Schoolbooks and Borders

by URI AVNERY

Incredible! In Palestinian schoolbooks, there is no trace of the Green Line! They do not recognize the existence of Israel even in the 1967 borders! They say that the "Zionist gangs" stole the country from the Arabs! That’s how they poison the minds of their children!

These blood-curdling revelations were published this week in Israel and around the world. The conclusion is self-evident: the Palestinian Authority, which is responsible for the schoolbooks, cannot be a partner in peace negotiations.

What a shock!

Truth is, there is nothing new here. Every few years, when all the other arguments for refusing to speak with the Palestinian leadership wear thin, the ultimate argument pops up again: Palestinian schoolbooks call for the destruction of Israel!

The ammunition is always provided by one of the "professional" institutions that deal with this matter. These are foundations of the far-right, disguised as "scientific" bodies, which are lavishly funded by Jewish-American multi-millionaires. Teams of salaried employees apply a fine-tooth comb to every word of the Arab media and schoolbooks, with a pre-ordained objective: to prove that they are anti-Semitic, preach hatred of Israel and call for the killing of Jews. In the sea of words, it is not too difficult to find suitable quotes, while ignoring everything else.

So now it is again perfectly clear: Palestinian schoolbooks preach hatred of Israel! They are breeding a new generation of terrorists! Therefore, of course, there can be no question of Israel and the world ending the blockade on the Palestinian Authority!

* * *

Well, what about our side? What do our schoolbooks look like?

Does the Green Line appear in them? Do they recognize the right of the Palestinians to establish a state on the other side of our 1967 borders? Do they teach love for the Palestinian people (or even the existence of the Palestinian people), or respect for the Arabs in general, or a knowledge of Islam?

The answer to all these questions: Absolutely not!

Recently, Minister of Education Yuli Tamir came out with a bombastic announcement saying that she intends to mark the Green Line in the schoolbooks, from which it was removed almost 40 years ago. The Right reacted angrily, and nothing more was heard about it.

From kindergarten to the last day of high school, the Israeli pupil does not learn that the Arabs have any right at all to any of this land. On the contrary, it is clear that the land belongs to us alone, that God has personally given it to us, that we were indeed driven out by the Romans after the destruction of our Temple in the year 70 (a myth) but that we returned at the beginning of the Zionist movement. Since then, the Arabs have tried again and again to annihilate us, as the Goyim have done in every generation. In 1936, the "gangs" (the official Israeli term for the fighters of the Arab Revolt) attacked and murdered us. And so on, up to this very day.

When he comes out of the pedagogic mill, the Jewish-Israeli pupil "knows" that the Arabs are a primitive people with a murderous religion and a miserable culture. He brings this view with him when he (or she) joins the army a few weeks later. There, it is reinforced almost automatically. The daily humiliation of old people and women–not to mention everybody else–at the checkpoints would not be possible otherwise.


* * *

The question is, of course, whether schoolbooks really have that much influence on the pupils.

From earliest childhood, children absorb the atmosphere of their surroundings. The conversations at home, the sights on television, the happenings in the street, the opinions of classmates at school–all these influence them far more than the written texts of the books, which in any case are interpreted by teachers who themselves have been subject to these influences.

An Arab child sees on TV an old woman lamenting the demolition of her home. He sees on the walls in the street the photos of the martyred heroes, sons of his neighborhood, who have sacrificed their lives for their people and country. He hears what has happened to his cousin who was murdered by the evil Jews. He hears from his father that he cannot buy meat or eggs, because the Jews are not allowing him to work and put food on the table. At home there is no water for most of the day. Mother tells about grandpa and grandma, who have been languishing for 60 years in a miserable refugee camp in Lebanon. He knows that his family were driven out from their village in what became Israel and that the Jews are living there now. The hero of his class is the boy who jumped on a passing Israeli tank, or who dared to throw a stone from a distance of 10 meters at a soldier who was pointing a gun at him.

We once went to a Palestinian village in order to help the inhabitants rebuild a house that had been demolished the day before by the army. While the adults were working on finishing the roof, the local children gathered around Rachel, my wife, showing a keen interest in her camera. The conversation that sprung up went like this: Where are you from? From America? No, from here. Are you messihiin (Christians)? No, Israelis. Israelis? (General laughter.) Israelis are like this: Boom Boom Boom! (They assume poses of shooting soldiers.) No, really, where are you from? From Israel, we are Jews. (They exchange looks.) Why do you come here? To help in the work. (Whispers and laughter.) One of the boys runs to his father: This woman says that they are Jews. True, the embarrassed father confirmed, Jews, but good Jews. The children draw back. They look unconvinced.

What can schoolbooks change here?

And on the Jewish Israeli side? From the earliest age, the child sees the pictures of suicide attacks on TV, bodies scattered around, the injured being taken away in ambulances with blood-curdling shrieks from their sirens. He hears that the Nazis slaughtered his mother’s entire family in Poland, and in his consciousness Nazis and Arabs become one. On every day’s news he hears bad things about what the Arabs are doing, that they want to destroy the state and throw us into the sea. He knows that the Arabs want to kill his brother, the soldier, without any reason, just because they are such murderers. Nothing about life in "the territories", perhaps just a few kilometers away, reaches him. Until he is called up, the only Arabs he meets are Israeli Arab workers doing menial work. When he joins the army, he sees them only through gun sights, every one of them of them a potential "terrorist".

For a change in the schoolbooks to have any value, reality on the ground must change first.

* * *

DOES THAT mean that schoolbooks have no importance? It should not be underestimated.

I remember giving a lecture in one of the kibbutzim in the late 60s. After I explained the need for the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel (a fairly revolutionary idea at the time), one of the kibbutzniks stood up and asked: "I don’t understand it! You want us to give back all the territories that we have conquered. Territories are something real, land, water. What shall we get in return? Abstract words like "peace"? What shall we get tachles (Yiddish for practical things)?"

I answered that from Morocco to Iraq, there are tens of thousands of classrooms, and in every one of them hangs a map. On all these maps, the territory of Israel is marked "occupied Palestine" or just left blank. All that we need is that the name Israel should appear on these thousands of maps.

Forty years have passed, and the name "Israel" does not appear in Palestinian schoolbooks, nor, I assume, on any school map from Morocco to Iraq. And the name "Palestine" does not appear, of course, on any Israeli school map. Only when the young Israeli joins the army, does he see a map of "the territories", with its crazy puzzle of Zones A, B and C, settlement blocs and apartheid roads.

A map is a weapon. From my childhood in Germany between the two World Wars I remember a map that was hanging on the wall of my classroom. On it, Germany had two borders. One (green, if I remember correctly) was the existing border, that was imposed by the treaty of Versailles after the (first) World War. The other, marked in glowing red, was the border from before the war. In thousands of classrooms all over Germany (then governed by Social-Democrats) the pupils saw every day before their eyes the terrible injustice done to Germany, when pieces were "torn" from her on every side. Thus was bred the generation which filled the ranks of the Nazi war machine in World War II.

(By the way, some fifty years later I was taken on a courtesy visit to that school. I asked the principal about that map. Within minutes, it was brought out from the archive.)

* * *

NO, I do not make light of maps. Especially not of maps in schools.

I repeat what I said then: the aim must be that the child in Ramallah sees before his eyes, on the wall of his classroom, a map on which the State of Israel is marked. And that the child in Rishon-le-Zion sees before his eyes, on the wall of his classroom, a map on which the State of Palestine is marked. Not by compulsion, but by agreement.

That is, of course, impossible as long as Israel has no borders. How can one mark on the map a state which, from its first day, has refused, consciously and adamantly, to define its borders? Can we really demand that the Palestinian ministry of education publish a map on which all the territory of Palestine lies inside Israel?

And on the other hand, how can one mark on the map the name "Palestine", when there is no Palestinian state? After all, even most of those Israeli politicians who profess–at least pro forma–to support the "two-states solution" will go to great lengths to avoid saying where the border between the two state should run. Tzipi Livni, the Foreign Minister, is totally opposed to the announced intention of her colleague, Minister of Education Yuli Tamir, to mark the Green Line, lest it be seen as a border.

Peace means a border. A border fixed by agreement. Without a border, there can be no peace. And without peace, it is the height of chutzpa to demand something from the other side that we totally refuse to do ourselves.

URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices of Dissent and Refusal. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s hot new book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

 

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