School textbooks constitute the backbone of education in any nation. As such, they provide a keen insight into the values and ideals the educational system endeavors to instill in the younger generations’ mind. The school textbooks published by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) are no exception.

As a member of the professional team of the New York and Jerusalem-based Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP), I have been engaged during the last four years in continuous research of the Palestinian textbooks, focusing on two main aspects therein: their attitude to the “other”, that is, Israel and the Jews, and their attitude to a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have authored four reports so far, covering 130 books for grades 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9, with two additional books for grades 5 and 11, four teachers’ guides and two editions of an atlas approved for use in the PNA schools.

It should be noted that the Palestinian National Authority has taken upon itself the task of replacing the old textbooks that were published in the 1950s and 1960s by Jordan (for the then-Jordanian West Bank) and by Egypt (for the Gaza Strip that was under its military rule). Those books contained harsh anti-Israeli and even anti-Semitic expressions. As Israel took control of the said areas in 1967, the books underwent a reediting process through which all such expressions were removed. But when the PNA established itself there, following the Oslo Accords, it reintroduced the unedited books into its schools. Answering complaints by Israel and other parties, the Palestinians claimed that they could not be held responsible for books published by others, and asserted their intention to gradually replace those offensive textbooks with new ones to be published independently by the PNA. Indeed, the first new books for grades 1 and 6 were published in 2000, to be followed by additional books for another two grades each year. The new books for grades 5 and 10 have already started to appear, and the process will probably reach its end in 2006, with grades 11 and 12 to be provided with their new textbooks.

In accordance with CMIP’s method of research, each book is carefully scrutinized and any piece of information related to the two main themes mentioned above (namely, the attitude to the “other” and to peace) – be it a text, a map, a photograph or an illustration – is taken as is and included in the report. The material is organized in chapters according to specific topics, with minimum analysis, except for clarifying remarks that appear either within brackets inside the quotation or as footnotes. Each chapter begins with introductory remarks. In this way, the material is allowed to speak for itself. The overall analysis of the material is done in the Conclusion of the report and follows certain guidelines established by UNESCO and by CMIP itself. These are arranged in the form of questions that appear in the Introduction of each report, such as:

  • Are other peoples, religions and communities recognized and accepted as equal, or are presented in a stereotyped and prejudiced way?
  • Do the textbooks foster peace and support the peace process in the region?
  • Are the data given, including maps and graphs, up-to-date and accurate?
  • Are equal standards applied?
  • Are the achievements of others recognized?
  • Are political disputes presented objectively and honestly?
  • Is wording likely to create prejudice, misapprehension and conflict avoided?

The various chapters of CMIP’s reports on the Palestinian textbooks usually include the following subjects:

  • The attitude to Judaism as a religion and to Jewish holy places in the country.
  • The attitude to the Jews in history and in the context of the present conflict.
  • The attitude to Israel as a sovereign state and its image in the Palestinian textbooks.
  • The way the conflict is presented to the student, including the refugee problem and the question of Jerusalem.
  • The attitude to a peaceful solution versus violent liberation, including specific topics such as Jihad, martyrdom and terror.

The full reports are posted, alongside reports on textbooks of other Arab nations and Israel, on the CMIP website

I shall now proceed to deal with the main findings, with some examples.

The Finding: A General Comment

The Palestinian textbooks have several characteristics that make them unique in comparison with school textbooks of other Arab nations I have examined (namely those of Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia). First, they represent a higher technical and pedagogical standard. Second, they put much emphasis on the values of civil society, such as social responsibility, democracy, tolerance and the like, to an extent I have not encountered in other Arab nations. Third, they are mostly – though not completely – devoid of crude abusive terms of the kind one can find in other Arab textbooks, including the older Jordanian and Egyptian books which are still in use within the PNA school system.

Unfortunately, however, the general approach of the PNA textbooks regarding the other party to the conflict, and regarding the ideal of reconciliation, does not differ much from that of the textbooks of other Arab nations in this respect, regardless of whether they have signed peace treaties with Israel (Egypt) or not (Syria, Saudi Arabia – and see the reports on the school textbooks of these countries in the CMIP website).

This unified Arab approach consists of three main elements:

  1. Non-recognition of the opponent as a legitimate party.
  2. Avoidance of any real acquaintance with the other party, with a heavy tendency towards stereotyping and prejudice.
  3. Real peace that would be based on reconciliation is not sought.

Let us now look into these elements in more detail.

The Attitude to the Jews

Non-recognition Nowhere in the PNA textbooks is any adequate information given to the student about the Jewish people: its history, culture, religion, etc. The historical ties of the Jews to the Holy Land – both national and religious – are ignored. In fact, we have noticed a certain regression in the attitude of the textbooks in this particular respect as an initial mentioning of the Jews’ ancient statehood in the land is later omitted, leaving an unexplained gap between the years 1200-586 BCE. There are sporadic references to the Jews’ presence in the land in ancient times – in Jesus’ time, for instance.

In order to diminish the Jewish historical presence and role in the Holy Land, the PNA textbooks Arabize the ancient Canaanites whom they claim to be immigrants from the Arabian Peninsula. The Arab Canaanites are described as the sole, real inhabitants of the Holy Land in history, while all other ethnic elements are presented as “an anomalous exception to logic and reality”. In one case the Canaanites are portrayed as continuing their presence in the country up to the Muslim conquest in the 7th century CE “and thus the Arab circle in Palestine was completed”. It should be noted here that Arab intellectuals in general tend to accord Arab identity to all ancient nations of the Fertile Crescent, except the Jews. In this particular case, however, the posthumous Arabization of the Canaanites serves a Palestinian political goal, namely, invalidating the Jews’ claims to any historical rights in the Holy Land. Such rights, the Palestinians say, belong to the Arabs alone from time immemorial.

In addition, the Jewish holy places in the country are never mentioned as such. Moreover, in cases where a certain place is holy to both Jews and Muslims, such as the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, the Machpelah sanctuary in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, a point is made that these are Muslim holy places that have been usurped by the Jews. This argument is relatively new: In an experimental textbook, published by the PNA in 1996, Rachel’s Tomb is still called by this name. In a book published in 2001, however, one can find under the same photo of the Tomb a new inscription: “The mosque of Bilal Bin Rabbah (one of Prophet Muhammad’s companions)”. (Insert 1)

Jerusalem in particular is presented exclusively as an Arab city – since its foundation by the “Arab” Jebusites. Nothing is said about the Jews’ historical ties to it. Its present status as capital of the State of Israel is ignored. Instead, it is presented as capital of Palestine. The Jewish absolute majority in Jerusalem (since the 1880s) is never mentioned and the Jews are never portrayed as inhabitants of the city.

Not only is the Jews’ historical presence in the land ignored. Their very existence there today does not fare better. There are two cases in the PNA textbooks where Palestine’s population today is estimated. In both cases the textbooks give the numbers of the Palestinians living in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Israel (dubbed as “The Interior” or “Inside the Green Line”, and see below the section of non-recognition of Israel), and even the number of the Palestinians living in the Diaspora. However, the 5.5 million Jews who live in the country (and who outnumber the Palestinians living there) are not counted as legitimate inhabitants of the land. (Insert 2) In another case a certain geographical region is said to contain only sparse Bedouin population, with tens of thousands of Jewish inhabitants there being ignored.

As the Jews’ presence in the country is totally ignored, one can hardly find on the maps in the PNA textbooks (unlike the atlas) a single city established by the Jews in modern times, including Tel Aviv!

The Jews’ language – Hebrew – is erased, literally, by the PNA textbooks. A textbook for grade 2 presents a photograph of a stamp issued by the British Mandate authorities with the inscription “Palestine” in both English and Arabic. There is an empty space on the bottom left of the stamp in the textbook – the place where a Hebrew inscription existed in the original stamp (because all three languages served as official ones under Mandatory government). In another case the Hebrew language is relegated into a status of a mere dialect (lahjah in Arabic). (Insert 3A + 3B)

If undisputed historical and present facts about the Jews are ignored or denied by the Palestinian textbooks, there is no wonder that controversial issues would also be ignored or denied: the Jews have no right to Palestine – just “greedy ambitions” there, their immigration to the country in modern time is described as “infiltration”, and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 on the basis of the UN resolution of November 29, 1947 is dubbed “occupation”.

Stereotyping and prejudice Nowhere in the PNA textbooks could one find a single reference to an ordinary Jewish individual showing his or her daily life, hopes and concerns. The Jews are always mentioned as a group, mostly in an unfavorable light. They are presented negatively in the context of their relations with Jesus (in Christian Education textbooks studied by Christian students within the Palestinian school system, as well as in an Islamic Education textbook), and as enemies of Prophet Muhammad and early Islam in Arabia. Their description sometimes contains derogatory remarks and insinuations, such as having rough hearts, employing trickery and violating treaties.

The stereotypical and prejudiced description of the Jews in the PNA textbooks reaches its peak in the context of the present conflict. Zionism – the Jewish national movement – is portrayed as a colonialist movement that from its inception aimed at the expulsion of the Palestinians or their extermination. It is also portrayed as a powerful factor in American political life, with much influence on the American mass media.

The Jews are blamed in the PNA textbooks for the misfortunes of the Palestinians. The latter bears no responsibility at all. The Palestinians’ defiance of the UN partition resolution of 1947 and their overall attack on the Jews immediately after its adoption are not mentioned. The ensuing victory of the Jews over the Arab side is thus presented as a premeditated attack on the Jews’ part. The Jews are solely responsible, therefore, for the refugee problem. The same line continues in the presentation of later events. Israel suddenly occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, alongside of other Arab territories, in 1967. There is no mention of the fact that it was the Arab side that mobilized its forces on Israel’s pre-1967 borders and threatened the Jewish state with total annihilation on the eve of that war.

Within the context of the present conflict the PNA textbooks attribute to the Jews several negative traits. They are presented as murderous people who kill civilians, including children. They are also dubbed as “slaughterers “, “human wild beasts “, “Tartar battalions ” (and see below the parallel section about Israel).

The Attitude to Israel

Israel is not treated in the PNA textbooks as a legitimate sovereign state, except for one case – in reference to its signing, with the PLO, of the Oslo Accord. Israel’s name does not appear on any map, even in the atlas! (Insert 4)
All the maps of the country, with or without the contours of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, either define the whole of the country “Palestine” or leave it unnamed. (Insert 5)
In one map, the whole country is put under the Palestinian flag. (Insert 6)
The habit of calling the whole of the country “Palestine” is so deeply rooted in the textbooks that when in one case this particular name referred to the inhabitants of the West Bank and the Gaza strip alone, a special footnote clarifying that had to be inserted in the text.

Moreover, Palestine sometimes replaces Israel as the sovereign state in the region. To begin with, the Palestinian textbooks of recent years do not bear the PNA name on their cover, but rather the phrase “the State of Palestine” (“Dawlat Filastin” in Arabic). (Insert 7)
One can find texts with references to that “state” in various contexts. There are even cases which go beyond that. One textbook enumerates the states of the present-day Levant, mentioning Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. Israel simply does not exist. To make the picture complete, Palestine in its entirety is defined as Arab and Muslim in a National Education textbook for grade 2. (Insert 8)

It is also typical of the PNA textbooks to mention and describe regions, cities and sites within Israel in its pre-1967 borders and present them as Palestinian. Thus, the cities of Acre and Jaffa, as well as the Negev, Mt. Jurmuq (Meiron in Hebrew, near Safed), and many of the like, are presented as an integral part of Palestine. Nowhere in the text does even a slight remark say that they are today included within the boundaries of the State of Israel.

Furthermore, the very phrase “Israeli territory” does not exist in the Palestinian textbooks. Instead, three circumlocutions are used: “The Lands of 1948 (Aradhy 1948)”, “Inside the Green Line (Dakhel Al-Khatt al-Akhdhar) ” and “The Interior (Al-Dakhel) “. The “Green Line” used to denote Israel’s Armistice lines with the Jordanian-held West Bank and with the Egyptian-held Gaza Strip before 1967.

Stereotyping and prejudice As with the Jews, no reference is made in the PNA textbooks to ordinary Israelis. No information is given on Israel either, about its society, culture, economy, etc. The description is wholly one-dimensional: Israel is a source of evil. It is never presented as a neighbor whose rights and interests should be accommodated to a certain degree, if not considered legitimate. By enumerating all Israel’s doings as something coming out of its evil nature, and not as an outcome of specific circumstances, the Palestinian textbooks actually demonize Israel and thus they contribute a great deal to the incitement campaign against Israel in the Palestinian media and mosques.

Following is a listing of Israel’s crimes as they appear in the textbooks:

  • Aggression against the Palestinians and against Arabs in general
  • Occupation of the land of Palestine (both in 1948 and 1967)
  • Expulsion operations and massacres against the Palestinians
  • Destruction (“killing”) of Palestinian villages and towns
  • Oppression of the Palestinian people
  • Violation of Palestinian human rights
  • Robbery of Palestinian lands and water
  • House demolition and uprooting of trees
  • Infliction of loss and pain upon the Palestinians
  • Restrictions of various kinds against the Palestinian population
  • Attempts at obliterating the Palestinian national identity and heritage
  • Usurpation of Muslim and Christian holy places
  • Crippling of the Palestinian economy
  • Pollution of the Palestinian environment
  • Contribution to Palestinian social ills and violence
  • Neglect of Palestinian health, education and social services

Beyond that, there are cases of clearly demonizing texts like the following ones:

“Your enemies killed your children, split open your women’s bellies, held your revered elderly men by the beard and led them to the death pits.” (Reading and Texts, Grade 8, Part 2 (2002) p. 16)

“O Lord, do not forget our pains and tears
And do not forget the prisons, the slaughter and the humiliation
And the demolition and terror…” (Linguistic Sciences, Grade 8, Part 2 (2002) p. 88)

“O my homeland,
You have accustomed me to see the enemy horses every day
Wading in blood, my blood” (Linguistic Sciences, Grade 8, Part 1 (2002) p. 14)

“We are burying the child in no hurry…
The mother and the small child may die…
And the middle-aged man suffers in the cell of the great prison…” (Our Beautiful Language, Grade 7, Part 1 (2001) pp. 130-131)

The Attitude to Peace

Tolerance and Friendship

Tolerance as an ideal is much praised in the Palestinian textbooks. They mostly refer to inter-religious relations and, to a lesser degree, to other types of social relations, in sports, for example. The focus in this respect is on the Palestinian society, namely, the relations between Palestinian Muslims and Christians. No reference is made to the Jews in this context. No reference is made as well to the possibility of friendship between Jewish and Palestinian individuals, either adults or children.

Peace with Israel

Like tolerance, peace is also an exalted ideal in the PNA textbooks. Peace in general is encouraged and the textbooks quote the Palestinian commitment to peace from the Palestinian Declaration of Independence (Algiers, November 15, 1988). As regards the peace process with Israel, it is related in matter-of-fact language, and put within the general Arab peace process with Israel. The Oslo agreement is briefly mentioned in this context. In no place does an open advocacy for peace between Palestinians and Israelis appear.

The struggle for liberation

On the other hand, there is an open advocacy for the liberation struggle against the occupation. From the text it appears that the said struggle is destined to be violent. Beside this point that raises some questions regarding the value of peace agreements between the two parties, there is a very alarming issue: The extent of the area to be liberated is never clearly specified. Nowhere in the text is it said that the area that should be liberated from occupation is the West Bank and the Gaza strip only. In fact, there are several expressions that imply a broader struggle aimed at the liberation the whole of Palestine, i.e., those parts that were occupied by Israel in 1948. If one adds to that the consistency with which the PNA textbooks treat those “1948 lands” as an integral part of Palestine, the danger of this approach to peace in the region becomes clearly apparent.

Jihad and martyrdom

The violent character of the liberation process is enhanced by the emphasized inculcation of the traditional Islamic ideals of Jihad and martyrdom (in their military meaning) in the minds of the Palestinian students. In one case the student is openly encouraged to glorify the concept of martyrdom, and another text describes martyrdom as a wedding party. A poem taught to 7th grade students includes the following verses: “The flow of blood gladdens my soul, as well as a body thrown upon the ground, skirmished over by the desert predators”. (Insert 9)


One of the Palestinian textbooks quotes from the Palestinian Declaration of Independence a passage rejecting terror and later accuses Israel of falsely dubbing the Palestinian struggle as terror. It is true that the textbooks hardly praise terror against Israel. But they do treat positively Palestinian individuals who committed acts of terrorism against Israel and were consequently killed or imprisoned. The former ones are called “martyrs” (like the PLO leader Khalil al-Wazir, alias Abu Jihad, who was assassinated in Tunis in 1988 – probably by Israeli agents) and the latter – “prisoners-of-war”. There is also veneration of the title “Fida’i” which is used to denote members of the Palestinian armed organizations who are engaged in terrorist activity against Israel. One can have a clear idea, as Palestinian school students probably do, regarding the real attitude of the Palestinian educators towards such activities.


I would sum up this paper by answering the two questions that appear in its title:
1. The PNA textbooks teach that the Jews are foreigners in Palestine and have no right to be there. This is beside their general dubious and even murderous character. As for Israel, It is an illegitimate occupying power in Palestine – all of Palestine, as well as a source of tremendous harm to its surroundings, especially the Palestinians, who are always presented as victims.
2. The PNA textbooks do not foster a peaceful solution to the conflict with Israel. Rather, they encourage the ideal of violent struggle of liberation against it, strengthened by traditional Islamic concepts of Jihad and martyrdom. Terrorist activity against Israel is not opposed, but rather implicitly encouraged.

It is much regretted that an opportunity to contribute to a peaceful solution between the two peoples has not been utilized by the Palestinian educational authorities. The course that has been so far taken with regard to the creation of school textbooks may have contributed, instead, to the violence in the region, and by no means is bound to lead towards a real peace.

* Dr. Arnon Groiss is the Director of Research at the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP) which studies the attitude to peace and to the “other” in textbooks around the Middle East, including Israel. Dr. Groiss is the author of several reports issued by CMIP on school textbooks in Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian National Authority. Dr. Groiss received his Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University and has an MPA degree from the J.F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He has worked since 1973 at the Arabic radio station of the Israel Broadcasting Authority where he served as director of the News Division and director of the Program Division.