IHT Op-Ed Claims ‘No Incitement’ in Palestinian Textbooks

On Saturday, Dec. 18, Roger Avenstrup, an international education consultant, made a startling claim in the International Herald Tribune: Palestinian textbooks do not, in fact, contain incitement against Israel (op-ed, Palestinian Textbooks: Where is all that ‘Incitement’?) His astounding conclusion is partly based on distortions and selective quotations from studies of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), as well as on misrepresentations of the outcomes from a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing and a European Parliament political committee.

He wrote:

Detailed analysis of the textbooks have been done by research institutes. The U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem commissioned studies from the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) . . . .At the political level, a U.S. Senate subcommittee on Palestinian education and the Political Committee of the European Parliament have both held hearings on the matter. No country’s textbooks have been subjected to as much close scrutiny as the Palestinians.

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. . . .

“The IPCRI 2003 report states that the overall orientation of the curriculum is peaceful and does not incite to hatred or violence against Israel and the Jews, and the 2004 report states that there are no signs of promoting hatred towards Israel, Judaism or Zionism, nor toward the Western Judeo-Christian tradition or values.

IPCRI Findings Distorted
In the last two years, IPCRI has undertaken three reports on Palestinian textbooks: in March 2003, in June 2004, and in November 2004. Avenstrup entirely ignores last month’s report, which contradict his thesis, and selectively quotes from and distorts findings from the first two.

November 2004 report
This report completely undermines Avenstrup’s argument, and he ignores it altogether. 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.”

In addition, this report dispels the common propaganda repeated by Avenstrup that “the original allegations [of incitement] were based on Egyptian or Jordanian textbooks.” As the IPCRI report 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 Avenstrup’s claim, the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement.

June 2004 report
About this report, Avenstrup writes that it “states there are no signs of promoting hatred towards Israel, Judaism or Zionism, nor toward the Western Judeo-Christian tradition or values.” Significantly, Avenstrup paraphrases this finding, as opposed to quoting it directly. The direct quote is: “no signs were detected of outright promotion of hatred towards Israel, Judaism, or Zionism.” (Emphasis added.) But, if “outright promotion of hatred” does not exist in the texts, promotion of hatred exists nonetheless. As the report notes:

Jihad is indirectly glorified. References to martyrs, martyrdom, and the need to defend the “homeland” and regain it appear both in historical and present-day context, especially the language arts, social studies, national education, and religious education textbooks.

* The concept of Jihad in both its militant and peaceful dimensions is highlighted in a good number of textbooks with more focus given to the former (historically and in present-day contexts). The textbooks include a large number of direct and indirect references to martyrdom interwoven, in seve ral instances, with the concepts of defending and liberating the homeland. In the context of today’s political reality serious questions are raised regarding the lessons pupils are being directed towards, given that martyrdom is directly linked to the Palestinian struggle against Israel.

* . . . although the textbooks are replete with references to the principles and values of reconciliation, compassion, religious and political tolerance, they fail to extend these principles and concepts to include Jews and the state of Israel.

March 2003 report
Avenstrup claims that this report “states that the overall orientation of the curriculum is peaceful and does not incite to hatred or violence against Israel and the Jews.” Again, he employs selective quotations. The entire relevant passage as it appears in the report is as follows:

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. Some textbooks devote whole units or lessons to talking about these values and encourage students to adopt them. Inter-religious tolerance towards the followers of other monotheistic religions, traditionally referred to as “Ahl al-Kitab” (the People of the Book), is emphasized in the framework of the teachings of Islam. In principle, these calls apply to both Christians and Jews. However, the textbooks fail to extend these principles and concepts to include Jews and to the State of Israel. In addition, and although the curriculum provides the opportunity for students to recognize and respect beliefs and practices of “others,” the concept of the “other,” in most cases, is limited to Christians. (Emphasis added.)

Notice that in Avenstrup’s rendition of the report, the absence of  “open” incitement simply becomes incitement, which is a significant difference.

Indeed, the IPCRI report goes on to detail what is apparently the implicit incitement contained in Palestinian textbooks, incitement that Avenstrup ignores. Thus, the following are just a few examples of the less “open” incitement:

* In several instances, jihad and martyrdom are presented as both a “religious” and a “national” duty. There are also [a] few examples (linguistic and other) that praise the use of violence against others. These examples are present in the framework of talking about the duty to defend and liberate the homeland.

* The term “entire national soil,” as it appears in the context of “the establishment of the independent Palestinian State on our entire national soil,” is sometimes interpreted as including Israel proper.

* No reference is made regarding tolerance towards Judaism in the present-day conflict.

* There is, however, one instance in which we find a call for Arabs and Palestinians, in particular, to work for the goal of “rescuing” Palestine. Since the excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Palestine, first published in 1964 (Mustafa Al-Dabagah/Our Country Palestine), the call is understood as that of liberating historical Palestine (Our Beautiful Language/Language Arts, Grade 6).

U.S. Senate Subcommittee/European Union
Avenstrup misleadingly implies that a U.S. Senate subcommittee as well as a political committee of the European Parliament exonerated Palestinian textbooks, when in fact the opposite is true. He notes that both government bodies held hearings on the matter, and then goes on almost immediately to state: “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.”

In fact, far from exonerating Palestinian textbooks, in November 2001, members of the European Parliament attached a rider to the EU budget stating that EU funds must not be used for Palestinian textbooks which promote racism and anti-Semitism. Amin Laschet, a member of the EU legislative body, had led the effort for the passage of the amendment. According to an August 2001 Jewish Telegraphic Agency article, “Laschet said Arafat confirmed that the English translations of the texts are accurate.” Laschet had cited examples of the incitement. The JTA paraphrased:

A fourth-grade religion textbook that calls Jews “the enemy of the prophets and true believers.”  A 12th-grade history book that says Jews are hated around the world because of their greed and money-changing. . . .

A teacher’s guide for this textbook urges discussion of the following point: “The persecution of Jews was desirable and advantageous to the Zionist movement, and remains so today.”

As for the U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing, held on Oct. 31, 2003, it too did not exonerate Palestinian textbooks. Contrary to Avenstrup’s suggestion, the hearing did not come out with any official findings, but heard witnesses from those documenting Palestinian incitement as well as from apologists for Palestinian incitement. According to Sen. Hillary Clinton, the purpose of the hearing was to raise awareness of the problem among the public and the Senate. Clinton observed to reporters in a conference call after the hearing,   “How can you think about building a better future, no matter what your political views, if you indoctrinate your children to a culture of death?”

The Textbooks Speak for Themselves
Of course, one needn’t look further than the textbooks themselves to determine whether or not they contain incitement. For translations of passages from Palestinian textbooks, see Palestinian Media Watch
. Scroll down to “Palestinian schoolbooks.” (Remember that though Avenstrup doubts the authenticity of these translations, Arafat did not.)