Close to 170 Israeli and Palestinian schoolbooks were examined in order to study the attitude to the “other”, to the 3 monotheistic religions and to issues related to the conflict. The methodology adopted for the project was quantitative: quotes were categorized and graded and then counted and the resulting figures served as a basis for general evaluation of the issues studied within the two curricula. In contrast with previous research projects, no qualitative methodology was used in this one.
According to the study findings both curricula generally refrained from dehumanizing and demonizing characterization of the “other”. However, they both created a general “national narrative” presenting the “other” as enemy, with dearth of information that would show the “other” in positive or human light. The study further presented the lack of such information about the “other” as having signaled the delegitimization of its very presence. Finally, Israeli State schoolbooks were said to having manifested less such characteristics comparing to the Palestinian ones and to schoolbooks used in the Israeli independent Ultra-Orthodox schools.
In spite of the favorable distinction made regarding the Israeli State schoolbooks, the general picture portrayed by the study’s conclusions was that both curricula were showing similar tendencies in the sense that both of them delegitimized the “other” and none provided its students with education for peace. Since that was clearly not the case with Israeli State schoolbooks – as proven by the quotes gathered for the research project – the study was criticized for having attempted to create a misleading appearance of equivalence and evenness between the two curricula.
Written by an independent schoolbook researcher who served as a member of the study’s Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP), this evaluation paper deals with the particulars of that criticism, as follows:
- Absence of in-depth analysis of the individual quotes due to the study’s virtually total reliance on quantitative methods alone. That practice has produced a cursory and non-exhaustive survey of the source material, which has made the two curricula look similar – while they are not – and also saved the researchers the trouble of dealing with problematic issues that might have been detected had the more thorough qualitative methodology been used. An example of such a problematic issue is the actual meaning of the “liberation struggle” concept appearing in Palestinian schoolbooks, which – by its unrestricted geographical scope – implicitly involves the liquidation of the State of Israel.
- Focusing on the “overall narrative” of each curriculum at the expense of meticulously scrutinizing the particulars of that narrative. Thus, the “negative” expressions in the Palestinian schoolbooks, for example, were tagged as part of the general Palestinian “national narrative” with no attempt to weigh their impact on the attitude to the “other” and to peaceful solution to the conflict. Example: use of the religious concept of Jihad to enhance the violent struggle for the liberation of Palestine.
- Discarding relevant sources (both individual quotes and whole books) that would show the Palestinian curriculum in an unfavorable light.
- Overemphasis on textbooks used in the Israeli independent Ultra-Orthodox schools, much beyond their actual share in the Israeli curriculum, probably because they resembled to a certain extent the Palestinian books in terms of the attitude to the “other”. Such a move helped in creating a general impression of evenness between the two curricula. By contrast, most of the schoolbooks issued by the Palestinian Ministry of Religious Affairs, which expressed a particularly anti-Jewish attitude, were not included in the study’s source material.
- Creation of study categories that did not cover all the study themes, which resulted in neglect of important elements that would clarify better the significant differences existing between the two curricula. Examples: no category was created to cover the important themes of advocacy of peace with the “other” (as expressed in Israeli books) or advocacy of a violent struggle against it (as expressed in Palestinian books).
- “Forcing” certain quotes into categories where they did not belong in order not to leave those categories empty – especially those ones that would leave positive impressions of the Palestinian curriculum. Example: the category of Palestinian self-criticism in the context of the conflict.
- Questionable definition of some basic terms, such as “delegitimization” and “demonization”, which has led to misrepresentation of the characteristics of the two curricula in these fields.
- There were several cases of misinterpretation of the source material. Examples: drawing a parallel between diverse concepts, such as patriotic self-sacrifice and religious martyrdom, or between clearly non-parallel cases, i.e., the absence of the labels “Israel” and “Palestine/Palestinian Authority” from maps. The difference between these two cases is that Israel already exists as a recognized sovereign state while Palestine still does not, and the Palestinian Authority as well is not a recognized sovereign state and its territories are too small and too scattered about to be labeled on the map.
- Ignoring the source material in certain cases while forming the study’s conclusions – especially Israeli quotes that did not support the main conclusion, such as those ones that supplied the students with information about the “other”.
In the author’s view, the correction of all these points, and other ones that were found in the study, is a precondition for its improvement so that it would rightfully take its place as the most prominent project in the history of Israeli-Palestinian schoolbook research so far.