Printer Friendly

The portrayal of Arabs in textbooks in the Jewish school system in Israel.


THREE DOMINATING INFLUENCES IN the portrayal of Arabs in the Ministry of Education-approved textbooks of the Jewish school system in Israel are: 1) orientalism, 2) the Zionist mission to build a Jewish nation-state in Palestine, out of which the on-going Israeli-Arab conflict emerged, and 3) an Israeli-Jewish frame of mind determined by a victim or siege mentality.

"Orientalism" is based on the concept developed by the late Professor Edward Said (1978) that refers to the way in which Eastern cultures were viewed, described and represented by Western academic scholarship, politics, and literature. Said's main critique was aimed at how the Western economic, political and academic powers developed a dichotomized discourse in which an inherently superior West was juxtaposed with an Eastern "Other" according to terms and definitions determined by the West itself. Orientalism created an image of the Orient as separate, backward, silently different, irrational and passive. It was characterized by despotism and resistance to progress; and since the Orient's value was judged in terms of, and in comparison to the West, it was always the "Other", the conquerable and the inferior. Orientalism emerged during the era of European colonialism, and lent crucial support to the colonial endeavor of a 'superior' Europe conquering and bringing enlightenment, progress and civilization to the inferior, unenlightened inhabitants of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, the Americas and Australia. When the question of the potential injustice of displacing the Palestinians in order to establish a Jewish state in Palestine was raised, Winston Churchill responded:
 I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final
 right to the manger, even though he may have lain there for a
 very long time.... I do not admit that a wrong has been done
 these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade
 race, or at any rate, a more world-wise race ... has come in and
 taken their place (quoted in Prior 1999, 192).

European orientalist discourse perceived and depicted Palestinian Arabs as less than fully or equally human, and this same perspective shaped the approach and attitudes of the European fathers of the Zionist movement, toward the indigenous Arab population in Palestine. For example, when the head of the colonization department of the Jewish Agency asked Chaim Weizman what he thought about the indigenous Palestinians, Weizman was quoted as saying: "The British told us that there are some hundred thousand Negros ['kushim'] and for those there is no value" (Masalha 1997, 62). These attitudes permeated the early Zionist settlement movement in Palestine, and went on to color the way in which Palestinian Arabs were depicted in the textbooks of the pre-state schools of the Jewish Zionist settlements.

The second and closely related influence to have a dominant and longstanding effect on the portrayal of Arabs in Israeli Jewish school textbooks is the mission of the Zionist movement. This nationalist movement was developed by a group of the Jewish intelligentsia in Europe in the late 1800s with the goal of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine. Zionism was based on the premise that Palestine was a territory which belonged exclusively to the Jewish people due to their presence on the land during biblical times. The Jewish settlement of Palestine was presented as an ideological and moral project that also provided a solution to the anti-Semitism that had plagued the Jews in their European diaspora communities (Yiftachel 2003). The Zionist movement, portrayed Palestine as a "land without a people, for a people without a land," and the Zionist immigrants to Palestine as pioneers coming to conquer an inhospitable environment, and make the barren desert bloom (Masalha 1997). With the rise of the nation-state in Europe in the 19th century, textbooks--and history textbooks in particular--were used by the state to glorify the nation, consolidate a national identity, and justify the state's social and political systems. As such, ethnocentric views, myths, stereotypes and prejudices pervaded (Apple 1990, Berghan and Schissler 1988, Jacobmeyer 1990). According to Podeh (2000), the case of Israel is no exception, and a clear distinction was "made between the 'we' (Israelis) and the 'they' (Arabs), a division ... essential for maintaining a distinct Jewish-Israeli identity and for sustaining the ability to compete successfully with the Arabs" (68). The textbooks were developed for the purpose of consolidating the national collective memory. Thus they excluded anything that might mar the image of Israel or undermine the legitimacy of the Zionist enterprise (Podeh 2000). This phenomenon has had an immense impact upon how Arabs were portrayed, and what type of information was included in--and excluded from--textbooks in the Israeli Jewish school system.

The third influence relates to what Podeh (2000) describes as "a tradition of depicting Jewish history as an uninterrupted record of anti-Semitism and persecution" (76). The conflict that erupted between Palestinian Arabs and Jewish Zionist settlers coming to transform Palestine into a Jewish state was also interpreted by the settlers as baseless persecution, and therefore, the corresponding Jewish Israeli tendency was to dehumanize the Arab enemy. The ways in which the Palestinians were victimized by the Zionist mission were unacknowledged and thus, their seemingly one-sided violence against the Jews served to legitimize the proliferation of negative images of Arabs as well as the Israeli use of force against them (Podeh 2000, Shapira 1992).


School textbooks are widely recognized as important agents of socialization that transmit and disseminate societal knowledge, including representations of one's own and other groups (Bar-Tal and Teichman 2005). According to Luke (1988), school textbooks "act as the interface between the officially state-adopted and sanctioned knowledge of the culture, and the learner. Like all texts, school textbooks remain potentially agents of mass enlightenment and/or social control," (69). Apple and Christian-Smith (1991) assert that:
 Texts are really messages about the future. As part of
 a curriculum they participate in no less than the organized
 knowledge system of society. They participate in creating
 what a society has recognized as legitimate and truthful. They
 help set the cannons of truthfulness and, as such, also help
 recreate a major reference point for what knowledge, culture,
 belief, and morality really are (4).

Thus, textbooks tend to dominate what students learn at school they set the curriculum, as well as the facts learned, in most subjects. In addition, the public tends to regard textbooks as essential, authoritative, and accurate knowledge. In most school systems, teachers rely on them to organize lessons and structure subject matter (Down 1988). This is particularly true in Israel since teachers are obliged to base their instruction upon Ministry of Education-approved textbooks. According to Bar-Tal and Teichman (2005):

Due to the centralized structure of the educational system in Israel, the Ministry of Education sets the guidelines for curricula development and has the authority to approve the school textbooks. Thus, the ministry outlines the didactic, scholastic and social objectives to be achieved (Eden, 1971), and the textbooks' contents reflect the knowledge that the dominant group of society is trying to impart to its members. (p. 159)

As such, textbooks are recognized as tools for developing a nation's collective memory. In this capacity they may manipulate what is included and omitted from the nation's historical narrative, in addition to using stereotypes and prejudice in describing the "other" or the national enemy (Podeh 2000, Schissler 1989-1990).


A number of researchers have studied the development of textbooks in the Jewish school system in Israel with a focus on their depiction of Arabs and the Israeli-Arab conflict. Bar-Tal and Teichman (2005) summarized the major studies done on textbooks in Jewish schools and the history of their reforms. Podeh (2000) specifically focused upon how the Israeli-Arab conflict was portrayed in textbooks for Jewish schools from 1948 to 2000. Firer's (1985) study examined history textbooks between 1900 and 1984, and their role in promoting Zionist socialization. Firer found that all of the history books in the pre-state period (1900-1948) stressed the exclusive rights of the Jewish people to ownership of Palestine. Arabs, in typical European orientalist fashion, were portrayed as a backward, primitive people with no similar ownership rights in the "neglected" land that was awaiting "Jewish redemption." As violent conflict began to erupt due to the opposing nationalisms of the indigenous Palestinian Arabs and the Zionist settlers, Jewish history textbooks also began to refer to Arabs undifferentiatedly as easily agitated robbers and vandals. Bar-Gal's (1993, 1994) study of geography textbooks in the same period produced similar findings.

The earliest geography textbooks, produced by Zionist authors who lived in Europe endorsed the view of "a land without a people for a people without a land," and tended to completely ignore the presence of the indigenous Arab population in Palestine. Later, the textbooks by authors living in Palestine continued to be characterized by orientalist attitudes of ethnocentrism and superiority toward Arab society. As violent conflict with Palestinian Arabs erupted, they began to be represented as "the enemy," and according to Bar-Gal (1993), were described as a:
 ... negative homogeneous mob that threatens,
 assaults, destroys, eradicates, burns and shoots, being agitated
 by haters of Israel, who strive to annihilate the most precious
 symbols of Zionism: vineyards, orange groves, orchards and
 forests. Again, the Arabs were viewed as ungrateful.
 According to this view Zionism brought progress to the area
 and helped to overcome the desolation, and thus helped to
 advance also the Arabs. But instead of thanking the Jews for
 building the country for the benefit of all its citizens, they
 respond with destruction and ruin (181).

From the establishment of the state of Israel through the early 1970s, school textbooks continued to present Arabs negatively, according to the same ideological-educational perspective adopted during the pre-state period (Bar-Tal and Teichman 2005, Firer 1985, Podeh 2000, 2). The Ministry of Education official responsible for high school education in the 1950s, whose influence remained dominant through the late 1980s, stated that the material chosen for textbooks was geared to "instill love and respect for our most important and cherished values, and encourage the young to identify utterly with society's goals, fight for its continued existence and play an active role in its development and progress" (quoted in Podeh 2000, 72). There was no legitimate place for Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular, in constructing the national collective memory because reference to them had the potential of undermining the legitimacy of the Zionist enterprise. Thus, Israeli Jewish textbook authors tended to self-censor any information that might mar Israel's image or raise doubts about the Jewish right to the land (Podeh 2000).

According to Firer (1985), the first textbooks published by the newly-founded state were also influenced by the trauma of the Holocaust in Europe using the same emotive concepts from that experience to describe the Jewish-Arab conflict. As Bar-Tal and Teichman (2005) described, these textbooks completely removed the Jewish-Arab conflict from its actual context:
 Most of these books did not even mention the
 existence of a Palestinian nation, never mind its aspirations or
 the driving forces behind Palestinian nationalism. Thus, the
 Arabs' violence and resistance to Zionism, presented without
 explanation, looked absolutely arbitrary and malicious. It
 interfered with the noble and peaceful attempts of the Jews
 (described as victims) to return to their homeland (162).

Although there were a few exceptions, the most frequent representation of Arabs in this generation of history, geography, and Hebrew reader (1) textbooks was as 'the enemy' (Bar-Gal 1993, Bar-Tai and Teichman, 2005, Firer 1985, Podeh 2002, and Zohar 1972). They never explained or even acknowledged the dispersion and dispossession of the Palestinian people as a result of Israel's establishment, and instead attributed the motivating forces for Arab violence to their 'anti-Semitism' and hatred of Jews (Bar-Tal and Teichman 2005, Firer 1985).

The critical omission of Palestinian Arabs' history, pre-1948 life in Palestine, national aspirations, and their consequent dispossession, was the ultimate de-legitimization of Arab identity and struggle. It was at the same time, essential to maintaining the legitimacy of the Zionist enterprise and consolidating the nationalist collective history of "Eretz Israel" (Land of Israel), which was disseminated through the Ministry of Education textbooks. The curriculum up until the late 1960s was concerned primarily with the needs of nation-building and the construction of a homogeneous national identity, and to this end, it used mechanisms of denial, omission and exclusion toward Arabs (Bar-Tal and Teichman 2005, Podeh 2000).

Bar-Gal (1994) however, suggested that there was a change in the way in which geography textbooks written after the culmination of the 1948 war referred to the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. He found fewer delegitimizing labels, or references to them as primitive, backward, or "the enemy" than previously. At this time, Palestinians in Israel were living under a military government that placed severe restrictions upon their movements and all social, educational and economic development opportunities. Simultaneously, the Israeli government passed laws that changed the status of the majority of Palestinians in Israel into "present-absentees" and carried out massive confiscation of Palestinian land and property (Abu-Saad 2006). In this period in which Israeli Jews had little or no contact with their Palestinian Arab co-citizens, Ministry of Education-approved textbooks were re-making them into "Israeli Arabs," who were stereotyped less negatively than Arabs living beyond the borders of the state. The textbooks also emphasized the good treatment Israeli Arabs received from state authorities, such as the provision of educational, health, and welfare services, and many of the other trappings of progress and modernity. Thus, they were "present" in the terms in which the Israeli Jewish educators wanted to imagine them, yet "absent" in terms of self-representation and the daily realities of their lives.

From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, the overwhelming trend in portraying Arabs in history, geography, civics studies and Hebrew (readers) remained negative (Bar-Tal 1998, Bar-Tal and Teichman, 2005, Bar-Tal and Zoltak, 1989, Podeh, 2000). In their study of readers published in the 1970s and 1980s, Bar-Tal and Zoltak (1989) found that with regard to the portrayal of Arabs:
 ... in 50.7% of the items, the presentation was negative, in
 29.1% it was neutral, and in the remaining 20.2% positive.
 Most of the positive images were in the context of individual
 presentation. The majority (60%) of the behavioral
 descriptions and 46% of the trait characterizations referred to
 violence and aggression. In this context, de-legitimizing
 labels such as "human savages," "bloodthirsty," "gangs of
 murders," "infiltrators and terrorists," or "robbers" appeared
 frequently. The books presented 82% of occupations held by
 Arabs as being related to either violence (soldiers, robbers, or
 gang members) or to primitive farming and manual labor.
 Only 12% of the Arabs presented were professionals or white-collar
 workers. Positive descriptions of Arabs referred mainly
 to undefined situations, in an undefined time, either in the
 desert or in an undefined place, often in legends about the
 exotic East (168).

Most of the curricular materials written about Palestinian Arabs and their history were re-shaped to fit with and buttress the Zionist mythology. For example a textbook for Jewish middle school and high school students commissioned by the Ministry of Education, The Cultural Heritage of the Bedouin in the Negev (Ben-David and Shohat 2000), described Palestinian Bedouin Arabs in a manner that was consistent with the Zionist version of history, and also provided underpinning support for the State's policy of land confiscation and its definition of the Bedouin as invaders and illegal inhabitants on their own land. In the first page of the chapter on the origin and history of the Bedouin which covered the period from Abraham to the present day, the term, "the land of Israel" was mentioned over ten times (9). Needless to say, the word "Palestine" did not appear at all. The Palestinian Bedouin Arabs did not exist and their land had no history or identity other than as "the land of Israel." Thus the book began by erasing the history of the Negev Bedouin as an integral part of the Palestinian people who inhabited the area for over 5 centuries. Instead of ancient inhabitants indigenous to the land prior to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the Negev Bedouin were characterized as rootless "settlers" and as "immigrants" to "the land of Israel."

This "mythologizing" of the historical curriculum perpetuates the image of the Arab, and the Palestinian Arab in particular, as an ahistorical, irrational enemy. A 17-year-old Jewish high school student described the contents of the schoolbooks in Jewish schools and viewpoints expressed by some Jewish teachers as follows:
 Our books basically tell us that everything the Jews
 do is fine and legitimate and Arabs are wrong and violent and
 are trying to exterminate us ... We are accustomed to hearing
 the same thing, only one side of the story. They teach us that
 Israel became a state in 1948 and that the Arabs started a war.
 They don't mention what happened to the Arabs-they never
 mention anything about refugees or Arabs having to leave
 their towns and homes ... Instead of tolerance and
 reconciliation, the books and some teachers' attitudes are
 increasing hatred for Arabs (Meehan 1999, 20).

The curriculum in Jewish Israeli schools has been instrumental in explicitly and implicitly constructing racist and threatening stereotypes and a one-sided historical narrative that, through the educational system, is internalized in the Jewish Israeli psyche; and that has, in turn, provided the basis for maintaining a deeply divided society and its many discriminatory practices. As a former-Israeli academic, Oren Ben-Dor, stated about his educational experience in the Jewish school system:
 All my education in Israel was one sided, treating the
 other as the enemy, the murderers, the rioters, the terrorists ...
 without alluding, in any way, to their pains and longings. For
 my teachers and, as a result, for me also, for many years,
 Zionism was beyond reproach; it was a return to the promised
 land as a result of persecution, it was draining the swamps, it
 was building a state based on Jewish genius (Ben-Dor 2005,
 par 2).

According to Podeh (2002), however, analysis of history textbooks for the higher grades published toward the end of the 1990s indicated a major and significant change in the depiction of Palestinians, Palestinian nationalism, Arabs, and the Israeli-Arab conflict. Some of these textbooks included recently declassified Israeli governmental archival materials and were based on critical historical research that shed a more balanced light on the conflict and for the first time portrayed Palestinian Arabs not only as spectators or aggressors but also as victims of the conflict. However, even with these much celebrated revisions in textbooks, Raz-Krakotzkin noted that:
 ... in all the textbooks there is not one single geographical map
 which shows the [pre-1948 Palestinian] Arab settlements--only
 the Jewish settlements are shown. Generally speaking,
 the land itself has no history of its own, and the history of the
 land is presented as the history of the Jewish myth about it.
 The whole period, between the second temple and the Zionist
 settlement is not taught at all. But more precisely, the Israeli
 student has no idea whatsoever about the settlement of the
 country before '48, that is to say, has no idea about the history
 of the expelled themselves and of their life before the
 expulsion. And so the mythical image of the country was
 created as 'the Promised Land of the Jews' and not as a
 cultural-geographical entity in which the [Jewish] colonization
 took place (1999, 5).

Even with the deficiencies Raz-Krakotzkin noted, the publication of the new history textbooks led to heated debates in Israeli society. In November 2000, the parliamentary Education Committee decided to delay the use of one of these textbooks (A World of Changes, edited by Danny Ya'akobi, 1999). Subsequently, within the first month (March 2001) of Limor Livat's term as Education Minister in the Sharon Government, she removed the textbook from the curriculum because in her view it reflected the perspective of post-Zionists (Lazaroff 2002). Livnat's opposition to the book was based on the rationale that only 30% of the book dealt with Zionism, Israel and the Holocaust, as compared to 60% in other history textbooks. Furthermore, in an article in Maariv (March 7, 2001), she stated that "no nation studies its history from the point of view of the enemy or the point of view of the United Nations. The State of Israel is a Jewish and democratic state and this should direct the perspective of its education system" (quoted in Al-Haj 2005, 55). Livnat also removed the works of the Palestinian poet, Mahmud Darwish, which spoke of Palestinian nationalism and longing for their homeland, from the elective Jewish curriculum (Lazaroff 2002). In Al-Haj's (2005) analysis of the new Jewish textbooks approved for use in the Jewish schools, he concluded:
 These textbooks, like their predecessors, do not
 present an alternative narrative and do not offer the Palestinian
 version as a legitimate counter-narrative. Arab input is absent,
 even from the editorial staff.... [T]here was not a single Arab
 among the authors and advisors for any of these books even
 though Jewish educators, academics and advisors are
 intensively involved in drafting the history curriculum for
 Arab schools in Israel. We may conclude, therefore, that the
 new textbooks represent no breakthrough. They reflect the
 power relationships in the wider society and constitute another
 mechanism for perpetuating the dominant ideology. (67)

Bar-Tal and Teichman (2005) considered the backlash against substantive change in the new curriculum to indicate that "part of the society and its representatives have difficulty in accepting changes in school textbooks that question the Zionist narrative" (72-3). They further suggested that such reactions were due to a counter-trend in Israeli society brought about by the "outbreak of violence" with the Al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000. They concluded that since the parents and grandparents of the present generation had been consistently presented with negative images of Arabs in school textbooks, it would take many years, indeed another several generations, to rewrite and introduce a balanced presentation of Arabs into the school textbooks, without negative stereotypes and de-legitimizing labels. According to this argument however, maintaining the same approach in the textbooks can only perpetuate the conflict as additional generations of Israeli Jews study from books that overwhelmingly continue to portray Palestinians as "the enemy" and deny their history, legitimate grievances, aspirations, and humanity. The logical conclusion to be drawn from Bar-Tal and Teichman's (2005) analysis is that it is essential to revise the textbooks in the Jewish curriculum to provide a more balanced picture of Palestinian history and aspirations in order for the Israeli Jewish population to begin to understand the roots of the cycle of violence, and perhaps even to begin to break it. Instead, their historically one-sided focus on their own victim hood has blinded, and continues to blind them to the violence that has been suffered by their victims, and that is perpetuated by the current uncritical educational approach.

Compounding the negative presentations of Arabs in Jewish textbooks, the Jewish school system has further contributed to the de-legitimization of the Palestinian minority by giving Jewish students little, if any, exposure to the Arabic language or culture. Despite the fact that Arabic is one of the two official languages in Israel, the study of Arabic is not required in Jewish schools as a matriculation subject (e.g., a requirement for obtaining a high school diploma). Less than 4% of Jewish high school students voluntarily study Arabic as one of their matriculation subjects (Lev-Ari 2003). According to the Education Ministry Director General in 2003, Ronit Tirosh, Jewish students feel antagonistic toward the Arabic language. Tirosh stated that:
 [Arabic] is a language that is identified with a
 population that makes your life difficult and endangers your
 security. Even so, students understand that knowing Arabic
 helps them to view life in Israel through the eyes of the
 Arabs.... We thought about making Arabic compulsory for
 matriculation, but concluded that if less than 10% of students
 learn it voluntarily, it would be impossible to force it on the
 rest (Lev-Ari 2003).

Likewise, the Israeli educational establishment has tended to approach civic education as a controversial political topic because it perceives the aim of developing and instilling a civic identity in students as a threat to its primary goal of developing and instilling a national Zionist and Jewish identity (Barak 2005). For the first several decades after Israel's establishment the civic education curriculum did not include universal or democratic values, but rather focused upon Zionist education for building the Jewish nation (Barak 2005, Ichilov 1993). In the 1980s, after a Jewish peace activist was killed in a demonstration and members of an explicitly racist political party (Kach) were elected to the national parliament, there was a public call for strengthening the emphasis upon more universal and democratic values in the civics curriculum. Ironically however, initiatives for reforming the curriculum were consistently placed within the framework of, and made subordinate to, the Ministry of Education units dealing with education for Jewish values (Barak 2005).

The new civics curriculum introduced in 2001 was based on a textbook entitled, To Be Citizens in Israel: A Jewish and Democratic State (Adan, Asheknazi and Alperson 2000), which was also translated into Arabic for use in the Arab schools. The textbook covered the formal aspects of government institutions and their activities, democratic values, human and minority rights, the limits of democracy, and the existence of rifts in Israeli society (e.g., Jewish-Arab, Ashkenazi-Mizrachi, religious-secular, and class/socio-economic). The final chapter of the book focuses on the question of whether or not the state can indeed be both Jewish and democratic by using extensive citations from the articles of a Jewish Israeli professor (Gabizon) who answers affirmatively, and a Palestinian Israeli academic (Mana'ah) who answers negatively (Gordon 2005). The final exercise at the end of the chapter asks students to respond to the question of "whether the solutions Professor Gabizon proposes ... vis-a-vis the rift between the [Jewish and Arabic] nationalities can be considered as an answer to the problem that Dr. Mana'ah raises--that the State of Israel is not the state of its Arabic citizens" (573, quoted in Gordon 2005, 374). It is worth noting how the question is carefully framed to limit the solutions the students are asked to consider to those proposed by Professor Gabizon, while Dr. Mana'ah is designated as the raiser of the problem, rather than as another proposer of possible solutions, or of legitimate alternative viewpoints. The superiority in academic rank and also presumably in expertise, are also subtly introduced into the students' considerations by including the academic rank of the two writers in the question. Gordon (2005), who served as the head of the Pedagogical Secretariat in the Israeli Ministry of Education, raised this text as an "example of good pedagogy" that would enable students to confront the moral problems in their society and to try to solve them, "if handled sensitively by a competent teacher (which entails being able to defuse overemotional, irrational, stereotypic views and also being able to teach the students that there are no simple unambiguous answers to such questions)" (374).

While Barak (2005) considered the new curriculum to be a significant improvement over the previous curriculum for civics studies, it was not accompanied by an appropriate increase in the number of classroom hours allotted to civics education, thus limiting its implementation. She further pointed out that until recently there were no teacher training programs or tracks specifically for civics teachers, so the vast majority of those currently teaching civics have only general history or social sciences training. Pinson (2005) asserted that the new curriculum failed to serve as a tool for developing a common citizenship for all citizens of the state. Instead, it continued to define the state of Israel as a Jewish-national state, and portrayed other possible definitions (e.g., the state of all of its citizens) as marginal. Because of its ethnic orientation, it could not promote the development of a common civic identity for all citizens of the state, or the conflict between a Jewish national state and democratic values (Barak 2005).

The multifaceted de-legitimization of Arabs in the Jewish school curriculum and textbooks has permeated other aspects of Israeli Jewish culture, including extra-curricular activities and literature. The process of educating Jewish students about the values, traditions and history of the Jewish people is inundated with racist stereotypes of Arabs that are unquestioningly--if not even unconsciously--accepted by the formal educational system and Jewish Israeli society alike. For example, on 15 November 2001, a local Israeli Jewish newspaper in Netanya, "Emtza Netanya," published a story of a celebration at a local elementary school under the headline "Arabs are used to killing."

This chilling incident is taken from a script for second-grade students at a ceremony celebrating their receipt of copies of the Torah at the Hadar Hasharon Elementary School ..., when like many of their fellow students around the country they mark the start of their study of the Bible ... The performance began; the children went up on stage as a group ... representing the different nations, recreating the legend of how Israel received the Torah. The student who played the angel held a Torah and walked among the various nations, offering each one the Torah and the Ten Commandments. The only two groups of people wearing representative costumes were the group of Arabs, who were wearing keffiyehs, and the Jews, who were wearing yarmulkes.

During the performance, the "angel" met the "Arab people" who asked, like all the other peoples: "What is written in the Torah?" The angel replied: "Thou shalt not kill." The children answered in a chorus: "No, we don't want it because we are used to killing," and they made way for the next group, the "Jewish people." The "Jewish people" asked no questions; they simply answered [with a verse from the bible], "We will do, and we will listen," (Quoted in Sikkuy Report 2002, 51).

The newspaper account of this educational event was published without any criticism. Nor did it elicit comment from the local or national educational authorities.

The impact of negative imagery of Arabs in the Jewish curriculum has extended beyond the school setting, and has both pervaded and been supported by children's literature in Israel. Research has shown that children's literature is an important part of children's construction of reality (Taxel 1989). Literature can play a role in the formation of stereotypes about other groups and influence prejudice and emotions toward them. Children also tend to identify with the books' characters more than adults do and use them as models for behavior (Bar-Tal and Teichman 2005, and Zimet 1972, 1976).

A number of studies have been done on children's literature in Israel, including Cohen's study (1985) in which he analyzed the presentation of Arabs in Hebrew children's literature of 1,700 books, and El-Asmar's study (1986) which focused on 205 books that described Arabs quite extensively. The pattern in almost all of the stories was similar: the violent, dirty, cruel, and ignorant Arabs wanting to harm the Jews (see Table 1).

El-Asmar (1986) found that 40% of the 205 books were written by three authors: Abner Karmeli or his pseudonym On Sarig (52 titles), Yigal Mosinson (21 titles), and Haim Eliav (7 titles). The remaining 125 books were written by 60 different Jewish authors. These books written in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s were bestsellers in their time, and children still continue to read them today (Bar-Tal and Teichman 2005). Cohen (1985) found that in 63.5% of the 520 children's books containing some reference to Arabs there was widespread de-legitimization. Arabs were characterized with labels related to violence, primitivism, inferiority and backwardness. Furthermore, Cohen (1985) found de-legitimizing and violence-associated labeling of Arabs in 380 of the 520 children's books analyzed. They dehumanized and ostracized Arabs, as thieves, murderers, robbers, spies, arsonists, violent mobsters, terrorists, kidnappers, and the "cruel enemy." In 86 of these books he found even more de-legitimizing labels including, inhuman, war lovers, monsters, blood-thirsty, dogs, wolves of prey, and vipers.

The tendency of Jewish writers of children's books to focus on portrayals of Arabs in low-level occupations reflect the ethnocentric superiority that characterizes the Jewish view of Arabs, the ignorance of the writers many of whom never even met Arabs and the general tendency to fall into stereotypic descriptions of the exotic East (Regev 1984). According to Bargad (1977), the Bedouin was presented as the most romanticized Arab figure in Hebrew children's literature, as "a primitive being, at home in the untamed natural setting of the fearsome desert; he was an exotic figure, full of mystery, intrigue, impulsive violence and instinctive survival" (55).

Such characterizations of Arabs have been found beyond children's literature in the writings of such prominent Israeli literary figures as Amos Oz. Probably no other Israeli-Jewish writer has been able to articulate as well as Amos Oz the psychological racial boundaries that Zionism has constructed (Sa'di 2004). In a short story titled "Nomads and the Viper" (1965), Oz described the interaction that occurred between the residents of a kibbutz and a Bedouin group who following a particularly dry year, moved northward in search of grazing land. The invasion of Bedouin nomads into the kibbutz area brought devastation, foot-and-mouth disease, destruction of cultivated fields and theft. The Bedouin's black goats (accursed animals, as the symbolism of their black color suggested) were destructive, given their ability to climb over fences and eat every green leaf. The story revolved around a young kibbutz woman (Gueola) and the Bedouin shepherd, a young man who was also black, like his goats. Gueola considered him to be primitive, bestial, ugly, and wretched, yet he aroused an obsessive sexual desire in her. Eventually she fell victim to her desires because, while she was fantasizing about him, a viper slithered along her body and bit her, thus bringing an end to Gueola and her forbidden desires. According to Sa'di (2004), Oz's purpose was clearly to dramatize the unbridgeable chasm separating the lawful agricultural settlers and idealistic pioneers from the primitive Bedouin. Moreover, his message was that any attempt to cross that chasm, even through fantasy, would be dangerous, if not fatal.


In concluding, I raise the question of the indirect and perhaps unseen consequences of the educational approach the Israeli state has adopted for the Jewish majority. The dehumanized, racist and ahistorical picture of Palestinian Arabs fostered by the school system serves not only to encourage Jewish Israelis to maintain a sense of distance from and superiority over the Palestinian Arabs who are citizens of Israel. It also serves to cripple any efforts to resolve the conflict over land, nationality and the basic rights of Palestinian Arabs (whether those holding Israeli citizenship, living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, or living as refugees) since they are portrayed either as a non-people without a history, or as an irrational enemy with whom no reconciliation is possible.

One can only question whether the currently de-legitimizing, discriminatory and antagonistic stance of the state of Israel vis-a-vis its Palestinian Arab citizens is indeed, in the long-term interest of the State, whose ideology and mythology notwithstanding, is in fact a multi-ethnic state, with an indigenous minority that makes up nearly one fifth of the population. For the present, the situation seems to be satisfactory to the Jewish majority, and the public education system will continue to aid in perpetuating it with considerable impact. However, as the sense of bitterness and alienation grows within the Palestinian Arab population, so does the threat of political and civil instability.

Should the political will among the Jewish majority ever rise to change this situation, either due to ideological changes or political instability, no effort will be successful without making radical changes in the educational system. The exclusivist and Orientalist bent must be uprooted and replaced with a curriculum and textbooks that recognize the history and identity of the "Others" who make up Israeli society. Most importantly, it must allow them to speak for themselves rather than being dehumanized and misrepresented through alternatively antagonistic and paternalistic majority perceptions.


Abu-Saad, E. (2006) 'Palestinian Education in Israel: The Legacy of the Military Government'. Holy Land Studies: Interdisciplinary Journal 5:21-56.

Adan, H., Ashkenazi, V., and Alperson, B. (2000) To Be Citizens in Israel: A Jewish and Democratic State. Jerusalem: Ministry of Education and Culture, Curriculum Branch, Ma'alot Press (Hebrew).

Al-Haj, M. (2005) 'National ethos, multicultural education, and the new history textbooks in Israel'. Curriculum Inquiry 35: 47-71.

Apple, M. and Christian-Smith, L. (1991) 'The politics of the textbook', in M. Apple and L. Christian-smith (eds) The Politics of the textbook, pp.1-21. New York: Routledge.

Apple, M. (1990) Ideology and Curriculum (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge

Barak, M.(2005) 'Civics Education in Israel', Adalah's Newsletter. 18: 1-4. (Arabic) available at (accessed 8 July 2006).

Bargad, W. (1977) 'The image of the Arab in Israeli literature', Hebrew Annual review 1: 53-65.

Bar-Gal, Y. (1994) 'The image of the "Palestinian" in geography textbooks in Israel', Journal of Geography 93: 224-232.

Bar-Gal, Y. (1993) Moledet and Geography in one Hundred Years of Zionist Education. Tel Aviv: Am Oved. (Hebrew).

Bar-Tal, D. and Teichman, Y. (2005) Stereotypes and Prejudice in Conflict: Representations of Arabs in Israeli Jewish Society. Cambridge: Cambridge university Press.

Bar-Tal, D. (1998) 'The rocky road toward peace: Beliefs on conflict in Israeli Textbooks', Journal of Peace Research 35: 723-742.

Bar-Tal, D. and Zoltack, S. (1989) 'The Arab image and Jewish-Arab relations in textbook', Magamot 32: 201-217. (Hebrew).

Ben David, J. and Shohat, M. (2000) The Cultural Heritage of the Bedouin in the Negev. Jerusalem: Negev Bedouin Educational Authority and Jerusalem institute for Israel Studies.

Ben-Dor, O. (2005) 'Academic freedom in Israel is central to resolving the conflict, Counterpunch, May 21-22. Available at www.counterpunch/bendor05212005.html (accessed 15 June 2006).

Berghan, V.R, and Schissler, H., eds. (1988) Perceptions of History: International Textbook Research in Britain, Germany and the United States. Oxford: Berg Publishers.

Cohen, A. (1985) An Ugly Face in the Mirror: National Stereotypes in Hebrew Children's Literature. Reshafim: Tel Aviv (Hebrew).

Dominitz, Z. (1956) Baptism of Fire. Tel Aviv: Yizra' el (Hebrew).

Down, A. (1988) 'Preface', in H. Tyson-Bernstein, A conspiracy of Good intentions: America's Textbook Fiasco, pp. xx-xx. Washington, DC: Council for Basic Education.

Eden, S. (1971) On the new Curricula. Jerusalem: Maalot. (Hebrew).

El-Asmar, F. (1986) Through the Hebrew Looking-Glass: Arab stereotypes in Children's literature. London: Zed Books.

Eliav, H. (1975) The Children of the Old City Sink a Ship. Tel Aviv: Yesod. (Hebrew).

Firer, R. (1985) The Agents of Zionist Education. Tel Aviv: Hakibutz Hameuhad. (Hebrew).

Gordon, D. (2005) 'History textbooks, narratives, and democracy: A response to Majid Al-Haj', Curriculum Inquiry 35: 367--376.

Ichilov, O. (1993) Education for Citizenship in a Changing World. Tel Aviv: Sifriat Hapoalim (Hebrew).

Jacobmeyer, W. (1990) International Textbook Research. Goteborg.

Lazaroff, T. (2002) 'A roller-coaster year', Jerusalem Post Magazine, 8 March, p.12-13.

Lev-Ari, S. (2003) 'Know thy neighbor: The study of Arabic, Arab culture and the Koran could improve life in Israel', HaAretz, Feb. 26.

Luke, A. (1988) Literacy, Textbooks, and Ideology. London: Falmer Press.

Margalit, Y. (1959) Fire in the Woods. Tel Aviv: Newman. (Hebrew).

Masalha, N. (1997) A Land without a People: Israel, Transfer and the Palestinians. London: Faber and Faber.

Meehan, M. (1999) 'Israeli Textbooks and Children's Literature Promote Racism and Hatred toward Palestinians and Arabs'. Washington Report on Middle East affairs, September, 19-20.

Orni, E., and Efrat, E. (1992) Geography in Israel. Tel Aviv: Achiasaf. (Hebrew).

Pinson, H. (2005) 'Between a Jewish and democratic state: Contradictions and tensions in the Civic Education Curriculum', Politika 14: 924 (Hebrew).

Podeh, E. (2002) The Arab-Israeli Conflict in Israeli History Textbooks, 1948-2000. Wesport, CT: Bergin and Garvery.

Podeh, E. (2000) 'History and Memory in the Israeli Education System: The Portrayal of the Arab- Israeli Conflict in History Textbook, 1948-2000', History and Memory, 12: xx-xx.

Prior, M. 1999. Zionism and the State of Israel: A Moral Inquiry. London: Routledge.

Raz-Krakotzkin, A. (1999) 'The textbook debate: No significant change in the perception of the history of Zionism', Within Israel and Palestine XV: 1-6.

Regev, M. (1984) A Short Guide to Children's Literature. Jerusalem: Cana. (Hebrew).

Sa'di, A. (2004) 'Construction and reconstruction of racialised boundaries: Discourse, institutions and methods', Social Identities, 10:135-149.

Said, E. (1978) Orientaslism. New York: Vintage Books.

Schissler, H. (1989-1990) 'Limitation and Priorities for International Social Studies Textbook Research', International Journal of Social Education 4: xx--xx.

Semoli, E. (1953) The People of the Beginning. Tel Aviv: Massadah. (Hebrew).

Shahar, D. (1961) The Adventures of Ricki Ma'oz. Jerusalem: The Educational and Social Department of International Zionist Labor Union. (Hebrew).

Shapira, A. (1992) Land of Power: The Zionist Resort to Force, 1881-1948. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Sikkuy Report (2002) The Sikkuy Report 2001-2002. Jerusalem: Sikkuy, the Association for the Advancement of Civil Equality.

Sorkis, H., Raf, A. and Sharar, T., eds. (1991) Changes in the Geography of Israel. Jerusalem: Ma'alot. (in Hebrew).

Taxel, J. (1989) 'Children's literature: A research proposal from a perspective of the sociology of school knowledge', in S. de Castell, A. Luke, C. Luke (eds) Language, Authority and criticism: Readings on the School Textbook, pp. 32-45. London: falmer Press.

Ya'akobi, D., ed. (1999) A World of changes. Jerusalem: Ministry of Education and Culture. (Hebrew).

Yiftachel, O. (2003) 'Bedouin-Arabs and the Israeli Settler State: Land Policies and Indigenous Resistance', in D. Champagne, and I. Abu-Saad (eds) The Future of Indigenous Peoples: Strategies for Survival and Development. Los Angeles: American Indian Studies Center, UCLA.

Zimet, S. (1976) Print and Prejudice. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Zimet, S. ed. (1972) What Children Read in School? New York: Grune and Stratton.

Zohar, N. (1972) Arab's Image in a Reader. Master's Thesis submitted to the Hebrew University, Jerusalem (Hebrew).


(1.) The type of school textbook called a "reader" contained a variety of genres, including short stories, poems, extracts from literary works, and short descriptive essays selected and/or written by an editor (Bar-Tal 2005).

Ismael Abu-Saad is an Associate Professor in the Department of Education, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel.

Image Description

Who is the Arab? Do you know who the Arab is?
 Abner knows. He knows that the
 Arabs rise early in the morning,
 perhaps even earlier than his
 father. It is interesting to
 watch them, to listen to the way
 they talk, because the Arabs are
 funny people.
 The Arab wears a dress and wraps a
 kerchief around his head like a
 woman. But sometimes he lifts his
 dress and puts something into his
 trousers and then one can see his
 black trousers. His trousers,
 like breeches, are only three-
 quarters length. They are very
 narrow at the ankles and very
 wide between the legs; so large
 that one could put in there
 three large water melons.
 What is an Arab child? Sometimes
 Abner saw in the street of the
 village Arab boys and even Arab
 girls. Abner noticed that all the
 Arab children always walk barefoot
 and they are dressed in all sorts
 of rags and tattered clothes.
 "There are also some who have much
 money, but they hoard their money
 and do not buy clothes and shoes.
 They also buy very little food;
 indeed you saw them satisfied with
 bread and olives or onions."
 "If they have money, why don't they
 dress better? And why don't they
 eat properly?" Abner asked father.
 "This is what they are used to ..."
 (Margalit 1959, 11-14, cited in
 El-Asmar 1986 74-75).

The thieving Arab "Watch them!" called father to
 Abner, as he turned home to
 fetch money to pay the Arab
 for the hay. Abner did not
 know what he had to guard. "Abner,
 follow them up to the gate and
 see that they do not take
 anything," said father.
 "Father, is it true that all Arabs
 are thieves?" asked Abner once.
 "Who told you?" asked father
 amazed. "You should not talk like
 that." Father was embarrassed.
 "There are all sorts of Arabs,"
 he said," and among them, also
 thieves. It is impossible to know
 which Arab is a thief and which
 is not."
 "Are there no Jewish thieves?"
 Asked Abner.
 "There are ... not here ... There
 are in the city. In our village,
 everybody is honest and not one
 will steal."
 "But aren't the Arabs angry being
 watched as if they were thieves?"
 "Perhaps they are angry, but what
 can you do?" (Margalit 1959 11-14,
 cited in El-Asmar, 1986 73-74).

The dirty Arab Their place was immediately taken
 by a gang of children and
 infants who walked about as naked
 as on the day of their birth:
 dirty, tangled hair and watery
 eyes. They surrounded them
 from all directions, their bellies
 large, swollen and protruding like
 full water bags.
 As they entered the village, they
 were enveloped with the smell
 of charcoal that is distinctive
 of Arab village and which further
 intensified their dejection.
 (Semoli 1953, 22, cited in El-Asmar
 1986, 76).
The cursing Arab "May the devil enter the spirit of
 forefathers of the Jews; may the
 curse of the devil be visited upon
 them; may they be damned by the
 prophet for the rest of their days.
 There is no respite from their
 attack." The armed man was cursing
 and shooting alternately,
 incessantly in all directions
 (Eliav 1975, 88, cited in El-Asmar
 1986, 78).
 "These Arabs are great experts in
 cursing and there is a special taste
 for an Arab curse." (Shahar 1961,
 33, cited in El-Asmar 1986, 78).

The corrupt Arab "Are you not afraid that they might
 betray you one day?" asked Nissim
 anxiously. . . ." This may very
 well happen, but so long as the
 general situation remains as it is
 and so long as I have much money at
 hand, there is nothing much to fear
 since these guys are willing to do
 anything for money, even sell their
 own mother." (Eliav 1975, 89, cited
 in El-Asmar, 1986, 79).
COPYRIGHT 2007 Association of Arab-American University Graduates
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Abu-Saad, Ismael
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
Previous Article:Neoliberalism, conflict and an oil economy: the case of Iraq.
Next Article:Understanding Kefaya: the new politics in Egypt.

Related Articles
ISRAEL - March 30 - Arab Land Day.
Crisis in the Middle East: for young Palestinians and Israelis, fear and violence are a way of life.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters