When governments take responsibility for publishing school textbooks, such books invariably reflect what the leaders of that society want children to believe. Nowhere is this issue more crucial than in the Middle East, where national and religious passions are a constant threat to world peace. In 1998, the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP) was established to review the content of school textbooks in the region and to examine whether the books were encouraging the attitudes of mutual tolerance necessary for future peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
CMIP has reviewed textbooks prepared by the governments of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Egypt. Its criteria for analysis are twofold: First, do the texts present the images of other peoples and religions as equals or are they shown in a prejudiced way? Second, do the textbooks foster peace? CMIP also employs criteria developed by UNESCO, including, Do the textbooks include accurate data? Are illustrations, maps, and graphs accurate and up to date? Are the achievements of others recognized? Are political disputes presented objectively? Are ideals of freedom, dignity, and fraternity advocated?
CMIP found that the Israeli textbooks actively promote education for reconciliation, tolerance, and peace. They present Islam in a "positive light," with factual explanations of its doctrines. They describe the Palestinian cause as a national movement. They do not promote hatred or violence toward Arabs. Literature books for Israeli students include selections by Palestinian and other Arab authors. Some textbooks were so evenhanded that Israeli critics accused the Ministry of Education of endorsing "self-hatred."
The textbooks published by Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority, however, use negative stereotypes to portray Jews. Their maps of the region do not include any mention of Israel; its territory is usually described as "Palestine." The Arab textbooks present Jews as treacherous usurpers throughout history, with no rightful claim to nationhood. They describe the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion as an authentic historical document.
The Saudi textbooks, analyzed in 2003, expressed hostility and prejudice against not only Jews but Christians and the West. The texts teach that Islam is the only true religion and that Jews and Christians are infidels. The Western world is depicted as the source of the misfortunes of the Muslim world, from the Crusades to imperialism to the establishment of Israel. Present-day Western cultural and intellectual influence, including Western democracy, is treated as pernicious. Saudi students are taught that the West is a decaying society that is on its way to extinction because of its lack of spirituality, as well as the prevalence of such things as adultery, sodomy, suicide, and alcoholism. The texts reject terrorism but warmly praise war, jihad, and martyrdom.
If a lasting peace depends not just on "charters and covenants" but on "the hearts and minds of the people," as John F. Kennedy said, then the attitudes taught by the state to its young people are no less important than the words uttered by diplomats. The reports of CMIP can be found at www.edume.org.