The following is the text of a radio broadcast by Prof. Stephen Scheinberg (a Montreal historian who is active with Canadian Friends of Peace Now) for a program called “Radio Shalom”:
Recently a good friend posed a challenge to me. I suppose that my regular insistence that the government of Israel was thwarting any movement towards peace irritated him. His strategy was to cut to the basics, asking: “how can there be any real peace if the Palestinians continue to teach their children to hate Israel and its citizens?” In other words, let us suppose that Israel, with the best of good will, signed a peace treaty; could this overcome the hatred that “their” children are imbued with? It is not a question to be answered lightly and it demands an informed response.
First, hatred is a serious problem, among both Israelis and Palestinians. A 2007 survey conducted by University of Haifa researchers revealed the extent of this malaise. 800 Israeli, Jewish high school students from 11 schools showed a deep contempt for Arabs. Seventy-five per cent said that Arabs were “uneducated” and the same number said they were “uncivilized”. Shockingly, 74 per cent responded that they were “unclean”. That constitutes clear, unadulterated racism. I had reacted negatively to the widely distributed video from journalist Max Blumenthal that showed the nasty racism of Israeli youth through select interviews in which they attacked not only Arabs but the skin color of President Obama. I believe you can find such louts in front of the clubs in any city of the world. However, the poll results indicate that Blumenthal’s sample may not have been unrepresentative. That same poll showed that Israeli Arab students were also racist but not at quite as high a level as their Jewish counterparts.
I have not been able to locate a similar study of Palestinian youth in the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli propagandists have focused not on their opinions but on the text books they are exposed to. The Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP), a group which seems more interested in undermining rather than furthering peace efforts, has fueled the debate.
Akiva Eldar of Haaretz describes CMIP’s founder Itamar Marcus: “In recent years Marcus has been making a living translating and disseminating defamatory communications against Israel, extracted by his staff from Palestinian publications. Marcus, a settler, used to work for David Bar Illan, Benjamin Netanyahu’s PR chief, and served on the Joint Israeli Palestinian Anti-Incitement Committee. Marcus’s center routinely feeds the media with excerpts from “Palestinian” textbooks that call for Israel’s annihilation.”
Marcus’s methods have come under serious fire from Prof. Nathan Brown of George Washington University, who contends that most of the words cited by Marcus were taken from the old Egyptian and Jordanian texts and not the newer Palestinian ones. Brown’s own conclusion was more optimistic, that the newer “books certainly contained material unfriendly to Israel, but they did not attack its existence or veer into anti-Semitism.”
In their joint project Prof. Ruth Finer of Hebrew University and Prof. Sami Adwan of Bethlehem University examined 13 Israeli and nine Palestinian texts in history and civics. Not surprisingly the texts were almost mirror images of one another. Each celebrates only its own victims, and ignores the human suffering of the other. Perhaps the utopian alternative was offered by Prof. Adwan and Prof. Dan Baron who authored a joint text with parallel narratives on alternate pages. I suspect, that sadly, it did not find its way into too many schools.
Unfortunately, more typical is the finding of Prof. David Bar-Tal of Hebrew University who found that in 124 Israeli textbooks, Arabs are presented as “primitive,” “cruel,” and “riffraff.”
So, perhaps that is enough of mutual charges of racism and cultivating hatred. Neither side has a monopoly on hatred and both could do more to eliminate it. Yet, while I believe that education has an important role to play, and that parents and peers also play influential roles; the most important teacher of hatred is the conflict itself. Suicide bombers and those who fire Quassem rockets on the one hand, and on the other, those who rob Palestinian lands, destroy olive trees and above all those who support the humiliation of occupation are the professors of hatred. By all means, change the textbooks, teach anti-racism, and bring Palestinian and Jewish youngsters together to recognize their common humanity, but I fear the changes will be negligible until there are real strides towards peace.
Rodgers and Hammerstein probably had it right in their [Broadway musical] “South Pacific”: “You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, before you are six or seven or eight, to hate all the people your relatives hate, you’ve got to be carefully taught.” Conflict is the great teacher of hate; peace is the best teacher of understanding.