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Op-Ed: Report: Comparative Study of PA and Israeli Textbooks

The writer says that In times of war, textbooks should promote nationalism rather than peace.
Published: Friday, February 08, 2013 2:23 PM


A Report of the study of the Palestinian and Israel textbooks was recently published and created much controversy.

  1. “The study was initiated in 2009 by the Jerusalem-based Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, which includes the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the Minister of Religious Affairs of the Palestinian Authority, the Greek, Armenian and Latin Patriarchs of Jerusalem and the Anglican and Lutheran Bishops of the Holy Land, among others. The Council monitors and condemns defamatory statements attacking any religion and desecration of holy sites. In that context, the Council asked Professor Wexler to design, seek funding for and manage a study of school books used in Israel and Palestine. “

According to the Report:

  1. [B]oth Israeli and Palestinian school books omit important information about each other, creating obstacles to peace. The school books also present national narratives that consistently describe the other community as acting to destroy or dominate its own community, and its own actions as peaceful and acting in self-defense. The absence of the other on maps provides striking and concrete examples of these contrasting narratives.

The NYT covered the Report under the title Academic Study Weakens Israeli Claim That Palestinian School Texts Teach Hate and so it does.

Jonathan Tobin, writing in Commentary Magazine condemned the report and the NYT coverage of it, under the title A Study in False Moral Equivalence by writing:

  1. The New York Times reports today that a new study is attempting to downplay the role that incitement to hatred in Palestinian schools is playing in fueling the conflict. The study is the product of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, a left-leaning ecumenical group that is partially financed by a grant from the U.S. State Department. The group claims as its goal to promote peace and understanding and their study’s conclusion purports to be as even-handed as their approach to peace.

    But the report’s claim that there is a rough moral equivalence between the attitudes of the Israeli and Palestinian education systems toward the promotion of hate is so far removed from reality as to render it useless as a measure of the problem. That study, which was rejected by a number of the academics who were part of the group commissioned to analyze the issue, must therefore be considered a contribution to the propaganda war against Israel rather than an effort to pave the way for accord between the two peoples.

Dr. Arnon Groiss who was a Member Advisory Council on the Israeli-Palestinian schoolbook research project, was highly critical of the Report:

Selection of the Study Material

  1. As I have already noted, the source material gathered for the purpose of analysis leaves out some significant items that may have enhanced the understanding of the general attitude of the PA schoolbooks to the Jewish/Israeli “other” and to the issue of peace with this “other.” For example, highly demonizing pieces were not included, under the pretext that they were not explicit enough. Thus, a piece saying “Your enemies killed your children, split open your women’s bellies…” was rejected because it did not mention Jews or Israelis and was actually written in the early 20th century. Its appearance in a Palestinian textbook of today with its obviously serious consequences did not change that decision. Similarly, a piece talking of “invading snakes” was also discarded since no Jews or Israelis were mentioned there, as if someone else was intended, who is not involved in the conflict. Another pretext was that the books concerned were “Holy Scriptures” and, as such, could not be touched. Well, they were not. They were simple textbooks of religious themes with scriptural and non-scriptural material and the anti-Jewish expressions there were non-scriptural.

    On the other hand, an explicit denial of the existence of Jewish holy places in the country was not included too – with no clear explanation. That was the case as well regarding a specific text placing Palestine instead of Israel as the sovereign state in the region, regarding a piece clearly stating that both sides of the Green Line were occupied territories of Palestine – that is, Israel within its pre-1967 borders and the territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and regarding a chart of Palestine’s population in 1999 that included the Palestinians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, in Israel-proper (called “the Interior” just to avoid the expression of “Israeli pre-67 territory”) and even the Diaspora, while the 5.5 million Jews were not counted.

    I just skimmed through the Israeli quotes and I did not find similarly prominent missing items there.

    Categorization

    I have found deficiencies on both levels of definition and actual use. On the first level, categorization was restricted to very general themes, leaving out important issues such as open advocacy of peace/war with the “other,” legitimacy of the “other,” etc. Regarding legitimacy, I was disturbed to discover back in May that Prof. Bar-Tal had developed a specific definition of delegitimization as “categorization of groups into extreme negative categories which are excluded from human groups.” He further put dehumanization and out casting among the varied phenomena of delegitimization with expressions like “Vandals” and “Huns” as examples (see his article in Journal of Social Issues, 46 (1) pp. 65-81). Thus, the real cases of ignoring the “other” deliberately without degrading him slipped away from scrutiny. I was among other SAP members who questioned that peculiar definition in May, but to no avail, and all we lastly had was a paragraph on page 49 of the report which mixed between casual non-reference to the “other” and systematically denying him any status.

    On the actual usage level I have encountered several misplacements which blur or even distort the picture. For example, under the category of positive description of the “other” we find a piece from a PA Christian Education textbook which describes the Sabbath observing Jews. But when one reads further one discovers that those observing Jews were so fanatic that they refused to cure the sick on that day. It was Jesus Christ who acted against their position and did the opposite. The place of this item is, obviously, in the category of negative description of the “other.” Other “positive” references to Jews in Palestinian schoolbooks are those praising Moses or Abraham, etc. But one should remember that they, as well as David, Solomon and other traditional Jewish figures, are actually detached in Islamic tradition from their Jewish environment and looked upon as God’s prophets and, thus, more Islamic than Jewish. By no means should positive texts in which they feature be regarded as positive description of Jews.

    The meaning of all this is that if we take away all these few items from the said category we would leave it empty or almost empty, with major implications on the overall assessment of the attitude to the “other.”

    Analysis

    There is no attempt to study the quotes more deeply and draw conclusions. All items were treated equally, with no one being evaluated and given a more significant status that the other. It seems that they were simply lumped together, counted and then the numbers spoke. It might be statistically correct, but, as we all know, statistics not always reveal the actual complex picture. This kind of analysis has produced a “flat” survey of the quotes, without any reference to their deeper significance (for example, looking at a demonizing text with no specific enemy as if it were a “neutral” literary piece). Also, all quotes were treated as separate items with no attempt to make a connection between two quotes or more in order to reveal an accumulated message (for example, concluding from the connected recurrent mentioning of the need to liberate Palestine, and the similarly recurring theme that Israel in its pre-1967 borders is “occupied Palestine”, that the liberation of Palestine actually means the liquidation of Israel). The reliance on item-counting alone also misses the realm of omissions which is extremely important in the case of societies involved in a conflict – especially if their curricula are funded by the international community (for example, the often mentioned case of absence of explicit discussion of possible peaceful relations with Israel).

    I would now like to refer to two important issues dealt with in the report in a manner I would define as misleading.

    First, the issue of borders on the map:. The report checked hundreds of maps appearing in schoolbooks of both sides and concluded that both tend to ignore the “other” either by erasing any boundary line between them or by refraining from labeling the territory of the “other” accordingly. In my opinion, this evenly distributed accusation is misleading, for the simple reason that there is no Palestinian state to be named on the map. The Palestinian Authority is an autonomous body under Israeli suzerainty legally and, as such, it could be described on the map as part of Israel. On the other hand, Israel has never officially annexed the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which enables Israeli cartographers to present these areas as separate from Israel-proper. Another possibility is indicating the PA’s “A” and “B” areas in different colors and such maps were indeed included in Israeli schoolbooks prior to the eruption of the second Intifadah. But since parts of these areas have been since reoccupied, this practice is also outdated. One can find in the Israeli schoolbooks all these variations of maps, and, in some of the cases, several of them within one book.

    By contrast, the State of Israel exists as an independent entity recognized by the PLO by virtue of the Oslo Accord, and the widely spread tendency not to put its name on maps within PA schoolbooks calls for concern. There is no symmetry between the two parties and any attempt to show that there is – does not reflect the reality on the ground.

    Also, the mere use of the names Judea and Samaria does not mean that Israeli schoolbooks oppose the creation of an independent Palestinian state. These have been the Hebrew traditional names of the two regions for centuries, much the same like Galilee and the Negev. Even when a Palestinian state is established, they will still be called by these names. By contrast, “the West Bank” is a newcomer in history. It is a Jordanian political term that is no longer valid.

    Second, the report considers Jihad and martyrdom as values, which is acceptable academically, but it fails to evaluate their impact on the issues of war and peace in the context of the conflict. Frequent use of these values could be good indicators as far as the Palestinian attitude to a non-peaceful solution to the conflict is concerned, especially when they are not mentioned in the context of past events. From this particular point of view they should not be compared to Israeli texts talking of past IDF fallen soldiers.”

The Report itself notes; “Unilateral national narratives like these are typical in societies in conflict.” To my mind that is a very important admission. How could it be otherwise?

Totally aside from whether the Report distorts reality and imposes a moral equivalency, which it does, it is natural for countries to educate its children to think positively about their country. To measure textbooks on the standard of whether they promote peace is totally inappropriate to contries in conflict. The job of the state is to strengthen the will of the people to persevere in the conflict, to defend itself and to believe in the justice of its cause. Whether or not the textbooks promote peace is irrelevant.

Both the PA and Israel do this but the PA does something else which goes way beyond this and Israel does not.

The PA promotes hatred of Israel and Israelis and calls for their death and destruction. “Resistence”, as preached by the PA is not a defensive doctrine which would be acceptable. It is an offense doctrine in aid of a war strategy, which is not acceptable particularly when it is ostensibly committed to a peace process.

Praising peace as the highest value leads to Chamberlain's “Peace in our Time” and today's “Peace Now” organization, both of which led to war.

On the other hand, “If you wish for peace, prepare for war” - is otherwise known as “peace through strength”.