Israeli and Palestinian textbooks omit borders
Schoolchildren grow up believing one homeland does not include the other as majority of maps erase dividing lines
The vast majority of maps in Palestinian and Israeli schoolbooks omit the existence of the other entity, leading to children growing up with “an internal representation of their homeland, in which one does not include the other”, according to the lead author of a three-year study.
Only 4% of maps in Palestinian textbooks show the green line, which separates Palestinian territory from Israel, or label the area west of it as “Israel”. Almost six out of 10 maps depict no borders, and another third include the green line but make no reference to Israel.
In Israeli textbooks, 76% of maps show no boundaries between Palestinian territories and Israel, and Palestinian areas are not labelled. “Since these maps are generally presented as maps of Israel, the absence of borders between Israel and Palestine can be seen as implying that the Palestinian areas are part of the state of Israel,” says the report, Victims of Our Own Narratives? Portrayal of the “Other” in Israeli and Palestinian School Books.
“It’s almost comical. The idea of maps is to represent reality; here it represents fantasy,” Bruce Wexler, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University, who led the study, told the Guardian. However, claims by both sides that they are demonised by the other were unfounded. “Types of extreme demonising or dehumanising characterisations of ‘the other’ are absent from all the textbooks,” he said.
The study, commissioned by the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, and funded and reviewed by the US state department, examined 3,000 texts, illustrations and maps in books used in Palestinian, Israeli state and Israeli ultra-Orthodox schools. All data was sent to Yale for analysis. The study was “transparent, open, collaborative, rigorous and scientific,” said Wexler, and produced four main findings:
• Dehumanising or demonising is rare in both Palestinian and Israeli books.
• Both Israeli and Palestinian books present “unilateral national narratives” that show the other as an enemy.
• Information about the other’s religions, culture, economic and daily activities is inadequate or absent.
• Negative bias in presentation of the other is significantly more pronounced in Israeli ultra-Orthodox and Palestinian school books than Israeli state books.
More than 90% of Palestinian children study textbooks produced by the Palestinian Authority. Among Israeli Jewish children, a majority attend state secular or state religious schools, with a significant minority attending ultra-Orthodox schools, which produce their own textbooks. Arabic books used in Israeli Arab schools, which are produced by the Israeli ministry of education, were not included in the study.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority have both been accused of teaching violence and hatred, demonising the other, or using excessively negative depictions in children’s education. In fact, this is extremely rare, according to the study. It found six examples in 9,964 pages of Palestinian textbooks “that were rated as portraying the other in extreme negative ways other than as the enemy, and none of these six were general dehumanising characterisations of personal traits of Jews or Israelis”.
However, there was evidence of selective presentation of historical events to reinforce national narratives. “All the textbooks provide a unilateral national narrative that relentlessly describes the other as an enemy out to destroy or dominate the self,” said Wexler. “They present the self almost uniformly in positive terms, motivated only by self-defence and the pursuit of peace. They fail to describe information about the other’s history, culture or religions, the type of information that would humanise.”
“That is not a surprise to anyone who has studied textbooks in societies in conflict. Everywhere there are societies in conflict, the textbooks present a unilateral national narrative of this sort. The facts presented and the incidents described in the textbooks are not false, they’re just selected from a unilateral perspective.”
The books also fail to provide information about the other community. “In this conflict, perhaps more than many others, this lack of recognition of the other’s legitimate presence is a central obstacle to the respect and tolerance necessary for peace,” the report says. “It’s hard to imagine Israelis and Palestinians living in peace without their children learning more about the religion of the other.”
In general, according to Wexler, “Israeli state school books present a less negative portrayal of the other, a more self-critical portrayal of themselves and provide more information about the other than the Palestinian books or the Israeli ultra-Orthodox books.”
The study recommends Israeli and Palestinian ministries of education review the content of their textbooks. “Education makes a difference in shaping expectations, it influences the way [people] view the world, said Wexler. “You do not want to keep creating more and more obstacles [to peace] by training children in such a way that it obstructs the peace process.”
“Israel is a young country and surrounded by enemies: Syria, Egypt, Jordan. And on every side… enemy states are hatching plots that are only waiting for the right time to be carried out. Like a little lamb in a sea of seventy wolves is Israel among the Arab states” – Israeli ultra-Orthodox textbook
“The Palestinian war [in 1948] ended with a disaster of which history had not seen the like, and Zionist gangs usurped Palestine and displaced its people from their cities, villages, land and houses, and founded the state of Israel… The tragedy was exacerbated with the Zionist entity’s occupation of what remains of Palestine… most Palestinians are still living under the yoke of the Occupation, and others are living lives of displacement and loss” – Palestinian textbook
[In relation to the founding of Israel] “The Arabs denied the right of the Jews to settle in the Land of Israel… With this claim, the Arabs completely ignore the historic connection of the Jews with the Land of Israel… They adopted the claim that the Jews are not a nation and Judaism is merely a religion, and hence the Jews have no right to territories. On the other hand, the Arabs are a nation and thus, according to their claim, the Land of Israel belongs to them” – Israeli state textbook