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The Palestinian Initiatives for The Promotoion of Global Dialogue and Democracy
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Historical Overview


After 1948, the West Bank was annexed to Jordan and Gaza was administered by Egypt.  Accordingly, West Bank schools followed the Jordanian curriculum, while Gazan schools adopted the Egyptian.  In 1967, Israel occupied both areas and maintained the existing curricula for Palestinian schools.  It did attempt unsuccessfully to bring its own curriculum into Jerusalem, and it also reviewed Jordanian and Egyptian books, censoring material that it found objectionable.  In 1994, Palestinian education in the West Bank (including, to a limited and unacknowledged extent, Jerusalem) and Gaza was transferred to the new Palestinian National Authority (PNA).  The PNA immediately established a “Curriculum Development Center” to formulate its own approach.  While the Center was working, two interim measures were taken.  First, the Jordanian and Egyptian curricula were restored temporarily in their entirety.  Second, a supplementary series of texts covering National Education was hastily written for grades one through six to compensate for the non-Palestinian nature of the temporary curriculum.

Palestinians are criticized for books produced by the education ministries of others.


  • There has been a flood of accusations for several years over the content of Palestinian textbooks -- that the textbooks incite children to hatred and violence towards Israeli Jews, and fail to promote the values of peace, tolerance and coexistence. This claim has been widely accepted as a fact mostly in the United States and Israeli official circles. Such claims are based on reports by the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP), a Jewish organization with links to extremist and racist Israeli groups that advocate settlement activities in the Palestinian territories, expulsion (transfer) of Palestinians from their homeland, and claims that Palestinians are all "terrorists" and that peace with them is not possible. Israel's supporters now are intensifying their orchestrated crusade against Palestinian education in preparation for the House International Relations Committee's planned consideration of the Foreign Relations Authorization bill, FY 2006-2007. 

  • Palestinians assumed control of their own educational system only in 1994, following the Oslo Accord that gave them limited autonomy. Until then, they had to rely on Jordanian textbooks in the West Bank and on Egyptian texts in the Gaza Strip. These books were severely censored by the Israeli occupation authorities until 1994: The word "Palestine" was removed, maps were deleted, and anything Israeli censors deemed nationalist was excised. Furthermore, Palestinians inherited from the Israeli authorities a dilapidated educational system badly in need of repair. No investments in educational infrastructure had been made since the beginning of Israeli occupation in 1967, resulting in a significant decline in the quality of education, as well as in access to educational resources.

  • In 1994, the Palestinians established the first curriculum center on the basis of a formal agreement between UNESCO and the newly established Ministry of Education of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The center, directed by the late Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, began its work in October 1995 with a team of researchers analyzing the existing curriculum. They consulted with educators and teachers throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip and produced a blueprint containing the basic principles that should govern a unified Palestinian curriculum.

  • In September 2000, for the first time in Palestinian history, 29 Palestinian texts for grades one and six were introduced into schools. In addition, 16 textbooks for grades two and seven were introduced in September 2001. The Ministry of Education plans to introduce texts for two grades at the beginning of each school year to ensure that the transition is smooth and incremental. In the meantime, Jordanian and Egyptian textbooks will be used in the remaining grades.

  • The new Palestinian textbooks were found to reflect Palestinian life and reality, as well as the diversity within Palestinian society. They talk about Palestinian culture and tradition, and focus on building Palestinian identity as part of the Arab world. The texts teach Palestinian students to respect human rights, justice, peace, equality, freedom, and tolerance, in terms of both self and others. They caution students to avoid extremism and stereotypes, and encourage them to treat all people equally. The books also encourage tolerance among religions and ask students to respect the freedom of religion. The students are taught to protect all religious places as well. Palestinian students are warned in the texts about the terrible results of wars and conflict, and are encouraged instead to resort to negotiation and peaceful forms of conflict resolution. They are told that wars only leave people with death and destruction. The texts discuss the Oslo Accords as a step toward peace and as a sign of breaking the enmity and the long period of conflict. Students learn about Gandhi and his form of civil disobedience, and are asked to relate to other stories of peaceful forms of conflict resolution. We found no incitement for the use of violence at all.


Palestinian Text Books and the Two-State Solution


  • The new Palestinian textbooks define the future independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders as described in UN Resolutions. The few maps that are included mainly show the PNA areas, although some mention Israeli towns and cities. At the same time, students are taught to cooperate and develop good relationships with neighboring states. Arab East Jerusalem (Al-Quds Al-Sharif) is presented in the textbooks as part of the Occupied Territories and the future capital of Palestine. The books portray Jews throughout history in a positive manner and avoid negative stereotypes. However, according to the everyday experience of Palestinians, modern-day Israelis are presented as occupiers. The texts include examples of Israelis killing and imprisoning Palestinians, demolishing their homes, uprooting fruit trees, and confiscating their lands and building settlements on them. The texts also talk about the right of return for the 1948 Palestinian refugees when describing how those refugees live in camps.

  • In preparing the books, the ministry has tried to incorporate five basic principles suggested by Ali Jarbawi. The first of these principles is that the curriculum should be predicated not on giving students facts as if they were eternal truths that must be memorized, but on encouraging them to become critical thinkers. Second, students should be encouraged to make independent judgments and intelligent choices, with careful attention to be paid to individual differences within the classroom. Third, the new curriculum should generate a concept of citizenship that emphasizes individual rights and responsibilities and that establishes a linkage between private interests and the public good so as to encourage responsible and intelligent political participation. Fourth, democratic values such as justice, personal responsibility, tolerance, empathy, pluralism, cooperation, and respect for the opinions of others should be emphasized. Fifth, students should be taught how to read primary texts, to debate, link ideas, read maps, interpret statistics, and use the Internet as well as how to verify facts, sources, and data critically and scientifically.

  • In the application of these principles, the new textbooks--as can be seen from the two grades that have been issued so far--rely less on facts and more on a student-centered approach. By and large, they avoid dealing with unresolved political issues. They do not provide a map of Israel because the latter has yet to define its borders, and they do not provide a map of Palestine because its borders remain to be negotiated. The texts do, however, reflect the Palestinian narrative, which is basically that of the native in conflict with a settler colonial movement. The narrative presents the establishment of the State of Israel in most of Palestine in 1948 as a disaster (nakba) for the Palestinians, a majority of whom became uprooted and were forcibly expelled from their homes.

  • The Palestinian narrative, while not contested by objective non-Arab and non-Zionist scholars or even Israeli scholars associated with the "new historians" revisionist interpretations of 1948, is one that mainstream, and especially right-wing, Zionists reject. It is therefore probably inevitable that the new educational materials used in the schools under the PA would attract the attention of Israeli and pro-Israeli groups that view even benign attempts to depict the Palestinian narrative as evidence of an "anti-Israeli bias." The most prominent of these is a Jewish-American nongovernmental organization called the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP), whose research director, Itamar Marcus, lives in the West Bank settlement of Efrat.


Israeli Text Books and incitement

  •       Palestinians and Arabs as “murderers,” “rioters,” “suspicious,” and generally backward and unproductive. Direct delegitimization and negative stereotyping of Palestinians and Arabs are the rule rather than the exception in Israeli Israeli school textbooks as well as children’s storybooks, according to recent academic studies and surveys, portray schoolbooks.

  •       Professor Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University studied 124 elementary, middle- and high school textbooks on grammar and Hebrew literature, history, geography and citizenship. Bar-Tal concluded that Israeli textbooks present the view that Jews are involved in a justified, even humanitarian, war against an Arab enemy that refuses to accept and acknowledge the existence and rights of Jews in Israel.

  •       “The early textbooks tended to describe acts of Arabs as hostile, deviant, cruel, immoral, unfair, with the intention to hurt Jews and to annihilate the State of Israel. Within this frame of reference, Arabs were delegitimized by the use of such labels as ‘robbers,’ ‘bloodthirsty,’ and ‘killers,’” said Professor Bar-Tal, adding that there has been little positive revision in the curriculum over the years. 

  •       Bar-Tal pointed out that Israeli textbooks continue to present Jews as industrious, brave and determined to cope with the difficulties of “improving the country in ways they believe the Arabs are incapable of.”

  •       Hebrew-language geography books from the 1950s through 1970s focused on the glory of Israel’s ancient past and how the land was “neglected and destroyed” by the Arabs until the Jews returned from their forced exile and revived it “with the help of the Zionist movement.”

  •       “This attitude served to justify the return of the Jews, implying that they care enough about the country to turn the swamps and deserts into blossoming farmland; this effectively delegitimizes the Arab claim to the same land,” Bar-Tal told the Washington Report. “The message was that the Palestinians were primitive and neglected the country and did not cultivate the land.”


While we, argue, of course, that school textbooks are an important element in peace education, the main "textbook" is life outside schools and the oral presentations by teachers that reflect the public's general feelings. Currently, such oral and real-life instruction is far from conveying genuine peace education messages. Since the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has not been resolved, modifying textbooks is problematic. As part of a true peace process, both Palestinians and Israelis have to revise their textbooks to clearly reflect the values of peace education.

The claim that the new Palestinian textbooks incite students against Israel has been widely accepted as truth in the United States and Israel. The report on which such claims were based was issued by CMIP, a Jewish-American organization with known links to the Israeli settlement movement in the West Bank. Yet none of the American politicians who repeated the allegations or the Western donors who hastened to cut off funding for Palestinian textbook development bothered to have the report's claims checked against the actual texts. If they had, it would immediately have been clear that the report was based on innuendo, exaggeration, and downright lies. Indeed, the real message of CMIP's campaign against the textbooks is that peace with the Palestinians is impossible, that Israeli settlement in the occupied territories must go on, that force is the only language that Palestinians can understand.

In fact, the new Palestinian school textbooks make a special effort to promote tolerance, openness, and democratic values. The PA Ministry of Education, despite the extraordinary conditions of siege and violence under which it is operating, introduced new textbooks for two more grades in September 2001. The new textbooks, according to those who have seen them, demonstrate the same concern for promoting tolerance, openness, and democratic values. But even if all the grades in Palestinian schools carried absolutely exemplary textbooks, and even if all the teachers preached amity and concord, it is doubtful that such values could take hold in the ever deteriorating conditions of recent years. For ultimately, the Israeli occupation, with its daily cruelty and humiliation, is a far more powerful text than any schoolbooks could possible be. As Sami Adwan remarked, "How can a Palestinian write in a textbook that Israelis or Jews should be loved, while what he is experiencing is death, land expropriation, demolition of homes, and daily degradation? Give us a chance to teach loving."

In a forthcoming study, Nadim Rouhana argues that conflict reconciliation, as opposed to conflict resolution or conflict settlement, seeks to achieve a kind of relationship between the parties founded on mutual legitimacy. For this to occur, issues of justice, truth, and historical responsibility as well as the restructuring of social and political relations need to be addressed.


1.      The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in History and Civics Textbooks of Both Nations
Ruth Firer, Sami Adwan 2004

2.      What Did You Study In School Today, Palestinian Child?
Akiva Eldar in Ha'aretz, 2 January 2001

3.      Israel or Palestine: Who teaches what history? A textbook case
Elisa Morena in Le Monde Diplomatique, July 2001

4.      Palestinian education: Western Civilization will become a pile of rubble
Itamar Marcus, Ruthie Blum 21 September 2001

5.      Democracy, History and the Contest over the Palestinian Curriculum
Nathan J. Brown November 2001

6.      What Do Palestinian Textbooks Really Say?
Nathan J. Brown 2002

7.      Palestinian Schoolbooks
Council of the European Union 15 May 2002

8.      The International controversy regarding Palestinian textbooks
Nathan J. Brown 9 December 2002

9.      Itamar Marcus again: Jerusalem Post editorial about Palestinian schoolbooks
Gabriel (Gabi) Baramki 7 September 2003

10. Israelis' textbooks fare little better than Palestinians'
Akiva Eldar in Ha'aretz, 9 December 2004

11. 'Palestinian textbooks not anti-Israel'
Ruthie Blum in Jerusalem Post, 16 December 2004

12. Palestinian textbooks: Where is all that 'incitement'?
Roger Avenstrup in International Herald Tribune, 18 December 2004

13. PNA: Incitement in Palestinian Textbooks 'a Myth': 'Israeli Children Are Taught to Hate Arabs, Trained to Kill Them'
PMC (Palestine Media Center) staff 11 June 2005

14. The myth of incitement in Palestinian textbooks
Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education in Electronic Intifada, 13 June 2005

15. Confronting Israeli Myth-Making
Kathleen Christison, Bill Christison in CounterPunch, 22 June 2005



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