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IMPACT-SE's Reactions: Institutes

An Opportunity to Educate for Peace:
Preliminary Comments on the Council of Religious Institutions Textbook Report

February 7, 2013

IIMPACT-SE, an institute researching tolerance and the attitudes towards the other in textbooks for more than 15 years, welcomes the latest report on Israeli and Palestinian textbooks commissioned by the "Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land" as the newest addition to a group of studies on this subject. IMPACT-SE has already issued 11 studies on this specific issue of the Palestinian and Israeli textbooks over the last 12 years.

IMPACT-SE is an independent international organization that analyses textbooks from around the world in order to examine the level in which they uphold the international standards set by UNESCO, the UN's education organization. Our own study of Palestinian and Israeli textbooks, has found that while Israeli state-approved textbooks include a respectful depiction of Muslim, Arab and Palestinian history narratives, Palestinian textbooks present no such parallels. While we did observe a series of positive developments in the Palestinian curriculum pertaining to issues such as “state and nation building,” the situation regarding the attitude towards the other remains a significant problem, and has actually deteriorated in the past several years.

While IMPACT-SE commends the academic effort of the Council's report, and also endorses the only recommendation it gives - calling to establish both a Palestinian and an Israeli committee in order to rectify the faults it has found - we have serious concerns about its conclusions, which we believe were reported in a flawed and misleading manner.

The report strives to portray Israeli and Palestinian textbooks and their attitudes towards sensitive issues such as how the other and the other's culture are perceived, and how democratic values, historical narratives and the affinity to peace among people, religions and countries are presented.

IMPACT-SE welcomes all research that wishes to correct the negation or de-legitimization of the national or religious other, in hopes that such research will raise awareness and create a debate on how to improve education for peace. Yet, we raise some serious questions about the Council's report methodological choices and about some of the texts and quotes omitted from its analysis. Likewise, we find it difficult to reconcile the wide gap observed between the quotes mentioned in the report and the conclusions derived from them. The report's overall "forgiving" nature regarding the textbooks approved by the Palestinian Ministry of Education, which still teach negation of the Israeli other and its history, is definitely one major source of concern.

In general – and perhaps as a result of an attempt to create an acceptable comparative research – the Council's report claims that both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks present a one-sided national narrative portraying the other as an enemy. However, according to our several studies on Israeli and Arab textbooks as well as the quotes given in the above mentioned report, it is clear that the Israeli education system and its educational world view cannot be compared with those of the Palestinian education system. While Israeli education teaches peace and recognizes the national or religious other, Palestinian textbooks emphasize a message of non-acceptance and justify fight and struggle.

In comparison, political maps featured in Israeli textbooks include either the Green Line or the Israeli-Palestinian borders according to the Oslo Accords, and these and other maps also include Palestinian cities. Palestinian textbooks, by contrast, hardly ever feature Israeli cities or recognize a Jewish-Israeli entity in any of the territory called "Palestine" (from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River). This is accompanied with curricular themes of self-victimization, viewing the other side only as the aggressor, and with an emphasis on conflict rather than peace building. This attitude of de-legitimization, exclusion and denial of the Israeli other and of Jewish history – including the Holocaust – undermines any attempt to promote a dialogue of peace and reconciliation that the report itself wishes to encourage.

Five main notions still persist in Palestinian textbooks:

1. Complete denial of any Jewish rights in the Holy Land;
2. Demonization of the Jews in general and of Israel in particular;
3. Presentation of the Arab-Israeli conflict in a one-sided distorted manner;
4. Lack of education for peace and tolerance;
5. Encouragement of violent struggle (Jihad) including self-sacrifice, and preaching of an eternal war until Palestine – which includes the entire territory of what is internationally acknowledged as the state of Israel – is released.

Unlike Palestinian textbooks, Israeli books do not include negation of the other nor do they encourage violence. Israeli textbooks include representations of Palestinian suffering, the notion of "Nakba," the phenomenon of refugees and even incidents such as the massacres of Kfar Qasem, Sabra and Shatila or Dir Yassin, thereby teaching self-criticism. By contrast, Palestinian textbooks do not make any reference to Jewish suffering, and completely ignore subjects such as anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, the phenomenon of Jewish refugees from Arab lands and Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israelis and Jews.

Furthermore, Israeli textbooks include many references to the narrative of the other, to the recognition of the peace process, to the promotion of peace as a central value and to the presentation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one that will be resolved in a peaceful manner. Even though Israeli textbooks do not include many references to the post-1948 Palestinian point of view, they do describe the Oslo process at length, including paraphrased descriptions of Palestinian public opinion.

Finally, although flaws can certainly be found in Israeli textbooks, they include a diverse discourse that includes a number of opposing views, while referring to peace as the preferred solution despite the hardships. It would seem that Palestinian textbooks have, sadly, not chosen the road of peace as of yet.

IMPACT-SE will continue to participate in this important public discourse over peace and tolerance in school education.