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Lesson Plan: Understanding History, Religion, and Politics in Jerusalem and Beyond

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The city of Jerusalem has been the center of controversy for centuries. Current differences involve the struggle between Israel and Palestine for control of the city and the areas known as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Rather than explore the conflict politically, Promises introduces viewers to seven Israeli and Palestinian children ranging in age between 9 and 13 who live with this conflict daily, and who have formed definite opinions about the roles of its participants. Living within 20 minutes of each other, "each growing up in very separate worlds," these children had never met until filmmaker B.Z. Goldberg brought some of them together for a day. Through the course of the film, we learn that these disparate neighbors share common ideas, opinions, and biases shaped by cultural, religious, and historical influences.

Typically, one side blames the other, but unlike adults, these children suggest that a resolution could be possible. Voicing their ideas with a candid innocence underscored by the harsh realities of their young lives, these children offer hope that one day this conflict can be peacefully resolved. Through research, class discussion and writing, students will
be able to learn how the controversy came about. They will be able to identify with these children on a personal level, and to speculate on current conditions and resolutions that might affect peace.


  • Understand the reasons for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • Explore concepts of peoples' rights and justice.
  • Interpret conflict from multiple perspectives.
  • Explore tolerance and sensitivity by understanding others' beliefs.
  • Apply conflict resolution principles

This lesson unit addresses the following national content standards established by McREL at

1. Historical Understanding: Standard 2. Understands the Historical Perspective
2. Behavioral/Social Studies Standards
3. Language Arts
4. Thinking and Reasoning Standards


  1. VCR, monitor, and videotape of the P.O.V./PBS program, Promises.
  2. Computers with Internet access.
  3. Library access.
  4. Note taking materials.


  • Introducing the film's central thesis: respect for others, diversity, understanding and tolerance
  • Introducing the background to the conflict
  • Understanding terminology
  • Using Promises to explore the issue
  • Panel discussion
  • The film's ending

Introducing the Film's Central Thesis

Prior to view the film, ask students to brainstorm ideas pertaining to issues of prejudice and intolerance, and outline a collective list on the board as ideas take shape by asking:

  • How many different forms of prejudice can you name?
  • What fosters prejudice?
  • How do biased attitudes create barriers, walls, and borders?
  • Why is it wrong to judge appearances only?
  • How does putting labels on people and situations contribute to prejudice?
  • Why is it wrong, even dangerous, to judge people by making assumptions?
  • How do fear, jealousy, insecurity, ignorance, and others' opinions contribute to prejudice?
  • What is a scapegoat? Why is scapegoating both wrong and dangerous?
  • How are people conditioned to become prejudiced? How does conditioning promote prejudice?
  • How do apathy, fear, and denial promote prejudice?

Introducing the Background

Teachers could either present, or have students research in brief, the history of Jerusalem to discover the conflicts involving the control of the city since the time of King David. Consideration should be given also to examining the biblical genealogy of Abraham to illustrate that Jews and Arabs share a common source: from Abraham's son, Isaac, and Isaac's son, Jacob, comes the creation of the 12 tribes of Israel; and from Abraham through his other son, Ishmael, and grandson, Esau, comes the 12 tribes of desert nomads that ultimately are known as Arabs. You may wish to refer students to print or electronic encyclopedias. The following Web sites also provide information:

Teachers could either present, or have students research in brief, the history of Jerusalem to discover the conflicts involving the control of the city since the time of King David. Consideration should be given also to examining the biblical genealogy of Abraham to illustrate that Jews and Arabs share a common source: from Abraham's son, Isaac, and Isaac's son, Jacob, comes the creation of the 12 tribes of Israel; and from Abraham through his other son, Ishmael, and grandson, Esau, comes the 12 tribes of desert nomads that ultimately are known as Arabs. You may wish to refer students to print or electronic encyclopedias. The following Web sites also provide information:

Understanding Terminology

Have students define the following terms prior to seeing the film:

hummus (variation: humus, houmous, hommos)
Palestine (Palestinian)
Zion (Zionist)

Using Promises to Explore the Issue

Teachers are encouraged to screen the entire film with the class if possible. The points of similarity and difference between American youths and these children in the Mid-East will fascinate students. Seeing the complete film will also enable students to develop a greater affinity for each of these seven children. Should teachers not have enough time to show the entire 87-minute film, four segments are recommended below with breakdowns provided as guidelines for making frequent pauses in the program.

Show the first segment of the film, stopping at the end of each section to permit students to complete information on Worksheet 1. Students should make brief notations identifying each child's name, nationality, and location of residence (Yarko and Daniel could be noted together). In addition, students should record their initial impressions or opinions about each child and each child's environment. This material will help students with the panel discussion in a later class.

Segment One (approximately 14 minutes)

1. (0:05:16 - 0:08:07) West Jerusalem: Yarko and Daniel on the bus discussing terrorists, safety and suspicious people.

2. (0:08:07 - 0:10:54) Palestinian neighborhood, East Jerusalem: Mahmoud -- coffee.

3. (0:10:54 - 0:13:25) Old City, Jewish Quarter: Shlomo -- Wailing Wall -- rabbi in training.

4. (0:13:25 - 0:16:54) Israeli checkpoint to Palestinian Territories: Background to 1948 and 1967 and to the creation of the refugee camps; Deheishe Refugee Camp: Sanabel's father imprisoned.

5. (0:16:54 - 0:19:00) Deheishe Camp: Faraj describes the death of Bassam, his friend. One year later, Faraj is proud that he, too, threw stones on behalf of Palestine.

6. (0:19:00 - 0:22:17) Checkpoint to Beit-El: Moishe says Arabs took land promised to Jews by God. "If the soldiers aim poorly, it's OK 'cause they might shoot an Arab!"

Segment Two (approximately 20.5 minutes)

Using the breakdown of this segment as a guide, stop at each appropriate point to permit students to summarize on Worksheet 2 each child's opinions about the opposing side and about rightful ownership of the land. (Students should consider comments made in the previous segment by Faraj and Moishe as well.)

7. (0:42:10 - 0:45:45) Moishe believes Arabs view him (personally) as one of those who took their land, but he says the land belongs to Israel. Mahmoud says the land belongs to Arabs and the Jews have no right to take it. Shlomo is philosophical, somewhat empathetic, but detached: "I understand them [the Arabs]. They were thrown out of here 50 years ago, and they feel very small, very hurt." Yarko: "...this is our country, and it's also theirs." He believes the extremists who say Arabs should not live here are wrong. Sanabel recognizes that the Israeli's hold enough power to take even the refugee camps over. She relates to the problem in terms of her imprisoned father: "They occupy people and put them in prison. This is wrong." Faraj also relates to the problem on a personal level: "I have proof that I own this land and I have the right to build on it!" (He alludes to his grandparents' home). He wants their land returned, and then believes there will be peace. Moishe looks to scriptures to defend his claim that Abraham was given the land by God. Faraj looks to land deeds that pre-date the war.

8. (0:45:45 - 0:50:31) The journey to the site of Faraj's grandparent's former home; Faraj's hope -- demonstration -- Faraj's dream expressed in interview.

9. (0:50:31 - 0:51:44) "Faith,"an Islamic Boys' School in East Jerusalem: Mahmoud's teachers teach about freedom using deer analogy -- draw a picture to show how you feel -- "Who does Jerusalem belong to?"

10. (0:51:44 - 0:52:51) Yarko says they want Jerusalem as their capital and they can keep waiting. Sanabel says Jerusalem is 10 minutes from Deheishe camp yet she has never been permitted to enter Jerusalem. Daniel says the whole world should discuss how to resolve the problem. Moishe says he'd never return Jerusalem to the Palestinians. He'd instead clear all the Arabs out.

11. (0:52:51- 0:55:37) "Jerusalem Day": parade through the Muslim quarter. Mahmoud talks of killing Jews:"When we blow up buses, we anger them."

12. (0:55:37 - 0:57:56) Moishe talks of his friend's murder by terrorists.

13. (0:57:56 - 0:59:30) Memorial Day for Israel's fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism -- Daniel questions what is a winner?

14. (0:59:30 - 1:01:29) Old City, border between Muslim and Jewish Quarters: belching contest.

15. (1:01:29 - 1:02:36) Moishe -- doesn't know and doesn't want to know any Arabs. Mahmoud doesn't like talking to Jews. Faraj feels like hurting, even killing Jews when he sees them. Moishe cautions Arab kids could grow to become terrorists. Faraj believes that he is perceived as a terrorist by Jewish children.

Segment Three (approximately 8 minutes)

This segment, beginning at 1:02:36, provides the rationale for the panel discussion that will follow. Stop after Faraj says, "Saturday" (1:09:36).

Panel Discussion

Divide the class as evenly as possible with each student adopting the role of one of the following:

  • An Israeli living in West Jerusalem
  • A Palestinian living in East Jerusalem
  • A Palestinian living in a refugee camp (such as Deheishe Camp)
  • An Israeli living in a Territories settlement (such as Beit-El Settlement)

At issue are the following questions: Both Jews and Arabs claim the land as their heritage. Do the Palestinians have a right to land they once called home? Has Israel a historic justification for claiming the West Bank?

Through discussion, students should explore the issues faced by the children in the film. Topics of discussion should include the history of Jerusalem, the importance of culture and religion in shaping one's values and beliefs, historical and religious precedents as reasons and justifications to claim the land, perceived injustice involving land claims, prejudicial feelings based on cultural and religious influences, and suggestions for resolving the issue.

The teacher should moderate the discussion, noting key points made by students, both for summation purposes and as an aid to student assessment.

The Film's Ending

If time permits, students would be curious to see the meeting between the twins and the Palestinian children. They may also appreciate learning the opinions of these children two years after this meeting. Approximately 15.5 minutes of the film remain, beginning at 1:09:36.


Teachers may wish to score each student individually. Students can also benefit by critically evaluating one anothers groups. Teachers may then weight and blend the scores to determine an overall grade for each student.

Both the teacher's individual student evaluations, and the students' group evaluations may use the following criteria for scoring. The following divisions are worth 25 points each.

Knowledge: Did the student (group) use research to advance arguments and defend positions? To what extent? How effectively was research applied to argument?

Understanding: To what extent does the student (group) demonstrate understanding of the issue? Did the student (group) present any key points? Did the student (group) present original ideas? Was the student (group) able to use examples or analogies to defend an argument? To what extent does the student (group) demonstrate empathy for the cause he or she is representing? Did the student (group) show respect for others' opinions?

Communication: How logical was the student (group) in presenting an argument? Was the student (group) able to communicate effectively and clearly? Did the student (group) incorporate key terminology?

Participation: How often did the student contribute to the discussion? Did the student tend to dominate a discussion, thereby hindering other people's participation? (For group evaluation: Did all students participate in the discussion? Did any students within the group tend to dominate discussion within the group, thereby hindering participation by other group members?)


1. Examine the complexity of peace building and negotiation in Israel-Palestine by organizing students in a role-playing "peace talks negotiation" exercise which incorporates key issues to be resolved in the actual peace process. Students are divided into three groups, one representing the Israelis, one representing the Palestinians, and one acting as mediators. The same scoring criteria above can be applied.

2. Media Studies teachers may be interested in exploring issues related to documentary filmmaking. For example: 1. What is the filmmakers' purpose in presenting this film? How effective do you believe the filmmakers were in addressing their purpose? Provide examples to support your argument. 2. The filmmakers chose to present a controversial situation through the opinions of children. Discuss why this is an effective approach in presenting a sensitive topic.

3. Suggested Essay Topics:

a. Various factors and influences shape our values and our philosophies of life. Discuss this statement with reference to the film, Promises.

b. Show that parallels might be drawn between issues presented in Promises and events in America's history.

c. Is the current situation in the West Bank founded on justice, or is the perception of justice by some at the same time a perception of injustice by others?

d. The young people in the film have identified two different ways to resolve the conflict in Israel/Palestine: armed violence and peace negotiations. Ask students to compare and contrast these two methods of settling disputes in either a graphic organizer or an essay. What are the costs and benefits of each method? Students may also be asked to do additional research in order to conduct the cost/benefit analysis of each method or to present other solutions to resolving the conflict.