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The question of Palestinian textbooks’ portrayal of Jews has been bitterly debated for years. More than a decade ago, the European Union considered halting aid to the Palestinian Authority based on its negative portrayals of Israelis in its textbooks.
As recently as last year, the Washington Jewish Week reported on a dispute over whether Palestinian textbooks call Israelis pigs and snakes. Over the past decade, the Israeli government, the State Department and independent groups have produced wildly varying reports on the contents of Palestinian textbooks.
The new study examined 94 books from Palestinian school systems in Gaza and the West Bank, and 74 books from the Israeli secular and religious school systems. There were just 20 instances of “extreme negative characterizations” of Palestinians in Israeli secular books and seven in Israeli ultra-Orthodox books, according to the study. One such example in an ultra-Orthodox book referred to a decimated Arab village, now the site of an Israeli settlement, as “a nest of murderers.”
Palestinian books had just six instances of these “extreme negative characterizations.” For instance, one book referred to an Israeli interrogation room as a “slaughterhouse.”
These characterizations, however, were extremely rare and statistically insignificant.
“I think it’s nice that (so few) have those extreme statements,” said Bruce Wexler, the Yale University psychiatry professor who designed the study. He said that previous accounts of Palestinian incitement in textbooks were likely based on a small number of highly political books, or on books no longer in use, those that were circulated under the Israeli occupation authority by the Egyptian and Jordanian governments before the Palestinians were given control of their own education system in 1994. (The Palestinians have written their own textbooks since 2000.)
“It is possible that some people have attempted to selectively portray the books as worse than they are,” he added.
A second finding is that both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks portrayed the other as the enemy while presenting their own countries in almost exclusively positive terms.