Palestinian Textbooks

A Step Forward?

December 20, 2004

Ending incitement is an essential element of the first phase of the Roadmap, the accepted international formula for ending conflict in the Middle East.

It has long been agreed that the Palestinian education system represents a stumbling block in this respect. Since 2000, many of the overtly racists elements in the system have disappeared, as new books have been published. Concurrently, the new generation of learning materials has not shown a consistent attempt to teach pluralism and multiculturalism. The messages of hate still exist, albeit in a more refined style.

The examples are many and can be found throughout the work of the Funding For Peace Coalition. Even attempts by the EU mandarins to cover up the paucity of the books have failed. The books do not recognise the historic role of Jews in the region. And they do not accept that Israel has a right to exist under safe and secure borders. In specific cases, violence against infidels is actively encouraged.

IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, is a joint think tank, which positions itself as a neutral body. It has published numerous commentaries on Palestinian textbooks. The latest report was released in November 2004, having been contracted by the American government. It focuses on Palestinian textbook reform.

The report marks a significant development in IPCRI's handling of Palestinian incitement. As the executive summary confirms, such books are:

an authoritative source to determine the values any society lives by. Until now, the PA textbooks have not provided evidence that the PA has been implementing a policy of peace making.

The summary continues:

it is not difficult to come to the understanding that the main political theme imparted to the students is that Israel should not exist and that is essentially the Palestinian goal. Assuming….that the Palestinian National movement has made a strategic decision to make peace with Israel….there is a need to make real revisions and amendments in the Palestinian textbooks.

Specifically, IPCRI makes the following criticisms:

  • Maps of the region lack borders showing that Israel exists at all and there are no references to her cities even within what is know as the 1967 borders.
  • The Palestinian approach to history is too "dogmatic".
  • Claims to the land cannot always be justified
  • There is no attempt to "deal with the other" on the grounds of pluralism and multiculturalism.

The heaviest condemnation is revealed on Page 15, which deplores the treatment of the concept of martyrdom in Islam.

Some of the texts could lead the reader to have real admiration for those who become suicide bombers and kill Israelis.... Praise of martyrdom…should be avoided in all textbooks. Failure to remove ambiguity concerning all these issues - Jihad and martyrdom - more than other issues in all of the textbooks, questions the commitment of the PA to live at peace with Israel.

Clearly, the PA has a long way to go before it can meet the basic criteria of the Roadmap, which it claims to have adopted. IPCRI points out that not all grades have yet to replace their books since the year 2000. And materials for kindergartens and places of tertiary education remain untouched by any reform.

Despite IPCRI's brave approach, the report suffers from a major flaw. The language of the report tends to apologise, if not justify, the failures of the written texts. The reader is led to believe that because the Palestinians have suffered from "an occupation" for so long, then it is understandable that the books may not be up to standard.

In fact, to justify this tone, throughout the report IPCRI launches implicit criticisms of Israeli texts. (It plans to release a full analysis on this matter in the coming months.) These "softeners" appear to release IPCRI from the obligations of the main conclusions from its current report.

But, IPCRI misses the point, a point, which needs to be made very clearly. These textbooks do not exist in isolation.

The Funding for Peace Coalition has consistently pointed out that Palestinian textbooks are inherently racist and do not match international standards as demanded by UNESCO. They appear to reflect and reinforce attitudes of hatred, which are prevalent in many parts of Palestinian society. For example, summer camps for children are named after homicide bombers and sermons in mosques denounce Jews as infidels.Even TV for toddlers has been known to encourage a culture of hatred and violence.

No amount of spin from IPCRI or European apologists can hide the fact that the textbooks are not published in a vacuum. While IPCRI's findings are welcome, there are other and far deeper issues, which need to be addressed before Palestinian education meets the challenges of the peace process. If, as IPCRI states, the PA now sincerely wants to rejoin that process following Chairman Arafat's death, it has much work to do.

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