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Palestinian Textbooks: The Need For Palestinian Textbook Reform

(November 2004)

The following is excerpted from “Recommendations for Palestinian Text Books Reform,” published by the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI).

Text books issued by governments are an authoritative source to determine the values that any society lives by. Until now, the Palestinian Authority text books have not provided evidence that the Palestinian Authority has been implementing a policy of peace making.

Palestinian text books have confused messages and it is not difficult to come to the understanding that the main political theme imparted to the students is that Israel should not exist and that is essentially the Palestinian goal.

Definition and Maps

There is great confusion in the Palestinian text books when using the term “Palestine” – what geographic area is being referred to? One of the primary criticisms of the Palestinian text books thus far derives from the confusion regarding this issue. When showing a map of all of Palestine from the sea to the river, without any indication of the State of Israel on the map, what should the reader understand? Are these the desired and planned borders of the State of Palestine? Is the reader supposed to understand that his or her duty as a Palestinian citizen is to fight to achieve those borders and in doing so to eradicate the State of Israel? Failing to answer these questions definitively in the texts allows the reader to interpret the political message on the basis of their own political persuasion or understanding, and it allows the reader to place more than moderate doubts regarding the real intentions of the Palestinian Authority....

This legitimate criticism [of Israeli text books] does not, however, excuse the Palestinian Ministry of Education of its obligation to designate the State of Israel on maps indicating periods after 1948.

Likewise, maps indicating the names of towns and cities inside of the State of Israel must be designated as such. A map from 1948 onwards with Yaffa or Akka [sic] must indicate that these cities are located within the State of Israel. Failure to do so will only call for the reader to understand that in the Palestinian view, these cities will be within the future boundaries of the State of Palestine. There is no room for ambiguity on these issues....

Dealing with History

It is equally important to use internationally verifiable factual data on controversial issues. References in the Palestinian text books that “Arabize” the Canaanite people do not provide internationally verifiable historic facts and further puts into question the entire Palestinian narrative. It is clear that Palestinians are trying to ascertain that the Arab presence on the Land came prior to the Jewish presence. However, claiming that the Canaanite peoples were Arab is beyond the ability of today’s historical accounts to certify and opens the text books for severe international criticism. Palestinian claims to the land are substantial enough to not have to rest on questionable historic accounts. In this vein, references should be made regarding historical Israelite and Jewish presence in the land as well as to documenting that the Jews were exiled from the Land by the Romans. Distorting historical facts does not grant greater legitimacy to Palestinian claims for historic rights to Palestine. In fact, ignoring historic facts weakens Palestinian claims....

Dealing with Islamic Texts and Concepts

By not placing Jihad in the broader context and leaving it as it is currently dealt with in the Palestinian text books, one cannot but come to the conclusion that the Palestinian Authority is encouraging Jihad in the narrow sense of the Holy War against Israel and against Jews as well as against Christians.

The same can be said for the concept of martyrdom. It is not completely clear and evident from some Palestinian text books that there is rejection of support for suicide bombers. In fact, some of the texts could lead the reader to have real admiration for those who become suicide bombers and kill Israelis. It is not clear that the Palestinian Authority has made a real choice on this issue in the ambiguous kind of educational messages one can infer from the text books. There can be no ambiguity about this issue within the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Praise of martyrdom without being specifically placed in a historical-religious context and without being placed in a context outside of the current conflict transmit extremely problematic messages that should be avoided in all text books. Failure to remove ambiguity concerning these issues – Jihad and martyrdom – more than any other issues in all of the text books, questions to commitment of the Palestinian Authority to live at peace with Israel....

Dealing with Jerusalem

Jerusalem is the Holy City for the three monotheistic religions. This is stated clearly in the Palestinian text books, however, beyond that general statement, the Jewish presence - historical, religious and modern, is absent in the text books. The text books refer to Jerusalem as having always been an Arab city. This is not a true representation of historic fact and the texts must be historically accurate. Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel....

It is incorrect to ignore Jewish presence and Jewish affinity for Jerusalem. There are proven facts of a Jewish presence and connection to the city of Jerusalem. It is wrong to ignore this. Ignoring Jewish presence in Jerusalem and Jewish affinity for Jerusalem puts into question the political intentions behind ignoring these facts. Once again, the reader can easily assume that the Palestinian Authority views the future of Jerusalem as one void of Jews and Israelis. The Palestinian cause is not strengthened by ignoring Jewish religious and historical connections to Jerusalem.

Sources: IPCRI