Contact Intervention Programs for Peace Education and the Reality of Dynamic Conflicts

by Yaacov Boaz Yablon - 2007


Great efforts are made to develop and implement contact activities for groups in conflict, yet studies of effects of planned contact interventions yielded mixed results. Previous attempts to explain why contact interventions do not fulfill their promise focused on the contact itself. However, the main focus of the present study was the underlying prevention strategy and the implementation of contact interventions. This was done in the context of planned face-to-face encounters between Jewish and Arab high school students in Israel.

Purpose of Study:

The aim of this study was to examine whether there is a unique embodiment of a social conflict in different subgroups of one prototypical social group. It has been suggested that one of the reasons for the failure of contact intervention programs is that they are usually based on a primary prevention strategy, which does not consider intragroup differences or developments over time.


The research sample consisted of 255 Israeli Jewish and Israeli Arab students who intended to participate in a peace education encounter program. Participants in the study were 17-year-old 11th-grade students from 12 classesó6 in Jewish high schools and 6 in Arab high schools.

Research Design:

Quantitative analysis was used to measure differences within and between groups at the onset of a contact intervention program. Data were collected at three waves (three different points in time). Each wave was held for a few days, usually within a week, before the onset of the planned encounters. In each wave, two schools, one Jewish and one Arab, were sampled. The waves were 2 months apart, so that all questionnaires were collected within a 6-month period.


Results revealed significant differences within the subgroups in the perceptional and affective domains but not in variables indicating behavioral aspects of social relationships. Additional findings regarding differences between groups (majority and minority) suggested that the majority group was less negative toward the minority group than the minority group was toward the majority.


Results suggest that although mutual relationships between groups are negatively based, they are neither stable nor monolithic. Within a social group, different subgroups hold and present different attitudes, perceptions, and feelings toward their counterparts. Therefore, peace education programs, and especially face-to-face contact intervention, should be based on secondary intervention strategies and not, as is often the case, on primary prevention strategies.

The conflict in Israel between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority is among the major social conflicts within Israeli society (Smooha, 1993). The conflict between the two groups is rooted in the establishment of Israel in 1948 and is a result of long and violent conflicts with the Arab nations of the area. The 150,000 Arabs who remained in the newly established Israel constituted around 10% of all Palestinians (national population) and around 15% of the Israeli population. This made them the largest minority group within Israeli society (Peleg, 2004). As in other multicultural nations worldwide, social relationships between these primary minority and majority groups in Israel are characterized by tension, suspicion, and inequality (Abu-Saad, Yonah, & Kaplan, 2000). Although it is written in Israel’s Declaration of Independence that the State of Israel “will maintain complete social and political equality among its citizens with no distinction based on religion, race or gender,” the tension between the Jewish and the Arab social groups is one of many aspects of what creates and describes the mosaic that is Israeli society.

Together with efforts on behalf of political and social movements to establish positive relationships between Israeli Jews and Arabs, many peace education programs were developed to enhance and support such relationships. The underlying philosophy of these educational programs is that negotiation between groups is more productive than violence, and it can also promote understanding and increase peaceful relationships between the conflict groups (Kelman, 1990). Most programs are designed for the young Jews and Arabs and takes place in schools as part of the curriculum. However, despite a concerted effort to promote peace education programs in schools, and a growing interest in such programs from government and nongovernment agencies, there still remains a significant lack of scientific evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of such programs (Nevo & Brem, 2002).

The main focus of the present study was the implementation of peace education programs. It was argued that most intervention programs, and especially those in regions of continual conflict, such as Israel, are based on primary rather than secondary intervention strategies. They are based on general notions and common assumptions about the conflict, with no consideration for any differences between different subgroups of the prototypical social groups or for changes and developments over time. The aim of the study was to examine whether there is a unique embodiment of the conflict in different subgroups of prototypical social groups and to therefore raise the question regarding the need for reevaluation of group relationships before any implementation of peace intervention programs. This was done in the context of planned face-to-face encounters between Jewish and Arab high school students in Israel.


Since the conceptualization of peace education in the United States and Europe in the 19th century (Stomfay-Stitz, 1993), the broad heading of peace education has evolved to include an enormous variety of meanings and programs (Harris, 1999).

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Peace Education Working Group defines peace education as,

the process of promoting the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values needed to bring about behavior changes that will enable children, youth and adults to prevent conflict and violence, both overt and structural, to resolve conflict peacefully and to create the conditions conducive to peace, whether at an intrapersonal, interpersonal, inter-group, national or international level. (Fountain, 1999, p.1)

Accordingly, within this broad definition, peace education today refers to programs such as conflict resolution, citizenship, democratic education, personal ethics, nonviolence, human rights, and feminism (Alger, 1995; Forccy & Harris, 1999; Reardon, 1988; Stomfay-Stitz, 1993).

Salomon (2002) argued that within this enormous variety of peace programs, there is no clear conception of what peace education is, nor what its true goals are. Similarly, Gur-Ze’ev (2001) stated that most peace programs have a narrow theoretical and philosophical foundation, which Page (2004) described as fideistic. However, all peace programs—at both the micro and macro levels—are based on peace education pedagogy that emphasizes personal responsibility in the peace-building process. Peace education goes right to the core of the person’s values and includes both the acquisition of theoretical concepts about peace and violence, and practical skills about how to enhance peace in its broad sense (Harris, 2002). Different scholars see different types of peace education today as the continuance of John Dewey’s (1916/1985) progressive education, his concepts of society and democracy, and his emphasis on the role of education (Gur-Ze’ev).

The underlying philosophy of today’s peace education can be understood by reviewing the evolution of peace thinking, whose meaning has changed over time and across cultures (Aspeslagh & Burns, 1996; Groff, 2002; Harris, 2003). The initial definition of peace, which is still widely held by the general population (Harris, 2002), can be referred to as “negative peace.” By this definition, peace is either the absence of war or a balance of power between international or national forces. This perspective of peace is still seen as component of many other peace definitions. However, by this point of view, peace is just the absence of war.

A later view of peace is related to Galtung's (1969, 1973) pioneering work in the field of peace education and his important distinction between negative peace and positive peace. Negative peace follows the traditional definition of absence of war or any direct violence between groups. Positive peace is the absence of any structural violence, this being a result of social structure, especially inequalities and injustices within that structure. For example, structural violence is a situation in which people starve or suffer from sickness despite the possibility of available food or medicine reaching them. Accordingly, peace is not only the absence of violence but is also collaboration and integration between groups and nations, which removes the causes of violence.

Galtung (1969, 1973) expanded the field of peace studies to the study of human rights and development (Harris, 2002) and claimed that additional perspectives of peace add a meaningful emphasis to the elimination of physical and structural violence at micro levels. These perspectives unfolded in the 1970s and 1980s following the works of feminist scholars such as Betty Reardon (1988), Brigit Brock-Utne (1985), and Elise Boulding (2000), who extended both positive and negative peace to the individual level. These scholars argued that social circumstances do not receive sufficient attention and that societies that are not at war do not necessarily have peace because there is domestic violence within them. This perspective broadens the definition of peace to include not only positive and negative peace at macro (country or nation) levels but also the abolishment of any violence, harm, or discrimination at micro levels, such as ethnic groups, religious sects, families, and individuals.

Other perspectives of peace are moving toward a definition of peace as a more holistic structure that exists within complex systems, with diversity perceived as a source of strength (Banks, 1994). The core of these perspectives is the perception of the need for coexistence and harmony between different cultural, ethnic, racial, and religious groups. This view of peace as "intercultural peace" stresses not only the need to eliminate violence but also the need for positive coevaluation among cultures, and acceptance of the notion that a multicultural society and a diversity of groups are a source of strength for humanity (Groff, 2002).

Even broader perspectives of peace extend beyond human relationships to include environmental and ecological life forms (Bowers, 1993; Huckle & Sterling, 1996). According to this perspective, Earth is seen as a complex living system of which humans are only one part, and the destruction of the natural habitat is a threat to the modern life. Thus, the fate of our planet is an important goal, and peace is a holistic definition that includes responsible relationships of humans to bioenvironmental systems (Verhagen, 1999).

Groff (2002) pointed to an additional perspective in the evolution of peace thinking. Derived from ancient Eastern and Western cultures, this perspective includes all other perspectives mentioned above and emphasizes the need for "inner peace." This spiritual approach sees the individual’s inner peace as an essential component for living and as the necessary condition for a peaceful world. The personal focus is based on the rationale that you must first find peace within yourself in order to establish all other peace relationships (Noddings, 1992).

In conclusion, underlying today’s peace education is a philosophy that encompasses diverse and evolving meanings of peace. The definition of peace evolved to include positive and negative meanings, to deal with micro and macro levels, and to respond to a variety of interactions and relationships—international, domestic and communal, environmental, and personal. Rather than preferring one definition to another, peace education programs responded to each of the definitions, bringing forth a variety of programs to respond to different local needs. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO; 2000) listed some 600 peace research and training institutes around the world, addressing different aspects of peace and presenting the great variety of current peace philosophy.


The various and changing definitions of peace affected peace education programs and yielded a vast variety of programs that can be found in school curricula today.

Salomon (2002) classified peace education programs into three distinct categories: (1) Programs for groups in intractable conflict: These programs are designed to change group members’ misperceptions of the other and to develop a sense of responsibility toward the other. (2) Programs for enhancing understanding and collaboration among groups in a single multicultural society: Such programs include those designed to reduce tension between majority and minority groups within a nation, programs to enhance equality between ethnic groups, and programs to increase coexistence among religious groups (e.g., Maoz, 2000; Staub, Pearlman, & Miller, 2003). (3) Programs for regions of experienced tranquility, in which the main concern is education about peace rather than education for peace: Although not directly suggested by Salomon, this third category can be expanded to include programs that promote positive self-oriented behavior, nonviolent behavior, moral values, citizenship, and environmental education.


Studies have also examined the methods employed to address the underlying components of all different types and forms of peace programs in schools (Fisher, 1997). One of the most popular and most researched methods implemented in different types of peace programs is based on the contact hypothesis (Allport, 1954). This method is especially used in programs designed to increase peace, tolerance, and understanding between groups and to reduce tension within groups in multicultural societies. A small example of such are programs to reduce tension between former residents of East and West Germany (Wagner, van Dick, Pettigrew, & Christ, 2003), and toward immigrants (Voci & Hewstone, 2003), homosexuals (Herek & Capitanio, 1996), minorities (Maoz, 2002), and people with psychiatric disorders (Kolodziej & Johnson, 1996). In all these cases, the underlying principle is that constructive and guided face-to-face meetings between members of conflict groups can reduce intergroup tensions and promote understanding between the groups. In his well-known summer camp study, Sherif (1966; Sherif, Harvey, White, Hood, & Sherif, 1961) put these principles into practice. Members of conflict groups worked together on joint tasks and, as a result, demonstrated positive attitudes toward their counterparts. Following his studies, a great number of similar programs were established worldwide.

Although the idea of creating face-to-face encounters between groups in order to reduce tension and enhance understanding seems so simple and promising, and despite the great efforts invested, very little evidence exists as to the positive contribution of such peace interventions (Cairns & Hewstone, 2002; Harris, 1992; Nevo & Brem, 2002; Salomon, 2002). There have even been a few research studies in which participants demonstrated higher levels of hostility after their participation in such contact intervention programs than before (Bargal, 1990; Brewer, 1996; Hewstone & Brown, 1986; Maoz, 2002; Tal-Or, Boninger, & Gleicher, 2002).

Several attempts were made to explain the failure of contact intervention programs to fulfill their promise. One explanation was that “just contact” between groups is not enough and that special conditions are required for constructive contact that would enhance positive change. Amir (1969), Pettigrew (1998), and Tal-Or et al. (2002) summarized the most important conditions necessary to create the desired positive change. They suggested that contact between the groups should take place in a supportive environment that could enrich the experience and provide a fruitful base for the development and establishment of positive relationships. Equal status between the groups was also found to be a fundamental condition for effective contact, because it helps create an environment where similarities are reinforced and stereotypes or prejudices are challenged and possibly condemned. Another component for positive contact is related to the frequency and intensity of the contact. It is argued that only close and sustained interaction between group members can afford the opportunity for self-disclosure and for the deconstruction of false conceptions. Finally, it is important that interaction between the groups be based on an environment of cooperation that allows the development of close friendships. However, studies also showed that although most programs were designed to include these conditions, the programs often did not succeed in actually including them (Cornell, 1994; McCauley, 2002).

Other attempts to study the failure of contact activities focus on the cognitive aspects of the meetings and suggest that participants do not really confront their misconceptions about their counterparts, but instead use any new information to reinforce their preliminary, false perceptions (Koehler, 1990). Maoz (2000) suggested that contact interventions are ineffective because they do not necessarily address each of the participating group’s agendas and may ignore or refuse to discuss certain topics that are important to one side. In a later study, Maoz (2002) even challenged the core idea of the contact activities by showing that, to a certain degree, there is a lack of intergroup interaction within the contact activities themselves.


Peace education programs, and especially contact interventions, are similar to other prevention programs in that they are designed to deal with antisocial or maladaptive behavior.

In general, three different types of prevention programs follow three different strategies: primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention (Capuzzi & Gross, 2000). Before implementation of an intervention program, is important to identify the underlying needs of the target groups and match them with the most relevant and suitable intervention strategy. Thus, primary prevention involves activities designed to keep specific problems from developing in the first place (Gilliland & James, 1993), with the goal of possibly reducing the occurrence of future problems. Examples of such programs are school-based programs for prevention of teenage pregnancy or drug use, radio or television programs advertising safety rules, and parent education programs for the prevention of child neglect or abuse (Capuzzi & Gross).

Secondary prevention programs are aimed at working with individuals or groups in crisis in order to restore stability and reduce the impact of distress. Secondary prevention is designed to prevent the escalation of crises to an irreversible point. Examples of such programs are support groups for school-age children who experienced the death of someone close, after-school programs for children from at-risk families, and counseling services for suicidal or violent students.

Tertiary prevention is designed to reduce the amount of residual impairment from resolved crises. These programs are designed, for example, to reduce emotional pain, give support to reinforce and rebuild strength, and to prevent relapse. Thus, victims of violence or sexual abuse may participate in individual or group therapy to rebuild their strength; individuals who were addicted to alcohol or used drugs can benefit from support groups aimed at preventing relapse; and anyone who experienced personal crisis can benefit from professional counseling and support.

Based on their prevention strategies, peace education programs seem to correspond to the different types of prevention programs. Thus, school programs such as values and citizenship education, and human rights and environmental concern correspond to the primary prevention strategy because they are designed to develop life skills, enhance interpersonal and intercultural communication, educate for tolerance, and foster positive relations with others. The goal of such programs is to prevent antisocial behavior, to give individuals the capability to contribute to their society, and to enhance cooperation, tolerance, and understanding between different social groups. These programs are designed for the general population without any distinction concerning the moral stages of the individuals or their mutual relationships with others. The programs are not intended to change immoral behavior but to enhance positive moral development.

Secondary peace education prevention programs are, for example, programs designed to reduce school violence, to enhance conflict resolution strategies, to help students improve their communication skills or to get assistance from a third party, and to bring wealth to children or nations living in poverty. These programs often include school-based intervention programs designed to support learning and to improve psychological and physical health of distressed students. These programs are designed to lead to a change in places where harm has already been done and where peace, in its broad sense, was disturbed. Such programs are designed particularly to respond to specific needs of the child, school, or society and are usually designed to be integrated into the participants' harsh realities so that their needs are best met, and support is given when and where it is needed.

Finally, programs designed to maintain peaceful relationships after reconciliation—support groups or counseling and educational programs in crisis zones (e.g., war zones, refugee camps, weather disaster areas)—are all part of tertiary prevention programs because they are designed to support groups and individuals who suffer from specific neglect, violence, or abuse. Like secondary prevention, tertiary prevention is designed to address specific needs and is not suitable for the general population. Thus, although it is sometimes less strict than secondary prevention, tertiary prevention programs should be applied only when they are needed and based on the specific needs of the target group or individuals.

Regarding face-to-face encounters, it is suggested that these peace prevention programs be identified as secondary prevention programs because their main goal is to reduce tension and build tolerance where hostility and alienation exist. Unlike values-education programs, which are suitable for the general population and can be categorized as primary prevention, face-to-face encounters need to be specifically designed for the participant groups. Thus, as with other secondary prevention programs, face-to-face encounters should be used to stop the escalation of existing crises and should be designed in a way that responds to specific elements of the conflict as reflected by the target groups.

Therefore, the underlying perception in this study was that, as with secondary prevention, contact intervention programs should be designed for specific encounter groups and modified as a result of any change in the social relationships between those groups. More specifically, it is argued that the meeting between any two social groups should take into consideration the up-to-date developments in the two groups’ relationships and address the actual attitudes held by the participants. Furthermore, any generalization of the conflict and perception of the two social groups as homogenous groups, with no emphasis on intragroup differences or social developments, could harm the promise of the entire program.


Historical, cultural, religious, and social differences mark the ethnic groups that make up the mosaic of Israeli society. Tensions between the Jewish and Arab sectors in Israel are based on a battle over resources and on the national aspirations of both the Zionist and Palestinian movements. The tension and hostility between the two groups are very much rooted in the different levels of governmental, municipal, and public services available to both social groups. This leads to greater gaps between the Jewish majority and Arab minority and results in frustration and escalated tensions in the social relationships between the two sectors. In addition, the Palestinian nationality of the Israeli Arabs who remained in the State of Israel after its establishment is another source of tension between the two groups (Abu-Saad et al., 2000).

Relationships between the Arab and Jewish social groups in Israel were never stable. They change with social and political developments, with recent years witnessing a serious deterioration. Political events such as the 1993 agreement between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and the Palestinian armed uprising (Intifadah), which has been ongoing since 2000, have intensified the dual Israeli-Palestinian national identity of the Israeli Arabs and deepened the Jewish-Arab rift. Thus, on the one hand, Israeli Arabs have increased their support of the Palestinian struggle against Israel and their identification with it; on the other hand, Israeli Arabs also increased their social demands for equal status as Israeli citizens (Bishara, 1999; Rekhess, 1998; Smooha, 1998; Zidani, 1998). At the same time, the Israeli Jewish population is suspicious of the Israeli Arab demand for social integration and doubts their loyalty to Israeli identity. Several studies (e.g., Seginer, 2001; Smooha 1988) examined the dramatic changes in Israeli Jewish and Arab self-perceptions and political attitudes in recent years. However, the main concern of these studies was the political and social perceptions of each group, and there was no emphasis on possible implications for peace education programs. Furthermore, as a result of the political escalation, few attempts were made to increase involvement in existing peace education programs, and no move was made to change these programs and adapt them to the changing circumstances. The main aim of this study was to examine whether there is a unique embodiment of the conflict in different subgroups of the prototypical Jewish and Arab social groups in Israel. In addition, the main concern of this study was to examine possible differences between different subgroups in a short time period rather than over a long and meaningful time period. From a theoretical point of view, the goal of this study was to find out whether there is an actual need to reevaluate group relationships before any implementation of peace intervention programs.



The research sample consisted of 255 Israeli Jewish and Arab students who intended to participate in a peace education encounter program. Participants came from 12 classes of 17-year-old 11th-grade students. Six classes from three Jewish high schools (two classes from each school), and six classes from three Arab high schools participated. Table 1 presents the number of students from each school.

Table 1. Number of Students from Each of the Participating Schools

























Four different questionnaires were used to measure different aspects of the social relationships between the Jewish and Arab participants: (1) attitudes toward the importance of planned encounters between Israeli Jewish and Arab social groups; (2) feelings toward members of the other group; (3) perceptions regarding the personal traits of members of the other group; and (4) social distance. The four questionnaires were used in many other studies in Israel for measuring relationships between social groups (Saporta, 1993). To deliver the questionnaires to the Arab participants of this study, the Hebrew version of the questionnaire was translated into Arabic by a professional translator proficient in social science research. The four questionnaires used to measure the four aspects of the social relationships are listed below.

Attitudes toward encounters

An eight-item questionnaire based on a questionnaire developed by Saporta (1993) was used to measure attitudes toward the importance of planning peace education encounter programs between Jews and Arabs in Israel. The answers were rated on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = very low support, 5 = very high support). Items were summed to yield a single index of attitudes. Internal consistency for the questionnaire was measured by Cronbach’s alpha and yielded a correlation of .77.

Feeling Checklist

A 21-item Feeling Checklist, based on a valid and reliable established checklist (Stephan, Ybarra, & Bachman, 1999) was translated and tailored to the needs of the Israeli population by Tur-Kaspa-Shimoni (2001). The checklist includes 21 emotions such as anger, warmth, and shame, and the respondent is requested to indicate on a 7-point Likert scale the degree of each emotion toward members of the other group. Face validity, judged by four experts, was set as the validity criterion for the 21 items. Items were summed to yield a single index of emotions; a high mean score of the 21 items was related to positive and favorable emotions toward the other. Internal consistency for the feeling checklist was measured by Cronbach’s alpha and yielded a correlation of .82.

Trait rating

 A 21-item semantic differential scale was used to measure the participants’ perception of traits of the “typical other.” The questionnaire was used by Ben-Ari and Amir (1987) and revised by Saporta (1993) for use in Israeli society. Respondents were asked to characterize their perception of the “other” triads with bipolar adjectives such as honest/dishonest, open minded/close minded, and gentle/rough on a 7-point scale. High mean scores for the 21 items related to a positive perception of the other traits. Internal consistency for the trait rating was measured by Cronbach’s alpha and yielded a correlation of .81.

Social Distance Scale

A 13-item questionnaire was used to measure the participant’s willingness to interact with someone from the “other group.” The scale developed by Saporta (1993) was based on the Social Distance Scale (SDS) originally developed by Bogardus (1928/1999). The questionnaire samples verbal reports about how much the participants are willing to interact with a person from the “other group." Participants were presented with 13 statements (e.g., “study with him/her for exam,” “live with him/her in the same building,” and “be his/her partner for a trip”). Participants were instructed to “rate the following statements on the following scale [1–7 scale] about a same-sex person from the other group” (1 = definitely unwilling, 7 = definitely willing). Items were summed to yield a single index of social distance. Internal consistency for the questionnaire was measured by Cronbach’s alpha and yielded a correlation of .83.


The research questionnaires were administered to the 255 participants in their school classroom by a research assistant who explained the aims of the study and the questionnaires. Data collection was carried out in three waves, each lasting a few days, usually within a week, before the encounters between the groups. In each wave, a Jewish school and an Arab school were sampled. Interviews were conducted at 2-month intervals so that all the questionnaires were collected within 6 months. In accordance with the guidelines of the Israeli educational system, respondents' anonymity was ensured.


In the first stage of the study, the embodiment of the conflict between the Israeli Jewish majority and Arab minority social groups was examined. A univariate analysis of variance (ANOVA) with repeated measures for the four research variables (attitudes, feelings, perception of traits, and social distance) was conducted separately for each of the two groups (in each of the three waves) and yielded a significant difference between the Israeli Jewish and Arab subgroups at all three waves, F(3,69) = 11.35; p < 0.001; F(3,89) = 30.18; p < 0.001; F(3,74) = 9.10; p < 0.001. In a follow-up, paired sample t tests showed significant differences between each of the two subgroups, at each of the three waves, in almost all of the four research variables (Table 2).

Table 2. Means, Standard Deviation, and T Test Values of Attitudes, Feelings, Perception of Traits and Social Distance for Three Israeli Jewish and Arab Subgroups




Israeli Arabs

Israeli Jews








Wave 1


























Wave 2


























Wave 3


























** p < .001.

The findings in Table 2 indicate that only in Wave 1 did Jewish participants hold more favorable attitudes than Arab participants toward the need for planned encounters between the Israeli Jewish and Arab social groups. As for feelings and perceptions of the other’s traits, the three Jewish subgroups presented more positive feelings and higher positive perceptions of the Arabs than vice versa. Conversely, the three Jewish subgroups reported higher social distance, reflecting their lower level of willingness to share their life with Israeli Arabs.

The second phase of the study examined the main research question regarding possible differences within the Israeli Jewish and Arab subgroups in their attitudes and perceptions toward their counterparts. A one-way ANOVA was conducted separately with the three Jewish and three Arab subgroups regarding the four research variables (attitudes, feelings, perception of the other’s traits, and social distance). As seen in Figure 1, results indicated that both Jewish and Arab subgroups reveal no significant differences regarding attitudes toward the importance of planning peace education programs, nor regarding their willingness to share their lives with members of the other group (social distance). However, although no differences were exhibited in their attitudes and social distance, significant differences were found in both Jewish and Arab subgroups regarding their feelings towards the other, F (2,136) = 20.5; p < .001) and F(2,109) = 17.34; p < .001), and in their perceptions regarding the other’s traits, F(2,135) = 3.62; p < .05) and F(2,109) = 6.68; p < .001).

Figure 1. Differences Within the Israeli Jewish and Arab Subgroups Regarding Attitudes, Feelings, Traits, and Social Distance

click to enlarge

In a follow-up, Duncan-paired sample tests were conducted to reveal differences between the three subgroups of both groups. As shown in Figure 1, in Wave 1, the Israeli Jewish subgroup exhibited higher positive feelings toward their counterparts than the participants in Wave 3. In addition, in Wave 1, the Israeli Jewish subgroup exhibited higher positive perceptions regarding their counterpart’s traits than the subgroup in Wave 2, which showed higher positive perceptions than those of the subgroup in Wave 3. Thus, it appears that there are significant differences between the three Jewish subgroups in two of the four measures of social relationships with the Israeli Arab social group. Furthermore, because the three subgroups were sampled at three different times during a 6-month period, it should be noted that the differences were in a declining pattern; namely, feelings and perceptions became more negative over time.

Although the Jewish sample indicated an aggravation in the social relationships over time, the Arab subgroups, which also differed in their feelings and perceptions, showed a more complex pattern. Thus, the results show (Figure 1) that the Wave 1 subgroup exhibited higher positive feelings toward their Jewish counterparts than the Wave 3 subgroup, which showed higher, but nonsignificant, positive feelings than those found in Wave 2. In addition, the subgroup at Wave 1 showed significant higher positive perceptions regarding the other’s traits than the subgroup at Wave 3, which exhibited significant higher positive perceptions than those of the subgroup at Wave 2.


The results of this study indicate, as do many other studies, that mutual relationships between the Israeli Jewish and Arab social groups are characterized by negative attitudes, perceptions, and emotions (Abu-Saad et al., 2000; Maoz, 2000). However, the main aim of this study was to examine whether there are significant differences within different subgroups of the two prototype social groups. It was suggested that one of the reasons for the failure of contact intervention programs is that they are usually based on primary prevention strategies and not on secondary prevention strategies, the latter being more target oriented, and account for intragroup differences (Capuzzi & Gross, 2000).

The results of this study show that although the mutual relationships between the Israeli Jewish and Arab social groups are negatively based, there are significant differences between different subgroups of the prototypical social groups. Thus, differences were found within the participating subgroups in two of the four aspects of social relationships evaluated. Both the Jewish and the Arab subgroups were differentiated in their feelings and perceptions of the other group, whereas no differences were found in their attitudes toward the need for planning peace education programs and regarding their willingness to interact with the other group.

It is important to note that the differences were found in the perceptional and affective domains but not in the variables that indicate behavioral aspects of social relationships. This stability in participants’ behavioral patterns could serve to explain the vast use of peace education programs based on primary prevention strategies. However, it has been suggested that behavioral change should be preceded by perceptional and emotional modification (Stephan & Stephan, 2001). In addition, recent studies (Esses & Dovidio, 2002; Stephan & Finlay, 1999; Yablon, 2005) stressed the importance of the emotional aspects in the facilitation of tolerance and understanding between conflict groups, and the importance of addressing emotional and cognitive aspects in peace education programs, prior to any behavioral modification.

Regarding the emotional and perceptional differences within the subgroups, the different patterns of fluctuation within the subgroups should be noted. Because measures were taken at 2-month intervals, the study examined the results over time. It appeared that during the 6 months, the Jewish subgroups demonstrated a linear decrease in their positive emotions and perceptions of the Arab social group, whereas the Arab subgroups demonstrated a nonlinear pattern describing an increase in the positive emotions and perceptions after a first decrease. These results suggest that despite the differences between the subgroups, each social group was influenced by an opposed process during the same time. Thus, whereas the Jewish majority groups were entrenched in their feelings and perceptions, the minority Arab groups demonstrated both negative and positive change. Different scholars have already referred to such differences between minority and majority groups and suggested that the sociopolitical reality of the conflict may also penetrate the structured setting of peace programs (Pettigrew, 1998) and that the two groups exercise their influence in different ways (Moscovici, 1985; Mugny & Perez, 1991). The present study supports these suggestions and emphasizes that these differences should be taken into consideration not only regarding social groups but also regarding different subgroups of one social group.

Additional findings of this study regarded the mutual relationship between the Jewish and Arab participants. It is apparent that the majority group, comprising Israeli Jewish high school students, was less negative toward the minority Israeli Arab counterparts who were more negative toward the majority group. In addition, both groups showed only little desire to interact with each other, while stressing the need for peace education programs to deal with that situation. These social relationships between Israeli Jews and Arabs were already explained by Hofman (1972, 1977) in terms of the relationships between minority and powerful majority groups. Nonetheless, these findings should be interpreted also in relation to the current conflict between Israel and Palestine and to the fact that many of the Israeli Arabs identify with the Palestine state and the Palestinian struggle more than with the Jewish state and Israeli policy. Thus, for example, many of the Arab students describe their identity as Palestinian and hold restricting opinions regarding the legitimacy of the State of Israel (Kaplan, Abu-Saad, & Yonah, 2001). The most recent political circumstances in Israel, especially the Palestinian uprisings, have probably contributed to the escalation in the participants’ negative attitudes toward each other and have further broadened the schism.

Regarding future development of peace education programs, the results of this study suggest that although mutual relationships between groups are negatively based, they are neither stable nor monolithic. Different subgroups of one social group hold and present different attitudes, perceptions, and feelings toward their counterparts. Therefore, peace education programs, especially face-to-face contact intervention, should be based on secondary intervention strategies and not, as usually happens, on primary prevention strategies. The embodiment of a social conflict in any two subgroups of two prototype groups is unique and should be addressed separately from other attempts to enhance tolerance and understanding between any other two subgroups.

On the theoretical level, this study should not be seen as a criticism of Sherif’s (1966) and Allport’s (1954) approaches toward contact interventions. Rather, this study should be seen as providing further support for the need and importance of planning contact interventions, at the same time suggesting that attention should also be paid to differences among the participants. It is suggested that effective contact between two groups can be achieved only after measuring their mutual relationships and designing contact intervention based on these findings. Thus, on the practical level, it is suggested that preliminary evaluation of the social relationships should become an essential part of contact intervention programs and that the same contact intervention should not be implemented for different subgroups of the same social group.

In addition, it is suggested that this pattern of differences between subgroups can occur between individuals who participate in the same contact intervention. Usually, to apply the need for equal status between two participating sides, parameters such as an equal number of participants from each group and their similar socioeconomic status are used (Kelman, 1990; Rouhana & Korper, 1997). It is suggested that in order to ensure symmetry between participants, their mutual attitudes, feelings, and perceptions should be measured, and their arrangement into separate meeting groups should be based on these measures.

Finally, future studies should place greater emphasis on the content of peace intervention programs. Although the main concern of this study was the differences within groups, other studies suggest that the content and specific type of the intervention itself may have a different contribution (Dovidio, Gaertner, & Kawakami, 2003; Pettigrew, 1998). Future studies should therefore study the contribution of the interaction between intergroup and intragroup differences to content of the intervention and its contribution to the intervention outcomes.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 4, 2007, p. 991-1012 ID Number: 12873, Date Accessed: 10/22/2021 4:37:30 PM

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