Israeli Textbooks and Children's Literature Promote Racism and Hatred toward Palestinians and Arabs

By Meehan, Maureen | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September 3, 1999 | Go to article overview

Israeli Textbooks and Children's Literature Promote Racism and Hatred toward Palestinians and Arabs


Meehan, Maureen, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Israeli Textbooks and Children's Literature Promote Racism and Hatred Toward Palestinians and Arabs

Israeli school textbooks as well as children's storybooks, according to recent academic studies and surveys, portray Palestinians and Arabs as "murderers," "rioters," "suspicious," and generally backward and unproductive. Direct delegitimization and negative stereotyping of Palestinians and Arabs are the rule rather than the exception in Israeli schoolbooks.

Professor Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University studied 124 elementary, middle- and high school textbooks on grammar and Hebrew literature, history, geography and citizenship. Bar-Tal concluded that Israeli textbooks present the view that Jews are involved in a justified, even humanitarian, war against an Arab enemy that refuses to accept and acknowledge the existence and rights of Jews in Israel.

"The early textbooks tended to describe acts of Arabs as hostile, deviant, cruel, immoral, unfair, with the intention to hurt Jews and to annihilate the State of Israel. Within this frame of reference, Arabs were delegitimized by the use of such labels as `robbers,' `bloodthirsty,' and `killers,'" said Professor Bar-Tal, adding that there has been little positive revision in the curriculum over the years.

Bar-Tal pointed out that Israeli textbooks continue to present Jews as industrious, brave and determined to cope with the difficulties of "improving the country in ways they believe the Arabs are incapable of."

Hebrew-language geography books from the 1950s through 1970s focused on the glory of Israel's ancient past and how the land was "neglected and destroyed" by the Arabs until the Jews returned from their forced exile and revived it "with the help of the Zionist movement."

"This attitude served to justify the return of the Jews, implying that they care enough about the country to turn the swamps and deserts into blossoming farmland; this effectively delegitimizes the Arab claim to the same land," Bar-Tal told the Washington Report. "The message was that the Palestinians were primitive and neglected the country and did not cultivate the land."

This message, continued Bar-Tal, was further emphasized in textbooks by the use of blatant negative stereotyping which featured Arabs as: "unenlightened, inferior, fatalistic, unproductive and apathetic." Further, according to the textbooks, the Arabs were "tribal, vengeful, exotic, poor, sick, dirty, noisy, colored" and "they burn, murder, destroy, and are easily inflamed."

Textbooks currently being used in the Israeli school system, says Bar-Tal, contain less direct denigration of Arabs but continue to stereotype them negatively when referring to them. He pointed out that Hebrew- as well as Arabic-language textbooks used in elementary and junior high schools contain very few references either to Arabs or to Arab-Jewish relations. The coordinator of a Palestinian NGO in Israel said that major historical events hardly get a mention either.

"When I was in high school 12 years ago, the date `1948' barely appeared in any textbooks except for a mention that there was a conflict, Palestinians refused to accept a U.N. solution and ran away instead," said Jamal Atamneh, coordinator of the Arab Education Committee in Support of Local Councils, a Haifa-based NGO. "Today the idea communicated to schoolchildren is basically the same: there are winners and losers in every conflict. When they teach about `peace and co-existence,' it is to teach us how to get along with Jews."

Atamneh explained that textbooks used by the nearly one million Arab Israelis (one-fifth of Israel's population) are in Arabic but are written by and issued from the Israeli Ministry of Education, where Palestinians have no influence or input.

"Fewer than 1 percent of the jobs in the Education Ministry, not counting teachers, are held by Palestinians," Atamneh said. "For the past 15 years, not one new Palestinian academic has been placed in a high position in the ministry. …

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