Learning all the wrong facts
A study of Israeli and Palestinian textbooks shows how both sides tell the narrative of the conflict from their own perspective, ignoring the other side.
Israeli politicians periodically cite Palestinian textbooks as damning proof that the Palestinians are continuing to educate to hatred and not to peace. The last one to do so was Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who called for making the curriculum the acid test of the new Palestinian leadership. The Fatah movement's candidate, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), picked up the gauntlet, but immediately threw one of his own at the Ministry of Education: You want to examine our education for peace? Help yourself, but based on the principle of reciprocity, we should also see what's happening on the Israeli side.
It isn't at all certain that on this test the Israeli education system would get a higher grade than its Palestinian neighbor. Although it is hard to find in Israeli textbooks incidences of blatant incitement, as is often found in Jordanian and Egyptian textbooks, Dr. Ruth Firer of Hebrew University, one of the pioneers of textbook research, argues that the indoctrination in the Israeli books is simply more sophisticated.
For this reason, she says, the messages penetrate all the more effectively. It is harder to detect a stereotype that is concealed by a seemingly innocent icon, she says, than one that is worded such that it "vulgarly pulls you by the nose."
Findings of a study she conducted together with Dr. Sami Adwan of Bethlehem University, who specializes in peace education and human rights, recently appeared in a book published by the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research in Germany, entitled "The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in History and Civics Textbooks of Both Nations." The study encompassed 13 Israeli textbooks (2,682 pages) and nine Palestinian textbooks (1,207 pages), and revealed a sort of mirror image in which each side pins responsibility for the violence on the other.
What the Israeli books call "events," the Palestinian ones call "uprising"; the 1948 war in the Israeli textbooks is the "War of Independence," and in the Palestinian books, al Nakba (The Catastrophe). Israeli textbooks regard Palestinian nationalism as a political reaction to Zionist and British policy, whereas textbooks in the territories see Palestine as a nation existing of its own accord that is at the same time part of the Arab and Islamic world.
Even though they were published after the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian textbooks emulate those in Jordan and Egypt, which have avoided use of the term "State of Israel" in texts and maps.
"In Palestinian eyes, the core of the conflict is over the land; for the Israelis, it is over security," Firer and Adwan write. "The Palestinians claim to be the descendants of the Canaanites, and thus being indigenous to the land, while the Israelis regard the Palestinians as a new nation of the 20th century born in response to the Zionist repatriation and the British Mandate. According to the Israeli version, the Israelis have rights to the land because of their religious, historical and cultural legacy. The national self-image of the Israelis includes all the layers of the past, starting with the ancient Hebrews, to the suffering Jews in the Diaspora, the victims of the Holocaust and the revived modern Jew in the Zionist Renaissance."
Surprisingly, the two researchers found an almost absolute parallel between the books in three areas: Both sides ignore periods of relative calm and coexistence between the nations - for instance in 1921-1929 - or mention them as a misleading interval in a prolonged conflict, the two sides do not reveal any tendency to tell the pupil the story of the conflict from the enemy's point of view, both skip over details of the human suffering of the other side, and each side gives a reckoning of its victims alone.
Firer marks 1995 as the year in which a change for the good took place in peace education in Israel and quotes from a statement made by education minister Yossi Sarid in January 2000 that he had given instructions to purge from the textbooks any hint of anti-Arab stereotypes and to initiate a free discussion of less positive events in Israeli history.
The current period, since the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada and the Likud's return to power, is characterized, she says, by a retreat to the traditional educational values that emphasize love of the homeland, marginalize peace education and abandon any attempt to understand the Palestinian side.
The chairman of the Pedagogical Secretariat at the Ministry of Education, Professor Yaakov Katz, does not claim that the Israeli education system is trying to put the pupil in the shoes of the enemy-neighbor, nor is there any reason to expect this to happen. "As opposed to critics who wish to highlight the Arab-Palestinian narrative, the education system in Israel intentionally emphasizes the Jewish and democratic identity of the state."
Katz notes that this attitude does not rule out the narrative of the other or the civil rights granted to the other by virtue of the Declaration of Independence and Israeli law.
"It would be interesting to know if there is any other place in the world in which textbooks present the narrative of the other at a time that the violent struggle between two peoples has not yet ended," says Katz. "No one should expect the democratic Jewish state to suggest during a war that it relate to the enemy's narrative in egalitarian fashion. Even more so after the Oslo Accords, about which there is a consensus that they did not bring about the yearned-for peace between Israel and the Palestinians."
Middle East History lecturer Dr. Eli Podeh of Hebrew University, author of "The Arab-Israeli Conflict in Israeli History Textbooks, 1948-2000," expresses his reservations at the very comparison between the Israeli textbooks and those published by the Palestinian Authority.
Podeh says that while Israel is already situated in the third generation of textbooks, the Palestinians are still stuck in the first generation, which somewhat resembles the Israeli curriculum enlisted during the years of armed struggle and the initial years of statehood.
In his first study of textbooks, which was issued seven years ago, Podeh wrote, "Recognition of the important role that textbooks played in assimilating negative stands toward the Arabs has not yet been absorbed by Israeli society. This role constituted a primary factor in exacerbating the conflict in the past, and it serves as a factor that makes reconciliation difficult."
Podeh says that since then, a noticeable improvement has been made in the history books, so much so that many of them expressly note that Israel participated in deporting Arabs.
Podeh says that if the Palestinian textbooks were compelled to go through the lengthy and exhaustive process of demythologization that Israeli textbooks went through, "then the road to mutual reconciliation is, I regret to say, liable to be a long one."
Professor Daniel Bar-Tal of the Tel Aviv University School of Education, who analyzed the contents of all 124 textbooks - from grades one through 12, covering the subjects of literature, Hebrew, history, geography and citizenship, all of which were approved in 1994 for use in the Israeli education system - found that the presentation of Arabs in dehumanizing terms, which declined in the 1980s and 1990s, began to seep back into the education system after the outbreak of the intifada.
He terms this phenomenon "part of the ethos of the conflict that spreads in societies subject to a violent conflict."
Like Podeh, Bar-Tal also noticed a perceptible decrease in the measure of delegitimization of the nationalistic positions of the Palestinians, but that at the same time, there has been no change in use of negative stereotypes that present the Arabs as "primitives," "passive," "cruel" or "riffraff."
Nazareth is not on the map
Dr. Nurit Peled-Elhanan of the Hebrew University School of Education recently completed an in-depth study of six Israeli textbooks published in the past few years. Some of them received official approval by the Ministry of Education's curricular division, while others were adopted by numerous teachers even without ministry approval.
One of the prominent findings in her study is the blurring of the Green Line. The book "Israel - Man and Expanse" published by the Center for Educational Technology features a map of Israel's institutions of higher learning, with colleges in Ariel, Elkana, Alon Shvut and Katzrin, along with colleges in Safed, Jezreel Valley and Ashkelon. No border is demarcated, nor is any mention made of a single Palestinian university. Nor do the book's maps show Nazareth or any other Arab city in Israel, although holy sites in the West Bank are presented as an integral part of the State of Israel.
A chapter on the ultra-Orthodox community states that they live in settlements that were established specifically for them: Kfar Chabad, Emmanuel, Elad and Beitar Illit. The message, says Peled-Elhanan, is that the settlements are an inseparable part of the State of Israel.
On most of the maps appearing in the books examined by Peled-Elhanan, Ariel and Katzrin are marked as part of the State of Israel. A map of the national parks shows no sign of a Green Line, but does show Ma'aleh Efraim. Peled-Elhanan contends that this is merely a sophisticated way of ensuring that the pupil will espouse certain basic political assumptions.
"When the Palestinians write `Palestine' on the maps in their textbooks, it is considered incitement," she says. "If that is the case, what should we call Israeli textbooks that call the West Bank `Judea and Samaria,' even on maps that describe the Mandatory borders, when the official name was `Palestine-Eretz Israel?'"
For instance, the jacket of the book "Geography of the Land of Israel" (by Talia Sagi and Yinon Aharoni, Lilach Books), a textbook that is especially popular with teachers, features a map of the Greater Land of Israel, without a trace of the territories that were already then under the control of the Palestinian Authority.
"This provides a hint to the pupil that these territories were `ours' from time immemorial, and reinforces the message that in the Six-Day War, we `liberated' or `redeemed' them from the Arab occupier," writes Peled-Elhanan in her study.
Another map, in which the West Bank is marked with a different color, states that "Following the Oslo Accords, the borders of Judea and Samaria are in a dynamic process of change." The accompanying text notes that the territories of the Palestinian Authority were not marked on the map, as there is not yet any border between states.
In the case of Syria, the existence of an inter-state border that Israel does not deny does not prevent the authors from keeping it a secret from the pupil. The pupil reads that Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981 and applied Israeli law to it, "with all that entails." How is this supposed to influence his position on the concession of territory that had been annexed to Israel in exchange for peace with Syria? Silhouettes of two soldiers are marked on the Golan Heights, the weapon of one of them is aimed at Syria.
Professor Yoram Bar-Gal, head of the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Haifa, says that the universal principle regarding maps used in the education realm, which states that "My map is educational - your map is propaganda," applies here in full. He says that maps are given high credibility, and therefore constitute a superior tool for transmitting political messages.
"The Zionist movement and the State of Israel, like other states and movements, have always exploited these characteristics of maps for their own needs," he says. Bar-Gal nevertheless comments that political change expressed in maps does not necessarily create change in the consciousness of teachers or pupils. "Erasure of the Green Line from the maps," he says, "did not necessarily make them disappear from the consciousness of the public at large."
Like the Green Line, the term "Palestinians" is alien to most textbooks. Until the chapter that discusses the Oslo Accords, even important historians like Professor Eli Barnavi and Dr. Eyal Naveh usually prefer the term "Israeli Arabs."
In his book "The 20th Century," Barnavi writes in reference to the Palestinian refugees: "The longing they felt and the subhuman conditions of their diaspora" imparted "an image of the Land of Israel as lost paradise."
Peled-Elhanan points out the significant difference in his attitude toward refugees in photographs: Palestinian refugees are represented by an aerial photograph of a nameless refugee camp, devoid of any human face. This compares with a photo of Jewish refugees from Europe sitting on a suitcase in Yehud. "The Palestinian problem," the book states, "is the end result of inactivity and frustration, which were the heritage of the refugees."
Peled-Elhanan cites a series of illustrations appearing in "Geography of the Land of Israel," which implants a camouflage message of the Arabs' primitive nature: The man in sharwal pants and a kaffiyeh on his head, the woman in traditional dress, usually sitting on the floor, and faceless children peeking from behind her back. The text explains, "The Arab resident insists on living in single-story homes, the cost of which is high. There is an expectation that all of the public needs will be provided for by the repository of land in the state's possession."
The factors delaying development of the Arab village in Israel, says the book, are that "most of the villages are situated in regions far from the center, and access to them is difficult. These villages have been left outside the process of development and change both because they are hardly exposed to modern life in the city, and because of the difficulties in linking them to the electricity and water network."
These factors do not exist when the discussion revolves to Jewish settlers who choose to settle in settlement outposts on hills that are "distant from the center, and to which access is difficult."
Naturally, Jerusalem receives special treatment in the Israeli textbooks. The book "Lands of the Mediterranean" (by Drora Va'adya, published by Ma'alot), which has Ministry of Education approval, states that "in addition to Jews," Christians and Muslims from all over the world come to Jerusalem to visit sites that are holy to each of their religions.
Peled-Elhanan comments that although the Jews are the smallest group numerically, the Christians and Muslims are annexed to them. A picture of a synagogue appears first, and it is nearly equal in size to the pictures of a mosque and a church put together. The map appended to this chapter shows Israel, including the territories, as an isolated island of Jews in a Muslim and Christian ocean, devoid of political boundaries.
In "Settlements in the Expanse," an approved book, Peled-Elhanan found that only two lines were devoted to the history of Jerusalem from the days of King David to the modern era, whereas the yearning of the Jews for Zion was described in 40 lines. The word "Arabs" does not appear at all in texts or on maps of Jerusalem: no Muslim Quarter, no Palestinian university and no Palestinian hospitals.
Katz says that some of the criticism refers to textbooks that are not approved for use in the education system, but he is aware that certain schools do not uphold this directive. In contrast to them, the approved textbooks undergo a careful examination by experts in order to make sure that they are not contaminated by racial, ethnic, gender or religious discrimination, and are not fraught with stereotypes.
Among the experts examining the textbooks are scholars such as Ghassem Khamaisi, the historian Dr. Benny Morris, Dan Meridor, the professors Yossi Katz, Arnon Sofer, Amnon Rubinstein, Arieh Shahar, Yossi Shelhav and others, people who according to Katz cannot be suspected of wanting to perpetuate an imbalanced or one-sided approach.
As for maps, he says that the government's cartographic department does not mark the Green Line as an official border of the State of Israel, and that so long as the Palestinian Authority has not been recognized as a sovereign state, it should not be represented as a state on maps.
This last response is identical practically word for word with the Palestinian position, according to which marking the border will come with the permanent settlement of the border between Israel and Palestine.