Palestinian Textbooks Fall Short Where They Are Most Needed - Introducing 'The Other'

Article excerpt

Malak Mahmoud has never met an Israeli in her life and she hopes she never will not even an Israeli child her age.

I dont wish to meet them because they occupied our land, says Malak, a 6th-grader from Al-Amari refugee camp near Ramallah. To me, every Israeli person is a soldier because he will grow up to be a soldier.

Malak's generation is the first to be educated according to an entirely Palestinian curriculum, developed gradually from 2000 to 2007 the year she started school. They tend to look up to Muslim warriors like Saladin, who liberated Jerusalem from the Crusaders; know little if anything about the Holocaust some havent even heard of Hitler; and venerate those who die fighting Israelis.

They are not innocent people, because the whole nation is a nation of soldiers, says 4th-grader Hala Mohammed.

Palestinians take pride in their textbooks, which they see as a way to build national identity and instill a sense of dignity among their young people, counteracting to some degree the humiliation of checkpoints, barriers, permits, and prisons imposed by Israel.

The Israeli government, however, has long contended that elements of the Palestinian curriculum, including maps that fail to demarcate or label the state of Israel, amount to incitement against their country contradicting both the spirit and the letter of the Oslo Accords.

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A landmark study of Israeli and Palestinian textbooks released this week exonerated Palestinians somewhat, saying neither their textbooks nor Israeli ones promote dehumanizing views of the other except in rare cases, although the Israeli government and at least two of the researchers disputed this conclusion. Other findings of the study, together with the Israeli and Palestinian reactions to it, underscore the deep divide that still prevails between both sides and is being perpetuated among the rising generations not only through textbooks but also media, society, and government leaders.

Unlike their parents, who came of age before Israels separation barrier and tightened security measures, todays young Israeli Jews and Palestinians often have never met their peers and, like Malak, may have no desire to.

We have to bring down this wall of hatred and enmity of delegitimization, of stereotyped images, in order for us to regard each other as human beings, says Mohammed Dajani, a former Fatah fighter turned peace activist, who served on the advisory board of the textbook study. The level of incitement is high on both sides. We dont have leaders who are saying, Enough is enough.

'Little lambs in a sea of wolves'

The study, Victims of Our Own Narratives? was funded by a $500,000 grant from the US State Department and overseen by Prof. Bruce E. Wexler of Yale University. His team evaluated 74 Israeli textbooks and 94 Palestinian books in six areas: the other, ones own group, religion, peace, conflict, and values.

The results were tallied according to three groups of textbooks: Those used in Israels state secular and religious schools; those used in Israel's ultra-Orthodox schools, which are not subject to approval by the Ministry of Education; and those used in Palestinian schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

One of the areas that left the most to be desired was each groups characterization of the other in positive terms. Israeli state textbooks gave a favorable impression of the other 11 percent of the time, ultra-Orthodox 7 percent of the time, and Palestinians only 1 percent of the time.

Ultra-Orthodox books include passages describing a convoy of bloodthirsty Arabs and comparing Israel and the neighboring Arab states to a little lamb in a sea of 70 wolves, while an Arabic language textbook used by the Palestinian Authority talks about terror pour[ing] down from Mount Carmel on the Arabs living on the slopes.

An area of particular controversy was maps. Some 95 percent of ultra-Orthodox textbooks and 65 percent of Israeli state textbooks did not include borders separating Israel from the Palestinian territories, implying that all the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River belongs to Israel. …