Sunday, February 03, 2013

The "Victims of Our Own Narratives" Study: Analysis and Response

Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs


Analysis of "Victims of Our Own Narratives" study
The "Victims of Our Own Narratives" study on Israeli and Palestinian school books correctly recognizes that education towards a culture of peace, and the cessation of incitement, are critical elements in achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace. However, the report is highly-problematic and strongly-misleading for five reasons:
The overall approach and tone of the study reflect an attempt to present an artificial and inaccurate picture of balance between the levels of incitement and peace culture development in Palestinian and Israeli textbooksIn reality, there can be no comparison between Israeli state textbooks, which, while not perfect, educate for peace, and Palestinian textbooks which are pervaded by incitement, delegitimization of Israel, and education for the continuation of conflict. While the actual findings of the study do indeed point to the very significant differences between official Israeli and Palestinian books, and the widespread incitement in the latter, in order to create the impression of balance the study understates and obscures its findings, presents results in a misleading manner,, provides excuses for thePalestinians, and couches its analysis in general terms which take as a given parallels and similarities between the educational systems.
The study omits important examples of incitement and delegitimization of Israelis and Jews in official PA textbooks, whether in an intentional attempt to blur the differences between the two educational systems or due to poor research. At the same time, it categorizes as negatives examples from Israeli textbooks which do not deserve to be described as such.  
Its methodology is flawed in that it misses or obscures critical differences between Israeli and Palestinian texts. For example, if one examines the examples categorized as negative descriptions of the acts of the other, one finds that while the Israeli examples primarily refer to pogroms and terrorist attacks against Israelis and Jews, such as the 1941 Farhud pogrom in Iraq andPLO terrorist attacks, many of the Palestinian examples describe Zionism and the foundation/existence of Israel as essentially illegitimate and immoral.Inculcating the message that Israel's existence is essentially illegitimate makes any kind of progress towards an end of the conflict and lasting peace impossible. Similarly, the study finds that in both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks martyrdom through self-sacrifice is the third most common value attributed to the self-community. This obscures the fact that the Palestinian examples glorify martyrdom while perpetuating acts against Israelis, while the Israeli examples describe historical victims of such attacks (Joseph Trumpeldor's death at the Tel Hai fortress in 1920.)
The report provides a misleading picture regarding its sponsors. The report states that the study received funding from the US State Department, creating the impression of official US support for the study. While the project did receive a State Department grant in 2008, the US government had noinvolvement with the methodology or findings of the study and has not lent its support to the actual report. Additionally the authors of the report attempt to provide it with an aura of respectability and authority by noting that it was commissioned by the 'Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land'. This too is misleading as the Jewish representative on the Council, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, has retracted its support for the studyIt should also be noted that the Palestinian representatives on the council, the PA Minister of Religious Affairs and the Chief Justice of the PA Sharia Courts, have themselves made publically-documented statements of incitement and delegitimization against Israel on a number of occasions, including denying the Jewish connection to the Western Wall. (see Appendix 1 for examples).  
Perhaps most importantly- The study provides a highly-flawed and distorted depiction of the PA's systematic efforts to educate and indoctrinate Palestinian children to hate, violence and non-acceptance of Israel's existence. This is a result of the fact that the study focuses only on a very specific and limited component of those efforts. In addition to the material included in school books, official PA educational publications, matriculation exams, summer camps, children's media programs, cultural events and social media portals, all constitute key components of the PA system for inculcating messages which glorify terror, demonize Israelis and Jews, and teach that Israel's existence is illegitimate and transitory.Information regarding incitement in these other educational and youth-oriented arenas and platforms is readily available in the public domain. While the study's authors can perhaps justify these omissions by the narrow mandate given to the study, the inaccurate and misleading picture which resultsstrongly compromises the study's utility as an investigation into the phenomenon of education for peace/conflict and its potential solutions.
Despite the report's many flaws which together produce a deceptive and misleading picture, its findings regarding the pervasiveness of incitement and education for conflict in the PA school system must give pause to those funding this system. The study finds that in Palestinian textbooks, 84% of the descriptions of the other are very negative or negative, 87% of the descriptions of the other's actions are very negative or negative, and jihad is the number one value (together with cooperation) attributed to the self-community. Countries interested in promoting a viable Israeli-Palestinian peace should condition their support for Palestinian educational frameworks on their promotion of peace rather than conflict.
Thanks Gerald Steinberg

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