The Attitude to the Jews, Israel and Peace in Palestinian, Arab and Iranian School Textbooks
March 21, 2006

Presented to the Seminar on “The Role of Textbooks in the Middle East Conflict” for Members of the European Parliament in Brussels.

Palestinian Textbooks

Compared with other Arab textbooks, the Palestinian texts have fewer crude and abusive terms in reference to Israel and the Jews. On the other hand, they do not differ from the other Arab textbooks in their general approach, which is based on three main elements:

  1. Non-recognition of the adversary’s legitimacy.
  2. Avoidance of any real acquaintance with the other party, with a strong tendency towards stereotyping and prejudice.
  3. No attempt to reach a real peace based on reconciliation.

Non-recognition of the adversary’s legitimacy is expressed in the PA textbooks in various ways. The Jews are not referred to as having been legitimate inhabitants of the country in the past (this role is projected upon the Arabized Canaanites), and are not counted among its legitimate inhabitants today. Tel Aviv and other modern Jewish cities do not appear on their maps. There is no acknowledgement of the country’s Jewish holy places, which are represented as Muslim holy places usurped by the Jews. A Hebrew inscription is erased from a British Mandatory stamp. The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, on the basis of the UN resolution of 1947, is considered occupation. Israel’s territory does not bear the name “Israel” on maps, and instead the name “Palestine” sometimes appears there. Palestine sometimes replaces Israel as the sovereign state in the region, and it – including the territory within the pre 1967 borders – is depicted as Arab and Muslim, under the Palestinian flag. Regions, cities and sites within Israel’s pre-1967 borders are described as Palestinian. The phrase “Israeli territory” is never used. It is replaced by circumlocutions: “the Lands of 1948”, “the Interior”, “the Green Line”.

Stereotyping and prejudice are abundant. To begin with, the Palestinian pupils are given no objective information about the Jewish people or Israel, and neither Jews nor Israelis are portrayed as individual human beings. The Jews are presented as enemies of both Jesus Christ and the Prophet Muhammad throughout history, and are referred to as today’s killers of civilians, slaughterers, human wild beasts. The Jewish national movement – Zionism – is described as a colonialist movement connected with Western Imperialism, which aspired from its very inception to expel and annihilate the Palestinians. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are portrayed as the confidential resolutions of the first Zionist congress in a textbook that is still available for sale, although a newly published version has omitted that reference. All evil, including family violence in Palestinian society is attributed to Israel. No mention is ever made of any possible Palestinian responsibility for measures that Israel has taken (One example would be the terrorist attacks that have led to the construction of the security fence). Furthermore, the textbooks contain passages that openly demonize Israel.

Although peace is taught in the Palestinian schools as a general ideal, and the peace process with Israel is presented in a factual language, nowhere is peace with Israel openly advocated, and the Oslo Accords are sometimes presented as only a phase in the Palestinians violent struggle for liberation. That struggle is greatly emphasized and enhanced with the use of the traditional Islamic concepts of Jihad and martyrdom. The area to be liberated is never limited to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Rather, there are implications that it extends to the territory of pre-1967 Israel as well. The books present in a favorable light the perpetrators of terrorist activity against Israel as martyrs and prisoners-of-war, thus indicating support.

Syrian, Saudi Arabian and Egyptian Textbooks

None of these books, including those used in Egypt, recognizes Israel as a legitimate sovereign state, and, accordingly, Israel’s name is not to be found on their maps. In most cases, the name “Palestine” appears instead, covering the whole territory of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Syrian textbooks also deny the existence of a Jewish nation, although they trace the beginning of the conflict to the wars between the ancient Israelites and the “Arab” Canaanites. Only the Egyptian books, acknowledge the existence of Jewish holy places in the country.

This non-recognition is accompanied by intensive stereotyping and prejudice. In Syrian textbooks, the Jews are presented as racist, enemies of the Arabs and of Muslims in general, indeed of the whole human race, and this evidently serves to justify Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. They are portrayed as enemies of God and, thus, as deserving the punishment of elimination (isti’sal in Arabic). In Saudi textbooks, the Jews are characterized as deceitful, sly, treacherous, God’s enemies, and “wickedness in its very essence (al-khubth bi’aynihi in Arabic)”, whose perdition is hoped for. They are responsible for world calamities, such as the French Revolution, the First World War, the Bolshevik Revolution, prostitution, corruption and cultural decadence. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are quoted in this context. The Egyptian textbooks portray the Jews as enemies of the Egyptian people, and characterize them as people of treachery, greed, hypocrisy, racism, disloyalty, etc.

Israel is depicted as an alien entity in the region which usurped the land of Palestine. The Syrian textbooks describe it as wholly evil and as cancer endangering the whole of the Arab world. In all textbooks, Israel is portrayed as an aggressive, oppressive, terrorist state.

Peace with Israel is never mentioned in the Saudi textbooks. Rather, it is the duty of Arabs and Muslims to liberate the whole of Palestine by means of Jihad. Peace with Israel is considered high treason in the Syrian textbooks, which denounce the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on that account. Palestine should be fully liberated and purified of “Zionist filth”, which means the liquidation of Israel. The liberation struggle should be violent, with a great deal of emphasis put on the ideals of Jihad and martyrdom. Even in Egyptian textbooks, which narrate the story of the peace process, one can find expressions that still advocate war and Jihad against Israel, though without naming it. Peace in these books is conditional upon Israel’s full compliance with the Arabs’ demands, and, since that has not yet occurred, Israel’s sincerity regarding peace is doubted.

Iranian Textbooks

The Jews are portrayed in a negative light in the Iranian textbooks, in the context of their alleged conflict with the Prophet Muhammad, as profit-oriented and arrogant people and as violators of agreements. On the other hand, they are treated as a nation, with some historic connection toPalestine, and their holy places in the land are recognized. However, Zionism is denounced, Israel is not recognized as a legitimate state, its name on the map is replaced by “occupied Palestine”, it is presented as part of world evil and as an enemy of Iran and the Islamic Revolution. Hence, the struggle againstIsrael for the liberation ofPalestine is part of that Revolution, with strong emphasis being put on the Muslims’ duty to liberateJerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Full text (pdf, 420 kb) – Other topics discussed in the 2006 Seminar