Nurit Peled-Elchanan, a senior professor of language and education at Hebrew University, and a founder of the radical left Bereaved Families for Peace (not to be confused with mainstream, unpolitical organizations for bereaved families in Israel), has in recent weeks caused a stir overseas and much anger in Israel with a book she has written describing how Israel's education system “educates for apartheid.”
Her book, Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education, is being translated into English, and presents findings from what she says are “years of research” showing Israel has portrayed Arabs as second-class people.
Peled-Elchanan says that she researched schoolbooks used in the Israeli school system between 1996 and 2009, and found, she said in an interview with the British Guardian, “dozens of examples of how children are prepared to justify war crimes in their army service.People don’t really know what their children are reading in textbooks,” she told the newspaper. “One question that bothers many people is -- how do you explain the cruel behavior of Israeli soldiers towards Palestinians, an indifference to human suffering, the inflicting of suffering.”
That Israeli soldiers are cruel to Arabs is a common, unfounded accusation of leftist groups, who decry the "suffering" of Arabs waiting at checkposts, forgetting that if one terrorist gets through, the real suffering of Israeli victims would be the issue.
In an interview with the higher education supplement of the London Times, she cites "Arabs wearing Ali Baba pants and shoes, kaffiyeh, a moustache and followed by a camel,” as a stereotype that appears in books. "Students leave high school knowing nothing about the history and borders of the state, and seeing Palestinians as intruders, and then have to go out and control and sometimes kill them. Furthermore, the country is very small, but education can fence off neighbors and prevent them from having any real contact.
In general, she claimed, "Arabs and Palestinians don't do much in Israeli school books except for lurking, attacking in all sorts of ways and multiplying. The few transitive verbs I came across regarding this unanimous group of people included 'poison', 'attack', 'refuse', 'evade tax payment' and 'thank Israel for the progress it has brought into their life'."
Israeli textbooks are also insulting to Ethiopians, she claimed, “who are described in an anthropological way, what they wear and what they eat, but without a history.” Diaspora Jews, she said, “are seen as choosing the fleshpots of the West over a meaningful life in Israel. Anything that is not Zionist, if it is considered at all, is shown in a simplistic and demeaning way. But it is the Palestinians who are presented in the most obviously racist terms.”
On the other hand, Peled-Elchanan said, she had no problem with PA textbooks that present Jews as evil murderers, modern-day Nazis, occupiers, and thieves, and do not even recognize Israel's existence, wiping it off the school maps. She did not comment on mathematics problems that have students calculate whether they would down an Israeli plane under certain given.
“They are not racist and there is no incitement there, for the simple reason that they are controlled by the Israeli army, the EU, the Danish government and other bodies that finance them. The 'hating' books were the Jordanian and Egyptian ones the Palestinians had to learn from before they got permission to have their own curriculum in 1994,” she said. Although this is patently untrue, It is also clear that the PA could publish new books today if it wanted to, and could turn to world bodies for funding.
Peled-Elchanan is the daughter of Matti Peled, a member of the IDF General Staff during the Six Day War and military commander of Gaza during a period in 1956 when Israel held the area as a result of the war that year. Peled went on to found several influential radical left organizations before his death in 1995.
Peled-Elchanan's daughter, Smadar, was killed in a terror attack on Ben Yehuda Street in 1997 when she was 14. She has said that she “does not blame” the terrorists who killed her daughter, but understands their motivation in “fighting the occupation."
"There is no basic moral difference between the soldier at the checkpoint who prevents a woman who is having a baby from going through, causing her to lose the baby, and the man who killed my daughter [which unfortunately did happen, ed.]. And just as my daughter was a victim [of the occupation], so was he,” she was quoted as saying.
She reportedly refused to admit Israeli government officials to her home when they paid a visit in the wake of her daughter's murder.