Israel shoots back: ‘Look beyond the textbooks’

Ministry of Strategic Affairs presents new evidence of Palestinian ‘incitement,’ inside the classroom and out

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Palestinian children attend the first day of school in the West bank city of Ramallah. September 4, 2011 (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Palestinian children attend the first day of school in the West bank city of Ramallah. September 4, 2011 (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

A day after a team of researchers claimed that neither Israeli nor Palestinian textbooks dehumanize the other, it was Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs — not the Education Ministry, which boycotted the study — that lashed back.

Yossi Kuperwasser, director general of the ministry, on Tuesday presented “new evidence” of Palestinian incitement against Israel and Jews, supposedly denied by the extensive study of Israeli and Palestinian school books funded by the US State Department.

During a press conference at Jerusalem’s Government Press Office (GPO), Kuperwasser attacked not only the research’s methodology, but even its premise.

“Putting us and the Palestinians in the same context is outrageous,” he told journalists. “The Palestinians have a big problem and they need to do something about it.”

Kuperwasser and his research team had tracked not only Palestinian school textbooks, but also Facebook pages of Palestinian schools, which they claimed reflected what was really taught in class, and other official Palestinian government publications.

One such Facebook page cited a famous Islamic tradition (Hadith) calling on Muslims to kill Jews on the Day of Judgment, while another glorified a female suicide bomber.

The Palestinians, charged Kuperwasser, made no attempt to educate children for peace and coexistence with Israel. The textbook study — tasked with tracking portrayals of “the other,” and focused solely on written material — could simply not acknowledge what was not there.

Yossi Kuperwasser (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Yossi Kuperwasser (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

And what was there, he added, was intentionally or mistakenly ignored by the research team.

One textbook compared Jews to vipers; a 12th-grade linguistics textbook required students to punctuate the sentence “Do not consider the occupier human”; and a third book erased Hebrew script from the picture of a British Mandate postal stamp, so as to deny a historic Jewish presence in the land, he demonstrated.

Zayzafouna, a children’s magazine funded by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 2011, presented Adolf Hitler as a role model, alongside Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz and medieval Islamic conqueror Saladin.

Despite these damning findings, Kuperwasser defended the Ministry of Education’s decision not to cooperate with the research group.

“Most Israelis who were not politically motivated left the project,” he said, adding that his ministry’s findings were readily available to the textbook researchers,” he told The Times of Israel.

Despite all of its shortcomings, Kuperwasser admitted that the research had adequately proved that Palestinian textbooks were considerably worse than Israeli books in portraying “the other.” He derided Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad for endorsing the study’s findings.

“Somebody misread the report,” he said, referring to Fayyad’s claim that Palestinian textbooks were found to not contain any “blatant incitement.”

“This research only gives Palestinians more excuses. If you let them stick to these narratives, there will never be peace,” Kuperwasser said.

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