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Battle of the Books in Palestine | The Nation

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Battle of the Books in Palestine

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In the midst of an uprising in which at least 600 Palestinians and 150 Israelis have been killed, and in which the fragile Palestinian economy has been wrecked, with skyrocketing poverty, unemployment and a population living under siege conditions, what Palestinian students are taught in the classroom and what textbooks they read has somehow become a major issue in the current debate on how to end the cycle of violence. President Clinton drew attention to it in remarks at the Israel Policy Forum in New York this past January, when he called on the Palestinians to change the "culture of violence and incitement that, since Oslo, has continued unchecked." The President went on to say, "Young [Palestinian] children still are being educated to believe in confrontation with Israel." Five months later, his wife, Senator Hillary Clinton, held a joint press conference with fellow New York Senator Charles Schumer to denounce the "hateful, anti-Israel rhetoric in official Palestinian...schoolbooks."

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UNICEF AND TEXTBOOKS IN PALESTINE

Jerusalem

Fouad Moughrabi's "Battle of the Books in Palestine" [Oct. 1] incorrectly states that UNICEF evacuated its staff from the West Bank and Gaza at the outset of the intifada one year ago. In fact, staff were not evacuated but remained on the job in order to insure UNICEF's longstanding support to Palestinian children. Only relatives of some staff members, a volunteer and a consultant at the end of her assignment were sent home. The article also gives the mistaken impression that international agencies like UNICEF have not extended any help to Palestinian children suffering psychologically as a result of this most recent period of conflict. This is not true. UNICEF promptly mobilized up to $480,000 at the outset of the current situation to assist children suffering from stress and other psychological problems, in cooperation with our Palestinian partners. We continue to do so. Our most recent effort is to help others working to help children reach a consensus on practices and ethics for this important work. Rather than being left to "cope on their own," as Moughrabi states, children in the West Bank and Gaza can continue to rely on UNICEF's support during this difficult period.

PIERRE POUPARD
Special representative
UNICEF West Bank and Gaza


Jerusalem

Professor Fouad Moughrabi's article is, in fact, a reprint of a piece to which the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP) has already responded. We invited Professor Moughrabi to "openly and honestly examine and discuss the content of the textbooks themselves." To date we have received no response from him.

Moughrabi is disturbed that CMIP has placed the issue of the educational policies inherent in Palestinian and Israeli school texts on the public agenda. Textbooks are not simply another educational device but a clear expression of what governments instill in the minds of the young to further their long-term agenda.

Nothing in Moughrabi's article does anything but reinforce the conclusion that he has no real answer to the analysis put forward in the CMIP report. The objective reader is still left with the conclusion reached in the report that Palestinian textbooks incite against Jews, against Israel's very existence and coexistence with its neighbors. Certain Palestinian textbooks still depict Jews as greedy, treacherous, racist liars and thieves. They are the "enemies of the Arabs," of "the prophets and believers" and even of God. They aspire to rule and control the world, and they view the "non-Jews as pigs just fit for servicing them."

With regard to the work by Mustafa Dabbagh, CMIP would like to clarify the following points: (1) Our Country Palestine was not originally printed in 1947. In 1947 there existed a manuscript, which was lost at sea during Dabbagh's flight from Jaffa to Egypt. This volume was first printed in 1965 by the Dar al-Taliah printing house in Beirut. The same house printed Volume 2 in 1966. (2) Our Country Palestine is not "merely mentioned" in the chapter of the Palestinian Authority's sixth-grade textbook Our Beautiful Language, devoted to Mustafa Murad Dabbagh. Most of this chapter is actually a long quote from the introduction that Dabbagh wrote in 1964 for the first edition of his work. Moreover, in the eighth lesson, for example, the pupils are asked to write a detailed account of the importance of their cities or villages. The lesson suggests using Dabbagh's book to perform this task. So, the pupils have to use Dabbagh's work, which provides a detailed account of each town and village in Palestine from the archeological, historical, geographical, geological, botanical and economic point of view.

(3) Our Country Palestine was reprinted by the University Graduates Union of the province of Hebron, Volume 1 in 1973 and Volume 2 in 1985. Also, one of the copies of Our Country Palestine that was used by CMIP during its research came from the library of one of the intermediate schools of Hebron. (4) The quote "There is no alternative to destroying Israel" appears in the 1965 edition. In the 1973 edition this sentence was changed to "There is no alternative to the complete destruction of Israel." In spite of the Oslo accords, the State of Israel still does not appear on any map in any of the Palestinian textbooks or teachers' guides. One cannot find the slightest hint of recognition of the State of Israel, within its borders of 1948 or even within the framework of the 1947 UN Palestine partition plan. There is no reference to the peace process or to the content of the Oslo accords, to the mutual recognition between Palestinians and Israelis, or to their mutual commitment at Oslo to solve their conflict exclusively by negotiation. Unfortunately, certain Palestinian educational materials advocate the opposite approach--the obligation to liberate Palestine by jihad.

One can find numerous quotes propagating this indoctrination, including excerpts from Palestinian textbooks on the CMIP website (www.edume.org).

DR. YOHANAN MANOR
Vice chairman,
Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace


MOUGHRABI REPLIES

Ramallah, West Bank

In October 2000 most international agencies in the West Bank and Gaza evacuated what they call their "nonessential" staff. In those grim days, UNICEF in particular was not answering our phone calls or responding to our e-mail requests. More significant, however, is the fact that UNICEF's intervention here was minimal, mostly geared to increasing general awareness about the psychological effects of trauma on Palestinian children, by placing ads in newspapers and by distributing a useful booklet designed to help teachers and parents recognize the symptoms and try to deal with them. Pierre Poupard recently sent us a letter in which he claims that UNICEF has also done a limited amount of training of teachers. In other crises throughout the world, UNICEF intervened immediately by conducting large-scale screening and by devising intervention strategies, thereby gaining a wealth of experience in responding to children who suffer the effects of trauma. Excellent and useful work was carried out in neighboring Lebanon with the help of Dr. Mouna Macksoud, who translated screening measures to Arabic and adapted them to local needs. This was not done here, despite the nearly half-million dollars allocated to the task. Palestinian children and their parents continue to cope on their own.

Dr. Manor's response is consistent with a pattern of lies that permeates the entire work of CMIP. He claims that CMIP responded to me and invited me to "openly and honestly examine and discuss the content of the textbooks themselves" and that I have not answered. This is another lie. I never heard from them.

A much longer version of my Nation article is forthcoming in the Journal of Palestine Studies. It will contain even more proof, on the basis of text analysis, of CMIP lies and distortions.

If textbooks are indeed a "clear expression of what governments instill in the minds of the young," as Manor suggests, then I invite him to take a look at Israeli school textbooks, which to this day view Arabs as thieves, killers and marauders; present a map of Israel that includes the entire area from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River as the eternal Land of Israel; and describe the occupied Palestinian West Bank as Judea and Samaria, where no Arabs are said to exist. His obfuscatory remarks about Our Country Palestine notwithstanding, the fact is that CMIP deliberately misquotes and badly translates in order to force a point about a book that various scholars consider to be a classic reference work on the history of Palestine during the British Mandate.

I am more than happy to enter into an honest and open debate on the issue of Palestinian and Israeli school textbooks with knowledgeable and professional Israeli colleagues, but not with extremists whose political agenda is to show that peace and coexistence with the Palestinians are impossible.

FOUAD MOUGHRABI



FETAL POSITIONS

Washington, D.C.

I don't think it was fair for Katha Pollitt to object to my observation that embryonic stem cell research, "'rightly or wrongly' summons up visions of Dr. Mengele's Auschwitz experiments" ["Subject to Debate," Aug. 20]. That's exactly how many people feel, and for those debating the issue it's important to know what motivates all sides. Nevertheless, I must say Pollitt made some good points in illuminating the inconsistencies of some of those favoring funding for embryonic stem cell research.

She correctly summarizes Orrin Hatch's position as: It's "OK to destroy a frozen embryo because the embryo is only a person if it's in a woman." Dubbing this the "location theory of personhood," she notes that by this logic, "You put the cells in the woman, it's a person, you take them out, it's not a person, you put them back in, voilà!--it's a person again. You might as well say Orrin Hatch is a person in his office but not in his car." Well put. But it would be nice if Pollitt would apply her wit and reasoning to the "convenience theory of personhood." If the mother wants it, it's called a "baby," cards are sent out, the empty bedroom is decorated with stuffed animals and a crib is installed. If the mother doesn't want it, it's called a fetus and aborted.

MICHAEL FUMENTO
Senior fellow,
The Hudson Institute


Ames, Iowa

Katha Pollitt suggests that antichoice women be recruited to gestate the 100,000 frozen embryo children in need of homes. But how responsible is this? If half of all fertilized eggs fail to implant, we would be condemning 50,000 embryo children to death. Really, the safest place for an embryo child is the freezer. In fact, we might require all fertilized embryos to be removed and frozen for their own safety. What responsible parent would want an embryo child to be faced with the perils of gestation and birth--and ultimate death? Besides solving the problem of death, freezing all embryo children would save money spent on education, medical care and other things that we are too prone to provide for unruly children. Frozen embryos are certainly the best behaved, least troublesome children we will ever get.

DEBORAH FINK

The principal source of the allegation is a Jewish-American NGO called the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace, whose website contains the full text of a study titled "The New Palestinian Authority School Textbooks for Grades One and Six." The study's research director, Itamar Marcus, is an extreme right-winger who lives in the West Bank settlement of Efrat. It concludes: "Ever since the PA (Palestinian Authority) became responsible for education in 1994, Palestinian children have been learning from their schoolbooks to identify Israel as the evil colonialist enemy who stole their land.... The new PA schoolbooks fail to teach their children to see Israel as a neighbor with whom peaceful relations are expected. They do not teach acceptance of Israel's existence on the national level, nor do they impart tolerance of individual Jews on the personal level."

The CMIP report is full of distortions, exaggerations and outright lies. For example, it claims that an old anti-Semitic history book written by Mustafa Dabbagh is now required reading for Palestinian students, that this book is dedicated to "those who are battling for the expulsion of the enemy from our land!" and that it contains a banner on the title page of volume one that supposedly proclaims, "There is no alternative to destroying Israel."

The book in question, Our Country Palestine, is a ten-volume history written in 1947 that scholars consider a classic Arab reference on Mandatory Palestine. It is not required reading for Palestinian students. I found a copy of the 1988 edition at the Ramallah public library. It contains no banner on the title page of volume one or any other volume with the alleged proclamation. And a more accurate translation of the dedication is "to those who have struggled to keep Palestine Arab." The only segment that Palestinian students are required to read is a moving personal account in the introduction to volume one in which the author describes the circumstances of his forced departure from his hometown, Jaffa, in 1948.

The Palestinians have been tried and convicted in total disregard of the facts.

Deborah Sontag of the New York Times visited a Palestinian classroom in Ramallah on September 7, 2000. My own 6-year-old son happens to attend this school, and he was in the same classroom. It is obvious from the text of her subsequent article in the Times that Sontag was primarily looking for evidence to substantiate the charge. She found none. Instead, she drew a thorough picture of the pedagogical dilemmas facing Palestinians in dealing with complex historical issues.

Israelis who have carefully examined the new Palestinian textbooks have arrived at different conclusions from those of the right-wing researchers. Writing in the leading daily Ha'aretz in January, Akiva Eldar said: "The Palestinians are being rebuked where they should in fact be praised. For this school year the Palestinian Authority has, for the first time ever, printed its own textbooks. A research team from the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, led by Dr. Ruth Firer, has established that the new books are 'freer of negative stereotypes of Jews and Israelis, compared to Jordanian and Egyptian books.' The defense establishment has investigated and confirmed this finding." Quoted in Le Monde diplomatique, Dr. Firer attributes a political motivation to the right-wing researchers at CMIP, who, she says, have no educational or methodological background and only want to prove that it's impossible to achieve peace with the Palestinians.

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