February, 2013

Dear all,

I wish to express my appreciation and gratitude to Professors Wexler, Adwan and Bar-Tal, as well as to the research, technical and logistical teams for their great efforts throughout the last three years or so to come out with the draft report we got. It is an immense study from which we all may learn a lot and it reflects the desire of all those involved, including the SAP members, to make their contributions for the sake of peace in the Middle East, at least in the realm of school textbooks.

This project is unique in many ways: its esteemed commissioning body, the large number of experts involved, its innovational methods of fact gathering and analysis, its scope and its implicit goal of having the final word in the controversial issue of Palestinian-Israeli schoolbook research, a formidable task indeed.

We, SAP members, were not part of the actual research and the time given to us to review the draft report has been too short for checking it thoroughly. My following comments are therefore based on skimming through its various parts.

Let us start from Appendix 3, the quotes. To tell the truth, this is the first time in my academic life I encounter within a scholarly work a huge bulk of quotations without full reference. It is true that they are all given in their original languages, but not in their original format (that is, someone has typed them in). This is, in my opinion, a serious deficiency which makes the whole study incomplete. The absence of full reference makes it difficult for anyone to compare this material with evidence gathered within former research projects, especially so due to the time constraint.

Also, I could not find in the report the quotations related to the themes of Religion, Peace, the Conflict and the Self’s Values which are all an integral part of the research. Are they supposed to be incorporated in the report later on?

Some of the given quotes simply do not belong here. If the “other” in this report is the adversary within the Jewish/Israeli-Palestinian/Arab conflict (see p. 2 in the Summary) then all other “others” are irrelevant. Yet, the first quote on p. 211 speaks of the atrocities committed by the Crusaders, and on p. 240 there is a poem dedicated to an Algerian woman (Jamilah Buheired) who fought French colonialism there. In both cases, Jews were not involved and the PA textbooks do not claim that they were. On the other side, a passage in a Hebrew schoolbook (p. 123 in the report) mentions the oppression of Libyan Jews during WW2 and is placed in a section titled “Characterization of the ‘other’ – Very negative (Delegitimization)”. But Libya at that time was ruled by Fascist Italy which was solely responsible for that oppression. The local Arab population had nothing to do with it and the book does not claim otherwise. I wonder why the research assistants included these pieces in the study in the first place.

Another quote that attracted my attention had been taken from a PA textbook in which the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II (reigned 1876-1909) expresses his opposition to Zionist aspirations in Palestine (which was under Ottoman rule at that time). A phrase appearing there has been translated into English as “Sunni will” (p. 204), while the exact pronunciation should be Iradah Saniyyah (not Sunniyyah) which means “Sublime Will” and was used in Ottoman parlance as a term denoting a Sultan’s decree. In this particular case it relates to a decree issued against illegal Jewish immigration to Palestine.

If we take into account that all final LPs were analyzed by two raters each, the four quotes mentioned above raise some questions regarding the research assistants’ proficiency in history, with some implications on the extent of academic guidance/supervision exercised by the researchers, in this particular field at least.

A certain quote from an Israeli textbook appears twice in the report, with different connotations. On p. 44 (LP 139) one reads “Now you see the foxes, the Bedouins” which gives strong impression of de-humanization. The quotation then reappears in a wider form on p. 148 when one can clearly see that this is not the case. Both foxes and Bedouins are two different direct objects, alongside other ones, of the subject and verb “you see”. The fragmented sentence on p. 44 is even used as an example of “extreme negative characterization of the ‘other'” which is, simply put, a distortion of the source material.

The foregoing is by no means an inclusive study of the quotes. I did not have enough time for that and I would like to move over to the issue of categorization.

In this field, I, like Eleanor (if I understood her correctly) have felt uncomfortable. It seems to me that the differentiation between the various categories has not been clear enough. Especially obscure was the line separating de-legitimization from other categories. De-legitimization is not de-humanization and it has nothing to do with defining the “other” as enemy. It is rather non-recognition on the part of the “self” of any legitimate status the “other” might have vis-à-vis the “self”. Hence, the description of de-legitimization on p. 2 (beasts, murderers, thieves) and on p. 43 (denial of humanity, description as savages, beasts, animals, attribution of extreme and despicable character such as thieves, liars, murderers, or extreme negative group comparisons such as Huns or Nazis) clearly misses the point and leads – as indeed happened – to erroneous results. The same goes for the “enemy” issue. For example, the piece taken from an Israeli textbook (on p. 124), which describes a 1948 military operational plan on the Jewish side, does not feature any kind of de-legitimization of the “other”, although it is placed in a section under this title. It would be better re-categorized as a text referring to the “other” as enemy.

De-legitimization, by nature, is not necessarily explicit. Rather, it is mostly expressed by avoiding the mention of rights, presence, history, holy places, etc. related to the “other”. Only partly does it contain explicit denial of legitimacy to the “other”. As such, it poses great challenges to researchers. Unfortunately, due to misconception of the de-legitimization issue, these challenges have not been met in this report. I consider this one of the project’s major faults.

Even within the more tangible categories, large crucial fields have not been covered by the report. Within the theme of peace, for instance, the ultimate question of “is peace with the adversary openly advocated?” was never asked. The analysis was restricted to questions such as the nature of peace etc. An interesting finding in this respect was that the perception of peace as a Win-Win situation reached 90% (in what books, by the way? It is not specifically stated).

Alongside peace there is also war. It would have been interesting had the researchers dealt in this context with questions such as “are there warlike manifestations in the books?”, or something of the sort, but they did not. See p. 34 in the report for the missing item. As a result, no room was left for such expressions, and see later on in this paper.

To sum up this part I would say that lines separating the various categories have not been made distinct enough and the designed categories themselves did not cover all the related fields, which has yielded a bizarre finding (p. 2), namely, that Israeli books contained more delegitimizing material regarding the Palestinians (Israeli Ultra-Orthodox 43%, Israeli State Secular 23%) than Palestinian books regarding Jews and Israelis (18%), while in reality the opposite is true, since Palestinian nationalism is essentially based on total rejection of any form of Jewish nationalism in this country, unlike Zionism’s current attitude to Palestinian-Arab nationalism (and see the paragraph on the maps of the two curricula on p. 50).

The next issue I would like to deal with is the criteria of selection. I thought initially that the project, which is staffed and supported on an unprecedented scale, would cover almost all of the books of both nations in the relevant subjects. Later on, I realized that the number would be much smaller. On p. 31 one can find the following figures of the books purchased:

373 Israeli State Secular and State Religious + 66 and 55 Ultra-Orthodox = 484 (Actually 494)

105 PA Ministry of Education + 10 PA Ministry of Religious Affairs = 111

(Actually 115 and see on p. 35 – 102)

What are the true figures? Can we get the full list?

All these books were surveyed and, as far as I understood, 2,188 & 960 LPs were found in the Israeli and Palestinian books, respectively. This is an impressive number and I wish the team would have taken extra time to analyze them all. But due to some constraints it was decided to include in the project only those books that contained a certain percentage of material – a logical criterion – that is, 61 Israeli and 16 Palestinian books. In due course, it was decided to add more books with a smaller percentage of material: 13 Israeli and 78 Palestinian books. The total number of LPs in these selected books was now 676, too small a number, to my taste, for a serious study like ours.

The final number included:

59 Israeli State Secular & Religious + 15 Israeli Ultra-Orthodox

94 Palestinian Ministry of Education + 0 Palestinian Ministry of Religious Affairs (presumably, no figures have been given yet regarding these latter books)

It would be of much help if the researchers provided us with a full list of the books purchased, of those ones which were selected for further analysis in each of the two selections and with the criteria by which the selection of the additional 13 Israeli and 78 Palestinian books was made. As regards the books of the Ministry of Religious Affairs in particular, there is one which contains much material and fits well in with the criterion of the initial selection: Holy Koran and its Studies for grade 11. I wonder why it was not included among the books that were selected initially. By the way, it is not the one with the famous Hadith against the Jews which, in my opinion, also deserves to be studied.

Two more things regarding the selected books:

One, I assumed that once a book was selected it would be studied and analyzed from cover to cover and all the relevant material therein would be taken in. I was disappointed to discover that it was not always the case. I found among the quotations one taken from Our Beautiful Language, Grade 5, Part 1 (2011) p. 65 about the establishment of the PLO (p. 272 in the report). On p. 50 in the same book there is a poem describing the violent return of the Palestinian refugees. I did not find it in the report, perhaps because the only section it could have been included in is a one related to war and such a section does not exist.

Two, on p. 38 of the report, within the paragraph presenting the characterization of Christianity, the figures of positive characterization went as follows: Israeli books – 11%, Palestinian books – 53%. I suspect that this unreasonably high figure in the Palestinian books stems from the inclusion of PA Christian Education textbooks in this theme. These books are written by Christian clergymen for use by Christian students at the PA schools. As such, their material cannot be regarded as characterization of the “other” but rather of the “self”. I pointed out this case during our earlier discussions but, as it now seems, to no avail. Their inclusion here distorts the real picture.

Finally, the analysis. The Summary well reflects the general situation on the ground as known to anyone who has ever done research in this field, namely, that the Israeli State Secular and State Religious schoolbooks feature a more positive attitude to the rival “other” and to peace than their Palestinian counterparts (and the Israeli Ultra-Orthodox ones). Most researchers tend to use the magic word “occupation” to explain the difference. In my opinion, the explanation is much more complex and necessitates some systematic investigation. In this context it would have been very helpful had the researchers used the sets of questions put together by some of the Panel members in order to enrich the analysis and make it more refined, clearer and more accurate than it is now.

I know that clarity and accuracy sometimes create difficulty as unpleasant findings are often discovered. But in order to present the CRIHL with effective recommendations it is necessary first to see the picture as it is, because wrong diagnose leads to wrong prescription. Making the picture a bit vague so that the contesting parties look much the same is possible and sometimes necessary for political reasons, but it is not real scholarship. One can, for example, focus on specific themes of the research in which both parties have similar strengths or weaknesses and in the final analysis both are evenly criticized. The term “narrative” is widely used in this context, also in this report.

The problem with narratives is that they are composed in the main of real historical events, or, more accurately, of those events the memory of which helps solidify the “self” against the “other”. Thus, they constitute an impediment to peace, as rightly stated in the report (p. 3). But instead of the suggestion made on pp. 56-57 to gradually recognize and later embrace parts of the narrative of the “other”, which seems to me unrealistic, I would emphasize the need for balancing the demonized image of the “other” as a result of the self-narrative by adding to the two curricula sufficient quantities of objective information about the rival “other”. This way a door may be opened to mutual recognition which is the only way to real peace.

It is not that I totally dismiss this report. I do not. I think it is thoroughly done, with a potential to motivating changes in the two curricula towards peace. It has some points of strength such as the multi-rater system, the unique input mechanism and other features mentioned on p. 5 and elsewhere. But it is certainly not the decisive research that would make all former ones obsolete. It may be a pioneer project in this direction. I personally regret the missed opportunity of a transparent research conducted with active participation of the SAP members. This way, most of the above-mentioned mistakes would have been avoided, so I believe.

Thank you and best regards,


Dr. Arnon Groiss