Study of Israeli, Palestinian Textbooks Yields Few Answers

The US State Department and faculty at Yale University have published a report on textbooks used in Israel and the Palestinian territories — and no seems pleased by the outcome. Christa Case Bryant writes in the Christian Science Monitor that although the report aims for fairness, its conclusions have left both sides still claiming both superiority and helplessness to make any changes.

Yale's Bruce Wexler is the chief author of the report, titled, "Victims of Our Own Narratives?" His team scored Israeli and Palestinian textbooks in six areas of how they used language for bias: talking about themselves, talking about the other; talking about religion, peace, conflict and values. Textbooks were scored according to what percent of their language was positive or negative. They studied official state-approved textbooks from both regions, and they also examined Israeli textbooks from "ultra-orthodox" religious schools that do not receive state approval.

Both sides tended to show maps that minimized or denied the other's presence in the land. 65% of Israeli textbooks showed national borders that include the West Bank region, though this is not entirely without factual basis since Israel's army patrols all of this land. 58% of Palestinian textbooks showed no borders or references to the state of Israel.

One of the areas that left the most to be desired was each group's characterization of the other in positive terms. Israeli state textbooks gave a favorable impression of the other 11 percent of the time, ultra-Orthodox 7 percent of the time, and Palestinians only 1 percent of the time.

Ultra-Orthodox books include passages describing "a convoy of bloodthirsty Arabs" and comparing Israel and the neighboring Arab states to a "little lamb in a sea of 70 wolves," while an Arabic language textbook used by the Palestinian Authority talks about "terror pour[ing] down from Mount Carmel on the Arabs living on the slopes."

The textbooks of both sides glorify their historical heroes. While Israeli-Jewish textbooks tell students about the Jewish people's Biblical heroes, Palestinian textbooks laud Arab heroes like Saladdin. Young Palestinians learn very little about the Holocaust and some textbooks do not mention Hitler.

Many people agree that textbooks should do better at explaining each side to the other. Israelis point out the the Oslo Accords mandated education for peace.

"We have to bring down this wall of hatred and enmity of delegitimization, of stereotyped images, in order for us to regard each other as human beings," says Mohammed Dajani, a former Fatah fighter turned peace activist, who served on the advisory board of the textbook study. "The level of incitement is high on both sides…. We don't have leaders who are saying, ‘Enough is enough.'"

But reactions to the Yale study seemed to bring out mainly partisan responses. The head of the Palestinian Curriculum Development Center complained that Israel removes references to itself as an occupier who destroys agriculture when permitting textbooks to be used in East Jerusalem. Other Palestinian officials said they were helpless to make things look better as long as Israel's occupying role and aggression continued.

The Israeli government believes that the study's equation of their textbooks and the Palestinian Authority's books is a false moral equation already. They refer to Palestinian incitement of violence, and they point out that there is a broader context for textbooks, including the PA's celebration of terrorism and occasional official honor for terrorists, such as naming streets after them.

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