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Textbook Denigration
The Mis-Education of Arabs and Jews

Hebrew for "Wetbacks"

There are two Palestinian Media Watch organizations. One of them is Israeli, and pro-Israeli. The other Palestinian Media Watch is pro-Palestinian, and based in the United States. I leave it to you to figure out why the identical names, besides this one plain explanation: in the end, Palestinians and Israelis are more distinguishable by their similarities than their differences. The Israeli Palestinian Media Watch may have its own agendas, but it’s just released a report analyzing the way Palestinian textbooks portray Israel and Jews in opposition to Palestinian, and Islamic, struggles. Textbooks are political documents, whether the textbooks are written for history students in Idaho or religion students in the West Bank. That makes textbooks the equivalent of fish in political barrels: anyone can take target practice. The cliché of using textbooks as cultural prisms won’t make it less of a potent rhetorical tool in propaganda wars. The Palestinian media Watch report isn’t designed to be a pretty picture. As always in matters Palestinian and Israeli, where only mirrors speak a truth, the ugliness is as much in the subject of the study as in the analytical dishonesty the study applies to its subject.

From “From Nationalist Battle to Religious Conflict,” opening chapter:

The [Palestinian Authority] schoolbooks teach that fighting Israel is not merely a territorial, nationalistic conflict, but a religious battle for Islam. The educators define the conflict with Israel as “Ribat”—a concept from Islamic tradition signifying Muslims defending the border areas of Islam. Moreover, the youth are taught that their specific fight against IsraelRibat—for “ Palestine”—is “one of the greatest of the Ribat, and they [Palestinians] are worthy of a great reward from Allah”. Palestinian use of violence against Israel is called “muqawama — resistance” and is said to be legal according to international law. And after defining “ Palestine” to encompass all of Israel, Israel’s eventual destruction is assured: “ Palestine will be liberated by its men, its women, its young ones and its elderly”. Hezbullah terror against Israel is likewise justified, as one schoolbook rejects the UN ruling that Israel has withdrawn to the international border, and likewise define Hezbullah’s terror as “resistance” against “occupation.”

There’s no question that framing Palestinian rights as “Ribat” is fanaticism in pure form, or that soiling a just political cause with the business about Allah (or Hezbollah) trivializes the Palestinian cause to the point of discrediting it. But the report contradicts its case in discrediting ways of its own. Notice how “ Palestine” is always put in quote marks. Why? It’s not as if Palestine didn’t exist (again, strict constructionists aside); it isn’t as if its eventual re-existence isn’t a stated objective even of most Israeli and American political thinking. The quote marks are an intentional insult on par with the Palestinian textbooks’ derisive way of referring to Israel. So is the implicit association of Lebanon’s Hezbollah with “terror”—an association no more (and no less) justified than the Israeli army’s with terror. Still, it’s just as remarkable that “Ribat” as taught Palestinians perpetuates the notion of Palestinians as yet another pawn in one more overriding struggle, the struggle this time being Islam’s. The report cites many more examples of Palestinian causes framed in Islamic ideological riffraff.

But the report also cites passages that are hard to argue with, though it cites them accusingly, like these from a couple of books for 12th graders:

The struggle of the nations under colonial rule, foreign rule and racist regimes, for their right to self-determination and independence, is a legitimate struggle, fully complying with the principles of international law. Any attempt to suppress the struggle against colonial and foreign rule and racist regimes is considered as contrary to the UN convention and the declaration of principles of international law…and the global declaration of human rights, and the declaration of independence for countries and nations under colonialism, and are a threat to international peace and security. […] Lebanese national resistance in 2000, except for the area of the Shab’a Farms, which is still under Israeli occupation, and the Lebanese resistance for its liberation continues.

Well? Ah. The report discredits itself even more when it concludes its segment this way: “ ‘Armed struggle’ is one of the Palestinian euphemisms for terror, including suicide terror.” And there, in one swoop, the legitimate is mish-mashed with the illegitimate to discredit a just Palestinian cause by smearing it with the admittedly unjust tactics of a few—the kind of tactics, if terror is what we’re talking about, Israel’s own founders were fond of, and Israel’s descendants never hesitate to use, if under the veils of “legitimate” military authority. The report is also sloppily written and badly prone to paraphrasing the sort of details it should cite verbatim, leaving the reader in doubt as to the veracity of what he’s reading.

One can go on analyzing the report page after page. It’s not without its truths: even minefields grow daisies. But it’s not without cluster-faults, too. Unfortunately it’s the sort of report that immediately generates news stories about the rank and unmitigated bigotry of Palestinian textbooks left and right, implying that Israeli textbooks are pure and truthful—which they’re nothing of the sort.

Three years ago the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information—which, as you can presume from its title, is a bi-partisan organization—released a report on how Israeli textbooks portray Arabs and Israelis. “The Palestinian,” the report found, referring to one particular textbook,

knows about and loves working the land, and in certain periods is described as being more proficient in this work than the Jews who came from Europe. The Palestinian knows how to handle weapons, and how to ride a horse. On the one hand this is a positive image, because he is independent and knows how to defend himself, as opposed to the Diaspora Jew, but on the other hand he sometimes uses this weapon against his Jewish neighbors, especially in order to steal from them. It is appropriate in this context to point to the negative implication of the term “Arab work” which is related to the Arabs – Palestinians – as menial laborers. The Palestinian was considered as a good worker in the [Jewish] villages in the days of the First Immigration. Page 40: Today only Arabs work Israeli land. Work on the land is work for Arabs – the mother says to the father. Together with this, reservations are expressed about the fact that Arabs plant trees in Herzl Forest, which detracts from the dignity of the visionary of the Jewish state. A distinction is made between “Hebrew” work and “Arab” work, and the following quotation reveals the intention: “The Jews are struggling to meet [the challenge] of work and defense, Hebrew hands will build the land and not Arab hands” p. 66. Also on pages 62-63, the following dialogue appears: “And who is working in the fields?” “Arabs”, “And what are the Jews doing?” “Managing the work, supervising”, “I am shocked. Is this how our country will be built? The Jews will provide the work and the work itself will be done for them by Arabs, and I dreamed of a different Land of Israel, a land in which Jews work the land and enjoy the fruits of their labors. I won’t allow foreigners to build my land ”. In other words, the Arabs are a foreign element that should be removed from the labor market.

(There was also this item in the Notebooks from last December, or this more partisan look at the matter from the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs). The most that can be said, as always, is that Israelis and Palestinians live in a cauldron of equal-sized bigotries and dishonesties. As always on this side of the Atlantic, it’ll be seen as a one-sided “struggle” of the poor, beleaguered Israelis against the terrorizing and bloodthirsty and illegitimate Palestinians. As always on the other side of the West Bank, it’ll be seen as a one-sided struggle of the poor, beleaguered Palestinians against the terrorizing and bloodthirsty and illegitimate Jews. We could say that they deserve each other. We should say that neither Israelis nor Palestinians deserve the fate they’re dealing themselves. They’re both being subjected to textbook hypocrisies and lies that perpetuate mutual hatreds and assure nothing short of self-destruction.

Somewhere in there a more good-willed textbook is being written. For now, it’s forced to remain underground, the kind of underground literature that no one wants to see for fear of having their hypocrisies and stupidities showed up. But it’s the only kind of literature that can save both sides.

This is the second of two parts. See the first part, "Where Palestinian and Israeli Bigotry Meet."

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