Study Whitewashing P.A. Textbook's Anti-Israel Bias?

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israel has long charged that Palestinians teach their children to hate Israel at school and through the media. But now, a research project funded by the State Department claims, at least in textbooks, that's not true.

But some experts wonder if there is an agenda behind the report.

"The results show that there's almost no stereotypes, there is no hate speech, there's no inciting for violence in the Palestinian textbooks," Dr. Sami Adwan, associate professor of education at Bethlehem University, said.

"But what thing is unique and similar in both texts is still the peaceful co-existence between Palestinian Christians, Muslims, and Jews before the conflict started has not been emphasized," Adwan said. "It's been completely ignored or completely is missing."

American, Israeli, and Palestinian researchers spent three years examining hundreds of textbooks to determine how the two sides portrayed themselves and each other. They called their report, "Victims of Our Own Narratives? Portrayal of the 'Other' in Israeli and Palestinian School Books."

"As you know in the Oslo agreements, this was highlighted as a key issue, education for peace," Dr. Bruce Wexler, professor emeritus and senior research scientist in psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, told CBN News.

Wexler, Adwan, along with Daniel Bar-Tal, professor of research in child development and education at Tel Aviv University, presented their findings in Jerusalem on Monday.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad welcomed the research, saying the "conclusions are not in line with its standing pre-conceived positions."

But Israel wasn't so happy.

"This attempt to compare Israeli textbooks who deal entirely with the question of how you promote peace, how you promote the culture of peace, with the Palestinian textbooks that deal with exactly the opposite, how do you promote a culture of confrontation, how do you promote the readiness of people to carry out martyrdom attacks," Israeli Strategic Affairs Ministry Director General Yossi Kuperwasser told CBN News. "This comparison, something is wrong and distorted."

"We educate teachers to love," Israel Ministry of Education Director General Dalit Stauber told CBN News.

"The first word learned by a pupil who is joining the Israeli education system in the first grade is "shalom." We give him a pigeon with an olive branch to start his first day in school," Stauber said. "We teach for peace. We do not teach for hatred."

Researchers claimed to use a new method that maximized objectivity by focusing only on positive or negative statements, not truth.

For instance, the study charges that putting the 1972 Olympic Massacre in Israeli history books casts Palestinians in a negative light. Why? Because the terrorists who killed the 11 Israeli athletes were Palestinian.

It's things like this that angered Israel.

"If facts included in history books in Israel -- such as the murder of the Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich -- are presented as if Israeli books present Palestinians in a negative way, what else do we need in order to prove that this is a liable against the Ministry of Education, against professional work done by the Ministry of Education?" Stauber said.

Researchers admitted the report had its limitations.

"We had one assignment: tell us what's in the textbooks," Wexler told journalists. "We think the textbooks are important. But we certainly know the textbooks aren't the whole story. We do not include the Holy Scriptures or other things -- what goes on in the classroom, what goes on in the media."

That's exactly where experts say the study went wrong.

"They don't combine the specific items to create the full picture," Dr. Arnon Groiss told CBN News.

Groiss has studied Palestinian textbooks for over a decade. As a member of the study's advisory panel, he pointed out problems with the process.

"I don't know why -- they didn't put about 40 items, significant anti-Israel items in the Palestinian books," Groiss said. "They said, 'Well we have enough quotations. We don't have to put them all.'"

Kuperwasser said if the study was meant to help the cause of peace, it will do the opposite.

"I'm afraid that this report is going to be used in order to whitewash the Palestinians from the need to really tackle the major problem that prevents us from promoting peace here," Kuperwasser said.

"And this is the ongoing Palestinian incitement for hatred, incitement for violence, for terror and the ongoing denial of the Palestinians of the rights of the other and the existence of the other, which is the Israelis and the Jews in this piece of land," he added.

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Julie Stahl and Chris Mitchell

Julie Stahl and Chris Mitchell

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