Textbooks in Israel

Image: Haley Black


Israelis learn at school that Jews have historical rights over Palestine, and Palestinian refugees are represented as those who want to enter Israel and not those who want to return to their homeland.

A linguistic and semiotic analysis of more than twenty geography and history textbooks published between 1994 and 2010 and aimed at both the government-run secular school system and independent schools linked to the ultra-Orthodox, shows that Israel's textbooks aim to reinforce a brand territorialist view of Jewish identity. This identity places modern Israelis as direct descendants of biblical heroes.

Israeli textbooks must be approved by the Ministry of Education. Because of this, despite the differences between them, they all equally start from the same basic assumption, namely, an identity that considers as given: the historical rights of the Jews over Palestine; the existence of Zionism as the answer given to the Jews of 2 thousand years ago for their country; the continued presence of anti-Semitism, Arab hostility and the Arab threat; and the need for a Jewish majority accompanied by control of Israeli citizens in order to maintain the character and security of the State.

History, according to historian Keith Jenkis, is a “force field”, that is, a chain of lines of action that organizes the past based on (and to the advantage of) established interests. This includes and at the same time excludes, bringing certain points of view closer to the center of the arena while others are pushed to the margins, and this occurs in different ways and to varying degrees, according to the forces that act on the points of view to be included. or to delete.

Keith Jenkins' observation can even be applied to Israeli geography textbooks, being particularly appropriate in the case of maps. Many of them include or exclude certain geographic or political details. Among the geography texts I examined, all had the title “Israel” or “Land of Israel”, but never “State of Israel”. The only exception was Israel: man and space, by Zvia Fine, Meira Segev and Raheli Lavi (Center for Technological Education). However, although this text in its introduction presents its subject as “State of Israel”, it omits the pre-1967 borders – starting with the first map (of Israel and its neighbors) – while including the occupied territories, ignoring that these never were annexed to the State from a legal point of view.

On a map that depicts the presence of the Arab population in Israel, the book informs that “there are no statistics” for the Palestinian territories, whose inhabitants are described in the text as “foreign workers”. This method, by which the land is considered conquered while the existence of the people who live there is ignored, is known as geographic or toponymic “silence”. According to AK Henrikson, geographic silence consists of “empty spaces, silences of uniformity, of standardization or deliberate exclusion, the purposeful act of ignoring or even de facto repression”.

The geographical silences in Fine, Segev and Lavi's book are expressed in the fact that Arab cities and towns – including Nazareth and Acre, mixed cities located within the 1967 borders – were not marked, and the absence of Palestinian institutions. This occurs, for example, on a map of universities, which includes all campuses as well as independent Jewish colleges in the territories (in Alon Shvut and Elkana), but none of the Palestinian universities. The employment map shows Israeli workplaces in the territories, but not Palestinian ones. Furthermore, while there is a map of “national sites, cultural sites, [and] administrative and governmental institutions” in Jerusalem, there is no reference – with the exception of the Western Wall – to the Arab part of East Jerusalem.

Surprisingly, a geography text for the ultra-Orthodox independent school system, Sfat Hamapa, by P. Dina (Yeshurun ​​Press), is excellent. He takes a clear ideological stance, placing the 1967 borders on maps, and asking questions that take students to the heart of the matter. For example: “Consider why it is very important to know the precise borders of the Land of Israel as they are represented in the Torah.” “Why are the Golan Heights so important to us?” “What is the Green Line?” “Name some Jewish settlements built beyond the 1967 borders.” “Cut and paste newspaper articles dealing with the controversy regarding settlements in 'occupied territories' beyond the Green Line.”

When researching the textbooks used in secular schools run by the State, I observed that there were justifications for the occupation supported by biblical verses. In the geography textbook Artzot Hayam Hatihon, by D. Vadaya, H. Ahlman and J. Mimouni (Maalot Press), used by fifth grade classes since 1996, the section “One Sea and Its Many Names” does not actually present the names that different people who live on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea give you. Instead, the text offers biblical quotations: “I will set your boundaries from the Red Sea to the Sea of ​​the Philistines” (Exodus, 23:31); “Your borders will extend from the desert of Lebanon and from the Euphrates River to the western sea” (Deuteronomy 11:24). The title of the map is “North and south, east and west” (Genesis 13:14), with the explanation: “The meaning of the verse is that, in the future, his country will extend to the west, east, north and south”. The title appears to the right of the map titled “Israel”, and includes all occupied territories without any demarcation lines. The inclusion of the Bible in a textbook gives a scientific seal of approval to a prophecy, while also giving a sacred dimension to a geography book.

An Arab with a camel

In a study published eight years ago, Ruth Firer of Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace, linked to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote that “as soon as political correctness arrived in Israel, the use of harsh and discriminatory language in textbooks became inconvenient.” However, in the books I examined in my studies, none of them contain a description or image of Palestinians – whether those living in the territories or those living in Israel – as modern or urban, as employed in production or in prestigious professions.

Palestinian refugees are represented as people who want to enter Israel and not as those who want to return to their homeland; Arab-Israeli citizens are represented as the enemy within, a demographic threat and an inferior minority to the Jewish majority – individually, socially and economically. The Palestinians appear in the texts only as representative of the problems they cause for Israel – backwardness and terrorism – or as part of the “refugee problem” that “has poisoned Israel’s relations with the Arab world and the international community for more than a generation.” , according to Elie Barnavi and Eyal Naveh in their history textbook, Modern Times 2 (Sifrei Tel Aviv Press).

The only images of Palestinians in the history textbooks I examined depict barefoot refugees descending an unidentified road (Idan Ha'ayma Vehatikva, by Ketzia Avieli-Tabibian, Matah Press‏); tents at an unidentified location and time (Hale'umiut Bayisrael Uba'amim, by Eyal Naveh, Naomi Vered and David Shahar, Rekhes Press‏); masked terrorists ‏(The 20th Century, by Barnavi, Sifrei Tel Aviv Press‏); and farmers behind a plow pulled by oxen ‏(Anashim Bamerhav, by A. Rapp and Z. Fine, CET Press‏).

The book The geography of Eretz Israel, by Y. Aharoni and T. Saguy ‏(Lilach Press‏), features a caricature of a man with a mustache and wearing a kaffyeh, either leading a camel or riding one, and often accompanied by a bowed woman, children and, sometimes, an old Bedouin – the text always refers to “Arabs”. Such are the images that shape the way Jewish students in Israel view Arabs and Palestinians, not only those who are their neighbors, but also those who are their fellow countrymen, Israeli citizens.

It was a miracle

History textbooks abundantly portray the Palestinians as part of a nefarious problem, something that could resemble a natural disaster; Students are shown images of empty streets flooded with water, or aerial photos of dense construction in empty refugee camps. The blame for this never-ending problem lies with the victims, that is, the refugees who did not incorporate into the Arab countries, as well as the leaders of the Arab countries who refused to absorb them.

Students read that the problem is convenient for Arab leaders, mainly as anti-Israel propaganda. For example, Naomi Blank argues in her history textbook Pnei Hame'a Ha'esrim ‏(The face of the XNUMXth century, Yoel Geva Press‏) that “the issue of refugees refers to an insoluble problem, which fuels the conflict in the Middle East, adds fuel to the fire /…/. Leaders of Arab states have used Palestinian refugees as an instrument to advance their political interests.”

While the curriculum is intended to offer a presentation of a variety of positions on relevant issues, Palestinian views in the fields of politics, culture and economics are excluded. In Bonim Medina Bemizrah Hatihon, frequently cited in the Bar-Tal/Adwan report, authors Domke, Orbach and Goldberg attempted to include the point of view of a Palestinian historian, Walid Khalidi, on refugees. This attempt led to the book being rejected by the Ministry of Education. Israeli historian Benny Morris was called in to, in a corrected version, re-present the Palestinian perspective.

Other books also disregard non-Israeli historians precisely to the extent that their authors claim to be themselves representing multiple points of view regarding the controversies between Israelis and Arabs. Abraham Hadad, in Toldot Yisrael Veha'amim Betkufat Hashoah Vehatekuma ‏(Dani Press‏), and Shula Inbar in 50 Shenot Milhamot Vetikvot ‏(Lilach Press‏) offer their own interpretations of the topic of “the Arab position.” According to these authors, the Palestinians caused the disaster that is affecting them and the leaders of the Arab countries want the disaster to continue.

The flight of the Palestinians in 1948 is described, in all the books I researched, as a “mass migration” or as a “fearful retreat” caused by small, unplanned acts of expulsion, but mostly by exaggerated rumors about cruelty. of the Jews, which remains a myth in Palestinian narratives, as described in the book Haleumi'ut Bayisra'el Uba'amim. In his book, Inbar describes how David Ben-Gurion visited the village of Salameh and tried, unsuccessfully, to understand an old blind woman's reasons for fleeing.

Many of the textbooks explicitly support Israel's refusal to allow refugees to return, and some of them set out in detail how Israel has acted to prevent this from happening. The result of this policy is emphasized by everyone as being something positive for the Jews. Bar Navi (1998), considered by Firer and Adwan (2004) as “progressive”, states that the “mass flight” of Arabs from Israel caused by the Dir Yassin massacre “solved a major demographic problem” “and even a A thoughtful person like (the first president) Haim Wiezman said this episode was a miracle.”

This “progressive” book is no different from ultra-Orthodox books that say: “It was a miracle that the Arabs of Haifa, Katamon (near Jerusalem) and Jaffa went away and left everything in the hands of Jews,” writes Yekutiel Fridner in his book for the ultra-Orthodox independent school system Toldot Hadorot Ha'ahronim: Yisrael Ve'umot Ha'olam Metkufat Hamahapaha Hatzarfatit ad Lamilhemet Sheshet Hayamim (Yeshurun ​​Press). Human Rights and International Law are not discussed in any way.

It was just a campaign

In these books, massacres committed by the Israel Defense Forces or the Haganah, Irgun and Lehi military forces – which occurred before the founding of the State – became “actions”, “campaigns”, “stories” and “battles”, or even “punitive actions”. The Deir Yassin massacre, which occurred in 1948, the massacre in Kafr Qasem in 1956 and the massacre in the Jordanian town of Qibya in 1953 are presented as actions that had positive results (ignoring the condemnation by the international community and the discomfort of political leaders ).

Such results include a continuous strip of Jewish settlements in the corridor to Jerusalem, an acceleration of the “rapid withdrawal” of Palestinian Arabs (as in Deir Yassin), the rise in troop morale and the security of Israeli citizens (as in Qibya), and an opportunity to declare that soldiers could not carry out orders that were obviously illegal and the beginning of the process of dismantling Israel's military government in the territories (Kafr Qasem). The lesson from all the textbooks I looked at is that all the injustices the Israelis have committed are justified if they prevent the injustice that could perhaps be committed against us.

There are visual aids that accompany these materials, but the images and other additional materials focus on the Israeli soldiers, not the atrocities they may have committed nor the victims of such atrocities. The text describing the Deir Yassin massacre in the book Idan Ha'eima Vehatikva, for example, appears right after an image of Israeli soldiers in the ruins of the Kastel fortress, close to the place where the massacre occurred, as well as the lyrics of the popular song Shir Hare'ut, which talks about the camaraderie between soldiers. Already in the book Hale'umi'yut Beyisra'el Ube'amim, there is a description of the massacre at Qibya throughout which soldiers of Unit 101 are portrayed as models of courage, daring, devotion and similar adjectives, while Idan Ha'eima Vehatikva shows a photo of Ariel Sharon and his fighters, accompanied by Moisés Dayan, who came to congratulate them on their successful “mission” in Qibya, also featuring the lyrics of the popular song “Hasela Ha'adom”, which tells of the reckless courage to crawl along the bank of the Jordan River to visit the ancient city of Petra.

The lives and suffering of the victims do not enjoy any “paper time”, to use an expression by the philosopher Roland Barthes. according to the narrator's choices. According to Barthes, “paper time” contrasts with “historical (or chronological) time”, in which historical events actually take place]. In these books, descriptions of massacres do not generate empathy for the victims or human solidarity with their pain.

Chances for peace

A common aspect of all the textbooks studied is the description of Palestinians, both those who are citizens of the State of Israel and those who live in the territories, seen as a problem to be solved. A peaceful solution to the conflict is persistently portrayed as impossible, and the Palestinians are always blamed for violating ceasefires and agreements. (Israel's violations of the Oslo Accords are described as acts of extremists, such as Baruch Goldstein, the Israeli doctor who murdered 29 Palestinian worshipers in the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994).

Ultra-Orthodox textbook author Yekutiel Fridner takes pride in Israel's astuteness in ensuring that United Nations Resolution 242 spelled out the withdrawal of Israeli forces from "territories" occupied in the Six-Day War, rather than talking about “the territories”, implying that they were talking about some of them, and not all of them. Such words, Fridner exults, allowed Israel to maintain control of parts of the West Bank when it was divided into administrative areas – including the Gush Etzion settlement, Beit El and Ariel, and parts of East Jerusalem. He adds that while “Palestinians 'committed' to giving Jews access to sacred Jewish sites, these promises were of little value.”

In short, the textbooks I reviewed tend to foster in students hostility toward, alienation from, and ignorance about the lives, culture, leaders, and potential contributions of Palestinians to our society and country. None of the books contain even a hint of the benefits that peace can bring.

That said, I can only draw the following conclusion: not only is there a lack of peace education in Israel, but the textbooks used in Jewish schools in Israel are actively educating for hate. Teachers interested in critical readings of history and geography, or in peace education, need training to deal with the ways in which the textbooks available convey their politically charged messages, and everything related to this.

This preparation is vital for Israel, whose textbooks represent powerful and sacralized political and social ideologies, and an educational system that makes it difficult for teachers and students to develop critical thinking and thereby engage in standard discourse, or engage in debates about the reality and justice of this speech.

*Nurit Peled-Elhanan is a professor of education and language at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is the author, among other books, of Ideology and propaganda in education: Palestine in Israeli textbooks (boitempo).

Translation: Antonio David e Sarah de Roure to the portal Major Card (on March 7, 2013)

Originally published in the newspaper Haaretz.

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