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."


EngineeringChange said...

Nice find!

Once I get a chance to read the article I will comment myself, but I read your post and this information is very interesting and useful to me. I have long been wondering how Israeli textbooks portrayed Palestinians.

And a quick reaction to the thought that the Palestinian process will take many years to take an effect on the society. This may be true, but the process can only begin in kind when the Palestinians have a state. When the children are being occupied, when their houses are bulldozed and gunfire is commonplace--they will always need an Enemy to blame for these things. Israel will always work. So no process of really identifying with the other side can ever really start until the state of occupation in over and Palestinians can concentrate on building their own state.

Israeli Blogger said...

@EngineeringChange -
> The process can only begin
> in kind when the Palestinians
> have a state.

I hope the process can begin before a Palestinian state is founded. I'm sure there are Palestinians who realize that most Israelis are not evil.

I believe most Israelis want the Palestinians to have a state - but one that will recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish country. (Israel's jewish identity is vital to us - exactly as a just solution to the refugee problem is vital to you).

The current situation, however, makes the Israeli population fear the founding of a Palestinian state:
over the past decade, every time Israel did something which - to the Israelis - looked like progress towards a Palestinian state (e.g., Oslo, Taba, Gaza Withdrawal), the Palestinian response was a significant increase in violence. As a result, the vast majority of Israelis are afraid that a Palestinian state will become a base for even more attacks on Israel. The Hizballah's massive firing of rockets on northern Israel has done much to strengthen this fear in the Israeli population - and will make the founding of a Palestinian state even more difficult.

There are strong anti-Israeli forces in the Muslim world whom, I suspect, are supporting Palestinian violence with full knowledge that such violence only prevents the creation of a Palestinian state. These forces hope that through sustained violence they will destroy Israel, and seem to fear that a Palestinian state may ultimately reduce the amount of violence.

Most Israelis see those anti-Israeli forces as the ultimate evil - people driven by a strong desire to kill us. I used to share this view. However, through our discussions on this blog, I have come to believe that these forces are not evil - but are driven by a tremendous lack of understanding of present day Israel. I still think they want to kill us - but I now believe that this is not their primary objective, but a derivative of their desire for justice.

I hope the dialog we're conducting through the Internet - and others like it - can help initiate a positive process of understanding on both sides. We may discover a way to achieve justice that does not require the killing of people on both sides, and allows all sides to maintain their homes and the identity of their countries.

EngineeringChange said...

Let me be very clear:

If Israel continues with half-measures such as Oslo, such as offering Arafat 'everything' (that was actually a discontiguous Palestinian state speckled with settlements), such as leaving Gaza only to expand settlements in the West Bank--then there will ALWAYS be forces out to kill Israelis and Israel will never be safe.

Half-measures will never work. The only way is to give Palestinians true justice once and for all. Settlements are illegal--there will always be terrorism against settlements. A contiguous Palestinians state is essential. Jeruselem is essential. And solving the refugee problem to the satisfaction of the refugees is also essential.

Otherwise Palestinians view this struggle as one they will wait out hundreds of years in order to get their justice.

If maintaining a Jewish identity to Israeli is such a vital thing to Israeli, I am not sure if there will ever be a true peace. Because this 100% Jewish characteristic neccessarily is an artificial creation. It is a result of people in 1948 being kicked out of their homes/leaving their homes and not being allowed to return. It is the result of a massive wave of Jewish immigration in the 1930s that could only muster a state with a 51% Jewish characteristic of the UN partition plan.

And as far as the present day is concerned, it is just illogical: How can the state claim to be Jewish state with the star of David on its flag, yet 20% of its people are not Jewish?? This population will only grow, so a Jewish state neccessarily means kicking them out eventually as well. Which would only create more violence.

EngineeringChange said...

Essential article to read. It is interesting though that is appears while Israeli text are not blatantly racist as they were in the "Childhood" period, that the books are very diverse now with some still including aspects of the "Childhood' and "Adolescent" periods. And the textbooks still do not mention things like "Der Yassin." So there is still much progress to be made.

But to be sure there is much more progress to be made in Arab textbooks. I never did study under an Arab governement curriculum, so I cannot add as much insight as I would like. But from what I can tell, for example, Syrian history is written in an extremely Nationalist viewpoint. Maps of the middle east do not show "Israel" but rather show a fictitious "Palestine." The Yom Kippur War is a decisive victory for Syria, which basically ignores the late counter attacks of the Israeli army and instead concentrates solely on the initial successes of the Syrian Army. These are things I know that exist in the elementary school textbooks, I really do not know what the later middle school or high school textbooks look like.

Perhaps some of the other arab readers can give their own take on their textbooks growing up?

Israeli Blogger said...

> If Israel continues with
> half-measures such as Oslo
> [...] Israel will never be safe

The idea with Oslo wasn't "a half measure". The Oslo architects deluded themselves into thinking that it's possible to solve the easy problems first, and leave the more difficult ones to a later stage.

Obviously, it didn't work - and both sides paid a heavy price for this mistake.

> If maintaining a Jewish
> identity to Israeli
> is such a vital thing to
> Israeli, I am not sure if
> there will ever be a true
> peace

So are you saying Palestinians (or other Arabs) are incapable of ever understanding how we feel?

I can certainly understand that it's almost impossible to do while sufferring from the brutality of the Israeli government - but not ever?

If I can sympathize with them right now (even while sufferring from Palestinian brutality), why won't they be able to understand us later?


EngineeringChange said...

I think many, many people believe the existence of Israel as a Jewish state in the heart of the Middle East is an unnatural creation of the west. These people are NOT anti-semites, do not advocate 'throwing the Jews into the sea' or telling the Jews in Israel to leave. What these people would call for is a simple one man one vote democracy. All the Jews in the country stay and maintain their rights, but people that left or were kicked out and not allowed to return in 1948 should be allowed back to participate in that vote.

A two-state solution will not satisfy these people because the issue of being a Jewish state with non-Jewish citizens still remains. (lets forget for a minute that a 2 state solution is very far away with the issues of Jeruselem and the illegal settlements still unresolved) The 20% Israeli-Arab population will grow slowly, and these 20% do not have the same rights as an Israeli Jew. How is a non-Jew supposed to feel afinity for his country when it is defined as a Jewish state and has a star of David on its flag?

For example, myself I think a two-state solution is the best way to go for both sides for now. But I do envision one day a couple generations in the future that the Wall between Israel and a future Palestine will fall as the Berlin Wall once fell too. The people on both sides will agree on this. Why can't Palestinian Muslims and Christians live in peace with Jews? Why can't there be a state of mixed religion and ethnicities in the middle east? Do you realize just how unnatural a pure Jewish state in the heart of the Arab/Muslim Middle East is and how much unrest it causes in the region?

I am convinced that Israelis are not monsters. Our dialogue has helped confirm to me that there are good and reasonable people on the Israeli side. But I still cannot understand what this Israeli infactuation is with its Jewish identity. We may have touched on this before, but please remind me.

Again, why can't there be a state of mixed religion and ethnicities in the middle east?

Israeli Blogger said...

> The 20% Israeli-Arab
> population [...] do not
> have the same rights
> as an Israeli Jew.

What do you mean?

> But I still cannot understand
> what this Israeli infactuation
> is with its Jewish identity.
> We may have touched on this
> before, but please remind me.

It's a complex issue - but the very short explanation is that while Christians and Muslims have many countries of their own, Israel is the only Jewish country in the world. If Israel were to lose its Jewish identity, there would be no one to make sure Jews do become a persecuted minority wherever they live.

EngineeringChange said...

> The 20% Israeli-Arab
> population [...] do not
> have the same rights
> as an Israeli Jew.

What do you mean?

You are correct--after some research on the web, I do realize now that Israeli Arabs do enjoy full political rights in Israel.

But my point is the same: How can a non-Jew truly feel a welcome part of the State of Israel considering these factors:

1. Israeli-Arabs are exempt from military service and the resulting benefits of military service. Indeed many top politicians are career politicians.
2. The 'Right of Return' applies only to Jews no matter where they live in the world, and not to Palestinians who had lived for generations. Furthermore, there is now a law denying Israeli citizenship to anybody from the occupied territories that marries an Israeli citizen. This law is targeted at the Palestinian population of Israel.

3. The issue of land ownership still confuses me. Maybe you can clarify, but from what I can tell the State of Israel owns 93% of the land in Israel. And it frequently establishes new settlements that are for Jews only. See: Land and Planning Policy in Israel

4. Jews in Israel do not regard their Arab co-citizens as equals, but rather as future demographic problem. "Moreover, 55.3 percent of Jewish Israelis said Palestinian citizens endangered national security, and 45.3 percent said they should be banned from voting or holding political office." See Bitter Lemons Article

See also these relevent articles:

Discrimination in Israeli Law

The Arab Minority in Israel

Many argue that Israel has to deal with its problems in racism in society just like many other countries. But I don't think it is the same. There is a fundemental contridiction of being a 'Jewish' state to non-Jewish citizens--I think the situation is extremely artificial and unstable and will lead to future problems.

You said:

It's a complex issue - but the very short explanation is that while Christians and Muslims have many countries of their own, Israel is the only Jewish country in the world. If Israel were to lose its Jewish identity, there would be no one to make sure Jews do become a persecuted minority wherever they live."

I am very understanding of this position. If I was Jewish I for sure would want a homeland where I could always be safe and free from persecution. But paradoxically, by settling on a land where people were already living and then ethnically cleansing that area and not letting these inhabitants return--well that has created an injustice that only endangers the state of Israel. Thats why Israel has a problem of constantly being under threat and will always have this problem until the original sin is addressed.

And thats the dilemna: Jewish history has demonstrated they Jews deserve to have their own homeland to be free of persecution. The Jewish position is just. But the displaced Palestinians of 1948 also have a just position. It is a tough situation for us all.

Israeli Blogger said...

@EngineeringChange - first of all, I wanted to thank you for your words. You said:
> Jewish history has demonstrated
> they Jews deserve to have
> their own homeland to be
> free of persecution.
> The Jewish position is just.
> But the displaced Palestinians
> of 1948 also have a just
> position. It is a tough
> situation for us all.

I am so glad you said this. It is the first time I have heard from an Arab that the Jewish position is just. I don't think many Israelis have heard such words from Arabs - so again, thank you. (and I agree with you that the displaced Palestinians of 1948 deserve a just solution, BTW).

Indeed the situation is tough - but like all difficult problems, 50% of the way to a solution is understanding the problem. It seems both you and I have recently achieved a much better understanding of the problem. Personally, I'd really like to find ways to spread this understanding amongst both Israelis and Arabs.


In your comment, you addressed quite a few issues and included a lot of references. It will take me a while to review them all... But I started by taking some time to check your claim that "Israel frequently establishes new settlements that are for Jews only".

In my web research, I found that this claim is somewhat outdated (and I don't know if the word "frequently" was ever correct). You might want to check this article, which mentions that the Israeli Supreme Court ruled "Jew Only Settlements" to be generally illegal, and stressed equal rights for Arab and Jewish citizens. You might also want to check this Ha'aretz article
and the google cache of another very interesting Ha'aretz article about this ruling and following events.

Still, I can tell you that the entire issue of land ownership in Israel is rotten - and that Israeli Jews suffer from this almost as much as Israeli Arabs. Land ownership laws in Israel are based on Ottoman/Turkish laws that go back since before WWI. A significant amount of corruption goes on here with these things.

Neverthelewss, we Israeli Jews accept government ownership of land, because we know that the alternative is having Saudi billionaires buy all the land and take over our country (Israel is a very small country after all).

I think that in light of this hostile possibility, the Israeli Supreme Court's ruling should be commended, if not admired. Of course, many Israelis criticize this ruling. I can't say for sure that the Israeli right wing won't eventually manage to pass a bill that overrules the Supreme Court's decision (they already tried to do that). But I believe that the vast majority of such resistence to equal rights is grounded in fear, not racism.


EngineeringChange said...

There are many arabs who will argue that is very sad what happened during the Holocaust. They will then add that Palestine should not pay the consequences for European mistakes. It is a frequent argument.

For me, I will say that it may initially make sense to want to have this Jewish state in Israel--according to the Bible.

But again I stress it is NOT just to have a state of Israel established without the consent of the people already living there. Then a massive flux of immigration. The inhabitants saw what was slowly happening--thats what caused the periodic riots before 1948. It is not just to displace a population in order the make the Jewish state happen and simply hope that these diplaced will eventually forget and forgive.

And it isn't natural and isn't fair to countries in the region. While often unfairly scapegoated by neighboring countries, the mere presence of a testy Israel forces neighbors to spend on arms to try to keep up with a US-armed Israel. It slows down progress and creates extremism for the world. I really think that the entire creation of Israel has caused the region and the world many problems that could lead to another catastrophe on the scale of the Holocaust. Is it all really worth it?

Anyway, thanks for the links. They are good items to learn and know that at least Israel does try to be fair sometimes. Maybe it is more of a fear factor than outright racism, but the two things feed off eachother. So whether it is fear or racism, the point is how can a country go on fearing 20% of its population? This whole thing does not make sense to me--a country that claims to be Jewish with a sizable non-Jewish minority that it basically fears. This quote from one of your links jumped out at me:

"Especially galling are the security settlements, which are predicated on the assumption that Israel's Palestinian Arab citizens are a positive security threat to the state, which must be diluted by establishing Jewish-only settlements in predominately Arab areas."