The Arab-Israeli Conflict in Israeli History Textbooks, 1948-2000

The Arab-Israeli Conflict in Israeli History Textbooks, 1948-2000

The Arab-Israeli Conflict in Israeli History Textbooks, 1948-2000

The Arab-Israeli Conflict in Israeli History Textbooks, 1948-2000

Synopsis

Examines how the Israeli educational system in general and history textbooks in particular have presented the image of the Arab and the history of Arab-Israeli relations in the years 1948-2000.

Excerpt

In Israel, curiously, it is considered odd for a historian of the Middle East to focus on Israeli history and culture. An inherent division exists in our academic institutions between the study of Israeli history and Judaism, on the one hand, and Middle Eastern history and Islam, on the other. This separation (the result of a number of historic circumstances that will not be analyzed here) is largely artificial and is detrimental to both students and scholars, especially in a period when the “iron curtain” that has separated Israel from the Arab world is gradually falling away. The conviction that this division is anachronistic has led me to explore the linkage between Israel, the Arab states, and the Middle East in various areas.

One such area is the field of education. In May 1997, an academic poll revealed that 40% of Jewish high school students “hate” Arabs and 60% “felt a strong urge to take revenge.” The study also showed that there had been a gradual increase in the articulation of negative Jewish attitudes toward the Arabs since the 1970s. Although the reasons for these worrying results are multifaceted, it is likely that biased school textbooks constitute an important factor in the adoption of negative attitudes toward the Arabs. In an era in which wars and violence have characterized the Arab-Israeli conflict, and personal Jewish-Arab encounters have been a rare phenomenon, school textbooks have become a key medium for acquaintance with the “other.” For many Israelis who have not met personally with Arabs, school textbooks, along with children’s books, historiography, and the media have constituted a central prism through which the image of the Arab and information on the Arab world have been filtered. Conceivably, these conceptions accompany the student into adulthood and affect his later political views as well. “We cannot have a perception of the present,” wrote one . . .

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