Study: Israeli, Palestinian textbooks lack objectivity
JERUSALEM — Israeli and Palestinian textbooks get failing grades when it comes to adequately and positively representing each other’s people, culture and history, according to a three-year, U.S-funded study released Monday.
On the bright side, researchers concluded that most schoolbooks on both sides were factually accurate, even though they usually described each other in negative, unflattering terms and typically cast each other as the “enemy.”
Extremely negative material, such as demonization, incitement to violence or depicting the other side as subhuman, were rare in both Israeli and Palestinian books, the report found.
Israeli officials, who frequently claim Palestinian textbooks espouse hatred, rejected the study’s conclusions as biased.
Palestinian Authority officials said the study vindicated their assertion that their textbooks are as fair and balanced as Israel’s.
The report found both sides lacking in objectivity and balance.
Neither side scored particularly well in geography with 94 percent of Palestinian textbook maps failing to identify the existence of Israel and 87 percent of Israeli maps lacking any mention of Palestine or the Palestinian territories.
Neither side’s textbooks devoted adequate attention to the idea of living together in harmony, researchers said.
“Peaceful co-existence … is completely ignored,” said Sami Adwan, a professor at Bethlehem University, who participated in the research with Daniel Bar-Tal, a professor at Tel Aviv University, and Bruce E. Wexler, a senior research scientist at Yale School of Medicine.
Funded with a $500,000 U.S. State Department grant, the project analyzed 94 Palestinian textbooks and 74 from Israel, including some from public state-run schools and some from ultra-Orthodox institutions. Ultra-Orthodox schools have a large degree of autonomy in setting their own curriculum and now instruct nearly one-third of Israeli’s students, the study found.
The research was conducted by Israelis and Palestinians, who cross-checked each other’s work to reduce potential bias. The study was initiated by the Jerusalem-based Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, the Palestinian Authority and various Christian churches. Israel refused to take part.
A negative characterization of “the other” was common in most of the textbooks, though negative portrayals were lowest in Israeli state school textbooks (49 percent) compared with ultra-Orthodox textbooks (73 percent) and those in Palestinian schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (84 percent), the study found.
Israeli officials attacked the study even before it officially was released, insisting that their textbooks were superior to Palestinians’ and should not be compared in the same study.
In a statement, the Ministry of Education called the research “biased, unprofessional and severely nonobjective. … The attempt at creating parallels between the Israeli and Palestinian education systems is ungrounded and lacks a realistic basis.”
Jerusalem physician Elihu Richter, who served on the advisory panel for the project, said Monday he withdrew his support for the report because he believed the methodology may have undercounted examples of Palestinian incitement.
Researchers defended their project, calling it the most definitive and balanced study to date on the topic. Wexler, the Yale researcher, criticized Israel’s refusal to participate.
“The Ministry of Education appears to be uninterested in facts about what is in the schoolbooks and unencumbered by facts when describing our project,” Wexler said.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad praised the report for examining the issue without “preconceived notions and stereotypes.” He said Palestinians would use the findings to help improve their curriculum.