Akiva Eldar, the Ha’aretz journalist who recently transformed Palestinian propagandist Hanan Ashrawi into the “Enemy of Incitement,” weighs in again on Palestinian incitement. In a BBC interview March 15, he repeats the old canard that the offending Palestinian texts are outdated Jordanian and Egyptian books, and concludes that anyway, “the focus on incitement is very wrong and it’s in a way irrelevant as long as we are fighting.”
BBC’s Claire Bolderson asks Eldar to comment on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s statement to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan the day before that incitement in Palestinian textbooks is an obstacle to peace. She queries: “So what incitement is Mr. Sharon referring to?”
Eldar recites the tired misinformation about the Jordanian and Egyptian books, and adds a new unintelligible spin:
I guess that he’s referring to old textbooks that were printed by the previous Jordanian and Egyptian ministries of education. For many years the Palestinians published their own textbooks, then the Palestinians unfortunately had no way but to present those textbooks to their students and there were several Israeli NGOs and the Israeli politicians that were taking advantage of those textbooks in order to smear the Palestinians and to accuse them for incitements.
Eldar’s exact meaning is extremely unclear here. However, he seems to be repeating a version of the standard propaganda, articulated here by Hanan Ashrawi’s Web site MIFTAH:
Studies of Palestinian textbooks have revealed that any strong anti-Israel and anti-Semitic material in the curriculum comes from books that the Palestinians did not author and are replacing. (Ironically, these same books that were actually authored by Jordanians and Egyptians were distributed by Israel in east Jerusalem after only removing the cover.) Furthermore, books that were written by the Palestinian Authority in 1994, 2000, and 2001 are free of such material.
This claim is absolutely false. A November 2004 report commissioned by the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem and carried out by the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) correctly notes:
With the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, the Palestinians took charge of the educational system, inheriting outdated text books, (Jordanian in the West Bank and Egyptian in Gaza) that had been modified by the Israeli Military Government’s education department. The modifications to the text books by Israel concerned the removal of anti-Israel or anti-Jewish content that may have existed in the texts.
The new Palestinian Ministry of Education immediately reverted back to using non-Israeli-modified text books and at the same time launched a process of preparing a new Palestinian curriculum. (Emphasis added).
In other words, contrary to Eldar’s feeble protestations, the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement.
Not surprisingly, though, Bolderson accepts Eldar’s fallacy, and asks:
The Palestinians are moving away from these books [which contain incitement], which, as you say, came from Jordan and Egypt. But in the new books, is it any different?
Eldar answers in the affirmative, citing an unnamed study:
Yeah, there are–actually studies were conducted by a joint venture–and actually they complimented the Palestinians for the improvement in their textbooks comparing them to the Jordanian and Egyptian textbooks. Of course, there is more room for improvement but compared to the old textbooks, they were really commended for the progress that they have done.
However, IPCRI’s November findings do not paint a picture nearly as rosy as Eldar’s. In short, the report finds:
Palestinian text books have confused messages and it is not difficult to come to the understanding that the main political theme imparted to the students is that Israel should not exist and that is essentially the Palestinian goal.
In addition, the “Background to the Document” notes:
In Palestinian text books dealing with Islamic studies – concepts such as Jihad and martyrdom are presented in contexts that suggest being supportive and encouraging young people to admire both the concept of suicide bombing aimed at killing Israelis, as well as to consider the possibility of becoming suicide bombers themselves. . . .
It should be mentioned, that in our view, some of the [international and Israeli] reports and some of the motivation for writing the reports were part of the anti-Palestinian propaganda campaign waged by various right-wing Israeli and pro-Israeli groups, nevertheless, the substantive critiques with quotations and hard evidence cannot and should not be ignored by the Palestinian Authority as a mere anti-Palestinian propaganda campaign . (Emphasis added.)
The document goes into greater detail about these and additional problems in the sections called “Palestine,” “Dealing with the ‘Other,'” “Dealing with Islamic Texts and Concepts,” and “Dealing with Jerusalem.”
Change Needed on ‘Both Sides’
Pitching Eldar another softball question, Bolderson asks: “So, is the Israeli Prime Minister right then to point out that this is a problem or is that a bit unfair perhaps?”
Well, I think that he might put himself in a peculiar position because if the Palestinians were able to put up a good PR company, they could come out with some examples from Israeli textbooks that are very far from being liberal and fair and academic.
The Ha’aretz reporter then goes on to qualify his words, acknowledging that the Israeli books don’t contain incitement, but that they fail to humanize the Palestinians, and “they don’t offer any hint of the narrative of the other side.”
Bolderson latches on to the artificial “balance” that Eldar has introduced, and concludes:
It sounds as if change is really needed on both s ides if they are ever going to understand each other better.
As for Eldar, his final observation is that “The focus on incitement is very wrong and it’s in a way irrelevant as long as we are fighting.” A strange point-of-view for a journalist who has written extensively on incitement on the part of the Palestinians (exonerating them) and Israelis (impugning them).