by Daniel Bar-Tal
This article examines the representation of Arabs in Israeli Jewish education. Specifically, it reviews studies on the curriculum in textbooks used in the elementary and secondary Israeli Jewish schools, pointing out the changes that took place in different periods. This review is important because school textbooks provide an illustration of the shared societal beliefs, especially in democratic societies. That is, they constitute formal expressions of a society‘s ideology and ethos, its values, goals, and myths (Apple, 1979; Bourdieu, 1973; Luke, 1988). The above implies that school textbooks do not provide neutral knowledge, but rather construct a particular societal reality, particularly in language, literature, history, geography, religious studies, civic studies and social sciences. The selection of the "knowledge" to be included in the textbooks is a political process, and subject in some states to official approval.
The knowledge imparted through textbooks is usually presented and perceived as objective, truthful and factual. Down (1988), from the Council for Basic Education in the U.s.A., stated these ideas very directly:
"Textbooks, for better or for worse, dominate what students learn. They set the curriculum, and often the facts learned, in most subjects. For many students, textbooks are their first and sometimes only early exposure to books and to reading. The public regards textbooks as authoritative, accurate, and necessary. And teachers rely on them to organize lessons and structure subject matters" (p. viii).
1, therefore, assume that in the hundred years of the Arab-Israel conflict, textbooks played an important role in shaping attitudes towards Arabs of Jews and Israelis educated in Hebrew schools in Palestine and, later, in Israel. The first school textbooks for the children of the Jewish immigrants in Palestine were written abroad by Zionists, and only from the early 1900s were the books written in Palestine. These books were used in the schools established by the Zionist immigrants, who paid special attention to education, and almost from the beginning of the establishment of the Jewish settlement in Palestine (called the Yishuv), the educational system was institutionalized. Within a short time, the school system was divided into three trends: the workers‘, the religious, and the general, and this continued to operate during the British Mandate. After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, educational trends were unified under the supervision of the Ministry of Education in 1953, but division between non¬religious and religious state schools remained (Eisenstadt, 1967). As a centralized system, the Ministry of Education had the authority to approve the use of school textbooks on the basis of curricula developed by the ministry, which outline the didactic, scholastic and societal objectives that should be achieved (Eden, 1971).
National above Educational Goals
During the State of Israel‘s first twenty years of existence, national objectives were viewed as being of the highest importance in the educational endeavor. Minister of Education, Prof. Ben-Zion Dinur, outlined these goals directly in 1953:
The position of our country must form the underlying premise of the civil education system. The State of Israel was born after a long and difficult struggle. It was established in the midst of a civil war. The struggle still continues ... Officially, we are living in that vague shadowy situation which is neither war nor peace. We resemble a city under siege ... We are surrounded by enemies whom we fought during the War of Independence and who have yet to reconcile themselves to our existence .... (quoted in Podeh, in press, p. 38).
In the 1970s, the Curriculum Department of the Ministry of Education, which was established in 1966, went through a major reorganization and began to emphasize more didactic and scholastic objectives at the expense of national and societal ones. In the mid-1990s, the Ministry of Education lost its authority to control the use of school textbooks, especially in high schools, and, most frequently, the decision on what kind of books to use in a school nowadays depends on its staff. This new trend stimulated publications of textbooks, especially in history, which dared to present a "revisionist" view of the Israeli past. In the Israeli educational system, societal beliefs are transmitted through schoolbooks on history, literature and Hebrew, geography, social sciences, civic studies and Bible studies. The following review will focus on major studies that analyzed school textbooks in history, geography, Hebrew (in lower classes which use readers), civic studies, and Arabic. It will discuss the image of Arabs that the books portray in three periods: during the pre-state period, between 1948 and the 1970s, and between the 1970s and the 1990s. This division reflects those changes that took place in the structure and objectives of the educational system.
The most extensive and comprehensive studies of history school textbooks in Israel were done by Firer (1985) and Podeh (in press). The first content study analyzed 93 history textbooks, used in the Jewish schools in Israel between 1900-1984, examining their role as agents for Zionist socialization. The second study analyzed 107 history and civic studies textbooks published between 1946 until 1999 to examine the presentation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Bar-Gal (1993, 1994) wrote the most extensive study of geography textbooks, analyzing the content of 192 books published between 1894 and 1989.
The Arab in School Textbooks of the Pre-State Period
According to Firer (1985), all the history books from 1900 focused on justifying the exclusive rights of the Jewish people to the country, disregarding the rights of the Arabs to the country, and rejecting recognition of their national rights, while noting but also denying their religious rights. The books emphasized that this country, the Jewish homeland, was conquered by different peoples including Arabs, was neglected through the centuries and waited to be redeemed by Jews. In fact, Firer found that, until 1930, Arabs were rarely mentioned in the history textbooks and, when the books referred to them, they were viewed as part of the "natural disasters" with which the immigrants had to cope in building their new life. Only after 1930, as the violent conflict escalated, did there appear detailed references to Arabs, describing them uniformly as "robbers, vandals, primitives and easily incited" (p. 128). The Arabs were also portrayed as being ungrateful, since the Jews came to contribute to the development of the country, and the Arab leaders nevertheless incited them against Jewish settlement.
The analysis of geography textbooks published in Palestine by Bar-Gal (1993, 1994) showed a similar trend. He identified five characteristics in the treatment by Jewish writers of Arabs: disregard, contempt, and ethnocentrism, but also romanticism and humanity. During the first few decades of Zionist immigration, most of the geography school textbooks were written by authors who lived in Europe and treated Arabs as "invisible people." But some books, especially those by authors living in Palestine, did describe Arabs. All these perceived Arab society ethnocentrically, as was the customary European view, with a feeling of Jewish superiority. These books, like Grazowski in 1903, differentiated between different Arab sectors. But in Bar-Gal‘s view, all Arabs had common characteristics of backwardness and ignorance (Bar-Gal, 1994, p. 225).
Several authors of geography textbooks described Arabs in a romantic perspective, focusing on their exotic food, dress, markets, and way of life ¬especially the Bedouins, who were appreciated as brave warriors, proud human beings, freedom lovers, and hospitable. They were seen as reflecting the way of life of the ancient Israelites. In this context, some authors described the Arab villages as exotic places where women draw water from the wells and Arab shepherds graze their flocks in the fields. Some books express empathy and pity over the hard life of the Arab fellahin. All the books had the highest regard for the Druze community, because of their physical appearance, bravery, generosity and virtues (Bar-Gal, 1993).
As acts of Arab violence increased in the 1920s, and especially in the late 1930s, the geography textbooks began to present the Arab as the enemy (Bar¬Gal, 1993, 1994). Arab violence was at first viewed as a continuation of the pogroms in Eastern Europe, -but later it was seen as hostility toward the Zionist goals. As in the history books, the geography books described Arabs as a "mob which threatens, assaults, destroys, eradicates, bums and shoots, incited by haters of Israel.
The Arabs in School Textbooks: 19505-19705
Following the establishment of the State of Israel and until the 1970s, school textbooks continued to present a very negative picture of the Arabs. In fact, they took the same ideological-educational line as textbooks in the Yishuv. Thus, according to Podeh (in press), the history textbooks written after 1948 (the "first-generation" textbooks in the State ofIsrael) continued to describe Arab neglect of the country because of their backwardness and primitivism, as well as their cowardice, treachery and violence. According to Firer (1985), the first books in the State of Israel were influenced by the Holocaust trauma and used extreme words to describe the Arab role in the Jewish-Arab conflict. Most of the books failed to mention the existence of the Palestinian nation, its aspirations, or the driving force of Palestinian nationalism. The events of 1936-1939 were presented as disturbances and riots by "Arab gangs," and some books even noted Arab ties to Nazi and Fascist movements in Europe (Pod eh, in press). As one textbook wrote, among the Arabs, "inflammatory Italian and German political propaganda, which aimed at harnessing the Arab movement to the chariot of its own political interests, fell on the fertile ground of religious and national fanaticism" (quoted from Pod eh, in press, p. 120).
The 1948 war was presented as a struggle between the few (Israel) and the many (the Arabs), starting with attacks by local Arab gangs and followed by invasion by seven Arab states. The reason for the refugee problem was that the Arabs fled following their leaders‘ propaganda, despite Israeli attempts to persuade them to stay. For example, one textbook wrote: "The Arabs fled the country a few weeks prior to the end of the Mandate. A panic-stricken mass flight began. The spirit of the Arab population was broken and they were in a state of utter terror. Destructive and malicious propaganda only added fuel to the conflagration. The Arabs were deluded into thinking that they would soon return victorious to the country, expel the Jews and seize their assets as spoils of war" (quoted in Pod eh, in press, p. 129). Similarly, the subsequent Israel-Arab wars were described as acts of Arab aggression. The books spoke about Arab hatred of Jews, and their anti-Semitism as motivating forces in initiating violence (Firer, 1985).
The delegitimization of Arabs was also presented in Hebrew readers. In order to examine how Arabs were stereotyped, Zohar (1972) analyzed 16 elementary school readers (8 for the religious and 8 for the secular educational systems, 2 books for 2 grade levels), published and widely used in the 1950s and 1960s. First of all, she found that the Arab people were most frequently referred to as a collective, and rarely as individuals. They were mainly described in the context of conflict, either before or after the 1948-49 war. Only rarely did the books refer to Arab citizens of the State of Israel. On a general level, Arab society was presented as primitive, backward and passive. Arab farmers and shepherds did not try to improve their condition of life or the way of farming. Their houses were described as poor, neglected and crowded and, in some readers, their clothing was described as dirty. The secular readers provided more extensive pictures about Arab culture and life, noting positive features like hospitality, and a few books included stories about friendship between Arabs and Jews.
The Arabs as the ‘Enemy‘
The most frequent presentation of Arabs was as "the enemy," no mention being made of their national aspiration, of the context of conflict between two national movements. Zohar (1972) concluded that the delegitimization and demonization of Arabs in the readers, and the avoidance of a human, multidimensional, and individualized approach aimed to impart national Jewish values in times of conflict.
In many respects, the findings in the study of geography books by Bar-Gal (1993) are similar to those of Zohar. Bar-Gal found that, during the 1950s and 1960s, the books presented "the glory of the ancient past, the destruction and negligence when the Jewish people went into exile, and the renewal and revival of the landscape with the help of the Zionist movement" (Bar-Gal, 1993, p. 150). Bar-Gal noted another characteristic of geography books, namely their disregard of the tragedy experienced by the Arabs during the 1948 war when hundreds of thousands became refugees, and many Arab villages were destroyed.
However, Bar-Gal (1994) noted that, following the 1948 war, the direct delegitimization of Arabs living in the State of Israel gradually ceased. The reference to their ignorance and primitivism slowly disappeared and their description as an enemy of Zionism faded. Unlike Arabs who lived beyond the borders, and who continued to be stereotyped negatively, the books dwelt on the integration of the Israeli Arabs, called "minorities" in the Jewish-Israeli society, the Jewish contribution to their development and their good treatment by the state authorities, which built educational, health and welfare systems in the Arab villages, bringing progress to the Arabs and introducing them to modernity (Bar-Gal, 1993, 1994).
This line of description continued in the 1970s and 1980s. A similar approach is found in geography books, dealing with the Arab population in the territories conquered in the 1967 war. For example, in one book of 1975, Rina Habaron wrote the following about the Gaza Strip: "The military government canceled discrimination between the local population and refugees and brought improvement in the areas of education and sanitation, which are provided free of charge. Health services standards were improved. Innovations were introduced into agriculture, with the farmers receiving guidance and having their products marketed in the country ... The Israeli Electricity Company connected up with Gaza and established a basis for the development of new industries" (quoted from Bar-Gal, 1993, p. 186).
However the books also presented positive traits such as Arabs‘ hospitality, their combativeness, their pride and their habit of working hard. Also, Arabs were viewed as a heterogeneous society, which includes different elements. Overall, however, Bar-Gal concluded that how the Arabs were described depended on their degree of cooperation with the Zionist enterprise. In our terms, we can say that their presentation depends on the nature of relations between Jews and Arabs, as Jews perceive them. This ethnocentric view provided the main criteria for their stereotyping.
The Arab in School Textbooks in the 1970s
During the 1970s, the Ministry of Education initiated a major shake-up of the curricula, which led to changes in the content of textbooks. The new policy diminished the role of the national objectives in designing school curricula. Rather, it stressed the didactic and scholastic objectives, also taking into consideration new aspects of psychology now available on the development and needs of pupils.
In the 1970s, descriptions delegitimizing Arabs almost disappeared in history school textbooks (Firer, 1985). Pod eh noted that during the late 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, history books of the "second generation" were written - the "adolescence period." These books permitted the acknowledgment of the existence of Palestinian nationalism, used less pejorative terminology in the description of violent Arab resistance to Jewish immigration and settlement, and began to present a more balanced picture of the origins of the Palestinian refugee problem (Podeh, in press).
In 1979, the Ministry of Education published the first school textbook, The Arab-Israeli Conflict for History and Civil Studies, to include original Arab documents and speeches by Palestinian leaders, including material about Palestinian national aspirations. In general, Arab intransigence was presented as the norm, as well as Jewish willingness to compromise.
A similar line was taken in the second part of the book on the post-1948 period, which deals with the inter-state conflict between Israel and the Arab states. The book provided material justifying the Sinai Campaign (1956) and the Six-Day War (1967) and presenting the non-compromising positions of the Arab leaders in contrast to Israeli willingness for peace. However, it included relevant documents, some Palestinian. The two books were eventually dropped in the 1990s on the grounds that they had become out of date.
An Adult Approach
In the late 1970s, the Ministry of Education also published two new books: We and Our Neighbors (1979) for elementary and junior high schools, and Living Together for high schools. The first book described neighboring Arab countries in reconciliatory tones, and the second openly presented issues related to the Arab minority in the State of Israel. The latter book was revised and published in 1988 under the title The Arab Citizens of Israel. It represents major progress towards the presentation of a balanced description of the Arab citizens of Israel. It describes their life in Israel and their relations with the Jewish majority, but it is one of the few, and maybe even the only book, which openly discusses discrimination against Arabs in Israel, including expropriation of their land. This book aims to provide updated information about the Arabs in Israel and to change their negative stereotype in Israel in order to advance positive coexistence between the two groups.
The Arabs in Readers and Arabic Language Studies
In readers written in the 1970s and 1980s, a more quantitative study by Bar¬Tal and Zoltak (1989) surveys the stereotyping of Arabs analyzing a sample of 20 readers approved for use in elementary schools and junior high schools in 1984. It was found that the readers devoted little space to Arabs, in spite of the fact that they constitute a substantial minority of about 20 percent of the Israeli population. With regard to the Arab image, the study found that in 50.7 percent of the items the image was negative, in 29.1 percent it was neutral and in the rest positive.
Most of the positive images were in the context of presenting individuals.
Arabs were presented, for example, as "human savages," "bloodthirsty," "gangs of murderers," "infiltrators and terrorists," or "robbers."
The next study by Brosh (1997) analyzed Arab representation in the school textbooks of Arabic language studies. In Israel, about 12 percent of the Jewish students learn Arabic language in post-elementary schools, the great majority of them in junior high schools. Brosh analyzed 12 Arabic language textbooks written by Jews in the 1970s and 1980s, and used in the junior high schools. The results of his study showed that, historically, the Arab is usually positively presented against the background of the beginning of Islam and its expansion. These are described as people of high moral standards and religious faith. The contemporary Arab (mostly male) is presented in two ways: traditional and modern. The former, which is more prevalent, focuses mostly on primitive felIahin and manual workers. The felIah is described as "a primitive laborer who cultivates his soil in traditional ways without agricultural equipment. .. resides in a tent in the village, and his main means of transportation are the donkey and the camel... The Arab has no leisure time. His children remain in the same backward condition and there is no improvement or progress in the younger generation ... He has a moustache and a beard, and he wears the traditional kaffiyah, the Arab headdress" (Brosh, 1997, p. 317). The modem Arabs, in contrast, "seem to approach a Western style of life. They have cars and reside both in villages and cities ... they cultivate the soil with modern agriculture equipment... watch television, and take up liberal professions" (Brosh, 1997, p. 317).
According to Brosh, the books tend to depict the primitive side of Arab society, without any attempt to differentiate between various religious groups. The issues and problems with which Arab society in Israel has to cope are not presented. The descriptions of Jewish-Arab contact are simplistic, and are not placed in the context of overall relations between the Arab minority and the Jews in the State of Israel, or between Israel and the Arab world. Recently, Bar-Tal (1998b) analyzed the content of all the school textbooks of all those school grades (1 to 12) in history, geography, civic studies and Hebrew (readers), approved by the Ministry of Education for use in schools in 1994-95 and which referred to Arabs, or to the Arab-Jewish conflict. In total, 124 school textbooks published between 1979 and 1994 (the great majority of them published in the 1980s and early 1990s) were examined. The objective of the study was to reveal the extent to which the school textbooks express societal beliefs on the ethos of conflict. For our purpose, we will concentrate only on those results pertaining to Arabs‘ stereotypes and especially to their delegitirnization.
Textbooks in the 19805-19905
In general, the analysis shows that there is very infrequent direct delegitirnization of Arabs (one or two references), in about 30 percent of the elementary school readers, in about 20 percent of the junior high-school readers, in about 20 percent of the secular history books, in a few geography books and in one civic studies book. These findings don‘t refer to negative stereotyping. The great majority of the books stereotype Arabs negatively wherever they are referred to. Positive stereotyping is an exception.
With regard to readers, first of all it was found that most of the readers have very few stories about Arabs or Jewish-Arab relations. Even then, the references to Arabs appear in the context of the Israeli-Arab conflict, while the textual item focuses on the Jews. Most of the books, when relating to Arabs, stereotype them negatively, with a tendency to present Arabs as primitive, uneducated, passive people, without a will of their own, and as poor farmers or shepherds. The stories describing early Arab-Jewish relations during the pre-state period and after the establishment of the State of Israel are frequently of a violent nature. In all, the Arabs are portrayed as aggressors, leading to their delegitimization as a "mob," "bloodthirsty," "murderers," "inhuman enemy," or "rioters."
Nevertheless, it should be noted that the readers also contain positive images of Arabs. These are all on an interpersonal level and describe a friendship between a Jew and an Arab, or how an Arab helped a Jew. In most of these stories the Arab is presented as a low-status person. Exceptional is a story about a Jewish family visiting a middle class, educated family in an Arab village. In a few stories the Jewish-Arab friendship ends with the eruption of hostilities. There are also a few readers, mostly for junior high schools, which present positive material from Palestine and elsewhere (some even written by Arabs) on Arabs and their way of life as individuals. Of special importance are stories that describe empathetically the suffering of the Arabs in the context of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Examples are a poem by Nathan Alterman, which deals with an incident in which a Jewish youth destroys an Arab‘s watermelon crop, or a story describing Arab refugees during the 1967 war.
Geography books for the elementary and junior high schools ste:eotype Arabs negatively, as primitive, dirty, agitated, aggressive, and hostile to Jews. One book writes, "Gloomy residents walk about the village, in poverty ar.d silent horror. .. Children suffering from eye disease and with swollen stomachs wander through the garbage .... " One book, Jews and Arabs in the State of Israel, published in 1989, approaches geography by exploring Jewish¬Arab relations in contemporary Israel. In its introduction the author states, "We believe and hope that the learning, acquaintance, and meetings between you and the other [Le., Arab] students will eventually contribute to the understanding and mutual respect between Jews and Arabs living in Israel" (p. 4). This is an exceptional book, which describes the life of Arabs in Israel, and Jewish-Arab relations also from the Arab perspective. The author expresses a view that the resolution of the conflict can be achieved through continuous and complex negotiations (p. 7).
A geography textbook for high schools, entitled Changes in the Geography of Israel, published in 1991, includes articles on demographic geography. Two articles present conflictual relations with Arabs and discuss the threats of their presence in the Galilee: Jewish settlement in the Galilee is said to be necessary in order to prevent the Arabs from becoming a majority in the region, to change the demographic balance of the Galilee in favor of the Jews, and to ensure Jewish territorial continuity. In another book published in 1992, Israel: Geography of a Countnj, Arabs are presented completely negatively as "an incited Arab mob" (p. 131), as "mercenary Arab gangs" (p. 190). The book also describes the progress and assistance that Jews brought to the occupied territories after the 1967 war.
The history books in the elementary schools hardly mention Arabs. This is of special interest, since they deal with the pre-state period when Arabs were the majority in Palestine. Whenever the Arabs are noted, they are predominantly associated with aggressive behavior and with primitivism. History books for junior high schools continue to describe the aggressive and violent behavior of Arabs in the pre-state period. They are shown to oppose Jewish immigration, harass and murder Jewish pioneers, and carry out pogroms. In these books, they are sometimes labeled with delegitimizing categories such as "rioting gangs," "murderers without distinction," "Arab mob," or "violent animals." The books do present the Palestinian national aspirations, albeit in an uncompromising and extreme position. The Arab leaders reject any compromise or any peaceful resolution to the conflict. The books describe the Arab people as being forcefully agitated by an extreme leadership, which leads them to promote violence.
The history textbooks of the high schools, the majority of which cover the Arab-Jewish conflict, stereotype the Arabs negatively. Arabs are presented as intransigent and uncompromising. One book claims that the Arab hostility in the 1930s and 1940s was fed by the anti-Jewish propaganda spread by the Nazis and Italian Fascists. But only three books (21 percent) have at least one reference that de legitimizes Arabs. One book, The Zionist Idea and the Establishment of the State of Israel, is of special significance. Analyzing the Israeli-Arab conflict and attempting also to offer the Arab perspective, it devotes ten pages to the description based on Jewish sources of the Arab national movement. Thus, it presents the rise of this movement as the reaction to the emergence of Zionism, that is, "the fear of penetration and consolidation of the Zionist factor in the Land of Israel" (p. 86, Vo!. 2). The book in general presents a negative picture of Arabs as enemies who try, through violence, to stop the realization of the Zionist ideology.
It should be noted that a change of major significance with regard to history school textbooks took place in the mid-1990s. In the last few years, books of the "third generation" in the State of Israel were published: Podeh called them "books of adulthood." Many used newly released archival material, which shed a more balanced light on the Arab-Jewish conflict and allowed for more openness, pluralism and criticism. In these books, Arabs are presented "not only as mere spectators or as aggressors but also as victims of the conflict. .. For the first time, there appears to be a genuine attempt to formulate a narrative that not only glorifies Zionist history but also touches on certain shadows in it. Moreover, in many cases there is no attempt to avoid discussion of controversial questions, such as the Palestinian refugee problem, Israel‘s presence in Lebanon, the desirability of establishing a Palestinian state, etc." (Podeh, in press, p. 184). Many of these books refer to the Palestinian nation, recognize the role of Palestinian nationalism in the development of the Arab-Jewish conflict, describe in a balanced way the violent acts of Palestinians against Jews in periods of conflict and provide an objective description of the wars (Podeh, in press). In general, they provide a new perspective to the Arab-Jewish conflict, presenting a more complex and multidimensional picture of the Arabs, in general, and the Palestinians, in particular.
Stereotyping and Delegitimizing
In conclusion, it is possible to say that almost all the Israeli school textbooks that referred to Arabs in the context of the conflict have continuously stereotyped them negatively, and even delegitimized them following the Jewish experience of continuous violent confrontation with the Arabs over more than a hundred years. This conclusion is based on the finding that Arabs are mostly presented in the context of the conflict and, in this context, they are almost always negatively stereotyped.
The conflict provided a problem to the Jewish educators - how to present Arabs. It began with the first textbooks written at the end of the 19th century, which, if they acknowledged the existence of the Arab population in Palestine, did not recognize its national entity.
It was mainly on the pre-state period and the 1948-49 war that the delegitimizing labels appeared. The pre-state years were formative in Israeli history, when waves of Jewish immigrants were escaping from European anti-Semitism and later from the approaching Holocaust. Trying to rebuild the land and the nation, the Arabs stood in their way. This is a mythical period that serves as a basis for many of the Israeli societal beliefs. It provides the image of a pioneering society trying to found the Jewish state and at the same time defending itself. The writers focusing on the Zionist narrative do not understand why the Arabs failed to accept the Jews with open arms and violently resisted their return to their ancient homeland. This opposition is therefore attributed to the incitement of the Palestinian masses against the Jews.
Hence the 1948-49 war, to which the books devote much space, is projected as a violent Arab attempt to prevent the establishment of the Jewish state, and the longest, most decisive, traumatic, and costly war in terms of human losses. Other periods of conflict receive less attention in the books.
The question that can be asked, then, is what kinds of representation of Arabs do students find in school textbooks? The great majority of the books at best stereotype Arabs negatively, but often they also delegitimize them in the context of the conflict. From these descriptions, students can learn two major themes of Arab characteristics. One concerns their primitiveness, inferiority in comparison to Jews, backwardness and ignorance. The other theme relates to their violence, to characteristics like brutality, untrustworthiness, cruelty, fanaticism, treacherousness and aggressiveness. The books provide graphic descriptions of Arab pogroms, murders and riots, the result of agitation and incitement of the Arab masses by their leaders. Arabs are usually presented as a threat to Jewish existence and this stereotype is assumed to arouse feelings of insecurity, fear and hatred. Positive stereotyping is rare. Some of the books refer to positive characteristics, which appear mostly in a particular ethnocentric framework, whenever Arabs help Jews or recognize their superiority. Even so, some books describe Arabs‘ hospitality and friendliness.
The books almost never present Arabs of middle class, professionals, or intellectuals. This is especially puzzling in view of the fact that the Arab professionals, citizens of the State of Israel, occupy a noticeable place in Israeli society, for example in hospitals as doctors or auxiliary personnel, or in schools in the role of teachers. Also, in the occupied territories, there is a considerable segment of intelligentsia, which does not appear in the books. Finally, the books relatively ignore the fact that, since 1979, Israel has had a peace treaty with Egypt. This dramatic event could have led to a better acquaintance with Egyptian society and culture.
From Generation to Generation
The negative stereotyping, which is still evident, and the delegitimization, which was common in earlier periods, are transmitted to the students from the first early years of their formal education in the elementary school up to their last classes of high school, when they are in advanced adolescence. This negative stereotyping is not surprising: the Jewish perception is founded on violent experiences with Arabs, adherence to their own Zionist goals, the insistence on relating only their own narrative, the concentration exclusively on their own challenges and needs, the focusing on Jews as victims, a lack of sensitivity and empathy to the aspirations of others, and the overall negation of the Arab case - all lead to the negative presentation of Arabs as such.
It was only in the late 1970s and 1980s that there first appeared books that provided an alternative presentation of the Arabs. Only the last few years of the 1990s saw the publication of history textbooks that can be seen as marking a new alternative trend that tries to present a more balanced and multidimensional presentation of the Arabs, in general, and of the Palestinians, in particular. But such books are few in number and limited in content. Their appearance is frequently accompanied by political outcry, media controversy, and political debate.
This review of the school textbooks suggests that, over the years, generations of Israeli Jews were taught a negative and often delegitimizing view of Arabs. The parents and the grandparents of the present generation were provided with the same negative image of the Arabs in their school textbooks as we see today, within the context of the prolonged Jewish-Arab conflict. One might add that it takes many years to rewrite school textbooks and a few generations to change the societal beliefs about the stereotyping and delegitimization of the Arabs.
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