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A controversial report published last week, comparing prejudices in Israeli and Palestinian school textbooks, has raised questions about the states of each ethnic educational system and public perceptions about the two peoples.
The study, entitled “Victims of our own Narratives” and initially funded by a grant from the U.S. State Department, concluded that both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks contain negative references toward “the other side,” despite the fact that the research itself demonstrated that negative references to “the other side” were much more prevalent in Palestinian textbooks than Israeli ones.
It is the conclusions of the study, not the research, that have been widely distributed. Those conclusions are at odds with the longtime assertion by Israelis that Palestinian textbooks are inciteful.
“The report creates a dangerous moral relativism by concluding a completely false equivalence between Israeli and Palestinian textbooks,” Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, director general of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, told JNS.org.
Kuperwasser said, “It is a very big pity that the important issue of educating the other side for peace has been abused by this research report.”
“Palestinians don’t educate their children to establish peace; rather, they teach hatred of Israelis. By contrast, Israelis educate their children toward the establishment of peace and to respect and accept that Palestinians live here with us,” he said.
For years, watchdog organizations have been monitoring the rampant incitement and hatred that can be found in Palestinian textbooks. Such incitement and the glorification of terror are said by Israelis to rank high among the principal barriers to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
“The report is a complete whitewashing of Palestinian hatred of Jews and Israel and is one of the worst developments for peace since the early days of the Oslo Accords,” Itamar Marcus, the director of Palestinian Media Watch, told JNS.org.
“I totally reject the findings of the report, which are meant to create a symmetry between the Israeli and Palestinian education system that simply does not exist,” Marcus said. “Palestinian textbooks are filled with blatant delegitimization and hatred, and this report is doing a great disservice to any future prospects for peace by essentially encouraging Palestinians to continue their curriculum of teaching hatred to their children.”
“According to Palestinian textbooks, Israel has no right to exist, and Israel’s national narrative is one of occupation, massacre, torture and land stealing,” he said. “They teach that all of the land—including land on which Israel established its state in 1948—is occupied. This is a pattern that all but guarantees that the two sides will be unable to make peace in the near future.”
Furthermore the textbooks teach that Palestinians “have an Islamic obligation to fully liberate Palestine until eternity,” Marcus said.
“Israelis are routinely demonized and dehumanized in the worst ways,” he said. “By contrast, examples of demonization or dehumanization of Palestinians are extremely rare. Israel does everything it can to preach tolerance and eliminate the demonization of Palestinians in Israeli textbooks.”
According to Kuperwasser, the report “fails to look at the context in which examples are taken.”
“For example, the report considers historical textbook references to Palestinian terrorists murdering 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympic Games in Israeli textbooks as a negative reference toward Palestinians,” he said. “While at the same time, Palestinian textbooks that reference ‘invading snakes’ taking over the land are not considered to be negative references toward Jews because they do not directly reference Jews or Israel.”
The study is reported to have received a $500,000 grant from the State Department in 2008 and was conducted by professors from Yale University, Tel Aviv University, and the University of Bethlehem.
The State Department has not endorsed the findings, but neither has it refuted the conclusions made by the study.
“The State Department should have explicitly come out against this report,” Kuperwasser said. “This is an issue we should raise with Secretary of State John Kerry when he comes to Israel, because Palestinian incitement is a main obstacle to peace.”
In 2007, a year before the study was initially commissioned, then future Secretary of State Hilary Clinton reviewed a Palestinian Media Watch report on Palestinian high school textbooks that detailed numerous examples of demonization and denial of Israel’s right to exist.
At a press conference Clinton stated, “These textbooks do not give Palestinian children an education; they give them an indoctrination… It is disturbing on a human level, it is disturbing to me as a mother, it is disturbing to me as a United States Senator, because it basically, profoundly poisons the minds of these children.”
“It is a total contradiction of the Oslo agreements, through which Palestinians are supposed to stop all incitement to violence and hatred and recognize Israel’s right to exist,” Kuperwasser said.
Incitement to violence and glorification of terrorism and martyrdom in Palestinian textbooks is not new, nor is it limited to textbooks.
“It is the entire educational system, summer camps and children’s television programs,” Kuperwasser added.
Marcus said, “There is no doubt that the direction of Palestinian schoolbooks, as well as Palestinian media, was initiated under the direction of Yasser Arafat.”
The textbooks, according to Marcus, represent the legacy Arafat left for Palestinian children.
“According to Palestinian textbooks, the founding of Israel was ‘a catastrophe unprecedented in history,’” Marcus said.