Israelis and Palestinians rarely demonise each other in their schoolbooks but each side’s texts offer children a one-sided view of their conflict, says a joint study released on Monday.
“Dehumanising and demonising characterisations of the other are rare in both Israeli and Palestinian books,” according to the study funded by the US State Department and carried out by Palestinian, Israeli and US academics.
“Both Israeli and Palestinian books present exclusive unilateral national narratives,” wrote the authors, from Bethlehem, Tel Aviv and Yale universities.
“Historical events are selectively presented to reinforce each national narrative,” said the study, which analysed more than 3,000 textbooks approved in 2011 by the sides’ education ministries as well as those distributed in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community which has its own education system.
On the loaded issue of maps, only four percent of Palestinian schoolbooks and 13 percent of the Israeli texts show borders and captions recognising the other.
The Israeli-occupied West Bank is often referred by its biblical name of Judaea and Samaria, particularly in the ultra-Orthodox schools.
“The lack and absence of information about the the other serve to delegitimise the presence of the other,” says the study.
It noted that negative portrayal of the adversary is “more pronounced in the Israeli ultra-Orthodox and Palestinian books than in the Israeli state books,” which it says have more self-critical content.
“There is much to do in general in the educational system and in particular with school textbooks, if the parties in conflict decide to embark on the path of peace,” the study concludes.
The Palestinian Authority and Israel often accuse one another of teaching violence and hatred to their schoolchildren.
An Israeli education ministry statement dismissed the new study as “biased, unprofessional and profoundly unobjective.”
“The education ministry chose not to cooperate with those elements who are interested in maliciously slandering the Israeli educational system and the state of Israel,” it added.
“The attempt to create a parallel between the Israeli and Palestinian educational systems is without any foundation whatsoever and has no basis in reality,” the ministry said.
Palestinian premier Salam Fayyad, in contrast, welcomed the report, saying it “confirms that Palestinian textbooks do not contain any form of blatant incitement, which is based on contempt towards the ‘other’.”
He said that the Palestinian ministry of education cooperated in the research and that he had instructed it “to study the report thoroughly and to use its conclusions… to develop school curriculums,” based on “principles of coexistence, tolerance, justice, and human dignity.”
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the study was an independent analysis carried out by an NGO called A Different Future in partnership with the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land.
“Our point in funding it was to enable this Council of Religious Institutions to take what it got from the report, use it in a constructive manner to continue to pursue its objectives… for peace and religious tolerance in the curriculum,” Nuland told reporters.
“We’re not taking a position one way or another on what the study found.”