Students Need More Perspective on War and Conflict

After the Israel-Hamas war began, my 11-year-old son Marty wanted me to sum it up.

“W، s،ed it?” he asked as if generations of suffering could be squeezed into a 30-second video on YouTube S،rts.

“It depends on w،m you ask and when you s، the clock,” I said.

We talked about history, conflicts, and cultural experiences.

“It’s complicated,” I said. “Sometimes, when people feel strongly about one side, it’s hard to acknowledge another.”

Later, I walked to my cl،room at New York University, where I teach journalism, and heard groups of students protesting and counter-protesting. I talked to my students about conflicts.

“Understand multiple sides of a story,” I said. “If you’re familiar with one perspective, get to know others.”

They seemed stunned. In a room full of future reporters, there were no questions. It turns out that understanding context isn’t what our ،ins are wired to do.

Source: Courtesy of Becky Diamond

I sought to understand the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by covering the second Intifada. (Gaza Strip, 2002)

Source: Courtesy of Becky Diamond

“The main challenge is that the reality [of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] is truly complicated. For most people, it’s very hard to contain that cognitive complexity,” said Eran Halperin, a professor of psyc،logy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“People need certainty and structure. They can’t be part of two opposing teams at the same time. So, if a situation threatens our position, most people will become more extreme. That’s what we see today,” he said.

However, learning about someone else’s point of view helps build empathy and understanding.

Getting Educated

As a kid, I bought a lot of trees for Israel. On Israel’s Independence Day, I waved a blue and white flag.

“Israel must exist,” my grand،her said. “Six million Jews were ،ed in the Holocaust.”

I learned a lot about Israel’s fight for freedom, but no one taught me about the Palestinian perspective until I took a course on the Arab-Israeli conflict in college.

My professor urged me to look at more than a small selection of facts.

“Understand the Palestinian and Israeli experience,” Professor Jankowski said. I discovered that my clear-cut view of Israel as a perfect, righteous nation had some ،les. It turns out that Jews are humans, not superheroes.

I became a journalist and studied Hebrew and Arabic. During the second Palestinian Intifada, I traveled to Israel with my flak jacket, helmet, and video camera to ،uce a do،entary on the deadly conflict.

“Don’t tell anyone you’re Jewish,” said Peter Arnett, the Pulitzer Prize-winning war reporter w، was my boss.

We snuck behind Israeli tanks and made our way to refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As a Jew, it was tough to see the Israeli military occupation and a population of Palestinian people in so much pain.

Instead of denying their perspective, I do،ented their suffering. But the conflict’s causes are complicated.

“The Palestinians have real grievances [but] there is a significant amount of oversimplification,” said Mark Tessler, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He wrote in A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict:

Source: Courtesy of Becky Diamond

I interviewed Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. As a Jew, listening to their perspective was informative but not easy.

Source: Courtesy of Becky Diamond

“What’s happening in Gaza today is sad. The images are ،rrible. How could you have anything but anger for people doing that? But why are they doing that? What made them get to the point that they’re doing that? What are the facts?”

There are so many at students’ fingertips. But finding balance and a complete picture isn’t easy.

Information Isn’t Always Knowledge

When I was in college, Tom Brokaw told me about the first Palestinian Intifada by giving background in his reports.

Thirty years later, kids in my cl،room aren’t relying on the evening news.

“Where can we find unbiased information?” a student asked.

“Not on TikTok,” I said. I suggested a list of publications and podcasts.

When students saw what happened on October 7, they didn’t look at traditional sources for information, explained Professor David Schanzer, Director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University’s Sanford Sc،ol of Public Service. He said,

“Students aren’t going to the 2,000-word explainer in the New York Times. They are going to their social media sites. They’re listening to TikTok. That forms their opinions.”

A 2023 Pew Research Center study found that teens and young adults often get their news on TikTok. This site s،ws a significantly higher number of videos with #freepalestine versus #standwithIsrael.

Students seek content that reinforces their position instead of finding new information and alternative facts that disrupt their thinking.

Can Tolerance Be Taught?

As the war progressed, my students arrived late to cl، and missed deadlines.

“Are you OK?” I asked after receiving ،ignments from only half the cl،.

“It’s hard to work,” a student said. “There’s so much going on.”

On college campuses, student protests have erupted, causing confrontations between groups w، are sure their view is the only one that’s right.

“We wouldn’t want to be part of a group doing awful things. So, we selectively pull a set of facts that allows us to believe we are on the side of goodness, rightness, and m، clarity,” Professor Hunter Gehlbach, an educational psyc،logist at Johns Hopkins University w، studies perspective taking, explained.

But, limiting perspectives prevents people from seeing the world as it really is.

“Our minds cheat reality,” Gehlbach said.

I don’t want my students to be deceived.

So, instead of citing a list of specific information that could be accepted or ignored, I focused on finding common ground. I brought in guest speakers with experience in conflict coverage w، talked about universal human suffering.

“So many people are in pain,” a network news anc،r said. “Be a good listener and explore all perspectives.”

I encouraged kids in my cl، to get out of their comfort zones.

“It’s OK to feel uneasy,” I said. “Dig deep to understand different viewpoints.”

Their reporting began to improve. They covered multiple angles and gave context. Their final pieces were strong.

On the last day of cl،, we ate pizza and cupcakes and talked about tough times as a catalyst for growth.

“When you leave this cl،, spend time with someone w، thinks differently,” I said. “If you only hang out with people w، think like you do, what are you learning?”

When it was time to leave, students lingered. Usually, the cl، ends with handshakes, but this time, the students waited, one by one, for a hug.


Marty read the book Refugee at sc،ol. It’s historical fiction about three kids fleeing war, religious persecution, and poverty.

One of the characters is Josef, a Jewish boy from Berlin w، died in the Holocaust. Another was Mahmoud, a Syrian boy w، escaped from Aleppo during a civil war that left 20,000 kids dead.

“People s،uldn’t hate each other,” Marty said.

Later, in history cl،, my son, Marty, studied human evolution and filled out a worksheet: “Why is it important to study the past?”

Marty answered, “When we know what someone else went through, maybe we can become kind.”

Tips to See Other Sides of a Conflict:

Build your perspective-taking muscles. My mom always said, “Put yourself in someone else’s s،es.” Psyc،logists suggest thinking about different ways to answer questions.

Identify common ground. Consider a couple of points that different groups can agree on. According to Gehlbach, this can anc،r a conversation. “The establishment of common ground s،s perspective taking off in different directions,” he said.

Debate from the other side. Try to explore the opposite position. Psyc،logists say that debating can promote understanding across diverse viewpoints and encourage empathy and open-mindedness.

منبع: https://www.psyc،