and that if they hang tough enough, for long enough, they will be able to see off this iteration of Jewish sovereignty.”

It is at this point that Horovitz offered his advice, “How to shift this picture, Mr. Greenblatt? One word: Education.” He went on to explain, “Change what Palestinians are taught and told about Israel in their schools and mosques, by their political leaders and via social media, and you begin to create a climate in which, one day — who knows, perhaps even in your era? — genuine progress toward an accommodation becomes possible. And how do you achieve that change? By insisting upon it, and using America’s leverage to have others insist upon it, too — as a condition for financial aid to the Palestinians, and diplomatic support for the Palestinians. Make the inculcation of a “culture of peace” a core element of your efforts at peacemaking. Educate, open minds, boost understanding, and you start to change the nature of interaction. You give your mission some prospect of success.”

I agree with almost every point of Mr. Horovitz’s assessment of the current situation, but Mr. Horovitz made a grave error when he discussed how education can be a magical panacea for Palestinian refusal to meaningfully engage in an end to the current conflict. I’ve been an educator for twenty years, my mother and grandmother were both teachers, and every one of my mentors is an educator. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about education, it’s that it stems from values. You can’t force someone to educate any more than you can force someone to be educated. If a person values an area of knowledge, they can teach it to others, but if they themselves don’t value it, they won’t be able to effectively teach it to others.

Mr. Horovitz is correct that until Palestinians are taught to accept Jewish Israel, they’ll never truly desire a working accommodation with Israel. He is incorrect to think that the world can insist they be taught it. The lesson won’t be taught successfully and the message won’t be heard. To move forward on a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Palestinian values must change. Palestinians must institute a culture of life, not death. They must be tolerant of Jewish settlement in Israel, allow for the facts of Jewish history and the history of Jewish presence in the land of Israel, and most of all reject all forms of terror.

No amount of world pressure will motivate a people to change their values. The United States cannot insist on Palestinians giving up their culture of violence any more than they could insist Israel give up its culture of peace. To successfully end this conflict, the Palestinians are going to have to decide to change their values. I pray they do.

About the Author
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is an educator. As a teacher, author and speaker, he teaches Torah and Politics, where he specifically emphasizes rational thought and conceptual analysis.