Education and Media: The Arab-Israeli Conflict in Israeli History Textbooks, 1948-2000

By Bar-Tal, Daniel | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Education and Media: The Arab-Israeli Conflict in Israeli History Textbooks, 1948-2000


Bar-Tal, Daniel, The Middle East Journal


The Arab-Israeli Conflict in Israeli History Textbooks, 1948-2000, by Elie Podeh. Westport, CT and London, UK: Bergin & Garvey, 2001. xii+ 155 pages. Appends. to p. 177. Bibl. top. 177. Bibl. top. 196. Index to p. 201. $58.

Elie Podeh's book reports on a wide-scale study in which 108 school textbooks of history and civics published between 1948 and 1999 were analyzed by means of the following eight research questions: How were Arabs portrayed in the textbooks? What stereotype of "the Arabs" do these books disseminate? In what kind of role are they described? What are their presented intentions? To what extent is the material presented in the books accurate? In what kind of language are the events described? Was information censored? And: Is the presented material biased? The analysis furthermore addresses 11 main topics related to the ArabIsraeli conflict and examines them in three periods, constituting three "generations" of textbooks. The first so-called "childhood" generation includes textbooks used until the mid-1970s, the second "adolescence" generation refers to textbooks published between 1975 and 1992 and the third generation of "adulthood" includes textbooks published since mid-1995. Alongside this analysis, the author also provides a description of the political-educational context in which the books were written by citing and analyzing texts and statements by leading figures in Israel's educational system in general, and by those specializing in the study of history in particular.

The analysis is very well done and provides a systematic and coherent description of the textbooks' contents, as well as their implications with regard to stereotyping, accuracy, biases, distortions and omissions. The author's findings indicate that it took decades to free the textbooks from being a tool of indoctrination through which the conflict was presented in an ethnocentric, simplistic, one-sided, distorted, and censored way. In general, the study shows that, for many years, Arabs were delegitimized and dehumanized, while Jews and their deeds were glorified. Even the books of the "adolescent" generation, which were more diverse and less biased, still contained "prejudicial statements, stereotypical descriptions" (p.147) and lacked a balanced presentation of the narratives. Only the books of the third generation present a "fairly balanced presentation of the image of the Arab and the Arab-Israeli conflict." In these textbooks, Arabs are described not as "mere spectators or aggressors but also as victims of the conflict" (pp. …

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