Israeli and Palestinian textbooks reflect different versions of the conflict between the two peoples, said a report that recommended the sides address education as part of “the road to peace.”
Textbooks generally reflect the duelling narratives, said Danny Bar-Tal, a professor at Tel Aviv University who helped produce the research. “Early knowledge imparted to children imprints attitudes so the books are important.”
For example, characterization of “the other” as negative or very negative occurred 49 percent of the time in Israeli textbooks and 84 percent of the time in their Palestinian equivalents, the report said. Characterization of the other as the enemy occurred 75 percent in Israeli books and 81 percent in those of Palestinians.
At the same time, the researchers applauded both sides for only a rare dehumanization of each other.
The report was made public as Israel-Palestinian peace talks remain stalled for more than two years. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, asked by President Shimon Peres to form the next ruling coalition after winning the most seats in Jan. 22 elections, has said he will promote “realistic and responsible” peace talks with his new government.
Bruce Wexler of Yale University, who helped lead the research, said that adding to textbooks more about the other side, including religion, history and culture, “will humanize and maybe help understand their pain and loss.”
The researchers said the issue of educating for peace, including the role of schoolbooks, should be part of the negotiating agenda, should it be resumed.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad agreed that the issues raised by the report were important “and need to be discussed in an objective and professional way that isn’t based on prejudice and stereotype.” Fayyad urged Israel to deal with the study in a similar spirit.
The report, based on three years of research jointly led by Bar-Tal, Wexler, and Bethlehem University professor Sami Adwan, looked at 492 Israeli and 148 Palestinian books. The research was overseen by an international Scientific Advisory Panel and funded, but not endorsed, by the U.S. State Department.
The findings ran counter to a report Netanyahu’s office published in December. That report found that the Palestinian education system cultivates the demonization and dehumanization of Israelis, delegitimizes the Israeli right to statehood, and legitimizes violence as a form of struggle.
Israeli Education Minister Gideon Saar, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, called the report released today “biased, unprofessional and profoundly unobjective,” and criticized “the attempt to create a parallel between the Israeli and Palestinian educational systems without any foundation whatsoever.”
A statement from Saar’s office said the study provided “a highly-distorted depiction of the Palestinian Authority’s systematic efforts to educate and indoctrinate Palestinian children to hate, violence and non-acceptance of Israel’s existence.”
Wexler dismissed Saar’s criticism.
“The Israeli education minister is a great example of the power of these unilateral narratives,” Wexler said at a press conference in Jerusalem. “That man can’t see beyond the blinders that have come into his mind by assuming the national narrative that can’t understand the types of things we are talking about here.”