Palestinian textbooks: Where is all that 'incitement'?
Roger Avenstrup International Herald Tribune
Saturday, December 18, 2004
JERUSALEM Palestinian textbooks contain incitement to hatred of Israel, right? Both President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton have said so. Zionist groups constantly lobby European foreign ministries to stop support for Palestinian textbooks on that basis, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon affirmed it at a recent Likud party meeting.
Detailed analyses of the textbooks have been done by research institutes. The U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem commissioned studies from the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), and in Europe the Georg Eckert Institute facilitated research. Research papers have also been published in international fora such as the Hebrew University's Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, the Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture, and presented at the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief.
At the political level, a U.S. Senate subcommittee on Palestinian education and the Political Committee of the European Parliament have both held hearings on the matter. No country's textbooks have been subjected to as much close scrutiny as the Palestinian.
The findings? It turns out that the original allegations were based on Egyptian or Jordanian textbooks and incorrect translations. Time and again, independently of each other, researchers find no incitement to hatred in the Palestinian textbooks.
The European Union has issued a statement that the new textbooks are free of inciting content and the allegations were unfounded. The IPCRI 2003 report states that the overall orientation of the curriculum is peaceful and does not incite to hatred or violence against Israel and the Jews, and the 2004 report states that there are no signs of promoting hatred toward Israel, Judaism or Zionism, nor toward the Western Judeo-Christian tradition or values.
Yet Sharon now claims that the Palestinian textbooks are a greater threat than terrorism. If that is so, education for peace and conflict resolution has become the greatest threat to Israel. Maybe it is: What little independent research has been done on Israeli textbooks, together with the recent New Profile report on the militarization of the Israeli education system, gives grounds for serious concern about what is happening to future generations on that side of the wall. Peace might feel threatening to a war-ingrained identity.
If, as part of its policy of reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq, the White House is looking for a modern education founded in positive Islamic values and which promotes peace and conflict resolution, it should look at Palestinian textbooks for a model.
The first editions are not perfect: There are gaps in the presentation of both Palestinian and Israeli history, but they are a good starting point nonetheless.
As usual in national curriculum processes, criticism from extremists on either side is a sign that the process is probably on the right track. The biggest constraint, in the words of a Palestinian parent, is that Israeli tanks and soldiers are shooting in the streets outside while teachers are trying to promote peace in the classroom.
Shooting mortars into Israeli towns and suicide bombings are also not good models for children who are to learn in school that conflicts can and should be resolved through dialogue. That is a lesson which will only have meaning when both sides can live in freedom and peace.