Textbook study faults Israelis and Palestinians

Feb 04, 2013, 8:36 AM EST
 Israeli students attend a class at Biet Ezekiel elementary school in Ashkelon on February 3, 2013
AP/Tsafrir Abayov

JERUSALEM (AP) — Both Israeli and Palestinian schoolbooks largely present one-sided narratives of the conflict between the two peoples and tend to ignore the existence of the other side, but rarely resort to demonization, a study released Monday said.

The study by Israeli, Palestinian and American researchers, billed as setting a new scientific standard for textbook analysis, tackled a particularly fraught issue — longstanding Israeli claims that the Palestinians teach hatred of Israel and glorify violence in their schools.

The research, funded by the U.S. State Department, appeared to undermine these allegations, though it was unlikely to resolve the debate.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argues that the conflict with the Palestinians is not over land, but over Israel's acceptance in the region, and that peace is not possible until the alleged incitement stops.

Palestinians say Netanyahu is hiding behind such claims to divert attention from settlement building on occupied lands and from what they believe is his unwillingness to reach a peace deal on internationally backed terms.

The new study said the school books of both sides are typical for societies in conflict — though books used in Israeli state schools include significantly more information about Palestinians and more self-critical texts. Books used in Israel's ultra-Orthodox religious schools, attended by more than a quarter of Jewish students, and in Palestinian schools contain little information about the other side, the study said.

"On both sides, the chief problem is the crime of omission. It's the absence of a clear, outright recognition of existence and the other side's right to exist," said Gershon Baskin, an Israeli member of the study's scientific advisory panel.

Israel's Education Ministry dismissed the study as biased but did not elaborate. The Palestinian Education Ministry said its books reflect the reality of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories but do not incite to hatred.

The study analyzed 74 Israeli and 94 Palestinian books, covering grades 1-12 and teaching social sciences, geography, literature, religion, Arabic and Hebrew. The Israeli books were from state-run secular and religious schools, as well as independent ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools. The vast majority of the Palestinian books were used in government schools, and only six in private Islamic schools.

Scholars said they developed a new method to ensure greater objectivity, as they reviewed nearly 16,000 pages from Israeli state school books, close to 3,500 pages from books in ultra-Orthodox schools and close to 10,000 pages from Palestinian books.

All Israeli and Palestinian researchers were fluent in both Hebrew and Arabic so they could analyze the books of both communities, study organizers said. Often, the same texts were reviewed by more than one person, and the data was entered remotely into a database at Yale University so researchers could not be influenced by how the study was progressing.

The study found that as part of the selective narratives presented, both the Israeli and Palestinian books tended to describe negative actions of the other against the own community, while portraying the own community in positive terms.

Books often lacked information about the religion, culture, economy and daily life of the other side. The lack, the study said, "serves to deny the legitimate presence of the other."

"It is clear that each side is emphasizing its own narrative of the conflict," said Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University, one of three lead scholars, along with Sami Adwan of Bethlehem University and Bruce Wexler, professor emeritus at Yale.

"There is really minimal dehumanization on both sides, but at the same time, there is really a line of ignoring the other side," he said.

The failure to recognize the other is particularly apparent in maps of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, where the Palestinians hope to establish their state alongside Israel.

The Palestinians want to form their state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in 1967. For now, they have limited autonomy in 38 percent of the West Bank, where more than 90 percent of the Palestinians live. Israel annexed east Jerusalem immediately after the 1967, a move not recognized by most of the world, and withdrew in 2005 from Gaza, now controlled by the militant Palestinian group Hamas.

Israel was only shown in three of 83 post-1967 maps in Palestinian books, the study said.

Of 330 post-1967 maps in Israeli books, 258 included the area between the Jordan River and the sea. Of those, 196 maps, or 76 percent, did not indicate any borders between Israel and the occupied lands. Of the 62 maps that included a demarcation, 33 showed which areas are under Palestinian self-rule, while 29 maps showed borders with color lines, but do not refer to a Palestinian presence.

Historical events, while not fabricated, are presented selectively to present the own community's national narrative, the study said.

Yossi Kuperwasser, a senior Israeli official who monitors Palestinian statements and actions for the government's "incitement index," rejected the study's conclusions.

"Our curriculum calls for peace and states why peace is good and there (in Palestinian schools) it is just the opposite," he said. "Incitement to violence, to hatred, is the main obstacle to peace, and this has to change if we really are to have peace."

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said the study proved "there is no incitement in our text books" but added that he has asked the Palestinian Education Ministry to keep the study's criticism of Palestinian texts in mind when developing the next crop of books.

Jihad Zarkarneh, in charge of textbooks in the Palestinian Education Ministry, said that as long as Palestinians live under military rule, their books cannot be expected to portray Israel in a positive light.

"If the study wants me to praise the Israeli occupation, the Israeli culture, I'm telling the researchers that no people on earth praised their occupier, neither in America nor in France or China or anywhere," he said.

The study was overseen by a 19-member scientific advisory panel. On Sunday, 14 members endorsed the findings in a statement. Ruth Firer and Arnon Groiss, two Israeli scholars who conducted previous textbook studies, were among the five panel members who did not endorse the findings.

Firer, a scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, had collaborated in the past with Adwan, one of the lead researchers in the current study.

In their previous work, Firer and Adwan noted that both Israeli and Palestinian books present a national narrative, but that Israeli books allocate more space than in the past to Palestinians and their suffering.

Firer, who has studied Israeli schoolbooks for four decades, said Monday that she believes the new study underplays the difference between the books used in Palestinian and in Israel secular schools on providing information about the other side.

"There is a huge gap," Firer said. In Israeli books, for example, "there is a very nice chapter about Islam, very respectful."

But, she said, "in Palestinian books, there is nothing about the Jewish religion or the Holocaust."

Two NGOs, Palestinian Media Watch and IMPACT-SE, have harshly criticized the Palestinian textbooks, saying they ignore Israel, emphasize "martyrdom," a term for being killed while carrying out an attack or in a clash with Israelis, and do not educate to peace.

The new study was initiated in 2009 by the Jerusalem-based Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land, which represents top Jewish, Muslim and Christian clerics.

However, the council is not participating in the study's release, said a top official, Trond Bakkevig, a Norwegian reverend. The study went beyond the requested analysis of books teaching religion, he said, adding that "we found it best it is being published in the name of the scholars who did it."

The State Department said it is one of several to have received grants from Washington, but that they are not being endorsed by the U.S. government. "They are independent assessments that can provide additional perspectives on complicated issues," said spokesman Patrick Ventrell.


Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank contributed reporting.