Friday, September 15, 2006

How Israeli Textbooks Portray the Arab-Israeli Conflict

I stumbled upon How Israeli Textbooks Portray the Arab-Israeli Conflict by Elie Podeh - Indiana University Press, March 2000.

I didn't read the entire article (it's very long), but I found the few bits I did read very interesting - especially because they opened my eyes to the political manipulations that I was subject to when I was in school over 20 years ago.

I was also very glad to learn that this has changed.

Major points in this article:

* History textbooks were often used by states as instruments for glorifying the nation, consolidating its national identity, and justifying social and political systems. The case of Israel is no exception (and neither is that of the Palestinians).

* The Israeli educational system passed through three stages. Podeh calls them "childhood" (until 1967); "adolescence" (1967-1984); and "adulthood" (1984 onwards).

* "Childhood" -- until 1967 - (i.e, books my parents were given in school): total focus on Zionist values. Arab history, culture and language, were almost completely ignored (possibly because references to the Arab or Palestinian people evoked a fear of undermining the legitimacy of the Zionist enterprise). The textbooks of the period included bias and stereotypical descriptions that led to institutionalization of hostile attitudes toward the Arabs. "Savage," "sly," "cheat," "thief," "robber," "provocateurs" and "terrorists" were typical adjectives used by textbooks when describing Arabs. The writing style was emotional and laden with pathos. This is hardly surprising given that the textbooks were written by individuals intimately involved with and affected by the events they described. Any information that might have marred Israel's image or raised doubts about the Jewish fight to the land of Israel was instinctively omitted.

* "Adolescence" -- 1967-1984 (i.e., books I was given in school): This period witnessed the publication of a new, second generation of textbooks. The second-generation textbooks were radically different from their predecessors. Both the Arabs and the Arab-Israeli conflict were described in a more balanced manner, and the historical narrative on the whole was less biased and contained fewer expressions that inspired negative stereotypes. Important changes also took place in the retelling of certain Zionist "truths." For example, the myth that the first immigrants had found an "empty and desolate land" began to crumble. It soon became evident, however, that the student, as well as the teacher, was more comfortable with the traditional way of narrating history. There was a conviction that "our" textbooks were impeccable and that it was only the Arab textbooks that required revision.

* "Adulthood" (1984 -- Present): By the early 1990s, changes in Israeli society brought about further changes in textbooks. Generally, the Arabs are no longer described in stereotypical terms. Indeed, on the whole, these textbooks seem to present a balanced picture of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Even though it is still viewed primarily from a Zionist perspective, an attempt is made to understand the Arab point of view, especially in discussions of some of the sensitive issues in the history of the conflict. In 1998-1999, high school textbooks started elaborating on the issue of Palestinian refugees.

* The most extensive and comprehensive analysis of the refugee problem thus far appears in Eli Barnavi's new high school textbook. In a discussion that spans over two pages, the text accurately mirrors the current state of academic knowledge and shows some empathy for the refugees' plight. The author notes that Morris, in his book, cited 369 abandoned Arab villages "including 33 whose inhabitants were deliberately expelled by Jewish forces." Regarding the sum total of refugees, he puts their number at something between 600,000 and 700,000, an estimate that is accepted by many scholars. At the end of this passage, he assesses the refugee problem in the context of the larger conflict: "As the years passed, hatred, alienation, the desire for revenge and the hope of return, all exacerbated by Arab propaganda, fused the refugees into a single nation and transformed the refugee problem into an international problem. True, Israel emerged victorious from the war of survival forced upon it. But the Palestinian refugee problem was to poison its relations with the Arab world and the international community for over a generation.".

* Interestingly, the article mentions Yehoshafat Harkabi, former head of military intelligence and a noted expert on Arab-Israeli relations, who advocated in 1968 that the Arab-Israeli conflict be taught in high school. Harkabi emphasized the importance of "educating for truth," i.e. illuminating inconvenient facts that conflicted with the official line of thinking. He said: "The wisdom is not to see the opponent as a culprit ... but to realize that there is no absolute justice ... and that each side has its own truth.". (So I'm not the first person to realize this [IB]). Apparently, some teachers found his suggestion difficult to accept. One teacher is quoted as saying: "How can I cultivate in my students a state of perpetual schizophrenia, a divided soul, the sense of being both right and wrong... the daily anguish of being both correct and incorrect!".

Although very interesting, and highlighting the improvements in the Israeli textbooks, the article ends in a rather pessimistic note:

"The fact that [Israeli] school textbooks were in the past prejudiced and thereby contributed to the escalation of the conflict failed to penetrate the consciousness of large sectors of Israeli society. In this respect, the historical narrative presented by the third-generation textbooks [i.e, textbooks published since the mid-1990s] constitutes an important step forward. Its impact, however, will be limited if there is no corresponding change in Arab, and especially Palestinian, textbooks.

In historical and national terms, the Palestinians are currently in the same position that Israel was in fifty years ago. If Palestinian textbooks must go through the long, exhausting process undergone by Israeli textbooks, the prospects of a genuine and lasting Israeli-Palestinian conciliation may lie far off in the future."

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Arab Media for Israelis

Mohamed Maher said in a previous comment to DGListen:

> try to see and hear new media other than urs , try to hear the arabic media

Mohamed - I think this is a great suggestion. I have started doing this, and I hope more Israelis do too. But it has to be done with great care.

Why great care? Because when we Israelis read Arab newspapers: we are immediately put off. We see what is written - and it looks like horrible lies and propaganda to us.

I recently realized, though, that this is not propaganda - and should not be taken by us as lies. I have come to believe that the Arab media (or at least Aljazeera - which is the only Arab media source I found in English) is providing a true representation of the Arab view of the world.

I wish to humbly ask any Arabs reading this post: Am I correct in this observation? Do you think that Aljazeera truly represents the Arab view of things? Or can you recommend other Arab media sources?