How can one seriously envision educating for peace when strife and
violent confrontation are the daily bread of the people concerned?
In the present climate of distrust and violence, it is not easy at
all to promote the teaching of tolerance, of mutual respect and
understanding, without which educating for peace remains a Fata
Morgana. But that does not mean that such efforts should not be
encouraged, tried, and put into practice whenever possible.
If one wants to discuss, as we try to do in this issue, how - if at
all ¬textbooks used respectively in Israeli and Palestinian
schools are, or are not, conducive to education for peace, three
general preliminary comments are in order. First, while Israel has
had fifty or so years since its establishment in 1948 to write and
rewrite its curriculum, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA)
has been in existence for a mere six years; it is not yet a state
and does not dispose of an adequate budget to introduce the
necessary civic reforms, including in the field of education.
Second, having never had the opportunity to write their own
curriculum, Palestinian schools have for years been using Jordanian
and Egyptian textbooks, where the attitude to the State of Israel
and Israelis, in general, is quite negative.
Third, there is a lack of symmetry between Israel and Palestine;
the latter is still engaged in a struggle for independence against
the former, a struggle that inevitably influences the Palestinians'
attitude and mental setup, their perception of the other - the
occupying power - in all fields, comprising, of course, education.
In such a context, one cannot put on an equal footing Palestinian
textbooks and Israeli textbooks, or, for that matter, news coverage
by Palestinian TV, compared to Israeli TV. One cannot expect,
nowadays, that Palestinian textbooks or media will rid themselves
of all anti-Israeli pronouncements, when Palestinians are being
killed in the Intifada and are, moreover, exposed day after day to
the brutal and humiliating behavior of Israeli soldiers, of Israeli
police and other Israeli security forces. Nevertheless, the
Palestinian Ministry of Education has already embarked on replacing
the existing curriculum with a Palestinian curriculum - starting
with the first and sixth grades - where a great number of
anti-Jewish stereotypes have been omitted from the recently
It should be much simpler for Israelis, the stronger side in this
conflict, to eliminate anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian expressions
from their textbooks and mass media. It should be, but it is not
quite as easy as one may think; after all, many Israelis as well
have been, and are still being, maimed and killed during the
prolonged, often fierce and cruel national struggle between the two
peoples. Several new history books, referring for the first time
positively to Palestinian national aspirations and, generally,
giving more space to Arab history and culture, have been printed
since 1994 following the Oslo agreement. But this is only a
beginning and there is still much room for improvement, as can be
learned from articles in this issue. It is to be hoped that the
rewriting of Israeli textbooks, devoid of anti-Arab or anti-Muslim
bias, will continue, in spite of recent efforts by the present
Israeli minister for education, Ms. Limor Livnat, from the Likud
party, to censor certain history books because of what she sees as
their "anti-patriotic" content.
It appears that both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks have not yet
freed themselves from negative stereotypes in describing the other
side, though efforts have been made to change and improve upon the
The joint Israeli-Palestinian declaration for peace "No to
Bloodshed, No to Occupation," initiated and signed on July 25,2001,
by some fifty intellectuals of both peoples, says, among others:
"We refuse to comply with the ongoing deterioration in our
situation, with the growing list of victims, the suffering and the
real possibility that we may all be drowned in a sea of mutual
hostility ... We implore all people of goodwill to return to
sanity, to rediscover compassion, humanity and critical judgment,
and to reject the unbearable ease of the descent into fear, hatred
and calls for revenge ... In spite of everything, we still believe
in the humanity of the other side, that we have a partner for
peace, and that a negotiated solution to the conflict between our
peoples is possible .... "
This appeal, calling to prefer reason to fanaticism, humanity over
hatred, freedom over occupation, is a passionate effort to promote
education for peace.