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
"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
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.
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
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,
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
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
Most of the positive images were in the context of presenting
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
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
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
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
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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