Published On:22 February 2013
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Academic Study Weakens Israeli Claim That Palestinian School Texts Teach Hate

By Isabel Kershner

Jerusalem: An academic study of the contents of Israeli and Palestinian Authority textbooks, to be published Monday, finds that each side generally presents the other as the enemy, but it undermines recent assertions by the Israeli government that Palestinian children are educated “to hate.”

Though unusually comprehensive, the report is unlikely to resolve more than a decade of fierce wrangling about the textbooks — part of a broader debate about Palestinian incitement against Israelis — having set off a political furor even before its publication date.

Israel’s Ministry of Education issued a statement in late January dismissing the new research as “biased, unprofessional and significantly lacking in objectivity.” Referring to “bodies that wish to slander the Israeli education system and the state of Israel,” it said the findings were “predetermined” and did not “reliably reflect reality.”

An Israeli member of a scientific advisory panel of experts that oversaw the research, Daniel Sperber, a professor of Talmudic research at Bar-Ilan University, refused to comment on the report, saying its release was “premature.”

Arnon Groiss, another Israeli member of the advisory panel, an Arabist, and the researcher and author of many previous reports critical of the Palestinian Authority textbooks, also refused to endorse the report, saying last week that he had not seen a final version. But he insisted that the authority’s textbooks “prepare the pupils for a future armed struggle for the elimination of the state of Israel.”

A Palestinian member of the advisory panel, Mohammed Dajani, a professor at Al Quds University in the West Bank, countered that the new study was “a strategic vision rather than looking through narrow eyes at one side or another.”

“People who are critical of the report are not appreciative of the work that went into it,” Mr. Dajani added.

Fourteen of the 19 advisory panel members expressed support for the study in a statement on Sunday.

The report was commissioned by the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, a group of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders who advocate for mutual respect and understanding. It was financed by a grant from the United States State Department.

The research was led by two prominent academics with long experience in textbook studies, Daniel Bar-Tal, an Israeli professor of research in child development and education at Tel Aviv University, and Sami Adwan, a Palestinian associate professor of education at Bethlehem University.

The project was originated by Dr. Bruce E. Wexler, professor emeritus of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, who co-founded an organization to promote Israeli-Palestinian cooperation.

In a response to the Israeli Ministry of Education, the three professors cited the rigorous research methods employed and wrote of their hopes that the ministries on both sides would “be moved to prepare a plan of action” to help “advance the peace building process.”

Dr. Wexler added that all the advisory panel members were familiar with the report’s main findings.

Unimpressed with the quality of previous, more subjective studies, Dr. Wexler said that he had insisted on applying scientific research methods for this one, so as “to provide real facts about a controversial issue.”

This included employing research assistants from both sides who were fluent in Hebrew and Arabic and data entered remotely into a database at Yale, similar to a blind study.

The study examined books from Israel’s state secular and religious systems as well as those used in independent ultra-Orthodox schools, books issued by the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Education and used in the West Bank and Gaza, and a small number used in the few independent Islamic Trust schools. It did not include religious scriptures.

Previous studies of Palestinian textbooks by monitoring groups like the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education and Palestinian Media Watch suggested that they promoted the widespread dehumanization of Jews and Israel and a rejection of Israel’s right to exist.

The new study avoids harsh language and couches the bad news in a kind of symmetry.
It found that extreme examples of dehumanization and demonization were “very rare” on both sides. The few examples given included one from an ultra-Orthodox textbook describing an Israeli settlement established on the ruins of an Arab village that “had always been a nest of murderers.” A Palestinian language textbook included a reference to “the slaughterhouse,” explaining it as the nickname prisoners had given to an interrogation center “due to the brutality of the interrogators.”

The report said that both Israeli and Palestinian books provided unilateral national narratives that presented the other side as an enemy and that there was a lack of information about each other’s religions, culture and daily life.

The failure even to mark the existence of the other side on most maps, it said, “serves to deny the legitimate presence of the other.”

But another significant conclusion was that Israeli state textbooks provided more information and less negative characterizations of the other side and more self-criticism regarding certain historical episodes than the ultra-Orthodox or Palestinian books. Addressing the 1948 massacre in the Arab village of Deir Yassin, for example, a book used in the state secular and religious schools noted that the battle “developed into the killing of dozens of helpless Arabs.”
In many respects, the findings are similar to those of previous reports, but the interpretation largely differs.

There is little argument that most of the maps erase the presence of the other side or any kind of border between them. The Palestinians argue that there is no agreed border yet. Israelis counter that the state of Israel exists and should be named, while the West Bank is still a disputed area.

The study concludes that the maps reinforce each side’s self-narrative and fears — for the Palestinians, that Israel seeks to keep and expand occupied territories, and for the Israelis, that the Arab nations seek to wipe Israel off the map.

The textbook teachings on martyrdom and self-sacrifice are treated with similar evenhandedness. Palestinian sixth graders read in a language book that “every stone is violated, every square cries out in anger, every nerve is abuzz, death before submission, death before submission, forward!”

Israeli second graders are told the story of Joseph Trumpeldor, who died defending an early Zionist settlement from Arab attackers in 1920 and was said to have uttered in his last moments, “Never mind, it is good to die for our country.”

Coming after years of Palestinian suicide bombings, Israeli critics say, the Palestinian books glorify such acts of terrorism.

But Professor Bar-Tal said that “both societies are in the stage of mobilization,” with most Israeli students being prepared for compulsory army service.

He and others cautioned that the textbooks were only one factor influencing the younger generation, among others like teachers, the media and the Internet.

(Courtesy: The New York Times)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on February 22, 2013. Filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

By Indian Muslim Observer on February 22, 2013. Filed under , , , . Follow any responses to the RSS 2.0. Leave a response

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