Incitement or peace education?

PA report claims that “Israeli textbooks foster hate” and that “Israeli schools te

A new report published by the office of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad claims that “Israeli textbooks foster hate” and that “Israeli schools teach [from] racist textbooks.”

The report, associated with the “Palestinian Incitement Index ” aims at monitoring anti-Palestinian rhetoric and follows the Israeli “Incitement Index,” which was developed last year to measure changes in Palestinian discourse toward Israel. While studying the issue of incitement with the aim of decreasing it on both sides is a worthwhile undertaking, a closer look at such discourse is also due.

The Palestinian report cites four examples, three of which are taken from the book Geography of the Land of Israel (2002), which has since been taken off the Education Ministry’s approved reading list.

The only legitimately problematic quote presented by the report is an illustration of an Arab in traditional attire holding a camel’s reins, which is indeed somewhat stereotypical – probably one of the reasons for taking the book off the approved reading list.

However, other examples given by the report did not actually contain any incitement, or even prejudice.

For instance, the report objects to the use of the name “Judea and Samaria,” and the reluctance of Israeli textbooks to present Jerusalem as Palestinian territory.

But these do not constitute incitement, nor are they even considered wrong or biased by international standards.

FIRST, JERUSALEM is under Israeli control and therefore an accurate geography book could not depict matters otherwise. Second, the technical (Hebrew) geographic name for the above-mentioned area is, actually, Judea and Samaria, and therefore its use does not demonstrate political prejudice.

Third, the map featured in the report clearly indicates the 1967 line, Gaza and the West Bank. And lastly four, the Palestinian report chose to ignore the Hebrew caption on the right of this “inciting” map, stating that the book’s authors chose not to depict clear borders due to the fact that a final peace agreement has not yet been signed.

It is hard to believe that this book “incites” its readers against Palestinians or denies the territories to be under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

Another map criticized in the report, titled “Israel and its neighbors,” in Israel, Man and Space, depicting the same area, actually includes markings of “Palestinian Authority domain (territory A).”

Many current Israeli geography textbooks have an even clearer border demarcation and some, like The Main Mountain: Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley (2002, pg. 365) or Mountains Surround It – Geography of the Judea Mountains, Samaria and the City of Jerusalem (2003, pg. 182) include notation of all the negotiated control territories (areas A, B and C) where Israel and the PA share various degrees of civic and military control as per the Oslo Agreements.

BY CONTRAST, Palestinian history and geography books usually fail to give even more basic demarcations, if not ignore the geographic existence of Israel altogether. Take, for example, this quote taken from the Al-Sham grade five history book, stating that: “The Levant countries presently consist of the states of Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.” Israel remains absent in the vast majority of textbooks maps as well.

But more importantly, what do the other hundreds of currently approved Israeli textbooks say? These books, most of which were recently studied by The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, not only recognize the PA and its territories according the Oslo Agreements, but also acknowledge Palestinian presence in the Land of Israel prior to Jewish immigration in the late 1800s, introduce the Palestinian point of view in regard to the Arab-Jewish conflict, refer to the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in 1948, describe the hardships of the Palestinian refugees and notably always support a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

FOR INSTANCE, a sympathetic depiction of Palestinian refugee camps is given in the geography book Mountains Surround It: “People with no citizenship or nationality, without rights, politically underprivileged, economically dependent. People who wish to belong, to have their own country.” Such a quote not only shows sympathy and empathy towards the Palestinians, but also shows the Palestinian point of view without prejudice or judgment.

Another book, Nationality – a Beginning, includes the following exercise: “Describe the development of the new settlement in the Land of Israel through the point of view of a Jew from the ‘Old Settlement’ and from the point of view of an Arab villager.”

Here we see that the Palestinian point of view is not only presented to the students, but that they are encouraged to put themselves in the shoes of a pre-1948 Palestinian and argue the Palestinian point of view. Similarly, the history textbook Israel in the 21st Century makes the following statement: “The conflict regards the territories that the Jews call ‘The Land of Israel’ and see as part of their homeland, while the Arabs call it ‘Falastin’ and see it as part of their homeland.”

The message in the both of the above paragraphs is that the Palestinians are an opposing national group, with its own thoughts, beliefs and rationale in regard to the territories of the Land of Israel and to the origins of the Arab- Israeli conflict. Israeli textbooks therefore encourage students to see Palestinians as a legitimate people and to try and see their point of view, even in regard to more sensitive and politicized subjects such as refugee camps or Palestinian aspiration for statehood.

QUOTES LIKE those presented here and others containing messages that support peace, understanding, respect and non-violence toward Palestinians are not at all rare and can be found in abundance in history, civics and geography books. Therefore, although textbooks are predominantly interested in presenting the Israeli position, its history and narrative – a clear effort is made to add balance and to promote the values of peace and tolerance, as well as to exclude any text promoting racism or violence.

Finally, the effort to monitor incitement in textbooks in order to reduce it makes good sense and should be encouraged, as all textbooks should aspire to promote peaceful conflict resolution and exclude any statements which are counterproductive to that effort.

However, although the Education Ministry should continue to reevaluate and improve the books it approves, claiming incitement where there is none is really a form of incitement in itself.

Yael Teff-Seker is a researcher and Nir Boms is a member of the board of the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education.

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