Textbooks teach Arab children to hate, say Israelis

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The Independent Online

Israelis and Palestinians have grown cynical about the paper mountain of accords made and then broken during the elusive search for peace, but there is one document that both sides still regard as critical: the school textbook.

Israelis and Palestinians have grown cynical about the paper mountain of accords made and then broken during the elusive search for peace, but there is one document that both sides still regard as critical: the school textbook.

The manner in which each educates its young about the conflict - and especially about the other - is one of the most sensitive issues dividing Arabs and Jews. And with thousands of young Palestinians now returning to school armed with new study books, the debate has reared its head anew.

The books, the first to be written exclusively by Palestinian officials for their schools, replace Jordanian and Egyptian textbooks that have been used for years. Although the text covering the Arabs' Zionist foes has been markedly toned down, it has still managed to generate protest in Israel, particularly from hardline Jewish organisations.

Itamar Marcus, a delegate to an Israeli-Palestinian anti-incitement committee established by the 1998 Wye River peace accord, has said it reflects a systematic Palestinian refusal to recognise Israel's existence; the Israel Resource News Agency, a Zionist pressure group, has denounced the text as preparing the next generation of Palestinians for war; and a spokeswoman for the radical Women in Green organisation, which believes the Jews have a divine right to the West Bank and Gaza, has accused the books of "educating a new generation to hate".

Among the chief causes of complaint is a map in a textbook designed for 12-year-old pupils, which shows the areas of Palestinian administration. Israel appears, as a fat wedge of green separating the two territories, but it is not named. Nor does the map identify Tel Aviv, Israel's largest city, although it does show cities in Israel that have large Arab populations. Elsewhere in the book, which also includes a map of illegal Jewish settlements on the West Bank, Israel is described as an "occupier", which drove the Palestinians from their land.

The Palestinian Ministry of Education, which spent four years preparing the books, says the intention was to teach the truth. Officials point out that Israel does not have internationally recognised borders, and that the Israeli curriculum does not refer to the word Palestine. "Our curriculum is not anti anybody," said Naim Abu Humus, the Palestinian Authority's deputy minister of education, after unveiling the new books last weekend at a grand ceremony attended by President Yasser Arafat. "It is not necessary to relate everything to politics," he added.

Arguments about textbooks have raged for years. In the past, the Palestinians have complained that Israeli books have had a strong anti-Arab bias, characterising Arabs as unclean and untrustworthy and distorting the story of the creation of Israel. However, the Israeli Ministry of Education has introduced reforms. Last year Yossi Sarid - then Education Minister and a staunch liberal - infuriated the Israeli right by introducing school books that acknowledged the mass expulsion of Palestinians during the 1948 Israel-Arab war.

Mr Sarid also ordered teachers to give lessons about the 1956 Kafr Kassem massacre, in which Jewish soldiers killed 47 Arab labourers. The Palestinian Authority, which was unable to comment yesterday, now stands accused by some of failing to follow that example. According to Mr Marcus - who is also the research director of the United States-based Centre for Monitoring the Impact of Peace - this is a "real tragedy".

"Technically, the Palestinians have accepted Israel's existence in the Oslo accords, but they are not telling their people to do so. And that's a tragedy as peace has to be made between the two," he said.

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