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Palestinian Textbooks: A Study of New Palestinian Textbooks

by Goetz Nordbruch (April 2002)


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 Authority’s 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. Haifa, Jaffa, Acre, and Nazareth1 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 The maps of the region indicate only a Palestinian state in the territory formerly under the British Mandate.4 The textbooks also ignore the existence of Israel despite the PLO’s recognition of the state in the Oslo Agreement....

From Chapter 10: Urban Geography
Principles of Human Geography (6th grade text, 2000-2001)

Muslims 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.

Conflict with Israel

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 Israel.”7

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 to Israel.

Islam, 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 did convert.10

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 prophet’s 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, and beliefs.”13

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 Muhammad’s 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 prophet’s 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 Islam—mentioned in a depiction of the various communities of Al-Madina—are characterized solely as “those who have a large economic influence in Al-Madina.”17

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 Pilate’s 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 Jesus.19


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 and freedom....

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.


1National Education, 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 the maps..

5Our Beautiful Language, p. 46.

6Our Beautiful Language, p. 58.

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.

Sources: MEMRI