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One ultra-Orthodox book referred to Israel as a “little lamb in a sea of seventy wolves.” Another secular Israeli book stated, “Since its establishment, the State of Israel sought to make peace with its neighbors, the Arab countries, through Israeli-Arab negotiations” but failed because of Arab refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Palestinian books often described the Zionist movement and Israel’s founding as the source of Palestinian problems. The “Zionist occupation and its usurpation of Palestine and its people’s rights comprise the core of the conflict in the Middle East,” read one textbook. Another said that “Britain sought the Jews’ help to achieve their imperialist aspirations, and so the Jews began migrating to Palestine.”
Some Israeli secular books also feature reflection on Israeli wrongs. One detailed Israeli outrage over the killings of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut in 1982. “The Israeli self criticism is quite impressive,” said Wexler. But for the most part, the study notes, “Historical events, while not false or fabricated, are selectively represented to reinforce each community’s national narrative.”
A third finding is that there is a lack of information about the other in each sides’ books. Fourth is that the negative depictions and omissions of the other are most pronounced in Israeli religious ultra-Orthodox books and Palestinian books. Israeli secular books are the most self-critical of the three categories.
The researchers also examined maps in the schoolbooks, and found that in 58 percent of the post-1967 maps in Palestinian schoolbooks, the polity “Palestine” is shown, with its area incorporating everything between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, including present-day Israel. There is no mention of Israel.
Conversely, 76 percent of the post-1967 maps in Israeli schoolbooks show Israel as the area between the river and the sea, with no mention of the Palestinian Authority, or notation of the so-called Green Line that separates Israel from the West Bank and Gaza territories it conquered in the 1967 Six Day War.
“This type of education can create a lasting obstacle to peace,” said Wexler. “If you grow up seeing maps that seem to imply that the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is your homeland… and you are asked to give up some of that land to make two states, you would feel you are losing something that you never had to begin with.”