- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2001

A long-simmering debate in which Israelis and Palestinians each accuse the other of teaching hate to their children has boiled over again since the publication of the first school textbooks prepared by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority.

While Israeli educators see some improvement in the textbooks, introduced in September for the first and sixth grades, they complain that the books still systematically refuse to acknowledge the existence of the Jewish state.

The Palestinians, for their part, say the Israelis still use textbooks filled with Zionist ideology that depersonalizes and ignores the rights of the Palestinians.

The debate has gone on for half a century, but has gained new life since the introduction of the new textbooks, the first fruits of a five-year education reform program carried out by the Palestinian Ministry of Education.

Until last year, all Palestinian children attending school in the West Bank studied from Jordanian textbooks, while students who went to schools in the Gaza Strip used Egyptian textbooks. Those are still in use by all but the first- and sixth-grade students.

The decision to prepare new Palestinian textbooks was made soon after the Palestinian Ministry of Education was established in 1994. A year later, the ministry set up the Palestinian Curriculum Development Center to develop the new texts.

But the changes do not go nearly far enough to satisfy Itamar Marcus, the director of research at the Center For Monitoring The Impact Of Peace in Jerusalem, who has reviewed more than 160 textbooks used in Palestinian schools.

He said during a telephone interview that the old books still used in 11th-grade history not only fail to acknowledge Israel as a country, but also contain references that seem designed to recall for Jews the pain and tragedy of the Holocaust.

"The clearest examples of racist belief and racial discrimination in the world are Nazism and Zionism," says a book called "The Contemporary History of the Arabs and the World" on page 123.

The new Palestinian books "took out the overt, vicious material," Mr. Marcus said. But, he said, they "kept the basic Palestinian ideology that Israel has no right to exist."

He cited a passage from a textbook called "Palestinian National Education" in which the city of Jerusalem speaks to the young readers about its many holy places, listing Muslim and Christian sites but failing to mention the Jewish sites.

"It was a fantastic opportunity for the Palestinians in the new textbooks to mention the situation, but they didn't," Mr. Marcus said. "Whatever political opinion you have, you don't want to have a recipe for the next war [in a textbook]. And that's what it is, a recipe for the next war."

Mr. Marcus also complained that the new texts make no mention of the peace negotiations of recent years, teaching instead that young Palestinians have a religious obligation to guard every square inch of Palestinian land.

The only positive reference to the Jews anywhere in the texts, Mr. Marcus said, is a mention that they played a positive role in transmitting knowledge during the early Middle Ages.

While Israeli scholars like Mr. Marcus pore over Palestinian texts in search of offensive material, there are also Palestinians studying the textbooks used by Israeli children. One of these is Mr. Riad Nasser, now teaching at the University of Maryland, who has conducted a comparison of Jewish textbooks from the 1960s and the 1990s.

Not much has changed in the intervening years, Mr. Nasser said in a telephone interview, and some of those early textbooks remain in use. He said he was shocked to read the following passage, which appears on page 80 of a textbook called Risheet ha-tziont:

"Jews who came to die in the land of their fathers are suffering daily abuses and harms with no sense of shame and mercy from the Arabs. They do not know to whom to turn.

"Those Jews who wish to live decently occasionally are forced to waste their time and work for the Turkish. The Arabs attack them and steal their money and property, and if the Jews are there to resist, they will be beaten to death.

"This is not done by bandits or Bedouins. It is performed by people with whom Jews talk daily."

Mr. Nasser said Jews and Palestinians alike understand that the references to Arabs are directed at them, even though the Israeli texts avoid the use of the word Palestinian.

"They never refer to Palestinians as Palestinians, only as Arabs or non-Jews," Mr. Nasser said. "Clearly, Arabs are portrayed as people who are not attached to any land, have no sense of mercy and are only cruel."

Amid the mutual recriminations, there are a few analysts trying to remain objective and find ways to use education to build bridges between the two communities. One of these is The Middle East Children's Organization, which has both Israeli and Palestinian officials and offices.

The Israeli co-director of the organization is Adina Shapiro, who said by telephone from her Jerusalem office that she was deeply disturbed by some of the content in the new Palestinian textbooks but that she tries to move past her anger and disappointment.

"On both sides, the textbooks do not tend toward outward hate. Yet, there is more of a focus on justifying one's own stand rather than seeking a collaborative future," she said.

Ms. Shapiro said one cannot fairly compare the education systems and their products because of the great difference in levels of development.

Palestinians most likely fail to mention Israeli's existence in their new textbooks because they are not sure of their own, she said. To secure their national identity and pride, they emphasize all the accomplishments of Palestine, even though it still does not exist as a country.

Israel, Ms. Shapiro said, is a self-confident and mature state that does not have to denigrate the Palestinians to reassure its own people of its existence.

The Palestinian co-director of the Middle East Children's Organization is Ghossan Abdullah, who is based in the West Bank city of Ramallah and works with Ms. Shapiro on Israeli-Palestinian educational workshops.

Even with the best of intentions it is not easy to teach Palestinian children about coexistence and tolerance, he said in a telephone interview.

"If I want to teach a Palestinian child about tolerance and coexistence, this means the Palestinian child should not be arrested going to school," he said. He recounted one incident that left him feeling helpless and in doubt about the value of collaborating with Israelis on educational programs.

When one of his students failed to turn up for class one day early last October, the other students told him the girl's brother had been killed earlier that week while going to work, Mr. Abdullah said.

The educator said he still remembers the girl's face when she came back to school and asked him why he was working with the people who had killed her brother.

"I felt embarrassed, with no power at all. I could not respond but to leave the class," Mr. Abdullah said. "We don't need to mention checkpoints and the conflict reality [in our textbooks] because we are living it."

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