Report on Palestinian Textbooks

FAQ – Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
  • 1. What does the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research do?

    The Institute conducts research into the production, content and appropriation of educational media for schools in its socio-cultural, political, economic and historical contexts. The GEI has been conducting and facilitating research into educational media for over 40 years and has become an international reference centre in this field.
    It is particularly important to us that we make our research results and findings, and corresponding recommendations, available to national and international education practitioners and policy makers, and educational media producers. We aim, through our work, to help improve education in schools around the world. The GEI provides digital products for educational media research and has the world’s most comprehensive collection of international textbooks in its library in Braunschweig, which currently contains textbooks from 173 countries.
    Educational media for schools play an important role in academia, politics and education. Textbooks, as carriers of the knowledge and information that one generation wishes to pass on to the next, frequently become political issues. This applies particularly to textbooks from regions affected by conflict.

  • 2. What significance is attached to textbooks in areas affected by conflict?

    Although textbooks cannot solve political or violent conflict, they have the potential to play a de-escalatory role in a conflict and therefore contribute significantly to the ability of future generations to comprehend and compromise. Textbooks and their content are themselves influenced by conflict, especially one that is violent and drawn out. Disputes can subsequently arise, within a society or between representatives or stakeholders from different states, concerning the content of textbooks or the way they depict certain things, which results in the textbooks themselves becoming the point of contention. Such disputes about textbook content are generally part of the wider framework of the conflict and can only be fully comprehended within that context.

  • 3. Who commissioned the study and why?

    The study of textbooks issued by the education ministry of the Palestinian Authority was commissioned by the EU with the aim of examining how Palestinian textbooks address central themes of civic education such as human rights or tolerance, whether they invoke violence or hate, and if so in what way. The study’s objective was to provide the EU with a critical, comprehensive and objective foundation for political dialogue with the Palestinian Authority on the subject of education.

  • 4. When was the study completed?

    The research project started in September 2019. The study was completed in February 2021 and sent to the EU in March 2021. It was published in June 2021 after being reviewed by the EU.

  • 5. Who was involved in the preparation of the study?

    The team responsible for the analysis was led by Professor Riem Spielhaus and comprised experts in textbook research as well as scholars with regional expertise. The researchers will not be named for their protection. No members of the project team were assigned other tasks during the duration of the project. Employees who leave the GEI at the end of their contracts are generally no longer included on the GEI web site.

  • 6. How did the GEI ensure the academic quality of the study?

    All our researchers are obliged to follow the Institute’s guidelines on ethical academic practice. The GEI’s quality management procedure ensures that the research process, the research data and the findings are evaluated internally and externally before publication; a procedure that was also followed for this project.

  • 7. What exactly was the subject of the research?

    The study analysed textbooks and teacher manuals that were published by the Palestinian education ministry between 2017 and 2019 for use in general education schools in the subjects: Arabic language, social studies, history, geography, religious education, mathematics and the natural sciences. In addition a further 18 textbooks amended by the Palestinian education ministry in 2020 were also analysed and compared with previous versions, and significant differences recorded.

  • 8. How were the textbooks selected for analysis?

    The GEI selected 156 textbooks from a total of 309 available volumes. The textbooks were selected according to academic criteria that sought to compile as representative a sample as possible. The basis of selection was to include all subjects and all school years, and to guarantee a balanced ratio of textbooks from each of the three years of publication being examined. At the EU’s request, 18 textbooks for the 2020/2021 academic year were subsequently analysed for amendments after the conclusion of the initial part of the study.

  • 9. What are the most significant findings?

    The analysis revealed a complex picture: on one hand the textbooks adopt UNESCO standards and criteria established within international education discourse, such as material on human rights. Yet on the other hand they express antagonism towards Israel within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This ambivalence is made clear in the study where it explains the finding that many sections or chapters are dedicated to themes such as tolerance and the observation of human rights but at the same time the textbooks contain anti-Semitic narratives and glorifications of violence. Both these points are presented and contextualised in detail in the study.

  • 10. Are there variations between the different subjects?

    The type and quantity of depictions of violence varies significantly between textbooks for different subjects. Language textbooks contain emotionally charged representations of Israeli violence while portraying Palestinian violence as heroic. Teaching materials for history, geography and social studies, however, follow an approach that places the events and facts depicted within the narrative of national resistance and, particularly in material for the upper years, requires pupils to reflect upon violent and peaceful forms of resistance against the Israeli occupation. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also referenced in a few of the numerous allusions to everyday life in textbooks for STEM subjects; some of those references demonstrate escalatory potential.

  • 11. Why does the study conclude that the textbooks follow the UNESCO standards yet also contain content that glorifies violence and is anti-Semitic?

    Anti-Semitism and the glorification of violence are not compatible with the UNESCO standards. The study devotes a chapter to elements of global citizenship education contained in the textbooks such as political education, education for sustainable development, diversity education and the portrayal of discourses on human rights in general, and in reference to the rights of specific groups such as women, children or people with disabilities. The textbooks emphasise in numerous places the goal of equal access to amenities and services and participation in public life, and support understanding and dialogue as values, but do not explicitly apply these values to Israelis. A further chapter of the study addresses the portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This not only includes examples of the glorification of violence and anti-Semitism but also scientifically justifies why the examples are characterised as such. These findings do not contradict the statement that the textbooks lay particular value on political education and human rights education and in this respect follow UNESCO standards.

  • 12. Do Palestinian textbooks incite violence against Israelis?

    Direct calls for violence against Israelis were not found in the analysed textbooks. The textbooks do, however, contain many portrayals of violence that depict everyday life in the conflict-ridden occupied areas, or which illustrate the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are also portrayals that defend, or even support, violence against Israelis – who are generally referred to as ‘Zionist occupiers’. These portrayals range from the description of the first Intifada as the ‘Uprising of stones’ to heroising depictions of even deadly violence against Israeli soldiers in military skirmishes. Violence against Israeli civilians, such as that perpetrated in attacks by Palestinian organisations in the 1970s, is not condemned but rather portrayed as a legitimate method of the struggle during that period; terrorist acts, such as that committed by Dalal al-Mughrabi are recounted as examples of self-sacrificing ‘resistance’. In social science textbooks these descriptions are mostly included alongside portrayals of civilian, unarmed resistance against the Israeli occupation – such as strikes – and are often accompanied by exercises that encourage discussion of the examples given.

  • 13. How is the state of Israel portrayed?

    The state of Israel is seldom mentioned by name; the textbooks more frequently refer to the ‘Zionist occupation’. Indeed both terms often occur within the same text segment, for example in descriptions of the attempts at peace between the 1970s and the 1990s. Maps of the region do not show Israel and Israeli cities that were founded by Jews, such as Tel Aviv, are not marked. The region is depicted from the coast to the border with Jordan as a single All-Palestine and frequently illustrated on symbolic maps in the Palestinian national colours.

  • 14. Do Palestinian textbooks propagate hatred against Israelis and Jews?

    A system of categorisation was developed for the study, based on academic literature, designed to assess the extent to which particular depictions could generate hatred towards those depicted – in this case Israelis and Jews. Under this system of categorisation, dehumanising depictions for example, or portrayals of others that could be classified as aggressive, malicious or debasing, played a significant role. In cases where such depictions were cumulative or displayed an escalatory potential, it can be assumed that they could generate or reinforce feelings of hatred in pupils. The textbooks contain such portrayals in text sections or images that dehumanise the Israeli ‘other’ or present them, in an escalatory manner, as aggressive. Specific examples are included in the report, which also demonstrates how this occurs and which linguistic, visual or didactic methods are employed.

  • 15. Do the textbooks contain anti-Semitic depictions?

    One of the textbooks for religious education contains cumulative stereotypes and accusations that can clearly be characterised as anti-Semitic. In this example Jews are collectively portrayed as adversaries who sought to kill the Prophet Muhammed or who behaved in a hostile manner towards the Muslim community. The same chapter projects the accusations and supposed characteristics onto the present and links them with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Other textbook depictions connect allegations of Israeli attempts to Judaise (East) Jerusalem and its sacred Islamic sites with implications of a Jewish conspiracy, which equally fall within the realm of classic anti-Semitic ideas.

  • 16. Have amendments been made to the 2020/2021 textbooks?

    The comparison of the selected textbooks for the 2020/2021 academic year with their predecessors showed that text sections and images carrying escalatory potential have been reduced in the current textbooks for 2020/2021. Certain references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been removed from textbooks for mathematics and natural sciences. References to protagonists of the armed Palestinian resistance have also been amended in certain places or removed.

  • 17. Why are not all examples of escalatory potential found in the textbooks included in the study?

    Due to the number and scope of the textbooks analysed, the study provides selected examples as evidence of the main statements in the individual chapters, which are then examined and contextualised. This is common academic practice.

  • 18. Did the study investigate how Palestinian textbooks are implemented in the classroom, to examine the role they play in the learning and teaching process?

    The use and application of textbooks are important aspects of textbook research. Such an analysis was not part of the remit of this study and would not have been feasible in the time allotted.

  • 19. Textbooks are always a ‘political’ issue – how do you approach this situation from a scientific point of view?

    The GEI’s mission is to improve understanding of the past, present and future through our academic work. Through an analysis of textbooks and other materials used in the classroom we are able to make recommendations for policy makers and educators with regards to eliminating stereotypes and negative images of the ‘enemy’ from educational media. As part of this process we reflect critically upon our research and follow our guidelines for good academic practice. One of our core beliefs is that communication between academia, society and politicians leads to improvements in education but that academic work must remain independent and free from political, economic or ideological interests. The analysis and contextualisation of political messages is part of the scholarly process and follows established research standards and theoretical frameworks.

  • 20. How can Palestinian textbooks be improved in the near future?

    The Palestinian Authority has shown a continuing commitment to improving the quality of its textbooks. When revising textbooks, it is necessary, on the one hand, to change individual text passages and images. Central to this process is that all anti-Semitic narratives and content glorifying violence should be removed. On the other hand any revisions should take pedagogic and didactic approaches into consideration. The process of textbook revision, which is always the responsibility of an individual state, is protracted and challenging and always dependent upon political constellations, particularly in regions affected by conflict. Support for such revision processes can be provided by external bodies such as international advisory boards, or ideally in this case within a bilateral Israeli-Palestinian framework, based on both nations’ mutually comparative perspectives on educational media. The continuation of the dialogue between the EU and the Palestinian Authority may help accelerate the revision process that began in 2016.

  • 21. How do you respond to criticism that you included books in the study that are not part of the Palestinian Authority’s curriculum, but are designed and printed in Israel and provided to schools? Did the GEI analyse the ‘wrong’ textbooks?

    This allegation is not correct. Because Israel annexed East Jerusalem and controls the education system in this part of the city, Israeli authorities approve and amend textbooks issued by the Palestinian Authority for use in schools in East Jerusalem. An integral part of the mandate issued by the EU was the analysis of seven such textbooks. They are identified and described in a separate chapter of the study. The study does not examine Israeli textbooks.

  • 22. What was the ‘interim report’ published on the internet in August 2020?

    The GEI did not publish an interim report. The document published on the internet concerns a PDF file created by a third party, which was based on an internal discussion and was declared to be a GEI publication without the Institute’s consent.

  • Further Project Information


    Project Duration

    • September 2019 – June 2021

    Projekt Funding

    • European Union