Education is universally acknowledged as a driving force for liberation. However, it has also served to legitimize oppression. Israeli textbooks play a critical role in constructing colonial discourse and advancing the erasure of the Palestinian people.
Textbooks, when misused, can be highly politicized sources of knowledge production. Books written by Israelis distort the lived experiences of Palestinians, presenting skewed narratives about the dispossession and violence under the Israeli regime.
Before 1994 and the Oslo Accords, Palestinians relied on Jordanian and Egyptian textbooks as references. However, the educational system was bankrupt, and the Israeli regime censored imported books. Moreover, censors promoted an Israeli nationalist agenda by intentionally erasing mentions of Palestine from all texts. Palestine gained limited autonomy over curriculum design in 1994 and established a new curriculum centered upon an agreement between UNESCO and the Palestine Authority’s (PA) Ministry of Education. Nevertheless, Palestine was left to work with a dilapidated education system, battered after years of Israeli sanctions, assaults, and intellectual repression.
The PA was tasked to transform the educational system internally and tackle the lack of access to education. However, Israeli censors continuously scrutinized Palestinian textbooks for containing “anti-Israeli bias.” A settler-colonial agenda was advanced, with any historical evidence of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by the Israeli Occupation called into question.
Recently, Israel’s Education Ministry ordered the removal of any content in Jerusalem textbooks that they claim incited violence. Such content they includes any references to the Palestinian flag, the key that symbolizes the Palestinian refugee experience, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and poetry verses about Israeli checkpoints. Israel threatened to revoke licenses if schools didn’t abide by the curriculum standards. Palestinian parents protested the “Israelization” of textbooks that seek to erase details of Palestinian history and identity from textbooks. The censorship in textbooks reflects control over the dominant narrative and is rooted in politics.
The Israeli regime uses its own textbooks as incessant propaganda to prepare its students to enlist in the military and unleash more violence against Palestinians. Textbooks are compulsory and often the only source of knowledge students in Israeli schools have. Hence, they are instrumental in informing young Israelis’ distorted perception of Palestinians.
In an interview with Alternate Focus, Nurit Peled-Elhanan, the author of the book Palestine in Israeli Schoolbooks: Ideology and Propaganda in Education, discusses the representation of Palestinians in Israeli textbooks. Israeli textbooks dehumanize Palestinians by erasing them from the texts entirely or presenting them as primitive or violent. In addition, textbooks categorize Palestinians as a problem and a threat to the settler state.
Peled-Elhanan argues that colors like olive green used to represent Palestinians “arouse fear and alienation in Israelis.” In comparison, she discusses how Israeli settlements are depicted in textbooks as vibrant and saturated with modernity. She illustrates the use of natural colors to convey the primitiveness of Palestinians and artificial colors to convey progress brought about by the Israeli regime.
Geography is integral to Israel's larger imperial project: textbooks' maps reflect colonialist interests. They are labeled as the “Land of Israel.” Illegally occupied Palestinian territories are depicted as within the “borders” of Israel. Population facts and other critical information related to Palestinians are absent.
Peled-Elhanan also explores the representation of death in Israeli textbooks. Textbooks construct logic to condone the massacres of Palestinians and present them as necessary in restoring “the dignity and morale to the army.” The ethnic cleansing of 1948 is fundamental to the Israeli regime's victory. According to her analysis, Israeli textbooks don’t include information about land confiscation and the persisting inequities. Instead, textbooks describe Arab settlements in Israel that were “built without a license. They are presented as people whose inferiority is their own doing or in their nature.”
This kind of disturbed thinking is prevalent well beyond the classroom. Seventy-four years of Israel’s propaganda has fortified the mentality of students of the apartheid state’s students and its Occupation Forces. While Palestinians struggle to teach their youth under challenging conditions perpetrated by the Occupation, they continue to contend with a policy of erasure that weaponizes education against them. But, of course, such a policy can never be successful if young people seek to study the past and inform themselves of the contemporary apartheid regime. History, after all, is living — it doesn’t end when the settlers put it down on paper.