Swedish historian Maria Småberg has studied Anglican mission schools in Jerusalem during the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. These schools mixed Jewish, Muslim, and Christian children in an attempt to achieve peace in the region in the long term. At that time the area was a British protectorate and already beset with ethnic and religious strife.
School leaders hoped that common interests would unite the pupils. They therefore arranged many activities such as sports, theater, gardening clubs, etc. The children were taught in English but also in their respective mother tongues.
“One of the schools’ cardinal principles was to nurture your own identity,” says Maria Småberg. “But this was not to be done at the expense of the common Palestinian identity that they attempted to cultivate within the walls of the schools.”
Nationalist Arabs and Jews thought that the Anglican mission schools were naïve in their efforts to achieve such a common identity at a time when society was moving toward greater separation. And the pessimists were right, of course. The Anglican schools were closed when the state of Israel was declared in 1948 and war broke out. Today, more than 50 years later, peace has hardly come any closer in the region.
But Maria Småberg nevertheless feels that there are lessons to be learned from the project.
“Today there are many religious groups in Israel and Palestine that are working for peace in various ways, and it is important to point out that religion can also play a constructive role and not to exclude religious players in peace efforts,” she avers.
“There is, of course, some ambivalence in the objectives of the Anglican mission schools. There were an arm of the British mandate administration and were in many ways rigid in their belief in the superiority of Christianity. But at the same time they were sincerely devoted to achieving peace in the region.”
Another lesson Maria Småberg gleans from the Anglican mission schools is the importance of starting peace work with children.
“A good example of the schools’ pupils being capable of understanding the other side of the conflict is the well-known professor of literature and social critic Edward Said, who attended an Anglican mission school in the 1940s,” says Maria Småberg. “He gained the respect of all camps by presenting a nuanced picture and analysis of the situation in the Middle East.”
The dissertation is titled: Ambivalent friendship: Anglican conflict handling and education for peace in Jerusalem 1920–1948.