THE ISRAELI government has reacted angrily to the findings of an international academic study that exonerated Palestinian school textbooks of actively inciting hatred against Israelis and blamed both sides for presenting one-sided narratives to pupils.
The study, the most comprehensive in years on the issue of how each side in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict depicts the other in schools, was welcomed by the Palestinian Authority (PA) but termed “misleading, unprofessional and lacking in objectivity” by Israel’s ministry of education.
Its main thrust was to criticise books on both sides for ignoring the other. But it said books in Israeli secular schools contained more information about Palestinians and were more self-critical than Palestinian textbooks were about Israelis. Books in ultra-orthodox Israeli schools were similarly lacking in information about Palestinians.
The study reviewed 74 Israeli and 94 Palestinian textbooks in subjects including social science, geography, literature and religion. It found that as part of arriving at selective narratives boosting their own rights and claims, both Israeli and Palestinian books tended to delineate negative actions of the other side against their own community while portraying themselves in positive terms.
Some 95 per cent of Palestinian maps did not show Israel, and 76 per cent of Israeli maps encompassed the occupied West Bank area Palestinians envisage as heartland of their future state.
The textbook issue cuts to the heart of who is to blame for the continuation of the conflict and the failure of peacemaking. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu often says the conflict is not over territory but rather over Arab rejection of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state and of Jewish ties to the land, something Israel says is inculcated by the Palestinian education system.
The PA says allegations of incitement in its education practices is a pretext for Israel not to vacate occupied territory and that the root of the conflict is Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
Report co-author Bruce Wexler, professor emeritus at Yale University in the US, urged both sides to conduct a joint evaluation of their textbooks and to make schoolbooks part of the agenda in any negotiations between the two sides.
Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad said the study proved Palestinian textbooks did not contain blatant incitement. “This study proves what we have repeatedly affirmed in response to allegations that have now been invalidated,” he said.
The Israeli government, which did not co-operate with the scholars, rejected the report completely and several of the Israeli scholars on the project’s scientific advisory board refused to sign the final document.
“The main thing about this report that is unfair is the comparison it makes between the Israeli and Palestinian books,” said Ruth Firer, a Hebrew University historian. “In Israeli textbooks, you’ll find a large chapter about Islam and the golden age of Islam, but you simply can’t find these things about Judaism in the Palestinian textbooks.”