I'm sure you remember that on 14 June 2001 you co-authored with your fellow Senator from the great state of New York, Charles Schumer, a letter to President Bush, praising him for his Administration’s attempts to arrange a ceasefire between Israelis and Palestinians but urging him to make clear that there could be no lasting peace until President Arafat put an end to the propagation of "hateful, anti-Israeli rhetoric" in PA official statements and school textbooks. You gave a very specific example of the kind of hate speech to which Palestinian school children are subjected in their required reading, noting that Our Country Palestine, one of the textbooks introduced in 2000 as part of the new PA 6th grade curriculum contained the declaration, "There is no alternative to destroying Israel". You wondered rhetorically: "When Palestinian children are brought up to hate Israel, how can we ever expect a commitment to a lasting peace?"
From the example you chose, it is apparent that you got your information on the inflammatory nature of PA textbooks from an influential 2000 report - The New Palestinian Authority School Textbooks for Grades One and Six - by the "Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace" (CMIP). CMIP claimed that the PA’s recently-introduced new school books for 1st and 6th grades "do not teach the notions of peace and coexistence with Israel" but "plant the seeds of hate" in upcoming Palestinian generations through their "delegitimization of Israel’s existence", implicit "seeking of Israel’s destruction", "defamation of Israel", and "encouraging militarism and violence". One of CMIP’s most vivid examples of hate speech in Palestinian textbooks is the quote ("There is no alternative to destroying Israel") that you cited in your letter to the President, and which has since been widely used as proof of incitement in Palestinian schoolbooks by U.S. policy makers, right-wing commentators, and some of your fellow legislators (such as Congressman Steve Israel – coincidentally, also of the great state of New York - who reproduced the same allegation as fact in a letter to the New York Times, on 10 June 2001). Thanks in part to your collective efforts, the meme that Palestinian schoolbooks are a hotbed of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic incitement is as widely known as other mischievous falsehoods we popularly hear about the Palestinians, like "they don't love their children like we do" and "we offered them everything, but they refused".
Are you aware that other parties with an interest in the content of PA textbooks - such as the European Union, Israeli journalists like Akiva Eldar, and independent researchers (like Nathan Brown, Professor of Political Science and International Relations at George Washington University) were equally horrified by the accusation that Palestinian children were being taught hatred and incitement against Jews but, unlike yourself, decided to verify the truth of CMIP’s claims before repeating them as fact? If you had bothered to do this, you would have found very quickly that there is a problem with the example of anti-Israel hatred that you quoted in your letter to President Bush: namely, that it doesn't exist. That hateful citation - "There is no alternative to destroying Israel" - isn't actually found in any of the PA’s new 6th grade textbooks, as CMIP (and subsequently you) alleged. The aforementioned Professor Brown found that Our Country Palestine was not in fact a PA publication at all, but a geographical guide to Palestine first published in Egypt in the early 1940’s. The book was subsequently used in Palestinian schools, but the supposed threat to destroy Israel doesn’t actually appear in editions of that book used by Palestinian schoolchildren (or, for that matter, in any edition of the book that Prof. Brown managed to track down).
Wouldn’t it have been better, Senator Clinton, if you have verified that this accusation was true before you gave it credence by disseminating it further? I appreciate that you don’t personally have time to do what Professor Brown did, and check out the actual textbooks for yourself, but if someone on your staff could have just done a quick internet search on CMIP, this should have been enough to set off a few alarm bells, warning you that you might not want to bet your reputation on the reliability of anything that CMIP has to say about the Palestinians.
What Is The "Center for the Monitoring of the Impact of Peace"?
Would you have been so quick to jump on CMIP's "PA schoolbooks are inflammatory" bandwagon if you had known, for example, that CMIP is a highly partisan lobby group, that specializes specifically in preparing materials that can be used to attack the Palestinian Authority? And that it is led by an associate of former Likud PM Benjamin Netanyahu and West Bank settler named Itamar Marcus, who, in the words of veteran Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar, makes his living by translating and disseminating defamatory communications against Israel, extracted by his staff from Palestinian publications... Marcus's center routinely feeds the media with excerpts from "Palestinian" textbooks that call for Israel's annihilation. He doesn't bother to point out that the texts quoted in fact come from Egypt and Jordan.
If you didn't know that fact when you lent your good name to Mr. Itamar’s "research", the kindest thing I can say is well, perhaps you should have. For, as Professor Brown’s study points out, CMIP’s extreme partisanship is no secret:
[W]here do persistent reports of incitement in Palestinian textbooks come from? Virtually all can be traced back to the work of a single organization, the "Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace." The Center claims that its purpose is "to encourage the development and fostering of peaceful relations between peoples and nations, by establishing a climate of tolerance and mutual respect founded on the rejection of violence as a means to resolving conflicts". Critics charge that the Center’s real purpose is to launch attacks on the Palestinian National Authority, and it would be difficult to contest such a conclusion... The Center’s own reports suggest such suspicions are well-founded.
Professor Brown notes that in preparing its accusations against Palestinian school books, CMIP maintains plausible deniability by not exactly making stuff up. Instead, it cherry-picks individual passages which, when taken in isolation from the rest of the book and out of historical context, can be twisted to present the PNA in the worst possible light. He concludes:
[T]he purpose is clearly to indict the textbooks and the PNA rather than analyze and understand the content of the books. Were the Center to take a similar approach in other countries, including Israel, it could easily find comparable material.
You might be interested to know that there are some classic examples of this modus operandi in the CMIP report that you apparently read, and from which you extracted the example of incitement that you included in your letter to the President. Perhaps you remember that in support of its claim that PA textbooks teach “delegitimization of Israel’s existence”, CMIP’s report gave the example of a map from which Israel’s borders have been omitted. Obviously, you are meant to surmise from this that the PA has wiped Israel off this particular map, to teach children that Israel should not exist. But what CMIP doesn’t tell you – and hopes you will never find out by going to look at that map in context – is that the map they cite doesn’t have Israel’s borders on it, because it’s a geographical map that doesn’t show any of the region’s administrative borders! In the course of his research into the textbooks, Nathan Brown tracked down the map in question and confirmed that Israel is not delineated on it because no countries are: “[T]he map is topographical, showing only geographic realities and no political boundaries whatever”. [Footnote]
Here’s another example of how your source of information on PA textbook works. Perhaps you remember that as evidence of anti-Semitism in the Palestinian curriculum, CMIP provided the example of a textbook illustration that purports to promote tolerance, but does so by picturing a Muslim shaking hands with a Christian. CMIP complains that the picture is hateful because it excludes Jews: Palestinian children are therefore being taught that Muslims should be tolerant of Christians, but not Jews.
Well OK, you could interpret it that way, or you could do what Professor Ruth Firer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem did, and actually look at the picture in its original context. There is indeed an illustration of Muslim and Christian shaking hands in the offending textbook and, true enough, there isn’t a Jew to be seen. But that’s not so surprising if you take into account the fact that the picture actually illustrates a chapter about intra-communal relations between the two dominant traditions within Palestinian society. It is intended to convey to Palestinian children that being Palestinian is not a sectarian issue, but is an identity that belongs to Muslims and Christians alike, and that there should therefore be tolerance between the two. Hence the illustration of a Muslim child shaking hands with a Christian. There’s no Jew in the picture for the same reason that there is no Hindu or Buddhist in the picture: the chapter is about relations between Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims and nothing to do with relations with Israel, or Jews in general, or anyone else.
Professor Firer therefore rejects the accusation of anti-Jewish hatred that CMIP tries to attach to the illustration, concluding:
There is nothing unusual about this chapter; most of the world's school textbooks take a similar approach. It shows that the CMIP has no teaching experience and that its report was motivated by purely political considerations, designed to show that there can be no peace with the Palestinians.
-- Who Teaches What History? Le Monde Diplomatique, 11 July 2001.
Living as we do in the U.S. – where every story and news item about Palestine has to be reported with a “balancing” Israeli perspective – it can be easy to forget that some aspects of Palestinian life simply don’t have a relevant Israeli perspective. I know it's hard to believe, Senator Clinton, but not every single issue in Palestinian society is about Jews or Israel. Sometimes – as in the case of the textbook illustration that Prof. Firer investigated - Palestinians talk about themselves not in relation to anyone else, but just about themselves. And when they talk about themselves in ways that promote tolerance and discourage sectarianism among their children, they deserve better than to be branded anti-Semites by right-wing pressure groups and knee-jerk U.S. senators, don’t they?
Perhaps if I were more diplomatic, I might have worded that more generously, as Debra DeLee (President of Americans for Peace Now) managed to do when she summarized the danger of relying on Israeli pressure groups like CMIP for objective information on partisan issues:
No one is questioning the need to address legitimate cases of incitement to violence and anti-semitism when they occur. There definitely have been instances of ugly incitement directed against Israel and Jews that have appeared in the Arab media and elsewhere that deserve strong condemnation. But the serious need to address such cases is only undermined by misrepresentation of the facts. People should think about the motivations and accuracy of those who try to use this issue as a bludgeon against the peace process.
-- Press release, Americans for Peace Now; 3 Jan 2002
Where Do The Offensive "Palestinian" Books Come From?
I’m sorry that this letter is getting a little wordy, but bear with me as I revisit one point that the Akiva Eldar article cited above touches upon, namely that the "anti-semitic" texts that CMIP and yourself use to attack the new PA curriculum for grades one and six don't actually come from the PA curriculum at all, but appear in texts from Egypt and Jordan. To make sense of that fact, we need a little historical background.
You are of course aware, Senator Clinton, that Palestinians have been responsible for the Palestinian education system only since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Before that, Palestinian schools, and the subject-matter taught therein were the direct responsibility of the Israeli occupation authorities. And of course before the Israeli Occupation began, Palestinian schools were run by the Egyptian and Jordanian authorities who had occupied since 1948 large parts of those territories that were allocated to Arab Palestine at partition, which we now commonly call the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. So, until very recently, Palestinian education was in the hands of three foreign countries who, frankly, had no use whatsoever for an educated, articulate Palestinian populace and invested next to nothing in their education.
Consequently, the school system that was dumped in the lap of the PA in 1994 was a disgrace. As then-Deputy Minister for Education Na'im Abul Hummous explains:
"The educational system that we inherited was in a sorry state…. overcrowded classes, lack of teachers and antiquated textbooks dating from pre-1967, teaching Gaza children, for instance, about the greatness of the Egyptian kingdom and its 20m inhabitants [Egypt became a republic in 1953 and now has a population of 65m]."
To rectify this situation, the PA established in 1994 a Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) – staffed by education professionals from the Palestinian public and private sectors, and supported by staff from UNESCO and from moderate Arab states like Morocco - in order to completely overhaul the national educational system. The CDC produced a 700-page outline for a new Palestinian curriculum which was put before the Palestinian legislative assembly and passed unanimously. In 1998 work began on the first textbooks based on the new curriculum, funded by a donation from Italy, administered by the World Bank. Because of the size (and cost) of the undertaking, the new textbooks were produced and distributed incrementally, at a rate of two grades per year. In the meantime, the Jordanian and Egyptian books that the PA had inherited from the pre-Oslo education system were still used for those grades whose new textbooks were not complete.
The first of these new, genuinely Palestinian textbooks - for grades one and six - were introduced to schools in the fall of September 2000. (It is interesting to note that this coincides exactly with the collapse of the peace process and the outbreak of the second intifada. In other words, the new school books and CMIP's immediate attack on them came out at a highly-charged period in Palestinian-Israeli relations, when established critics of the PA might well be looking for any soft target they could attack in order to discredit the Authority). These were the textbooks that CMIP claimed to be reviewing in The New Palestinian Authority School Textbooks for Grades One and Six, the report that you apparently used as the basis for your accusation of incitement in your letter to the President. Unfortunately, none of the examples of anti-Semitism cited in that CMIP report – including the "destruction of Israel" quote that you used in your letter - actually appear in the new Palestinian Authority school textbooks for grades one and six. They are extracted instead from the textbooks left over from the Jordanian and Egyptian adminstration of Palestinian schools, which the PA was actually in the process of phasing out. In hindsight, perhaps you would agree that it is unfortunate that you associated yourself with the dishonest pretence that these books were part of the new Palestinian curriculum when in fact, as Ha’aretz pointed out on 2 Jan 2001, Palestinians had no say at all in their content:
[W]ho, dear children, is taught in the first grade that the Jews are treacherous people and the Israelis are evil enemies? Please circle the correct answer: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's grandson, Jordanian King Abdullah's nephew, or Yasser Arafat's daughter (when she is not in Paris with her mother?) The answer: These anti-Semitic and racist stereotypes are taken from Jordanian and Egyptian textbooks. For the past 33 years, these books have also been used by the Palestinian schools in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Every prime minister, military governor and Jerusalem mayor knows that to this day the Palestinians have not had any impact on the contents of the textbooks their children learn from in class…
I have gone into some detail about the historical background to PA textbooks, because a review of the historical context gives a couple of very useful insights into the way that organizations like CMIP manipulate the emotive issue of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement for their own politic purposes - a dirty process in which you, a U.S. Senator, have unwittingly inserted yourself by unthinkingly reproducing their research. Frankly, some of the things you said in your letter make you look positively foolish, once the reader is aware that the basis for the assertions you repeat is propaganda rather than objective research. For example, you wrote to President Bush:
There cannot be a meaningful, lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians if the Palestinian Authority does not act to end the preaching of hate and replace it with the language of peace...
Doesn’t that look a bit silly now you know that those hateful Palestinian textbooks that are supposedly preventing the emergence of Middle East peace aren’t Palestinian at all, but come from Egypt and Jordan, the two countries that actually have actually managed to make a meaningful, lasting peace with Israel? You can surely see that it is absurd to claim that Jordanian textbooks make peace impossible between Israel and Palestine when, as Gabriel Baramki (Consultant to the Palestinian Ministry of Education) pointed out in a Jerusalem Post editorial of 7 Sept 2003, they didn’t make peace impossible between Israel and Jordan?
The same Jordanian textbooks that the Palestinian Authority is using, did not stop Israel from signing a peace agreement with Jordan and, in fact, the peace between the two countries is rather an active one. This should be a good indication that once there is intention on both sides and partners to attain peace, the textbooks cannot stand in the way.
Why Are These Books Still Used In Some PA Schools?
And of course there’s a much bigger issue arising out of the historical background to Palestinian education, that blows a hole in the “Palestinians are inciting hatred in the books they use to teach their children”. And it’s this: Where did the PA get the Egyptian and Jordanian schoolbooks that allegedly instill anti-semitism in their schoolchildren? Well, indirectly of course they got them from Egypt and Jordan, but those two countries haven’t had any responsibility for Palestinian education since Israel took over the Occupied Territories in 1967. The PA actually inherited the Jordanian and Egyptian books that are being used now to attack the Palestinians for incitement from the Israelis, who were responsible for education in Palestinian areas from 1967 to 1993. If there are anti-Semitic books in Palestinian schools left over from the Egyptian and Jordanian period, it is because Israel was content for them to be used to educate Palestinian children during the 26 years that the Israelis ran Palestinian schools. So apparently, these books are anti-Semitic enough for the Israeli Right and certain U.S. Senators to use as a stick to beat the Palestinians in the post-Oslo period, but they weren’t anti-Semitic enough for Israel to stop their use in Palestinian schools in the pre-Oslo period! Are you sure you wanted to lend your good name to a partisan campaign that gets as stupid as this?
And just when you think it can get any more absurd, of course it does. Consider this interesting snippet from Ha’aretz - Reading, Writing - and Propaganda - that considers the use of old Jordanian text books in PA schools:
Prof. Nathan Brown, from George Washington University, a former adviser to the U.S. Agency for International Development, noted an odd phenomenon in his study of the Palestinian curriculum (November 2001). He found that even though the PA's National Education books for grades 1-6 were "devoid of any anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli material," Israel "allowed the offensive Jordanian books to be used in the East Jerusalem schools but barred the innocuous PA-authored books, probably fearful that use of the PA books would be an implicit recognition of sovereignty."
Can you see what that is saying, Senator? Palestinian students in East Jerusalem are still being taught from old Jordanian schoolbooks that incite hatred, even when a new, innocuous and inoffensive Palestinian textbook is available instead, simply because Israel is concerned that the use of a PA textbook implies that Arab East Jerusalem is occupied territory to which the Palestinians have a claim of sovereignty. Are you appalled that Palestinian children continue to be taught hatred and racial incitement just so that Israel can make a political point? Will you be whisking off an outraged letter to the President about Israel's "hateful, anti-Israeli rhetoric"? I'm guessing not.
What Is The Informed Consensus On Palestinian Textbooks?
If you had fact-checked the information CMIP fed you, instead of relying exclusively on such a partisan source, you would have found that the consensus of expert opinion on PA schoolbooks is quite different from what you suggest. Here is a sample of the findings of other researchers into the new Palestinian curriculum:
Nathan Brown, Professor of Political Science and International Relations at George Washington University:
"Virtually every discussion in English on Palestinian education repeats the charge that Palestinian textbooks incite students against Jews and Israel... It may therefore come as a surprise to readers that the books authored under the PNA are largely innocent of these charges. What is more remarkable than any statements they make on the subject is their silence -- the PNA-authored books often stubbornly avoid treating anything controversial regarding Palestinian national identity, forcing them into awkward omissions and gaps....
[T]he Palestinian curriculum is not a war curriculum; while highly nationalistic, it does not incite hatred, violence and anti-Semitism. It cannot be described as a peace curriculum either, but the charges against it are often wildly exaggerated or inaccurate".
-- Democracy, History and the Contest over the Palestinian Curriculum, Nov 2001. (Link is to PDF file).
Ruth Firer, director of peace education projects at the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Sami Adwan, professor of education at Bethlehem University in Bethlehem:
"The texts teach Palestinian students to respect human rights, justice, peace, equality, freedom, and tolerance, in terms of both self and others. They caution students to avoid extremism and stereotypes, and encourage them to treat all people equally. The books also encourage tolerance among religions and ask students to respect the freedom of religion. The students are taught to protect all religious places as well".
"Palestinian students are warned in the texts about the terrible results of wars and conflict, and are encouraged instead to resort to negotiation and peaceful forms of conflict resolution. They are told that wars only leave people with death and destruction. The texts discuss the Oslo Accords as a step toward peace and as a sign of breaking the enmity and the long period of conflict. Students learn about Gandhi and his form of civil disobedience, and are asked to relate to other stories of peaceful forms of conflict resolution. We found no incitement for the use of violence at all".
"The new Palestinian textbooks define the future independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders as described in UN Resolutions…Students are taught to cooperate and develop good relationships with neighboring states".
"The books portray Jews throughout history in a positive manner and avoid negative stereotypes".
Comparing Palestinian and Israeli Textbooks, 28 March, 2002. (Link is to .doc file).
Dr. Wolfram Reiss, Professor of Religious History at the University of Rostock:
"Palestinian textbooks cannot be considered a 'war curriculum'… These textbooks…convey visions of society in which tolerance to other religions, human rights, peace, pluralism, democracy and other values are encouraged and fostered… There is no hatred or incitement against Israel, the Israeli people or Judaism. The textbooks do not contain anti-Semitic language".
"Civics education textbooks do not only avoid hatred and incitement against the West, but foster very much Western values: democracy, human rights, the individual rights, the education for peace and tolerance of all religions, the rights of women and children, the civil society and the protection of nature… From a Western perspective, the civics education textbooks therefore have to be highly praised indeed".
-- Address to the Oslo Global Meeting of Experts, Teaching for Tolerance, Respect and Recognition in Relation with Religion or Belief, Sept 2004 (via Arab Media Watch)
The Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, in two comprehensive reviews of PA textbooks commissioned by the U.S. Congress in 2003 and 2004:
"The overall orientation of the curriculum is peaceful despite the harsh and violent realities on the ground. It does not openly incite against Israel and the Jews. It does not openly incite hatred and violence. Religious and political tolerance is emphasized in a good number of textbooks and in multiple contexts".
-- IPCRI, Reviewing Palestinian Textbooks and Tolerance Education Program: Report 1, March 2003.
"There is … no indication of hatred of the Western Judeo-Christian tradition or the values associated with it… The textbooks promote an environment of open-mindedness, rational thinking, modernization, critical reflection and dialogue".
-- IPCRI, Reviewing Palestinian Textbooks and Tolerance Education Program: Report 2, June 2004. (Link is to .pdf file)
Irwin Wall, Professor of History at the University of California-Riverside, visiting Scholar at the Center for European Studies, New York University:
"The Palestinian textbooks… endorse democracy, pluralism, and human rights, along with tolerance and respect for other religions. Women are presented in both traditional and modern roles and equality of gender is explicitly stated to be a goal of society. Diversity of opinion is endorsed along with the existence of multiple political parties characteristic of democracy".
-- From Palestinian Textbooks, factsheet by Brit Tzedek v’Shalom (the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace), via Arab Media Watch.
Roger Avenstrup, international education consultant:
"No country's textbooks have been subjected to as much close scrutiny as the Palestinian. The findings? It turns out that the original allegations were based on Egyptian or Jordanian textbooks and incorrect translations. Time and again, independently of each other, researchers find no incitement to hatred in the Palestinian textbooks...
If, as part of its policy of reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq, the White House is looking for a modern education founded in positive Islamic values and which promotes peace and conflict resolution, it should look at Palestinian textbooks for a model.
The first editions are not perfect: There are gaps in the presentation of both Palestinian and Israeli history, but they are a good starting point nonetheless."
-- Palestinian textbooks: Where is all that 'incitement'?; International Herald Tribune, 18 Dec 2004.
The European Union, (in a statement issued 15 May 2002):
"Quotations attributed by earlier CMIP reports to the Palestinian textbooks," says a Middle East Working Group of the EU, "are not found in the new PA schoolbooks funded by some EU member states; some were traced to the old Egyptian and Jordanian textbooks that they are replacing, ... and others [were] not traced at all." Moreover, the EU study finds that many of the quotations "have been found to be often badly translated or quoted out of context, thus suggesting an anti-Jewish bias or incitement that the books do not contain... New textbooks, though not perfect, are free of inciteful content ... constituting a valuable contribution to the education of young Palestinians."
-- Cited by Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar in Reading, Writing - And Propaganda; Ha’aretz, 28 Oct 2005.
The Israeli Govt Co-ordinator for the Occupied Territories:
"Even though the peace process is played down and negative elements are given expression in the Palestinian books, we cannot ignore the refinement of the terminology, the abandonment of certain subjects (Zionism, for example) and no more than an implicit attack on other subjects (such as the Jewish people). An effort by the Palestinians to moderate the feelings of hostility toward Israel is discernible...[T]he Palestinian curriculum, as distinct from its Jordanian forerunner, contains no examples of blaming the Jews for an attempt to harm Muslim Jerusalem and its holy sites. The message comes across in a positive manner and thus avoids a tendency to incite and vilify".
Matti Steinberg, Head of the Israeli General Security Service’s Division for Palestinian Affairs:
"Matti Steinberg, while serving as the head of Israel’s Shin Bet security services on Palestinian affairs, thoroughly studied the new PA textbooks. In October 2002 he published his study, A Different View of Palestinian Textbooks, mainly in response to maligning reports by Israel's office of the government coordinator. As reported in Ha'aretz, Steinberg claimed that the latter report's authors were 'amiss not only with regard to the facts, but also entertain exaggerated expectations'. Steinberg stated, 'relative improvements were noted in the Palestinian textbooks. True, they do not contain a distinctive message of total peace and conciliation, but neither do they send a message of abysmal hatred and militancy, but restraint, which should be seen as necessary preparatory stage ahead of peace'."
The Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education:
"Oddly, just as the Palestinians moved to construct an entire curriculum free from anti-Semitism, international criticism (generally based on cursory readings of the CMIP report) gained increasing steam. Indeed, past criticisms of the Palestinian textbooks have been so widely and uncritically accepted that I generally receive either confused or highly skeptical stares when I present a less charged version of the books…
The Palestinians will continue introducing their new curriculum, two grades at a time, over the next few years. If the past is any indication, we should expect a highly nationalistic curriculum that criticizes Israel’s policies but not its existence. We should also expect that matters unresolved on the ground will remain unresolved in the texts. And as the conflict has turned increasingly violent since September 2000, the books will probably include more on perceived grievances against Israeli policies. To be sure, the Palestinian curriculum is not a peace curriculum. But neither is it a war curriculum or one based on anti-Semitism."
-- Teaching about Terrorism, CAJE.
And I must admit, this final testimony to the lack of incitement in PA schoolbooks is my personal favorite. Jennifer Miller, author of Inheriting the Holy Land, visited the offices of the Center for the Monitoring of the Impact of Peace in Jerusalem, and asked them whether they really thought PA schoolbooks were guilty of incitement:
"[N]owhere in the new Palestine Authority books do any words call for Israel's destruction. This kind of incitement simply does not exist. While there are illustrations of bulldozers demolishing houses and armed soldiers, it's the real-life versions of these pictures that truly influence students…
I asked Yohanan Manor, CMIP co-director, point-blank if he thought these images or anything else in the Palestinian books incited students to violence. He said no. Both he and Groiss [author of CMIP textbook reports] admitted that the new PA books are a huge improvement over those in other Arab countries."
-- Jennifer Miller, Inheriting the Holy Land: An American's Search for Hope in the Middle East, Ballantine Books, 2005, p 57.
So, how about that? The people who supply you with the information you use to slander the PA curriculum for its hateful "incitement" don't really believe that Palestinian school books contain incitement at all…
Why Does CMIP Really Object To Palestinian Textbooks?
So, Senator Clinton: if CMIP doesn’t really believe its own claims about incitement, and the anti-semitic texts don’t even come from the PA, but from Egypt and Jordan, what really lies behind the CMIP campaign against Palestinian textbooks that you have championed so vocally? Well, if you look at some of the material that really does appear in the new textbooks, and which is claimed to “delegitimize” Israel, it is readily apparent what some Israelis really object to about the Palestinian curriculum. One of the texts they really don’t like is the story of a Palestinian child in a refugee camp, who goes to Israel and visits her parents’ former home in Jaffa. They object to the text that teaches Palestinian children that Israel made refugees of the Palestinians in 1948, demolished the homes they fled, and renamed their towns. They object that the PA books speak approvingly of the heroes of the Palestinian nationalist struggle against British rule in the 1930’s. They object that the PA refers to the West Bank, rather than “Judea and Samaria”, and refer to the Israeli military presence there as ‘occupation’, and the Israeli civilian presence there as ‘settlements’. And they object especially that the PA books show maps of the region before the creation of Israel:
Their biggest complaint is perhaps that there are maps which show "Palestine" as it once was, covering land that is now in Israel. Hence, even an historically accurate map showing where major Palestinian population centres actually were prior to their destruction in 1948, constitutes for Israel "an adamant claim to rule" the whole country. Referring to Israel's systematic effort to erase Palestinian history in Israel prior to 1948 (something very well documented by Israeli geographer Meron Benvenisti in his book 'Sacred Landscape', 2000) is taken as a "desire for revenge". Anything short of total amnesia about Palestinian history and complete devotion to Zionism's official mythology constitutes "hatred".
- A textbook case of Israeli propaganda, by Ali Abunimah; EI, 8 Jul 2002.
What CMIP and its supporters really find offensive is not that the PA curriculum is genuinely "anti-semitic", but that it teaches Palestinian history from a Palestinian, rather than a Zionist, perspective. As Akiva Eldar noted, if you are an Israeli brought up on the story of heroic pioneers creating a Jewish state in an empty wilderness, then "the Palestinian books contain subject matter that does not make for pleasant reading…, material that reflects the well-known Palestinian narrative".
And it is not the case that the material offends because it has been distorted or exaggerrated. The Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, which examined the new PA curriculum under a mandate from the U.S. Congress in 2003 and 2004, reviewed the material that allegedly "delegitimized" Israel and found that: "All references that could be perceived as negative (e.g., 'Zionist ambitions', 'Israeli occupation', 'Zionist settlements', and the like) are all made either within their historical contexts or reflect historically accurate and factual information from the point of view of the Palestinian collective narrative". (The Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, Report II: Reviewing Palestinian Textbooks and Tolerance Education Program Grades 4 & 9; June 2004, p 7).
The only way that the PA curriculum could avoid giving offence to CMIP would be by treating Palestinian history the way it is treated in the Israeli curriculum, i.e. by ignoring it. And as Amin Abu Bakr, author of the PA’s new 8th grade history textbooks explained, that was something the creators of the new Palestinian curriculum were not willing to do:
In defence of his books, Abu Bakr has argued that there are certain facts that no educator can ignore.
"I can't possibly erase more than 1350 years of Arab-Islamic history in Palestine and pretend that the history of the region began with Israel’s creation in 1948. If I did that, I would be betraying my conscience, disregarding truth and cheating my students…
… "Do we have to adopt the Zionist narrative in order to prove ourselves worthy of peace?"
-- Palestine textbooks under fire; al-Jazeera, 13 Nov 2003.
Instead, PA textbooks teach Palestinian students that they are not simply a nation of refugees and terrorists, whose story began only with the creation of Israel in 1948, and should be told only "as an afterthought to the traditional narrative" (that’s Ruth Firer’s description of how Israeli textbooks treat Palestinian history). They teach instead that Palestinians had a vibrant and established Muslim, Christian and Arab identity in Palestine long before Zionism ever existed, and that this was decimated under Western colonial rule by Zionist immigration and the imposed partition of Palestine; by the expulsions of 1948; and by the occupation and colonization of the West Bank and Gaza that has gone on since 1967. And they frame that history not in terms of Israel’s claims in the region, but in the language of international law and the parameters of UN Resolutions. Palestinian textbooks might have been accused of anti-semitism, "but their real error was to refute Israel's version of Palestinian history", as Le Monde put it.
That was why the new PA textbooks had to be discredited, even if CMIP had to rely on claims of "incitement" that even its own officials didn’t really believe, and examples of anti-Semitism that didn't come from Palestinian books in the first place. And you - who read the accusations without reading the textbooks they supposedly referred to, without informing yourself of the expert consensus that disputes CMIP’s accusations, and without questioning whether an Israeli organization whose raison d’etre is anti-PA propaganda should really be considered a reliable source of information - enthusiastically took up the banner of "Palestinians teach their kids to hate" and have been waving it ever since.
So Why Mention This Now?
It might seem a little strange that I’m raising this issue now, so many years after your letter to President Bush, but really it is more relevant now than ever. I don't believe that your characterization of the Palestinians as people who inculcate hate in their own children through the books they use in school was ever an innocent mistake, from which you were willing to learn and move on. I think it was a calculated political maneuvre, from which you have always intended to reap electoral reward. Over the last six years, even as academic research into PA textbooks has repeatedly showed the fallaciousness of your charges, you have not only failed to apologize for your initial false accusations, but have continued to proclaim them to audiences that you know will be receptive, and from which you expect in return a pay-off in the form of votes and campaign contributions. You sermonized again about the “anti-semitism” in Palestinian textbooks when you were a speaker at the AIPAC Policy Conference in May 2005. And just last February, you publicly recognized the ongoing efforts of your old friend Itamar Marcus in exposing the “hatefulness” of Palestinian incitement against Israel. Remember him? The same Itamar Marcus whose distorted “research” at CMIP got you started on your crusade against Palestinian textbooks in the first place...
And now you are looking to reap the political benefit of eight years of false and hurtful allegations against the PA. (And isn’t it ironic that in order to demonize PA textbooks that turn out not to incite against Jews and Israelis, you are perfectly willing to tell incendiary lies that really do incite hatred against Palestinians and Arabs. That certainly is a revealing insight into how little you really care about the issue of racist incitement). Today you are campaigning for the Democratic nomination for the Presidential election, and just look how you are being marketed:
The leading voice against Anti-Semitism in Palestinian schools:
In 1999, Hillary first spoke out against the textbooks used in Palestinian schools, which reject Israel's right to exist and describe Israel's founding as "a catastrophe that is unprecedented in history." Hillary has led the charge against this propaganda which she says indoctrinates instead of educates Palestinian children and actively prevents these young people from seeing Israel as a potential neighbor. As a Senator, Hillary continued to emphasize this issue, most recently joining with Palestinian Media Watch in February 2007 to release a new report that exposed the continuing anti-Israel and anti-Semitic biases in Palestinian schoolbooks….
-- JustHillary.com; The Hillary Clinton New Site.
Now you are running for President, and it’s time to collect on your investment. This is what the last eight years of attacking PA schoolbooks has really been about. You don’t care whether independent research has consistently shown your accusations to be false, because this was never about fighting “incitement” or “anti-semitism” in the first place. I don’t think you know or care what is really in PA textbooks. In contrast, I think you know very well that in the race for a New York Senate seat or the Democratic nomination for the Presidency there are big votes and big donations to be won by mouthing pro-Israel rhetoric, and no downside at all to demonizing Arabs and Muslims. I mean, how big is the Palestinian-American vote anyway, and what do their campaign contributions amount to?
Fouad Moughrabi has written of CMIP’s role in fomenting the Palestinian textbooks debate: "It is indeed frightening that a small, extreme-right-wing organization, producing shoddy work, can help shape the agenda in a rather complex conflict and eventually have such a far-reaching impact on governments throughout the world". That’s certainly true, but what is more frightening is the willingness of certain politicians to lap up the shoddy offerings of a small, extreme-right-wing organization, publicize them repeatedly on the national stage, and champion them long after they have been discredited … simply because they see political advantage in it.
Like many people, I’ve been disgusted by the sexist attacks that you have faced in the primaries so far, and will no doubt continue to face the closer you get to the Presidency. It must be very difficult to be the first serious female contender for President, and to see your candidacy belittled by big-mouthed pundits who belittle and demean you just because of who you are. We could all see how much that hurt you when you teared up in New Hampshire. But have you never stopped to consider that you have made a political asset out of demonizing and defaming Palestinian Arabs, even though racist rhetoric hurts its target just as much as sexism hurts you? You have made a decision that it is all right to do to others what is obviously painful when it is done to you, just so long as there is some political advantage to be had.
I look at how much you are hurt by the sexist rhetoric you face, and I want to feel sorry for you. But then I look at how easily and how repeatedly you demonize Palestinians just because you have calculated that it will win you some votes, and all I can think of is what George Orwell wrote in his diary on 27 April 1942: "We are all drowning in filth...I feel that intellectual honesty and balanced judgement have simply disappeared from the face of the earth."
Lawrence of Cyberia
Ironically, one of the criticisms that independent researchers have voiced about PA schoolbooks is not that they are confrontational with regard to Israel, but just the opposite: in their determination to avoid controversy on issues that remain unresolved in the absence of a final peace agreement, the PA tends to leave gaps and omissions in their teaching materials, creating confusion for their pupils so as to avoid creating friction with Israel. One of the examples they cite is the way the PA presents maps in its school books.
When the new PA curriculum talks about the political borders of the country, it refers to "the two parts of the homeland", in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But Palestine is not yet an independent country; and although it recognizes Israel in its 1967 borders, Israel has never reciprocated, so drawing Palestine’s "borders" on a map that is both politically accurate yet also simple enough for an elementary schoolchild to understand, is not as simple as it sounds. The Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE) considered some of the issues that faced the PA in drawing up maps suitable for the new curriculum:In 2000, the first and sixth grade textbooks for the new, comprehensive Palestinian curriculum were completed. When I read the books, I found the reticence I had expected. For instance, the books handled the awkward issue of maps in a series of awkward ways. How should Palestine be represented? Was it the patchwork created by the explicitly interim Oslo Accords? Was Palestine the West Bank and Gaza alone—which Palestinian leaders constantly insisted was their vision for their state, but which remained unrecognized? What of areas in pre-1967 Israel? Were those who fled those areas in 1948 not Palestinian? But if they were Palestinian did their home towns become non-Palestinian at some point? And what of the Arab population that remained? Should the textbooks do what many Palestinians do in order to make these distinctions in conversation — separate "geographic" or "historic" Palestine (the entire territory) from “political” Palestine — the area of the prospective Palestinian state? These issues were difficult for adults to resolve, but the textbook authors were supposed to draw maps for children. The 2000 books tried various approaches. They sometimes resorted to a topographical map to avoid drawing any borders at all. And they also regularly drew a border between Israeli and the West Bank and Gaza—without labeling either side of the border or even explaining what the border was.
-- "Teaching about Terrorism", CAJE.
So when PA textbooks use topographical maps where political maps would be more appropriate, they are not singling out Israel for exclusion; they are simply using non-specific maps from which all political boundaries are absent, in order to avoid controversy over issues - like final borders - that remain in flux until a peace agreement is signed.
The Myth Of Incitement In Palestinian Text Books; MIFTAH, 30 Jan 2004.
Unwarranted Controversy: American Politicians, Israeli Critics, and Palestinian Textbooks, by Reema Hijazi; CNI, 16 Dec 2005.
Israeli Textbooks and Children’s Literature Promote Racism and Hatred Toward Palestinians and Arabs by Maureen Meehan; WRMEA, Sept 1999.
What Did You Study In School Today, Palestinian Child? by Akiva Eldar; Ha'aretz, 2 Jan 2001.
Battle of the Books in Palestine, by Fouad Moughrabi; The Nation, 1 Oct 2001.
Democracy, History, and the Contest over the Palestinian Curriculum by Prof. Nathan Brown, George Washington University; Nov 2001.
Palestine textbooks under fire by Khalid Amayreh; al-Jazeera, 10 May 2004.
Learning all the wrong facts by Akiva Eldar; Ha'aretz, 9 Dec 2004.
Basic Ignorance by Akiva Eldar; Ha'aretz, 9 Dec 2004.
Reading, writing - and propaganda by Akiva Eldar; Ha'aretz, 28 Oct 2005.
Israel's Arab Schoolchildren Get First Booklet Explaining Palestinian History; Ilam Media Center, 19 Dec 2005.
PM Olmert backs Tamir proposal to add Green Line to textbooks, by Akiva Eldar; Ha'aretz, 5 Dec 2006.