Textbook study faults Israelis and Palestinians

AP News
Posted: Feb 04, 2013 8:25 AM
Textbook study faults Israelis and Palestinians

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 U.S. State Department-funded study released Monday said.

The study by Israeli, Palestinian and American researchers, billed as setting a new scientific standard, tackled a fraught issue — Israeli claims that Palestinians teach hatred of Israel and glorify violence in schoolbooks.

The research appeared to undermine these allegations, while emphasizing that books in secular Israeli government schools did far better in acknowledging the Palestinians than vice versa.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad welcomed the study as proof that "there is no incitement in our text books," while Israel's Education Ministry dismissed the research as "biased, unprofessional and profoundly unobjective."

Underlying the textbook debate are mutual fears and suspicions.

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 hides 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. Israelis criticize the ultra-Orthodox schools for failing to sufficiently teach secular subjects in general, like mathematics and English.

"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.

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.

Israeli and Palestinian researchers were fluent in Hebrew and Arabic so they could analyze the books of both communities. Often, 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, study organizers said.

The study found that as part of the selective narratives, 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."

Study coordinator Bruce Wexler, a Yale psychiatry professor, told a news conference Monday that the main appeal to both sides is to "put in some more information that will humanize" the other.

The other two lead scholars in the study were Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University and Sami Adwan of Bethlehem University.

The failure to recognize the other side 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 that 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.

Israel annexed east Jerusalem after the 1967 war, 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."

Fayyad said 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, 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 studied Israeli schoolbooks for four decades, said Monday that she believes the new study underplays the difference between the Israeli and Palestinian books.

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

Groiss, a researcher at IMPACT-SE, said believes the new study was too soft on the Palestinian books.

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

The council said it did not participate in the study's release because it went beyond the requested analysis of books teaching religion.

The State Department said it is one of several studies to have received grants from Washington, but that they are not being endorsed by the U.S. government.


Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank and Bradley S. Klapper in Washington contributed reporting.