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Arab Media Twists the Thesis of Researcher Studying Israeli Kids

June 23, 2003
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Asi Sharabi may be getting used to his work causing controversy, but he doesn’t particularly like it.As a doctoral student in social psychology at the London School of Economics, Sharabi has chosen a very sensitive area for his research: Israeli Jewish children’s perceptions of conflict.

His master’s thesis caused a stir in Israel in 2001 when it revealed the depth of hostility many Israeli children felt toward the Palestinians. Now, two years later, it is back in the news — this time because two Arab publications have excerpted it to “prove” that Israeli parents “know how to plant hate and anger toward Arabs in children’s minds.”

Sharabi “said that all Israeli children believe that Arabs are bad and Israelis are good, that Jews want peace and Arabs want war, and that Jews are human and Arabs are not,” according to the article’s author, Tayseer Jabber.

The magazine Al-Majalla first published Jabber’s article in Arabic. Early in June, the Saudi newspaper Arab News translated the piece into English.

Sharabi describes the piece as “very poor journalism.” He says Jabber never contacted him, instead basing his article on a lengthy piece that appeared in the Israeli daily Ma’ariv’s weekend magazine nearly two years ago.

He denies ever making the comment about all Israeli children believing Arabs are bad and Jews are good.

And, Sharabi says, one incident Jabber describes in his article — in which an Arab girl writes a sympathetic letter to an Israeli child — is “fiction, not journalism.”

“Show me your evidence of these quotes, or of this conversation,” he challenged Jabber in a letter to Arab News.

“It pisses me off, of course. Somebody wrote something under my name without asking me,” he told JTA.

Arab News did not respond to JTA e-mails requesting comment.

A day after Arab News printed Sharabi’s letter, the publication World Net Daily ran an article about the controversy, arguing that the Saudi paper had “fabricated a report of Jews teaching hatred.”

That article said that studies had found it was Palestinians, not Jews, who were teaching their children to hate the other side.

But Sharabi is no happier with the World Net Daily article.

“Both journalists took my research and used it as a tool for their own agenda,” he told JTA. “I’m not on this side, I’m not on that side.”

In fact, he says, many of the most provocative quotes from Israeli children in the Jabber article are accurate.

Sharabi asked 84 Israeli Jewish children from a range of environments — city, settlement and kibbutz — to write letters to Palestinians and to draw pictures of them.

He worked with 8- and 9-year-old children immediately after a June 2001 suicide bombing at the Dolphinarium disco in Tel Aviv that killed 21 teenagers.

“The findings are disturbing,” he said. “For many people, the Ma’ariv article came as a shock. Nobody likes to see his face in the mirror.”

Some of the children did indeed say they hoped Palestinians would die or that they would “blow them up, all of them, because they throw stones and set bombs and kill us,” as the Jabber article claimed.

The Jabber article included about a dozen quotes along the same lines.

Jabber failed to mention, however, that the children expressed a range of opinions. For example, one child said “I would go to Arafat’s home and talk with him politely,” and “I would ask him to make peace.”

That Jabber misrepresented Sharabi’s work is perhaps ironic, since Sharabi is most interested in how each side in a conflict can learn to see the other’s point of view.

“I felt insulted because my whole project is coming out of peace-oriented research,” he told JTA. “I’m trying to make a difference.”

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