Textbooks show both sides to blame for enmity

US gov't-funded study shows youth inheriting conflict through schoolbooks; PA welcomes results; Israel says findings baseless.

Palestinian incitement in textbooks 311 (photo credit: IMPACT-SE)
Palestinian incitement in textbooks 311
(photo credit: IMPACT-SE)
The Education Ministry harshly criticized a US State Department-sponsored study on how Israeli and Palestinian textbooks depict each other, calling its findings “biased, unprofessional and profoundly nonobjective.”
The research, titled “Victims of Our Own Narratives? Portrayal of the ‘Other’ in Israeli and Palestinian School Books” and released on Monday, aimed at evaluating what images of the other are presented to school children in the books.
It found that the majority of both sets of texts represent the other as the enemy, with only 11 percent of Israeli textbooks and one percent of Palestinian textbooks representing the other in a positive light.
While dehumanizing and demonizing characterizations of the other are rare in both sets, the study found, very negative characterizations of the other could be identified in 26% of Israeli state school books and 50% of the Palestinian ones sampled.
In total, 492 Israeli and 148 Palestinian books in literature, history, languages, geography, social studies, civic education and religion were sampled for the three-year project.
A grant from the US State Department funded the study conducted by an Israeli-Palestinian team of academics led by Professors Bruce Wexler of Yale University, Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University and Sami Adwan of Bethlehem University.
The three presented their findings at a press conference held in Jerusalem.
The Education Ministry explained it chose not to cooperate with the study, “those elements who are interested in maliciously slandering the Israeli educational system and the State of Israel.”
The Anti-Defamation League supported the Education Ministry’s criticism, calling the study “distorted and counterproductive.”
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, however, welcomed the study on Monday, saying the research shows its “conclusions are not in line with its standing preconceived positions,” Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported.
Fayyad also said he had instructed the Education Ministry to study the report and use its recommendations as a guide for updating its curriculum, Ma’an reported.
The data collected also showed that books from both education systems tend to present unilateral national narratives, showing the other as the enemy and omitting information about them.
Neutral depictions were found in 40% of Israeli books and 15% of Palestinian ones.
Researchers pointed out that “historical events, while not false or fabricated, are selectively presented to reinforce each community’s national narrative.”
Much information about the religions, cultures, economies and daily activities of the other, as well as the existence of the other on maps, also seems to have been omitted in most of the books.
In terms of self-representation, it was found that over half of the Israeli textbooks presented the Israeli side in a positive to superior way while the same was recorded for self-representation in the Palestinian books.
Moreover, Israeli textbooks appear to be more self-critical than Palestinian publications.
In addition, the report states that while present and problematic in all school systems, the negative presentation of the other, the positive, noncritical presentation of the self, and the absence of images and information about the other, are more pronounced in Israeli ultra-Orthodox and Palestinian school books than in Israeli state school books.
In general, the researchers explained, the narratives in the school textbooks reflect the state of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
They also suggested that “there is much to do in general in the educational system and in particular with the school textbooks, if the parties in conflict decide to embark on the road to peace.”
The study already sparked controversy on Sunday, before the publication of the findings, as several members of the Scientific Advisory Panel, the body that was to review and critique the report, said they were not given a final copy of the report prior to the announcement of Monday’s press conference.
One SAP member, who did not wish to be named, had said that this document had the potential to be “another Goldstone Report,” a reference to the UN report on the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza that was released in 2009.
“The clear impression is that this is a ‘study’ the conclusions of which were known in advance, before any professional work was done, and certainly does not accurately reflect the reality,” the ministry wrote in a statement.
“The attempt to create a parallel between the Israeli and Palestinian educational systems is without any foundation whatsoever and has no basis in reality.”
The researchers defended the veracity of their study in a statement on Monday.
“The Israeli-Palestinian schoolbook study is among the most comprehensive, fact-based investigations ever done of school text books,” the researchers, Wexler, Bar-Tal and Adwan said in a statement.
“Frankly, I think that the minister of education is a great example of the power of these unilateral narratives,” Wexler said on Monday.
“That man cannot see beyond the blinders that have come into his mind by developing as a product of a national narrative that can’t understand the types of things we’re talking about here, and by the way, national leaders who have those blind spots, like he does, make for poor and dangerous national leaders,” he continued.
Wexler, Bar-Tal and Adwan also made clear that the study does not come to evaluate the truthfulness of the presentations, but suggests that they are selectively chosen to support the national narrative on both sides.
The Government Press Office, in response to the report, said that on Tuesday Strategic Affairs Ministry director-general Yossi Kuperwasser will present new data and new studies on incitement in the PA education system.