Since the formation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) almost ten years ago, Israel has repeatedly claimed that the textbooks preach anti-Semitism and marginalise Jewish history.
Most Palestinian officials and educationists dismiss the Israeli charges as politically motivated, claiming that the current books only reflect historical reality.
“Can anybody with minimal rectitude and intellectual honesty deny the fact that Israel occupied our country and expelled the bulk of our people from their ancestral homeland,” Ibrahim Amr, a Palestinian history teacher in Hebron, said to Aljazeera.net.
“Do we have to adopt the Zionist narrative in order to prove ourselves worthy of peace?” he added.
Amin Abu Bakr, author of history and national education textbooks for the eighth grade (13-14-year olds) and below, thinks the whole controversy is a political smokescreen.
“It is preposterous to raise the issue of incitement in our textbooks at a time when Israel is carrying out a savage rampage of murder and terror against an entire civilian population and reducing our towns and villages into virtual concentration camps,” he told Aljazeera.net.
“In my opinion, the whole thing is a red herring aimed at distracting attention from the Israeli holocaust against our people.”
In defence of his books, Abu Bakr has argued that there are certain facts that no educator can ignore.
“I can’t possibly erase more than 1350 years of Arab-Islamic history in Palestine and pretend that the history of the region began with Israel’s creation in 1948. If I did that, I would be betraying my conscience, disregarding truth and cheating my students,” he said.
“It is preposterous to raise the issue of incitement in our textbooks at a time when Israel is carrying out a savage rampage of murder and terror”
Amin Abu Bakr,
The mantra of criticism, repeated for a decade, did not take account of the fact that “Palestinian” textbooks were introduced only two years ago.
Prior to that, Palestinians in the West Bank had been using Jordanian textbooks, while those in the Gaza Strip had been using Egyptian ones, neither of which the PA could control.
After the 1993 Oslo Agreement, the PA created a Curriculum Development Centre in order to overhaul the Palestinian educational system.
As a result, a new set of textbooks was phased in during the 2000-2001 academic year.
According to Ziad Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine, no serious scholarly and substantiated criticism has been directed against the new textbooks.
Testifying before an American Senate hearing in late October, Asali said that any criticisms of Palestinian textbooks should not be de-contextualized from the overall situation, the grim reality facing the territories’ people.
“The daily life of Palestinian children, with occupation, closures, violence, home demolitions, checkpoints, bravado, fear, suicide bombings, air raids, humiliation, economic hardship, vengeance, are realities that can’t be dissociated from the classroom. It is these realities that we need to resolve by bringing about peace and security for all.”
Asali quoted Akiva Eldar, a prominent Israeli journalist, who wrote in January 2001, “The Palestinians are punished twice. First, they are criticised for books produced by the education ministries of others; and secondly, their children study from books that ignore their own nation’s narrative.”
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In November 2001, the eminent Scholar Nathan Brown, Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the George Washington University, issued a detailed report on Palestinian textbooks.
He concluded, “Harsh external critics of the Palestinian curriculum and textbooks have had to rely on misleading and tendentious reports to support their claim of incitement.”
The European Union, which finances the printing of some Palestinian textbooks, has also claimed that Palestinian textbooks are not as bad as the Israelis say.
In a statement issued on 15 May 2002, the EU said, “The New Palestinian textbooks, although not perfect, are free of inciteful content and improve the previous textbooks, constituting a valuable contribution to the education of young Palestinians.”
“Therefore, all allegations against the new textbooks funded by EU members have proven unfounded,” the statement concluded.
While Palestinian textbooks are meticulously examined for every shred of incitement, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, very few have paid the same attention to the Israeli books which often contain racist messages and hatred towards Palestinians and Arabs.
A few years ago, Professor Daniel Tal of Tel Aviv University, studied 124 elementary, middle- and high school textbooks on grammar and Hebrew literature, history, geography and citizenship.
He concluded that Israeli textbooks routinely portray Arabs as “hostile, deviant, cruel, immoral, unfair, having the intention to hurt Jews and to annihilate Israel”.
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Ari Cohen, an Israeli writer, has researched 1700 Israeli children’s books published after 1967. He found that 520 of the books contained “humiliating, negative descriptions of Palestinians”.
According to his study, 60% of the 520 books researched refer to Arabs as violent; 52% as evil; 37% as liars; and 31% as greedy; 28% as two-faced; and 27% as traitors.
Cohen said that the authors of Israeli children’s books effectively instilled hatred towards Arabs by stripping them of their humanity.
In a sampling of 86 Israeli textbooks, Cohen counted the following descriptions used to dehumanise Arabs: murderer was used 21 times, snake six times; dirty nine times; vicious animal 17 times; bloodthirsty 21 times; warmonger 17 times; killer 13 times; believer of myths nine times; and a camel’s hump twice.
Moreover, Israeli public schools’ textbooks look benign beside those used in thousands of Talmudic religious schools throughout Israel.
These books do not ascribe full humanity to non-Jews and teach that the life of a “goy” (a derogatory term for a non-Jew) has no sanctity.