Narrating Palestinian Nationalism:
A Study of the New Palestinian Textbooks
by Goetz Norbruch
The following is excerpted
from a new study on Palestinian textbooks.
To read the complete report or obtain a hard
copy, contact MEMRI.
In September 2000, the Palestinian
Authority introduced a new curriculum,
which had been developed over the five years
by Palestinian educators and international
experts. Previously, Palestinian schoolchildren
used only Jordanian textbooks in the West
Bank and Egyptian textbooks in the Gaza
Strip. This is still the case for the
majority of children, except those in grade
one (five to six years old) and grade six
(eleven to twelve years old). All of the new
textbooks for the first and sixth grades were
published by the Palestinian Authoritys
Ministry of Education in Al-Bireh, Ramallah.
The geographic extent of the Palestinian
nation, according to the textbooks, includes
all the territory west of the Jordan River.
are listed as Palestinian cities, disregarding
their present location in Israel.2
In various illustrations the slogan Jerusalem
Is Ours appears, ignoring the Jewish/
Israeli pre-1967 portion.3
of the region indicate only a Palestinian
state in the territory formerly under the
The textbooks also ignore the existence of
Israel despite the PLOs
of the state in the Oslo
From Chapter 10: Urban
Principles of Human Geography (6th
grade text, 2000-2001)
and Christians are said to comprise the Palestinian
nation. There is no reference to any Jewish
presence now or in the past.
Martyrdom is clearly a religious concept;
the willingness to make sacrifices is described
as a national obligation. Arabic literature
textbooks contain many references to this
obligation as a central theme.5
The appeal to defend the Palestinian nation
is a central theme throughout the new textbooks.
Even in lessons of Arabic language, numerous
texts and exercises call on the students to
sacrifice their lives. For example, in a language
exercise the students are requested to discuss
the case of a martyrdom operation on the soil
of Palestine, using the following expressions:
they were truthful in what they had
committed themselves to (Koran); he
defended his religion and his country;
and he fell as a martyr and irrigated
the land with his pure blood.6
The concept of a threatened Palestinian nation
gives the impression that students, too, must
fight contemporary threats and dangers.
The absence of Israel in graphics or illustrations
suggests a Palestinian entity that comprises
all the territories of the British Mandate.
The Oslo Agreement, of importance because
it marks formal mutual recognition between
Israelis and Palestinians, is referred to
but once: the largest part of the troops
of the liberation army [that] returned to
Palestine in September 1993 after the signing
of the Oslo Agreement between the PLO and
There is no discussion of Oslo, its importance,
or the problems it entails for Palestinians
in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A general
criticism of the occupation and of colonialism
replaces a vital but absent presentation of
the problems within Palestinian society relating
Christianity, and Judaism
Historical relationships between Muslims
and Christians and between Muslims and Jews
are both described as being rife with conflict;
present-day relations between Muslims and
Christians are presented in a positive light.
Christian ideals are presented by way of
stories relating to the miracles of Jesus.
The Christian Religious Education textbooks
quote the Ten
Commandments as the most important principles
for moral guidance.
The books also refer to the tolerance shown
by Muslims toward Christians following the
Islamic conquest of Jerusalem.8 There are fewer references to Jews in the
new textbooks, and these mainly refer to attempts
by the Prophet
Muhammad to convert Jews and to the reaction
of those who had settled in Madina and the
oasis of Khaybar in the pre-Islamic period.9 The unwillingness of the majority of Jews
to convert to Islam is told in another story
about a small group of Jews from Madina who
Another reference to Jews appears in a narration
of Islamic victories in which Jews are described
as having acted against the Prophet Muhammad.11 Despite their disloyalty, however, they were
guaranteed freedom of religion in the prophets
Decree of Al-Madina.12 This
decree is presented in the textbooks as one
of the first documents in the world to guarantee
human rights regardless of nationality, religion,
This impression of a tolerant attitude toward
Jews is, however, sadly contradicted by the
stereotyping of Jews. Leading questions and
remarks relate to the alleged problematic
behavior of Jews. For example, one educational
unit instructs the pupils to compare
the positions of Muslims and Jews on complying
with contracts and agreements.14 The textbooks also include various references
to Jewish resistance to the Prophet Muhammads
armies and to the Jews stubborn refusal
to convert to Islam.
In the history textbooks Surat Al-Hajar,
the expulsion of the Jews by the Prophet Muhammad,
is interpreted as a punishment from Allah
for those who broke agreements with
the Prophet of Allah.15 Elsewhere, students are reminded of the prophets
instructions to his followers to learn the
language of the Jews so they can avoid the
Jews cunning.16 Even
the Jews who converted to Islammentioned
in a depiction of the various communities
of Al-Madinaare characterized solely
as those who have a large economic influence
The Christian Religious Education textbooks,
rather than giving a comprehensive account
of Jesus life, focus on parts that relate
to the friction between Christians and Jews.
For example, the role of Judas in the Romans
capture of Jesus is emphasized.18
The description of Pontius Pilates
sentencing of Jesus reiterates Jewish treachery.
Pilate gives the Jews the choice of pardoning
Jesus or the convicted thief Barabbas, and
he is answered with a vigorous judgment against
The new Palestinian textbooks reflect a general
attempt to lessen the virulence of anti-Israel
venom. Direct incitement has significantly
declined, explicit calls for violence have
been radically reduced, and a serious effort
has been made to enhance values such as democracy
Antisemitic stereotypes portraying Jews still
appear in the textbooks, and present-day conflicts
are tied to ancient religious disputes and
enmity. Moreover, the new textbooks do not
nurture positive attitudes toward the West.
Disorderly clothing, for example, is depicted
as a symbol of undesirable foreign behavior.
Textbook for the Sixth Grade, p. 8.
2Our Beautiful Language,
Textbook for the Sixth Grade, Part I, 2000-2001,
pp. 109, 120-121.
3National Education, Textbook
for the Sixth Grade, 2000-2001, p. 24. For
example, Jerusalem is referred to as the capital
in an excerpt from the Palestinian Declaration
of Independence of 1998. See National Education,
Textbook for the Sixth Grade, p. 32.
4General Sciences, Textbook
for the Sixth Grade, 2000-2001, p. 81; National
Education, Textbook for the Sixth Grade,
2000-2001, p. 42; and Principles of Human
Geography, p. 53. The reference to the
disputed borders is not found in the textbooks
but was made by representatives of the Israeli
government in parliamentary inquiries concerning
5Our Beautiful Language,
6Our Beautiful Language,
7National Education, Textbook
for the Sixth Grade, p. 23.
8National Education, Textbook
for the Sixth Grade, 2000-2001, p. 71.
9The History of Arabs and Muslims, Textbook
for the Sixth Grade, 2000-2001, p. 20.
10The reference to Surat al-Saff is important because the Jews are portrayed as denying Muhammad's prophethood. Reading and Recitation (Koran), Textbook
for the Sixth Grade, 2000-2001, pp. 26-27.
11The History of Arabs and Muslims, p. 42.
12The History of Arabs and Muslims, p. 37.
13The History of Arabs and Muslims, p. 38.
14The History of Arabs and Muslims, p. 24.
15Reading and Recitation (Koran), p. 79.
16The History of Arabs and Muslims, p. 133.
17The History of Arabs and Muslims, po. 37-38.
18Christian religious Education, Textbook
for the First Grade, 2000-2001, pp. 69-70.
19Christian religious Education, pp. 73-74.
Source: Excerpted from ", MEMRI,