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 published textbooks.
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 prevailing situation.
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. <