MESA Participants Discuss Textbook Views of the Other

Article excerpt

An ongoing Israeli public relations campaign has focused on alleged incitement in Palestinian textbooks against the Jewish state and its people. A panel discussion at the Middle East Studies Association focused on this issue in an attempt to provide accurate views of "the other" in both Palestinian and Israeli textbooks.

Prof. Nathan Brown of George Washington University said that, while most of the current debate has focused on allegations of incitement in Palestinian textbooks, there is a lot of misleading information on the subject. Reporting on a survey of Palestinian textbooks, Brown said that, since 1948, the curriculum of Palestinian schools in Gaza followed that of Egypt, while schools in the West Bank followed Jordan's. Most of these textbooks were very outdated, he said, so in 1994 the Palestinian Authority (PA) began putting together a new curriculum. The PA sought to add Palestinian perspectives to the Jordanian and Egyptian textbooks.

Brown found that the biggest problem faced by the PA curriculum is that the textbooks are unable to deal with fluid and unsettled controversial matters, such as independence, citizenship and territory. Instead, most resort to adapting the official rhetoric, that at times could be quite irrelevant or confusing.

For example, he noted, on some exams, students were asked to draw boundaries of Palestine, which are subject to ever-changing occupation plans. Furthermore, Brown said, Palestinian books were fraught with affirmations of allegiances to the state, God and the family, with no attempts to challenge or distinguish among them.

Progressive Palestinian intellectuals, Brown stated, consistently question the type of Palestinian citizen their curriculum is molding. This led to a detailed critical report published in 1996 which challenged authoritarian themes in existing books. In 2000, new books were introduced which attempted to inculcate national identity, God and family while inserting progressive views on civic education, human rights and democracy. The new books, Brown said, provide active pedagogy that was more gender-sensitive and less patriarchal.

Elie Podi, professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, analyzed the image of the Arab in Israeli history books. Because they are social constructs transmitting values and norms to society, he noted, textbook analysis is important in understanding cultural and psychological roots of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.

Israeli textbooks were influenced by various historical phases, Podi said. Although the current historiography in Israel has tolerated alternative views of historians such as Benny Morris and Ilan Pappe, they were not welcomed before.

Podi divided Israel's historical texts into three phases. The first phase extended from 1948 to the mid-1970s, which he dubbed the childhood phase. …