The American Jewish Committee Underwrites Study of New Palestinian Authority School textbooks.
By Arlene Kushner, Senior Policy Research Analyst,
Center for Near East Policy Research Ltd.
The American Jewish Committee, in cooperation with The Institute for Monitoring the Impact of Peace and Tolerance in School Education (formerly known as CMIP), will soon release a cutting edge report on Palestinian Authority textbooks most recently published. The findings, based on a detailed analysis of the textbooks, has particular relevance in light of on-going negotiations between Israel and the PA.
In interview, Dr. Arnon Groiss, Director of Research for the Institute, has provided an advance view of the material that will be offered in the report, as well as an over-view of the Institute’s findings regarding all of the textbooks previously reviewed.
The project is best understood within an historical context: From 1948 until 1967, textbooks utilized in Palestinian schools were published by Jordan, in Judea and Samaria, and by Egypt, in the Gaza Strip. When Israel assumed control of these areas in 1967, the same textbooks were used, but with blatantly anti-Israel material excised.
It was in 1994, shortly after its establishment, that the Palestinian Authority began to take over the schools. When they reintroduced the old Jordanian and Egyptian material, Israel protested and was assured that new books were going to be published. Complaints, said the PA, should be reserved until these books were released.
(In 1996, the PA began to produce textbooks in National Education, as this was lacking from Jordanian and Egyptian texts; these have now been superseded by more recent books.)
What is of concern for this review is the fact that in 2000, the Palestinian Authority began to produce new textbooks for all subjects. From 2000 through 2004, books for grades 1 through 10 were published, two grades each year. They were reviewed in a series of reports issued by CMIP.
In 2005, books for grade 11 were released, and in 2006, texts for grade 12.
In 2007, a major operation was undertaken and all textbooks were reprinted. There were changes instituted, some of the changes were assessed as good and some not.
The report to be released shortly reviews the texts for grades 11 and 12. (Additionally the report examines old Jordanian books issued by the PA Ministry of Religious Affairs for use in religious schools – but they will not be considered here.)
The textbooks were published and revised by the PA during four different political time periods:
1) In the early years of the PA, Yasser Arafat was firmly in charge. It was under his administration that the books for grades 1 through 10 were published.
They rigidly delegitimized the presence of Jews in Israel; demonized Israelis and Jews; presented a biased view of the conflict; and focused on the violent struggle, emphasizing jihad and martyrdom, with an absence of advocacy of peace with Israel.
2) In November 2004, following Arafat’s death, Mahmoud Abbas assumed the presidency of the PA. It was following this change, in 2005 and early 2006, that texts for grades 11 were produced.
These texts reflected a small measure of moderation over what had been produced previously, with regard to how the “other” is presented and the issue of peace. It must be remembered, however, that this is with reference only to texts for one grade and that the texts produced in Arafat’s time continue to be in circulation.
3) In 2006, Hamas gained ascendancy in parliamentary elections in the PA, and it was following this that the grade 12 texts were published.
All the beginning signs of moderation disappeared from these texts.
4) In 2007, Hamas routed Fatah from Gaza and President Abbas then reconstituted the PA government with Salam Fayyad as prime minister.
It was after this that the reprint operation took place. The changes that have been noted are mostly in format and not in content. There have been some minute changes with significance.
Themes Noted in the Texts
Palestinians are represented as the only rightful possessors of Palestine. They are seen as descendants of the Canaanites, who are said to be Arabs who immigrated to Palestine in 3,500 BCE. A 2004 text describes the Canaanites as having made the most significant contributions to mankind.
Jews are seen as invaders in antiquity and colonialists now. There are gaps in history so that in most texts there is no mention of a Jewish commonwealth or any suggestion of Jewish legitimacy – or even presence – in the land.
It is only in grade 11 texts that there allusions to King David, King Solomon, etc.
Jerusalem is represented as exclusively Arab, from the Jebusites. Jews are seen as occupiers in the city.
In the grade 11 texts there are a few references to Jews in Jerusalem.
We are witnessing a myth in the making. In older books used in the PA schools (from 1996), Jewish holy sites were referred to as such: the Kotel (Western Wall), the Machpelah (Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron), Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem. By 2000 this had changed in PA texts and the Jewish connection to these places had been erased. Rachel’s Tomb, for example, is called the Mosque of Bilal Bin Rabbah.
Zionism is not seen as legitimate. Jewish immigration is referred to as “infiltration.” Jewish presence in the land is not recognized and Jewish residents are not counted among the inhabitants of the land. (When population statistics are given, Jews are simply excluded from the numbers.)
There is no mention of Jewish cities, such as Tel Aviv. The one exception is an 11th grade text that includes Tel Aviv but in very small letters. Israel is not identified as such.
Israel is not recognized as a sovereign state, either in text or on maps. An example: A 2001 text lists the countries of the Levant as Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. In maps – e.g., a 2002 Atlas – the whole is Palestine. (In some maps Israel within the Green Line may be delineated, but marked as the area occupied in 1948.)
In one grade 11 text there are two Israeli maps utilized that do label Israel. These are for Allon’s plan and Sharon’s plan for division of the land, and the purpose is to demonstrate “Israeli colonialist schemes.”
The establishment of Israel is not recognized. Israel is referred to as the occupation from 1948.
There is an attempt to even avoid referring to “Israeli” territory. Instead such terms are substituted as ‘land of the 1948 war,” or the “interior.”
The exception is in grade 11 texts in which pre-1967 Israel is referred to in some instances. (This is the single moderation carried into grade 12 texts.)
Cities within the Green Line such as Haifa and Jaffa are referred to as Palestinian.
Palestine is referred to as a country that already exists, its declaration of independence having taken place in 1988.
There is no objective information provided on the history and culture of Jews or Israelis. The exception is a reference to the Jewish Bible in an 11th grade text.
Individual Jews are never mentioned, only groups. Jews are thus denied their humanity and seen as threatening aliens.
Jews in Israel are represented as evil and without a single positive trait. Jews commit treaty violations, use tricks, kill people, are seeking to expel and exterminate Palestinians.
From a grade 8 text: “Your enemies kill your children, split open women’s bellies, etc.”
From a 12th grade text there is a poem in which Jews are compared to snakes.
A total of 22 “crimes” committed by Jews has been counted in the texts: destruction of the environment, occupation, expulsion, oppression, aggression, massacre, assassination, racial discrimination, desecration of holy places, promoters of drug use and family violence in Palestinians, and on.
Zionism is defined as a racist, western imperialism.
A grade 10 text produced in 2004 represented the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as true. After the Belgian government, which had provided support for these texts, protested, a reprint of the book was done in 2007 that left this out. There is no evidence, however, that the version of the book that alluded to the Protocols was removed from all schools.
Jews are represented as solely responsible for the current situation while Palestinians are their victims. The single exception is in an 11th grade text that acknowledges that the Arabs attacked Israel in 1948.
The focus in the texts is on violence. There is no open support for peace based on reconciliation. Where “peace” is mentioned, it is in the abstract.
“Liberation” of all of the land of Palestine is encouraged and praised. “Return” is seen as a violent process, part of the liberation.
The emphasis on the violence of the struggle is intensified because of focus on the traditional Islamic ideals of jihad and martyrdom. Martyrdom is sometimes described as a “wedding party.”
From a grade 7 text: “Hearing weapons clash is pleasant to my ears. And the flow of blood gladdens my soul.”
The grade 11 texts have fewer references to jihad and martyrdom.
As to terror: The texts declare themselves as being against terror, but say that Israel improperly defines the legitimate struggle as “terrorism.” (The exception: One grade 8 book from 2002 provides a favorable description of terrorism.)
However, there is an abundance of implicit support for terrorism via the use of terms such as “martyrs,” praise for those in prison and those in Palestinian armed groups (called Fidai). And never is terror actually denounced.
These texts nurture hate education and do not foster peace. They prepare the students for perpetual struggle.
While the picture is exceedingly grim now, there is hope for improvement in these texts via re-printing with changes made.
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