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Wed Apr 10 20:07:14 UTC 2002

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      March 28, 2002

      Comparing Palestinian and Israeli Textbooks

      By: Ruth Firer and Sami Adwan*

      In our research on Palestinian and Israeli textbooks during the past several years, we have found that the books used in each society reflect the conflict in which they are both engaged, and are also part of a wider societal mechanism to ensure that the conflict becomes part of the development of children's identities. While there has been a great deal of controversy regarding Palestinian textbooks in particular, we believe it is important to compare the Israeli and Palestinian textbooks to each other, rather than to look at only one set by itself, in order to get a complete picture of the role they play in peace education or the opposite. 

      We analyzed Palestinian history and civics textbooks for middle schools, as well as the primary-level textbooks used in all types of Palestinian schools: public, private, and UNRWA. The Israeli sample included only the most commonly used texts among the numerous Israeli textbooks in history and civics, as well as Israeli readers for the first six grades of primary school (for the secular, religious, and ultra-Orthodox schools). 

      Palestinian Texts

      In September 2000, for the first time in Palestinian history, 29 Palestinian texts for grades one and six were introduced into schools. In addition, 16 textbooks for grades two and seven were introduced in September 2001. The Ministry of Education plans to introduce texts for two grades at the beginning of each school year to ensure that the transition is smooth and incremental. In the meantime, Jordanian and Egyptian textbooks will be used in the remaining grades.

      At present, the Palestinian curriculum system is centralized, which means that the Ministry of Education through the Palestinian Curriculum Center commissions textbook authors, produces the textbooks, and then distributes them to all schools regardless of the supervising authority of the school. In accordance with the Palestinian curriculum plan, however, the system will gradually be decentralized.

      The new Palestinian textbooks were found to reflect Palestinian life and reality, as well as the diversity within Palestinian society. They talk about Palestinian culture and tradition, and focus on building Palestinian identity as part of the Arab world. 

      The texts teach Palestinian students to respect human rights, justice, peace, equality, freedom, and tolerance, in terms of both self and others. They caution students to avoid extremism and stereotypes, and encourage them to treat all people equally. The books also encourage tolerance among religions and ask students to respect the freedom of religion. The students are taught to protect all religious places as well.

      Palestinian students are warned in the texts about the terrible results of wars and conflict, and are encouraged instead to resort to negotiation and peaceful forms of conflict resolution. They are told that wars only leave people with death and destruction. The texts discuss the Oslo Accords as a step toward peace and as a sign of breaking the enmity and the long period of conflict. Students learn about Gandhi and his form of civil disobedience, and are asked to relate to other stories of peaceful forms of conflict resolution. We found no incitement for the use of violence at all. 

      The new Palestinian textbooks define the future independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders as described in UN Resolutions. The few maps that are included mainly show the PNA areas, although some mention Israeli towns and cities. At the same time, students are taught to cooperate and develop good relationships with neighboring states. Arab East Jerusalem (Al-Quds Al-Sharif) is presented in the textbooks as part of the Occupied Territories and the future capital of Palestine. 

      The books portray Jews throughout history in a positive manner and avoid negative stereotypes. However, according to the everyday experience of Palestinians, modern-day Israelis are presented as occupiers. The texts include examples of Israelis killing and imprisoning Palestinians, demolishing their homes, uprooting fruit trees, and confiscating their lands and building settlements on them. The texts also talk about the right of return for the 1948 Palestinian refugees when describing how those refugees live in camps. 

      Israeli Texts

      The Israeli Ministry of Education publishes and recommends a list of texts from which teachers can choose, although others are available from the textbook market in Israel. The primary-level textbooks that were analyzed are used by three different audiences: secular, religious, and ultra-Orthodox. Those used in secular schools (which includes more than 60% of the students in Hebrew-language primary schools) are based on education towards patriotism on the one hand and individual and social human rights on the other, according to internationally accepted values. They include children's rights, freedom of expression, and the uniqueness of the individual. The books also include exercises in self-criticism, analytical thinking, acknowledgment of emotions and skills for controlling them, as well as dialogue with others. While Western values are the source of the human rights described in the secular textbooks, the values in the religious textbooks are derived from the "Halacha" (the Jewish religious laws and way of life). 

      The protagonists of the secular textbooks are children who learn to be themselves, to cope with family, friends, school, and their national identity. In the religious textbooks, the children are part of the collective that is built on hierarchy and the roles defined by Judaism. Zionist ideology is the main pillar of the secular books. Accordingly, the sovereign state of Israel is presented as the only answer for the historical Jewish problem and as the only alternative for the Jewish nation. The secular textbooks also include stories about Arab children (Jordanian and Palestinian) who play or would like to play with their Israeli peers. Messages of peace with the neighbors are integrated explicitly and implicitly into the texts. 

      The textbooks used in the state religious primary schools are as Zionist as the books designated for secular schools, but in a different way. These texts enhance religious-national education, strongly emphasizing the collective values connected to the history of the Jewish nation in "their land" and God's promises to the Jews that give them an absolute right on the land. The land of Eretz Israel described in the books includes the territories of the PNA from 1967. In addition, stories and poems about religious and national holidays are based on the existential threat posed to Jews and Israelis by the "others." These stories include wars, loss, and pain caused by the "others" through the generations. Many of the chapters describe "the good land," sometimes called "our birthplace" or "homeland" ("moledet" in Hebrew), and include photos of places that are in the PNA or are in dispute between the two nations (i.e., East Jerusalem). They are presented without the national-political debate, and as naturally belonging to the Israeli state. Such textbooks are used in almost 20% of the Jewish state schools. 

      The primary-level textbooks for the ultra-Orthodox community are used by less than 20% of the autonomous schools (which are not supervised by the Israeli Ministry of Education) and ignore the state of Israel, Independence Day (the war of 1948), and Holocaust Commemoration Day. They heavily emphasize God's promise of the whole of Eretz Israel to the Jews, and include photos from all the places considered to be part of Jewish land. In both kinds of religious textbooks, the "others" are the "Goyyim" (Gentiles), which includes Arabs of all nationalities. 

      The Palestinians, as such, are not found in any of the three types of primary-level textbooks. In these readers, the Palestinian minority in Israel and the PNA Palestinians are referred to as Arabs. Tolerance and peace-oriented texts with the "others" were found only in the secular primary-level textbooks. All of the textbooks strongly recommend values of tolerance and camaraderie within the defined kin collective, meaning their own group in Israel. 


      While we, argue, of course, that school textbooks are an important element in peace education, the main "textbook" is life outside schools and the oral presentations by teachers that reflect the public's general feelings. Currently, such oral and real-life instruction is far from conveying genuine peace education messages. Since the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has not been resolved, modifying textbooks is problematic. As part of a true peace process, both Palestinians and Israelis have to revise their textbooks to clearly reflect the values of peace education.

      *This article is based on the findings of a recently completed bilateral research project on Israeli and Palestinian textbooks to be published as a book by The George Eckert International Institute of Textbooks Research in Germany. Primary support for this research was provided by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The research was also supported by the United States Institute of Peace and UNESCO. 

      **Ruth Firer is director of peace education projects at the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Sami Adwan is a professor of education at Bethlehem University in Bethlehem. The article was distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
            © 2001 Arabic Media Internet Network - Internews Middle East - Site Designed by Imad Abu Jebara  

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