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Monday, February 04, 2013

Why the textbook study is fatally flawed - on both sides

I finally got a copy of the textbook study that has been all over the news, and figured out the problem.

The authors of the study are willing - actually, insisting -  to sacrifice accuracy for political correctness.

Call me naive, but I think that schoolbooks should be, above all, accurate. While I have some quibbles with the accuracy of the Israeli textbook examples they bring to prove "negative descriptions of the other," most of them are correct. At least one of the Palestinian Arab textbooks they cite is ridiculously inaccurate, the others less so..

Let's look at them.

Here are the Israeli textbooks they mention as examples of negative descriptions of Palestinian Arabs:
“Since its establishment, the State of Israel sought to make peace with its  neighbors, the Arab countries, through Israeli-Arab negotiations. Its efforts,  however, have failed in the first thirty years of Israel’s existence, because of the  refusal of Arab countries and nations to recognize the right of existence of Israel as a sovereign Jewish state. In order to harm Israel, to weaken it and destroy it, the Arab countries have initiated terror attacks, infiltrations into the territory of the State of Israel and harming the civilian population. The Arab countries have accumulated weapons and ammunition and strengthened their armies to wage a total war against Israel” (State and state religious schools,  Being Citizens in Israel- in a Jewish and Democratic State [ יהודית במדינה  :בישראל אזרחים להיות ודמוקרטית], Grade 11, p.332, LP3275).
This is a very accurate description of the situation before the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. What purpose does it serve not to say that the Arab nations were hostile then, or not to say that they intended to destroy Israel? They said it explicitly, daily, in their newspapers and in the UN. To tone this down would not serve the students at all.
“Long ago, we were forbidden to leave the yard and especially not to go for walks. The Arabs would snipe on the roads. To bring the milk, two drivers would come in a convoy of trucks. But once the Arabs shot at the car bringing the milk and hit Uri the driver. Uri’s grave was dug at night since the kibbutz cemetery was too close to the Arab village, near the yard of Abu Salah. In the yard, Arab “gangs” were based who would go out from time to time to attack traffic on the roads” (State religious schools, Open the Gate: Anthology for 6th Grade.(Grade 6, p.305, LP1254 ,[פתחו את השער: מקראה לכיתה ו]
Assuming this is from a memoir and not made up, I see no problem with this as well. If it was made up I would have a problem with it.

“Ever since 1964, the year the PLO was founded, Palestinian terrorist gangs penetrated (to Israel)… The PLO took advantage of the military defeat of Arab countries to increase its terrorist activity against Israel” (State secular schools, National World - Building a State in the Middle East [ בונים - 'ב לאומי עולם התיכון במזרח מדינה], Grade 10, Part 2, p.186, LP1027).
I believe that it wasn't the PLO in a vacuum that took advantage of the defeat in 1967; I think it's rise afterwards was a fairly well designed plan to weaken Israel through terror and public opinion that was implemented not only by the PLO but by the Arabs and even the Eastern Bloc. But, again, this is not a gratuitous swipe at Arabs either.

“Israel is a young country and surrounded by enemies: Syria, Egypt, Jordan. And on every side […] enemy states are hatching plots that are only waiting for the right time to be carried out. Like a little lamb in a sea of seventy wolves is Israel among the Arab states, which, ever since she was established to this day have not come to terms with the fact of her existence even after they have threatened to destroy all the inhabitants…” (Ultra-Orthodox schools, Country and Its Inhabitants: Israel Studies [ישראל ארץ למודי :ויושביה ארץ], Grade 4, Part 3, 2008, p.118, LP1333).
The wording here is a little too emotional for my tastes, although not out of bounds for a fourth grade book. Nevertheless, surveys and the Arab media have pretty much proven this to be accurate as well, even for countries that Israel has a peace treaty with. Nonetheless, the description here should be toned down to at least speak about those treaties, and that Jordan and Egypt have largely kept them - those are important facts as well.
“The Arab states ogled the lands of Israel, claiming that Jewish Israel is a foreign plant in the very heart of the Arab states. The Palestinian pact states that they must wage holy war, Jihad, and liberate Israel-Palestine from the Jews. Not only do the states bordering on Israel work against her, but also all the other Arab states. In almost all the wars Israel has had with her neighbors, Iraqis have sent soldiers to fight Israel. Iraq has also helped the terrorists living in Lebanon. In the Gulf War, Iraq sent missiles at Israel. Even now, Iraq still utters threats to destroy Israel. It’s enough to glance at newspapers and see that Iran is constantly uttering threats against Israel. Syria is the harshest enemy Israel has on her borders. In Lebanon, the main problem is the terrorists who live there. A peace treaty has been signed with Egypt, and also Jordan. But the citizens of those ‘friendly’ states are hostile to Israel” (Ultra-Orthodox schools, The Near East [הקרוב המזרח], 1998, p. 39, LP49)
The first sentence is accurate. The second one only describes the Islamist terror groups, not the PLO. The rest of the paragraph is accurate as well.

So should Israeli schoolbooks twist the history of the country in order to make it more politically correct? That doesn't serve anyone. Obviously, the textbooks should not generalize to all Arabs ("Arabs hate us, Arabs are jealous of us" or the like.) But there is very little here that bothers me, and the fact that these are considered so awful by this committee is, to me, a bigger problem.

Now let's look at the Palestinian Arab textbooks that they say were guilty of the same crime:
“The conference reaffirmed again that the Zionist occupation and its usurpation of Palestine and its people's rights comprise the core of the conflict in the Middle East” (Palestinian schools, History of the Arabs and the World: in the Twentieth Century [العشرين القرن في والعالم العرب تاريخ], Grade 12, p.74, LP799).
If this is referring to an Arab League or similar conference that in fact made such a statement, I have no problem with this. It should be taught to the Israelis as well.

“Palestine's ancient history saw the entry of the children of Israel led by Joshua son of Nun in the 12th century BC, and they fought the Palestinian Canaanites. In the last third of the 11th century BC, Saul son of Kish (Talut) became leader of the children of Israel, and fought the Palestinians, who were led by Goliath, who were able to kill him and his sons. At the end of the 11th century BC, after his death, the prophet David son of Jesse became leader of the children of Israel, and continued fighting the Palestinians and the Canaanites, founding the kingdom on part of the Palestinians' land under his leadership...” (Palestinian schools, History of Palestine: Modern and Contemporary [ الحديث فلسطين تاريخوالمعاصر], Grade 11, Part 1, 2008, p.9, LP1004).
The idea that Canaanites were "Palestinian" is laughable, and this attempt to twist Biblical history into modern terms is reprehensible. Not so much because of the hate that underlies it, but because of the rewriting of history specifically to incite hate. That is a far cry from what we saw in the Israeli textbooks quoted.

“Britain sought the Jews' help to achieve their imperialist aspirations, and so the Jews began migrating to Palestine... but as calls intensified in Europe to settle the Jews in Palestine, some Jewish organizations began to appear in support of colonizing the Holy Land...” (Palestinian schools, History of Palestine: Modern and Contemporary [والمعاصر الحديث فلسطين تاريخ], Grade 11, Part 1, 2008, p. 58, LP1023).
This doesn't bother me so much either. Britain did support Zionists partly for imperialist reasons. Of course, the Jewish return to the land of Israel started way before the British Mandate. (h/t alexa44) What the textbook leaves out is that Zionism itself is not colonialist, but an expression of Jewish self-determination in the only Jewish homeland.

“The incident happened on a Friday, which is the day off from school. With the hum of bullets and the roar of artillery, life was raced into an ambulance stretcher…The enemy turned to the deserted houses, looting and carrying off all they could from the village that had become grave upon grave” (Palestinian schools, Our Beautiful Language [الجميلة لغتنا], Grade 7, Part 1, p.78, LP357).
I don't know what incident they are speaking of, so it is hard for me to flatly say this is false. If it is accurate, which I doubt, why not teach it - but if it is a lie, teaching it is criminal.

Telling each side's narrative is not so terrible. Teaching children lies - especially when the lies are meant to incite - is contemptible. The study needed to concentrate on the truth above all, and only then look at the wording. By doing it backwards and sacrificing truth on the altar of political correctness, they are doing no one any favors.