Israel: Educating for Peace in the Classroom...Israeli Textbooks...

Posted: 5/9/2010 10:19:00 AM
Author: THe Israel Project
Source: This is a special report of the Israel Project.

Israel: Educating for Peace in the Classroom
Israeli Textbooks Teach Children Acceptance and Peace with Palestinians
Expert sources (Israel, U.S., Canada) on teaching peace in Israeli schools, Israeli society

The Israeli school system has made teaching peace a cornerstone of its curricula,[1] focusing on tolerance and reconciliation as keys to creating a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike.[2] This goal has continued even as Iran-backed Hamas continues to launch rockets, missiles and mortars at Israel[3] and Palestinian classrooms remain filled with negative images of Jews and Israelis[4] – in violation of past agreements between the two sides.[5]

Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed to educate their populations for peace in 1995 when they signed the “Oslo II” Interim Agreement. The agreement states that, “Israel and the [Palestinian] Council will ensure that their respective educational systems contribute to the peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples and to peace in the entire region, and will refrain from the introduction of any motifs that could adversely affect the process of reconciliation.”[6]

Although the Palestinian Authority has omitted some negative references to Jews and Israelis since it began reprinting school textbooks in 2007, many books continue to minimize the Jewish historical and religious presence in Israel. Additionally, textbooks continue to portray martyrdom in a positive light.[7]

The Israeli government is committed to the concept that a peace-oriented education is necessary to end the conflict with Israel’s Palestinian neighbors. Israeli textbooks specifically frame peace as an attainable goal and avoid using negative stereotypes to discuss Islam or the Arab world. In presenting controversial topics, Israeli textbooks strive for objectivity by exposing students to multiple viewpoints.[8]

Israel's education system

Reflecting Israel’s diverse population, Israel has four distinct school systems: state, religious, private and Arab/Druze.[9] The national and local governments fund 80 percent of all Israeli education.[10]

•State schools supplement the core curriculum with courses in Judaism, Bible studies, cultures, history, citizenship and languages;
•Religious schools emphasize Jewish religious duties and Bible studies;
•Private schools are run by various religious and international organizations;
•Arab and Druze schools provide instruction in Arabic. They supplement the traditional curriculum with lessons about Islam and the Druze religion, as well as the history and culture of both peoples.[11]
Despite differences among the four systems, each year the Ministry of Education introduces a theme of national significance to school curricula for all children. Past themes have included democratic values, immigration, peace and industry.[12]

Governmental and other coexistence programs

Israeli society is diverse: as of Dec. 31, 2008, Israel’s population was 75.5 percent Jewish, 16.8 percent Muslim, 1.7 percent Arab Christian and 1.7 percent Druze.[13] To accommodate this diversity, Israel’s Ministry of Education created a Department for Education for Democracy and Coexistence. This branch trains teachers to develop curricula to promote diversity. Specifically, the program educates students about:

•tolerance and accepting differences
•life in a multicultural society
•promoting relationships among all the citizens of Israel[14]
Dr. Shlomo Alon, the Ministry of Education’s Arabic Studies supervisor and a fluent Arabic speaker, encourages Arabic-language study among Israelis. Said Alon, "If you know the language of the other, you have the power to break barriers."[15] Alon has helped develop core courses throughout Israeli classrooms, such as one for middle schools called “Challenges of Recognizing the Other" in which students read classical Arabic and Hebrew texts in their original languages.[16]

In 1997, Arab-Israeli and American-Israeli educators Amin Khalaf and Lee Gordon founded Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education, a network of accredited public bilingual schools.[17] Hand in Hand now has four campuses in Jerusalem, the Galilee region, Wadi Ara and Beersheva; each school has a Jewish and an Arab principal, and one Jewish and one Arab teacher jointly lead each class. The goal is to build understanding, friendship and peace through education. Jewish and Arab students attend classes in the same proportion and learn each other’s language, religion and culture. Hand in Hand works in conjunction with Israel’s Ministry of Education.[18]

Click here to read about a range of coexistence programs designed to promote better understanding and interaction among Israel’s Arabs and Jews.

Israeli textbooks: a snapshot of lessons in Israeli classrooms

The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE), formerly the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP), is a non-profit and non-political organization that examines the content of school textbooks used in the Middle East. IMPACT-SE found that Israeli textbooks, instead of calling for war or violence, frame peace as an attainable goal and emphasize the desire for peace to prevail.[19]

A 2004 study of Israeli textbooks conducted by the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, a think tank committed to a two-state solution through Israeli-Palestinian dialogue,[20] found:

•Israelis are taught a positive approach towards other cultures, including Palestinian culture;[21]
•Israeli children are taught that Jews were treated with tolerance by Muslim leaders throughout the Middle Ages and the Ottoman Empire;[22]
•Both Christianity and Islam are taught comprehensively and in an academic manner;[23]
•Textbooks provide the Palestinian perspective of the events of 1948 and 1967;[24]
•Examples and descriptions are given of Arab-Israelis in a variety of career fields, such as academia and medicine;[25]
•Textbooks do not mention Jewish communities in early Palestine, thus demonstrating Israel's recognition of the large Arab populations that existed prior to Israel’s establishment;[26]
•Exercises in sixth-grade workbooks teach students how to use dialogue to resolve debates that may arise between Israelis and Palestinians;[27]
•Textbooks’ portrayal of the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict include the question of borders;[28]
•Critiques of Israeli policy during the 1967 and 1973 wars are included in textbooks;[29]
•Textbooks factually depict Arab and Palestinian political policies;[30]
•Textbooks outline the Palestinian struggle as a national movement;[31]
•Students learn about holy sites significant specifically for Muslims, as well as those that have religious importance for both Jews and Christians.[32]

Examples of Israeli textbooks promoting peace

•Israeli textbooks present a nuanced view of Palestinian Arabs, rather than as a uniform group. A 2001 history book differentiates between Palestinian factions in the 1930s: the moderate Nashashibi family, which favored compromise with the Jewish population, and the Husseini family, which rejected compromise.[33]
•Israeli textbooks use simulation games to help students understand different perspectives on an issue. For example, students are told to divide into groups representing Jewish and Palestinian journalists and to prepare reports examining the 1947 United Nations' deliberations that culminated in the Partition Plan. Students then discuss the differences between the reports.[34]
•Israeli textbooks recognize the achievements of Arabs and Muslims. One text discusses the Arabs as creators of culture: "...They were the first to discover the existence of infectious diseases. They were also the first to build public hospitals. Because of their considerable contribution to various scientific fields, there are disciplines that to this day are called by their Arabic names, such as algebra."[35] Another textbook on urban development refers to “the important means invested by the Caliphs in developing existing cities and creating new ones according to precise planning.”[36]
•Israeli textbooks explain the origins of Palestinian nationalism. A ninth-grade textbook observes that "during the 1930s, Arab nationalist movements evolved all over the Middle East. Many of the Arabs of [the land of Israel] also began formulating a national consciousness - in other words, the perception that they are not just part of the larger Arab nation, but are also Palestinians.”[37]
•The Arab point of view is represented. A history textbook notes how Israel's government treated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's 1971 peace proposal "with scorn out of the feeling of power and superiority that had taken hold of Israeli society following the Six Day War. After his proposal had been rejected and the political stalemate continued, Sadat decided to go to war.”[38]
•Israeli textbooks contain a plurality of views, including those that conflict with conventional research and are critical of Israeli policies. Controversial topics, such as the disputed territories, the refugee issue and the status of Arab Israelis, are covered from multiple viewpoints. For example, one book quotes a controversial revisionist historian's position attributing the flight of Palestinians in 1947-1948 more to the actions of Jewish forces than instructions by leaders of Arab countries.[39]
•Israeli textbooks recognize the importance of the land to Muslims. An example of this is found in a textbook that talks about the importance of the land of Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, to Islam, citing the two mosques built on the Temple Mount, known as the Haram al-Sharif in Arabic (the Noble Sanctuary).[40]
•Israeli textbooks recognize the Palestinian narrative. One example of this is found in a 2001 civics textbook, in which a Palestinian perspective is portrayed: “[…] I do not demand that [Israel] stops being ‘Zionist’ or ‘Jewish,’ but it is my right as a Citizen…to be sure that my children who were born in the land of their fathers and their fathers before them will be entitled to the natural rights.”[41]

Experts on Israeli schools


Itamar Marcus, Director, Palestinian Media Watch
Tel.: 972-2-625-4140 (office)

Shelley Elkayam, Truman Research Institute for The Advancement of Peace, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Israel Educational Counselors Association Representative at the Knesset Committee on Education
Tel.: 972-2-679-4636

Zehava Kaufman, Israeli school teacher who teaches peace in her classroom
Tel.: 972-9-766-3770 (office); 972-6-434-9498 (home)

Experts on Israeli society

United States, Canada

Barbara Crook (Canada), Palestinian Media Watch
Tel.: 613-238-0933 (office); 613-220-4570 (cell)

Institute for the Study of Modern Israel of Emory University
Tel.: 404-727-2798 (office)

David Makovsky, Senior Fellow, Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Tel.: 202-452-0650 (office)

Kenneth Waltzer, Professor of History, James Madison College, Director, Jewish Studies
Tel.: 517-432-3493 (office)


Gerald Steinberg, Professor of Political Science, Bar Ilan University, Begin-Sadat Center
Tel.: 972-3-531-8043 (office); 972-54-489-0445 (cell)

Aaron Lerner, Director, Independent Media Review & Analysis
Tel.: 972-9-760-4719 (office); 972-54-231-6470 (cell)



[1] Teff-Seker, Yael, “Arabs, Islam and Palestinians in Israeli Textbooks: A Preliminary Update,” IMPACT-SE, November 2009,

[2] Solomon, Richard H., "Teaching Peace or War?" United States Institute for Peace: Briefings and Congressional Testimony, Oct. 13, 2003,

[3] IDF Spokesperson’s Unit communiqué, Jan. 3, 2009

[4] Groiss, Arnon, “Palestinian Schoolbooks: An Updated Conclusion,” IMPACT-SE, October 2009,

[5] “The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sept. 28, 1995,

[6] “The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sept. 28, 1995,

[7] Groiss, Arnon, “Palestinian Schoolbooks: An Updated Conclusion,” IMPACT-SE, October 2009,

[8] Teff-Seker, Yael, “Arabs, Islam and Palestinians in Israeli Textbooks: A Preliminary Update,” IMPACT-SE, November 2009,

[9] "Education - Primary and secondary," Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, March 15, 2003,

[10] “Education,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, April 1, 2008,

[11] “Education,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, April 1, 2008,

[12] “Education,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, April 1, 2008,

[13] Figures calculated from “Israel in Figures,” Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, 2009,, p. 10.

[14] “Building Bridges: Israeli Public Policy,” Jewish Virtual Library,, accessed April 28, 2010

[15] Kloosterman, Karin, “It's time to learn the language of the other,” Israel21c, Jan. 24, 2010,

[16] Bar, Idit; Davidian, Efrat eds., Journal of the Teachers of Arabic and Islam, vol. 27, Israeli Curriculum Center, Israel Ministry of Education Pedagogical Secretariat, 2002,

[17] “Selected Gift Opportunities,” Hand in Hand Web site,, accessed April 28, 2010

[18] “Overview,” Hand in Hand Web site,, accessed April 28, 2010

[19] Teff-Seker, Yael, “Arabs, Islam and Palestinians in Israeli Textbooks: A Preliminary Update,” IMPACT-SE, November 2009,

[20] "Examination of Israeli textbooks in elementary schools of the state educational system," Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, April 2004,

[21] Ibid., p. 7

[22] Ibid., p. 8

[23] Ibid., p. 8

[24] Ibid., p. 9

[25] Ibid., p. 9

[26] Ibid., p. 10

[27] Ibid., p. 14

[28] Ibid., p. 19

[29] Ibid., p. 36

[30] Ibid., p. 36

[31] Ibid., p. 36

[32] Ibid., p. 48

[33] Teff-Seker, Yael, “Arabs, Islam and Palestinians in Israeli Textbooks: A Preliminary Update,” IMPACT-SE, November 2009,

[34] Tabibian, K., "Journey to the Past - The Twentieth Century, By Dint of Freedom." 1999, p. 294

[35] "From Generation to Generation," Vol. b, 1994, p. 220

[36] “Journeys through Time: Cities and Communities,” 2008, p. 31, cited in Teff-Seker, Yael, “Arabs, Islam and Palestinians in Israeli Textbooks: A Preliminary Update,” IMPACT-SE, November 2009,

[37] "The Twentieth Century - On the Threshold of Tomorrow." Grade 9, 1999, p.44

[38] Tabibian, K., "Journey to the Past - The Twentieth Century, By Dint of Freedom," 1999, p. 313

[39] "From Exile to Independence - The History of the Jewish People in Recent Generations," Vol. 2, 1990, p. 312

[40] “This is the Land – Introduction to Land of Israel Studies,” 1999, p. 161; “Similarly, Nationality – The Beginning,” 2008, p. 101, cited in Teff-Seker, Yael, “Arabs, Islam and Palestinians in Israeli Textbooks: A Preliminary Update,” IMPACT-SE, November 2009,

[41] “Being Citizens in Israel: A Jewish and Democratic State,” p. 39, cited in Teff-Seker, Yael, “Arabs, Islam and Palestinians in Israeli Textbooks: A Preliminary Update,” IMPACT-SE, November 2009,