A matter of perspective
Do you know when the Palestinian people came to be, or when their national identity was formed? A textbook taught at one of the Palestinian Authority schools states that the "ancient history of Palestine bore witness to the invasion of the Israelites, led by Joshua in [the 12th century B.C.E.], and to their battle with the Canaanites and the Palestinians." If that is the case, Joshua and his army didn't conquer Canaan, they conquered Palestine, which, according to this textbook, existed in the 12th century B.C.E. (if not earlier). In that case, it was Palestinians who lived between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
"King David fought the Canaanites and the Palestinians and built his kingdom on part of the Palestinian land," so claims one Palestinian textbook, according to a study published last week, titled "Victims of Our Own Narrative? Portrayal of the 'Other' in Israeli and Palestinian Schoolbooks."
And there is another so-called fact printed in Palestinian textbooks that has been deemed worthy of teaching Palestinian schoolchildren: We didn't know it, but the Palestinians were led by Goliath. The Philistine Goliath was a Palestinian leader. But the only link between Philistines and Palestinians is the similarity in the pronunciation and spelling of the names.
The research, presented by Professors Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University, Bruce Wexler of Yale and Sami Adwan of Bethlehem University, was funded by a grant from the U.S. State Department. In the study, the professors examined 492 Israeli textbooks and 148 Palestinian textbooks on various subjects.
One of the conclusions was that the hostility that lurks between the lines of both sides' textbooks is declining, and that is a good thing. But what can one say about the part of the study that demonstrates "negative" representation of the other? Here is a quote from an Israeli textbook that describes Palestinian terror acts: "Terrorism peaked when 13 students and teachers from Moshav Avivim were murdered on their way to school (1970)." Is this a "negative" representation of the Palestinians, as the study asserts, or simply a description of fact, of a terrifying incident that actually happened? In the eyes of learned professors, including one Israeli, this is an example of "negative" representation. Was this terrible incident fabricated? Is there any ideological bias in this description? Or is it simply factual truth?
What else can be found under the "negative representation of the other" category? According to the researchers, a description of the gruesome murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972 qualifies as such.
As aforementioned, the study came to the positive conclusion that the mutual hostility between Israelis and Palestinians is declining. But what will become of the Palestinian students when they grow up to be adults? Will they mention in this or that conversation that Goliath was a Palestinian leader, astonishing their conversation partners? Or perhaps they will be seen as ignorant? Why is it so important whether Goliath was Palestinian or Philistine? Because that is not how one teaches peace, reconciliation or mutual recognition.
True, there are probably also teachers in Israel who don't honor the "other," the Palestinians, but the desire for peace cannot thrive alongside the examples mentioned above. Non-Israeli diplomats have warned in the past of profound distortions found in Palestinian schoolbooks. Perhaps the books have been slightly modified since, but why weren't the three educated professors who conducted the study more appalled by the examples above? Is it really possible to look at these things with nothing more than academic neutrality?