Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Israeli textbooks, the Green Line, and Yuli Tamir

It is well known that many textbooks in use in the Middle East fail to show Israel on their maps, as for example in this map from a 4th grade Syrian civics textbook. Or Kashti reports in today's Ha'aretz that:

...on the Web site of the Israel Defense Forces intelligence division, in a section dubbed "the hatred industry," the site analyzes the textbooks distributed by the Palestinian Authority. The writers point out that the maps do not mention Israel's name. They complain that when the Green Line is marked, Israel and the territories are shown in the same color. That is one of the "sophisticated methods of bypassing the problem," the site says [link to the report that Kashti cites, by Dan Meridor].
What you may not know, however, is how the state of Israel is presented in maps in Israeli textbooks. In the same article, Kashti reports on a two-year old study by Dr. Nurit Peled-Elhanan of the Hebrew University's School of Education:
Peled-Elhanan examined six textbooks published after the Oslo Accords, including some that were officially sanctioned by the Education Ministry. Other books were adopted by many teachers even though they were not officially approved. Among the salient findings were the blurring of the Green Line, the ignoring of Arab towns in Israel, and the presentation of sites and settlements in "Judea and Samaria" (not the "West Bank") as an integral part of the State of Israel.

[editor's note: the map to the left is not, of course, from an Israeli textbook, but from YeshaHomestead, a site devoted to building settlements on land purchased from Arabs. If you should happen to be Haredi, rich, and willing to gamble on the future of settlements on the West Bank, you might be interested in purchasing a "big house" or a mansion in the mountaintop community of Givat Yakov. But I digress...].

This week, Minister of Education Yuli Tamir propsed that all maps in new editions of Israeli textbooks show the Green Line, and she wants the next budget to support private publishing companies in making the change. Akiva Eldar reports in Ha'aretz:

Tamir said Israel could not demand of its Arab neighbors to mark the June 4, 1967 borders, while the Israeli education system erased them from its textbooks and from children's awareness. "This is not a political issue, but rather an educational one," Tamir said Tuesday. "We teach, for instance, about United Nations Resolution 242, but we don't show students the Green Line. We cannot deny that there used to be a border that is still being debated today." Tamir defended the decision as the only way to teach students the basis of the region's politics.

Meanwhile, an organization of right-wing rabbis on Tuesday issued a Halakhic decree forbidding students from using schoolbooks featuring maps of Israel which include the pre-1967 Green Line border, Israel Radio reported.

Tamir's decision may indeed be partially political, but Or Kashti reports in another article that there is a pedagogic basis for the change: An improvement in the teaching of geography in Israel:

Education Ministry officials in charge of the subject are convinced the only way to make geography relevant and strengthen the subject's standing is to add current issues to the lessons - for instance, by marking the Green Line in school textbooks and on maps.

A new curriculum for 10-12th graders, which addresses the Green Line much more extensively, is set to be introduced in the next school year. In the new curriculum, students will discuss "the factors in the delineation of Israel's borders," including the 1967 Six-Day War, as well as "different approaches for delineating final borders."

The curriculum will present three primary approaches: a return to the 1967 boundaries, preservation of "Greater Israel" and various proposals for border adjustments and compromise. The students will be expected to recognize and understand the "different approaches for defining the borders of the Land of Israel and the State of Israel."

"The question of borders will become an issue that is debated in the classroom," said [Education Ministry's supervisor-coordinator for geography studies, Dalia] Panig. "The education system should not bury its head in the sand. There is a constant debate in Israeli society regarding the different approaches to determining the borders, and there is no reason it shouldn't take place in the classroom. It is unacceptable that a student should hear terms like 'the Green Line' and not recognize them.

As in Israel, many of the maps and textbooks that are in wide use in liberal Jewish settings in the United States don't demarcate the West Bank, Gaza Strip, or Golan Heights in any way. For example, take a look at this map from Behrman House's 4th-6th grade textbook "Welcome to Israel".

The chapter from which the map is taken addresses the diverse population of the State of Israel. It notes that Israel is home to one million Arabs and to a variety of religions that consider it a holy land. It asks readers to ponder questions of the nature of a "Jewish state," such as whether non-Jews should be able to hold Israeli citizenship and whether the prime minister should be a rabbi. It even includes a photo of Rana Raslan, the first Arab Israeli to be crowned Miss Israel [a kindergarten teacher, incidentally], and quotes her as saying " does not matter if I am Jewish or Arab, I will represent Israel as best I can." In short, the chapter does a fine job of depicting the pluralistic nature of the State of Israel and the questions such diversity raises. Yet, in the map accompanying the chapter, it is clearly "greater Israel" that is shown.

How does your school or educational program handle the question of maps of Israel? Do the textbooks you use or the maps you hang on the wall show the Green Line? Do you "problematize" the question of borders, as the Israeli Education Ministry now intends to do with its High School students? If you aren't clear on the answers to these questions - may I suggest that this is a good opportunity to take a second look at your materials, and to enter the same debate that Yuli Tamir has raised here in Israel.

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