Asserting control over east Jerusalem textbooks

Israeli censorship grows as officials clamp down on delegitimization content, expurgate Palestinian symbols and nationalist take on history.

textbooks 224 (photo credit: Palestine Media Watch)
textbooks 224
(photo credit: Palestine Media Watch)
Is it an expression of Palestinian nationalism or is it delegitimizing the State of Israel? That’s the question at the heart of a controversy over Israel’s decision to expurgate Palestinian symbols and a nationalist take on history from the textbooks used by students in largely Arab east Jerusalem.
Jalal Abukhater, a high school senior who studies in Palestinian-ruled Ramallah, brought the controversy to the public eye over the weekend in the +972 Magazine website, a forum for left-of center Israelis, in an essay “Israel imposes censored Palestinian textbooks in east Jerusalem.”
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“It’s really weird. The children are the core of every society and they are trying to deface their identity to alter their history and background. That is really dangerous,” Abukhater told The Media Line. “What I learned I will never forget. It is basic education and if you do this and alter their identity through textbooks they will grow up having a blind side and might be ignorant on many issues.”
But the Knesset Education Committee, which ordered the textbooks used by public schools in east Jerusalem to be modified, says the books engage in incitement and intolerance.
At a meeting last year, committee chairman Zevulun Orlev, who belongs to the right-of-center Habayit Hayehudi, said an examination of the textbooks detected “delegitimization of the State of Israel” as well as “inculcating values of hatred, violent confrontation, jihad and martyrdom, absence of conciliation, absence of peace, ignoring the map of Israel and the existence of Israel.”
The textbook controversy is the latest tussle in the battle over the character of east Jerusalem. Unlike their peers in the West Bank, east Jerusalem’s largely Palestinian population have Israeli residency and enjoy government benefits and unhindered movement. But in recent years, they have felt besieged by Israeli Jews moving into their neighborhoods.
Acting on directives from the Knesset committee, the Jerusalem Education Administration (JEA), the municipal educational authority, began ensuring last year that public schools in east Jerusalem used approved-only textbooks.
But the controversy heated up this year when the directives were imposed on private schools, which make up about half of the schools east Jerusalem Palestinians attend.
Abukhater compared many of the censored changes in textbooks used from first to 10th grades, now being used in east Jerusalem schools, and found changes such as the removal of the Palestinian flag from first grade coloring books and the deletion of all songs or poems about Palestinian uprisings or longing for homelands.
At a meeting of the committee least year, Dani Bar-Giora, the chairman of the JEA, said Israel has for some time been vetting Palestinian textbooks before they are printed and distributed to east Jerusalem schools. The textbooks are written and edited under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority but must be approved by Israel before they reach students.
“Textbooks go through a process of censorship. The books come to us. There is a whole process of inspection and supervision over them. Whatever needs to be changed is changed. It is reprinted and then sent back into the system,” Bar Giora told the committee, according to published minutes.
These modifications include the removal of maps, slogans and historical references, including all mention of Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as references to nakba, the “catastrophe” marked by Arabs states on the Gregorian date of Israeli independence.
Abukhater said he was speaking to a friend of his who was studying at a Christian school in east Jerusalem who told her their teachers were being pushed to drop textbooks published under the aegis of the PA, which has no official standing in east Jerusalem.
“She told me that her teacher has been warning them that even though the censored textbooks are forced on us we still don’t have to believe everything we read in the text. You have to go home and read other books to enlighten yourself. She was telling me that they might be forced to use the textbooks because they might be forced to shut down if they don’t and the students would not be able to go to Israeli universities if they refused the textbooks,” Abukhater said.
Yochanan Manor, the chairman of Impact-SE, an organization that examines textbooks for tolerance, said his group has detected a growing “Islamization” in PA textbooks.
Israel allowed Jordanian school books to be used in east Jerusalem in the years after the 1967 war. But following the 1993 Oslo Accords Israel allowed PA textbooks to replace the Jordanian ones. They included Palestinian interpretations of history, culture and geography.
“It was ridiculous. The municipality was paying a lot of money to reprint these books and instead of modifying them with text that could foster coexistence between Arabs and Jews etc., it was simply just removing the PA logo,” Manor said.
He said that rather than requiring new material to be put in its place, censors left gaping holes in the textbooks, which caused more damage by emphasizing to the readers that the content was censored.
“They were doing many things without thinking them through because when you erase text you leave a blank page that only raises more questions,” Manor said.
Abukhater said Israeli authorities were confiscating textbooks from schools and replacing them with textbooks without Palestinian logos and references to Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria.
“My textbooks enlightened me about the history of Palestine. I have learned a lot through textbooks and I think that if my fellow Palestinians in east Jerusalem have this information censored from them, they are missing a lot and it is just dangerous,” he said.