DevMode
The Palestinian Educational Development Plan: Promise for the Future
Since 1948, Palestinians have realized that the only reliable basis for their economic survival is their knowledge. Sudden cataclysmic demographic shifts, continuous political instability, and the dearth of local natural resources have made human resources the most important foundation for social progress, economic development, and cultural identity among Palestinians. This principle operates at the individual, group and national levels. Although the emphasis on education is shared by Palestinians throughout the world, the present discussion will focus on recent developments in the Palestinian territories.
Some statistical data will help in giving an idea of the scope of education and the levels of educational attainment in Palestine. At the present time, the Palestinian population of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem is estimated to be around 3.15 million inhabitants. Of these, around 900,000 are enrolled in schools and around 80,000 in local higher education institutions. The last figure does not include the large, but completely unknown, number of Palestinians pursuing their higher education abroad. Thus, about one-third of the Palestinians are studying at all levels from kindergartens to post-graduate university programs. Current projections indicate that this ratio will persist for the next ten years, with school enrollment increasing by 50 percent during this period and higher education enrollment doubling.1
There has been a tremendous increase in enrollment since the establishment of the PNA, at all levels: primary, secondary, and tertiary (higher education). Enrollment at the primary level is now almost total and at the secondary level exceeds 50 percent. Enrollment in local colleges and universities has doubled during the past five years. A rough picture of the emerging educational profile (presented with some trepidation) would be as follows: one-quarter of the population would not have completed their secondary education of twelve years (but many of them would have had nine or ten years of schooling), one-half would have completed their secondary education but would not have a tertiary qualification (although some of them would have begun but not completed their higher education), and one-quarter of the population would have a higher education degree.
These achievements are impressive by world standards, and are certainly outstanding in comparison to many Arab countries and most of the Third World. However, serious reservations remain. The availability of financial, human and material resources for the continued development of Palestinian education is highly questionable. The capital investment needed to build new schools to reduce congestion in classrooms and eliminate double-shift schools (the norm in the Gaza Strip) is certainly not available. The quality of training and the level of professional commitment of teachers are doubtful. The low salaries of teachers do not attract the best candidates to teaching as a career. Rapid growth has affected the quality of education adversely. The relevance of Palestinian education at all levels is being questioned by many. However, the issue of relevance does not depend entirely on the educational system, but must also take into account the nature of the future political and economic direction of Palestine. Uncertainty about this direction makes it very difficult to answer the question whether Palestinian education will be the driving force behind future growth or will turn out to be a losing investment: an albatross of a long-term mismatch between human resources and human resource needs.
One bright spot in this murky prospect is that the gender gap in the levels of educational attainment is diminishing rapidly. While precise projections are difficult to make, it seems that Palestinian education is moving towards gender equality an a largely gender-independent educational profile, although some male-preferred and some female-preferred fields of study and careers are likely to remain.

Inheriting a School System in Stagnation

A significant endeavor toward educational reform at the school level has been undertaken in the area of curriculum development, together with the ancillary activity of textbook production. Before describing these efforts, a description of the situation which had prevailed since 1967 is necessary. At the time of the Israeli occupation in 1967, schools in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, followed the Jordanian curriculum and used Jordanian textbooks, while schools in the Gaza Strip followed Egyptian curricula and used Egyptian textbooks. High-school examinations at the end of the twelfth grade - the tawjihi exams - were conducted by the ministries of education of the relevant country in each region. As time went on, the situation became more and more untenable. The Israeli administration frequently refused to permit improvements in the Jordanian and Egyptian systems to be adopted by Palestinian schools. This refusal sometimes went to ludicrous extremes, such as insisting that history textbooks retain the description of Libya as a kingdom long after it had become a republic. Moreover, Israeli administrators deleted the word "Palestine" from all textbooks and replaced it with "Israel" or "Land of Israel," again resulting in absurdities in some cases.
The difficulties were not confined to the political hypersensitivity of the Israeli occupation authorities. Palestinian educators and administrators were restricted to secondary roles and were not allowed to participate at the policy-making level, which was the exclusive domain of Israeli officers. They had inherited educational philosophies that were rapidly becoming antiquated, while other Arab countries - including Jordan and Egypt, the ones bequeathing these philosophies - were moving ahead. The inherited systems emphasized academic subjects and neglected vocational and technical training; this was unsuitable for evolving labor market needs. Furthermore, academic education was divided in high schools into a "literary" and a "scientific" stream. This division was seen by many Palestinian educators as being unsound, especially since the system placed pupils in these two streams on the basis of criteria that largely ignored their inclinations. Other than this arbitrary streaming, the curricula did not include elective subjects. The textbooks in both the Jordanian and Egyptian cases were rooted in the decade of the fifties when rote learning was still the norm, and they reflected and perpetuated this mode. Finally, there is no doubt that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip had re-emerged as a cultural and national entity (thanks to the Israeli occupation that had reunited them) and the continuation of separate educational systems in the two regions could not be accepted.
By the mid-1980s, the accumulated effect of all these factors reduced the Palestinian school system to a state of stagnation. Demographic growth led to increases in enrollment, but there was no sense of direction, a vision for the future, or an underlying philosophy. A fresh start was clearly needed.

Progress in Reform and the Lack of Resources

Dissatisfaction with this state of affairs led to a first step in the direction of reform. A workshop was held at UNESCO headquarters in Paris and addressed Palestinian basic education (grades 1-10). It was attended by educational experts from UNESCO and by Palestinian educators. This was followed by a workshop on secondary education held in Jerusalem in 1993, with the participation of UNESCO and the Palestinian Council for Higher Education.
These workshops laid the groundwork for an Agreement of Cooperation between UNESCO and the newly established Palestinian Ministry of Education. The agreement was concluded in 1994 and led to the establishment of the Palestinian Curriculum Development Center (PCDC) in 1995. The PCDC, which was subsequently incorporated as an organ of the ministry, published its first study in 1996 under the title A Comprehensive Plan for the Development of the First Palestinian Curriculum for General Education. It contained a general report that surveyed the situation and proposed foundations for a new curriculum, as well as a number of technical reports dealing with the various subjects taught in the curriculum. In 1998, the ministry published a projection for the implementation of the curriculum reform plan until 2004. It also prepared a broader document covering all aspects of educational reform under the title The Five-Year Education Development Plan 2000/2001-2004/2005. The document was presented at the International Workshop on Education in Palestine convened in Ramallah in October 1999 and was later published. A second workshop, which was scheduled for October 2000, was postponed because of the local situation.
These activities are simply landmarks indicating the serious attempts by the Palestinian authorities to improve the educational system. The local mass media - newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations - frequently discuss educational issues; the degree of public participation in the ongoing debate is remarkable. A large number of non-profit organizations has been established to deal with various aspects of education, such as early childhood, special education, teacher enrichment, etc.
However, one outstanding problem remains unresolved, namely that of the resources needed for education. The 1999 document of the Ministry of Education estimated the expenditures of the ministry for the five school years 2000/2001-2004/2005 at around $2 billion. To this must be added the expenditures of non-governmental schools, which enroll around one-third of all pupils, as well as the expenditures of colleges and universities. This raises the total expenditure needed for education at all levels to about $4 billion. While this sum is very modest by international standards, it is doubtful whether the Palestinian economy can provide the needed outlay, despite the aid it receives from international donors. Education is an essential foundation for future economic growth, promoting national and regional peace, stability and prosperity. But the present level of available resources is probably insufficient to start a self-sustaining upward push. This conundrum is faced by many developing countries; however, the Palestinian case is particularly sensitive.

Five-Year Plan

The Five-Year Education Development Plan 2000/2001-2004/2005 provides a clear presentation of the priorities of Palestinian education. The plan set five general objectives:
• Provide access to education for all.
Since the enrollment rate at the basic education level (grades 1-10) is already over 95 percent, the emphasis is to raise the enrollment rate at the secondary school level (grades 11 and 12) from somewhat over 50 percent to 75 percent.
• Improve the quality of education.
This includes the gradual introduction of the new curriculum, the reduction of class size and pupil/teacher ratios, the elimination of double-shift schools, and the provision of library, laboratory and other facilities in schools. Achieving these targets requires building 2,000 new classrooms and hiring 3,000 new teachers annually.
• Develop formal and non-formal education.
This includes extending pre-school education and kindergartens, increasing the number of pupils in vocational training (from 3 percent to 15 percent of total) with the necessary workshops and laboratories, and re-integrating dropouts into schools through special programs.
• Develop management capacity for planning, administration and finance.
The aim is to improve the organization of the educational system and develop managerial capacity at all levels so that the present centralized system can evolve into a school-based decentralized management system.
• Develop human resources of the educational system.
This includes improving pre-service and in-service training of teachers and development of staff administrative skills.
The 1999 document also presented a summary of the foundations of the new curriculum. The 1998 document had gone into more detail into this important subject. This document was discussed and approved by the Education Subcommittee of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and may be considered to be the official statement of the foundations and aims of Palestinian education. It deserves some detailed presentation.
The following aims are stated as justifying curriculum reform:
• To realize national unity. In particular, this refers to replacing the Jordanian and Egyptian curricula by a unified Palestinian curriculum;
• To adapt the curriculum to present realities. This implies updating and modernizing the old curriculum;
• To reinforce values in Palestinian society. This refers to national, religious and human values as well as the acquisition of skills and knowledge as a means of national development;
• To cope with demographic growth. This implies a comprehensive curriculum with sufficient diversity to suit all learners;
• To support economic development. The new curriculum aims at preparing employable and productive human resources;
• To provide good education. This refers to improving the school environment, teaching methods and teacher competencies, and management of the educational system;
• To promote comprehensive development by giving due attention to science and technology.

Four Foundations for the New Curriculum

It can be seen from this that the new curriculum is intended to be a broad effort comprising goals, content, methods, human resources and physical facilities. The document identifies four foundations for the curriculum with a detailed itemization of each foundation. The following is a summary:
Intellectual and national foundations: belief in God; loyalty to Palestine, respect for humanity; promotion of Islamic culture and respect for other cultures; Palestine is the homeland of Palestinians who are an indivisible part of the Arab nation; Palestine has its own cultural, religious and geographic significance as the crucible of cultural interaction and as the birthplace of the three revealed religions; Palestine is a democratic peace-loving state; belief in human values and principles; and active participation in the advancement of human civilization.
Social foundations: adherence to social and religious values; promotion of the rule of law; respect for individual and group freedom; participation in social and political activities within the legal framework; social justice and equality; directing education towards the provision of needed human resources; preserving the national cultural heritage; and fostering the family.
Cognitive foundations: adoption of the essence of the Islamic faith; promotion of the use of the Arabic language; openness to world cultures and competence in at least one foreign language; promotion and development of technology; conservation of Palestinian environment and natural resources; interaction with the social environment; adaptation to contemporary needs; aesthetic appreciation; and use of critical thinking, the scientific method and problem-solving.
Psychological foundations: pride in the national, Arab and Islamic identity, in Palestine, and in the Arabic language; awareness of the national heritage; encouragement of individual and group initiatives; cooperation with all Palestinians to achieve a democratic society which fosters positive competition, justice, prosperity and scientific progress; promotion of peace with oneself and among individuals, nationally and internationally; appreciation of the humanity of mankind, with positive attitudes towards others; and ability to adapt on the basis of the social and ethical principles of behavior.
It would be difficult to disagree with these foundations. They might be too ambitious, but they are comprehensive. Attention to national and religious identity seems to be somewhat excessive. This probably reflects the current concern among Palestinians that their identity is seriously threatened and therefore requires active affirmation. The word "Palestine" seems to be used sometimes in a general geographic-historical sense and sometimes to refer to the (emerging) state.2 However, it would be extremely far-fetched to interpret these foundations as implying an irredentist hidden agenda.
It may also be noted that Israel is not mentioned in these foundations. This again has led some to claim that the curriculum plan has a hidden agenda.3 However, it must be understood that Palestinians are in the process of arriving at a self-definition of identity to replace the "definition through others" that has been imposed on them for many generations. The centrality of this imperative for Palestinians at this stage in their history cannot be overemphasized. National independence and state-building have to be accompanied by psychological, social and cultural liberation from external domination. This positive interpretation of the spirit of the text is confirmed by numerous items in it ("peace-loving state," "openness to world cultures," "respect for other cultures," "promotion of peace," "internationally").

Innovations and Improvements

The curriculum plan divides the twelve years of the school cycle into three stages: the lower basic stage (grades 1-4), the upper basic stage (grades 5-10) and the secondary stage (grades 11 and 12). Pupils would normally enroll in the first grade at six years of age and graduate from the twelfth grade at eighteen. A number of significant improvements have been introduced in the new curriculum. English as a second language is to be taught from the first grade rather than from the fifth grade as was the case in the old curricula. Pupils will thus receive twelve years of English instruction instead of eight. This emphasis is intended to provide high-school graduates with a higher level of competence in English so as to achieve two aims: greater openness to world culture in which English occupies a pre-eminent position, and better competitiveness on the labor market, which is driven by global forces.
An important innovation is the introduction of civic education as a new subject and the inclusion of national education in social studies. These two subjects will be taught in grades 1-10. They complement the already existing Islamic education (which is taught throughout the twelve years) and provide a broader and more balanced foundation for the formation of individual and group identities.
Arts and crafts is a new subject added to the curriculum throughout the twelve years of the school cycle. This aims at providing an opportunity for pupils to pursue their interests and develop their talents. It also introduces an aesthetic dimension that was totally absent from the old curricula. Aesthetic appreciation is to be enhanced in conjunction with individual practice that develops manual skills. This is especially valuable for pupils who opt for the vocational and technical stream in the secondary stage.
Another new subject is technology and applied sciences, which is to be taught in grades 5-12. It emphasizes the development of an understanding of computers and other scientific tools and techniques, as well as the acquisition of individual skills in using them. This subject is an extremely significant modernization of an outdated curriculum and represents a major component for the development of Palestinian human resources and hence the sustainability of the Palestinian economy.
Other aspects of the curriculum include an elective subject in grades 5-10. This could be a third language (French, German, or Hebrew), environmental studies or home economics. Time is also allocated for the class teacher to organize free activities in line with the interests of the class. These changes represent a departure from the old curricula, which were completely rigid and did not allow for initiatives by pupils or teachers.
These changes in the curriculum are introduced alongside the main subjects of the old curricula, namely, Arabic, mathematics, science (a combined subject in the lower grades and then split into biology, chemistry, and physics in the upper grades), and social studies (a combined subject in the lower grades and then split into economics and management, geography, and history in the upper grades). While these subjects remain as in the old curricula, several changes in content and methodology are contemplated.
The above-mentioned improvements and innovations in the curriculum would seem to many to be commonplace. In fact, they merely bring Palestinian education into line with modern worldwide trends in education. It is only in comparison with the previous situation that the magnitude of the proposed changes can be appreciated. The curricula inherited by the Palestinians from the Jordanian and Egyptian educational systems were already outmoded in 1967 and in need of radical reform. The stagnation and regression of the Palestinian educational system under a quarter of a century of Israeli occupation compounded the problem and turned it into a national catastrophe. During the last decades of the twentieth century, education underwent significant transformations throughout the world including (significantly for Palestinians) Israel, Jordan and other Arab states, while Palestinian education was forced to languish in a system rooted in the early decades of the twentieth century.4
The curriculum plan is an important component in the attempt at dealing with the situation. Seen in this light, it represents a profound departure from the past. Paradoxically, the danger is that it may be overly ambitious. The relatively huge financial implications of the plan, the insufficiency of the human resources available to implement it, and the continued political instability, which diverts attention from long-term objectives, are factors that impede the realization of the plan. To these factors must be added the weight of tradition, which obstructs innovations everywhere. The plan could end up being nothing more than a new packaging of old wares. The confirmation of success requires more time than the verification of failure; hence, judgment of the ultimate value of the plan must be deferred.

Fostering Tolerance and Pluralism

The curriculum plan assumed concrete form during the 2000/2001 school year. At the beginning of that year, new textbooks were introduced in grades one and six. The production of around thirty textbooks (almost three million copies in total) involved hundreds of authors, reviewers, supervisors, illustrators and other technical experts. This was a large-scale enterprise and, as a first-time operation, it can be judged as a success, despite some unevenness among the various books.
A detailed technical analysis of these textbooks is beyond the scope of this presentation. However, as the first fruit of an extensive decade-long process, they deserve some general remarks. The material features of the books are vastly superior to the previous ones (sturdy covers, quality paper, clear text and illustrations, and attractive layout). This improvement, trivial as it may seem, inculcates respect for and attachment to the books by the pupils using them, in addition to the obvious fact that the books would last for the period of study (half-a-year or a year) for which they are intended.
Other improvements are not apparent at first glance but are equally important, if not more so. Illustrations - whether drawings or photographs - have a lasting impact on young, impressionable children; thus the illustrations in these textbooks deserve careful scrutiny. The illustrations reveal a healthy diversity of local scenes. Both urban and rural backgrounds are used, men are shown in Western and in traditional dress, and women are shown in Western, village or Islamic dress. Gender roles are not stereotyped: women are shown as doctors and teachers as well as wives and mothers, and men are shown in many different roles. A drawing in the first-grade Islamic education textbook shows the mother washing the dishes, while the son - significantly, not the daughter - is drying them. Although Palestinians are overwhelmingly Muslim, churches are shown as well as mosques.
These examples reveal a serious effort to develop attitudes of tolerance towards diversity and acceptance of pluralism within Palestinian society. The curriculum concentrates on Palestinian, Arab and Islamic social studies in the lower grades. Whether a healthy attitude of openness to other societies is maintained cannot be determined until the textbooks for the higher grades with their broader worldwide scope are published.
The content of each textbook is determined by a detailed curriculum outline which was developed under the supervision of the Ministry of Education for all subjects and all grades. This outline served as a guide to the groups of authors who were selected to write the various textbooks. A rigorous process of review and evaluation was followed by the ministry before each textbook was approved. Hence the textbooks embody a coherent and relatively comprehensive curriculum.
A positive feature of the textbooks is the use of the integrated learning approach by which the textbook of a given subject refers and connects to other subjects. This promotes the development of an integrated conceptual framework rather than the acquisition of compartmentalized knowledge. Some of these cross-references consist of Koranic verses that are cited in various textbooks where the verses concern the topic being studied. This reflects the traditional Islamic emphasis on the compatibility of science with religion. Needless to say, the issue of the relationship between empirical knowledge and revealed faith is not unique to Islam among the religions of the world.
Science and mathematics textbooks encourage learning by observation and discovery. Pupils are asked to perform simple experiments in class. These assume the availability of rudimentary equipment and the presence of appropriate attitudes among teachers; the first requirement is generally absent, while the second is questionable. Many textbooks - social studies, science, etc. - contain open-ended questions that are intended to form the basis for a class discussion, which elicits varying, even opposing, responses from pupils. This again requires teacher attitudes that are different from the prevailing ones. These aspects demonstrate the fact that, while curriculum might be a cornerstone of any educational development plan, it is not in itself sufficient; financial, material and human resources determine the degree of success of the reform process.

False Charges

The new Palestinian curriculum, and the past and ongoing Palestinian efforts to develop their educational system, have received scant attention except for one thing, namely, the charge that the new curriculum does not "contribute to the peace between Israel and the Palestinians," as both parties were committed to do according to the Oslo agreement. Foremost among the organizations that have been active in propagating this charge is the self-styled Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace. Much of its effort is directed against the old textbooks, which are being gradually phased out. More importantly, its approach reveals a strong pro-Israeli bias and a total neglect of professional pedagogic or cultural foundations. Hence its work can be viewed only as political propaganda - which is a legitimate activity as long as it admits its nature and purpose - rather than as an informed and balanced analysis.
The charges against the new Palestinian curriculum and textbooks have been repeated so often and propagated so widely that many assume them to be true, despite the extremely tenuous foundations on which they rest. Correcting the imbalanced impression created by these charges requires careful scrutiny of all the textbooks. This scrutiny reveals several relevant facts that may be judged differently from different points of view. However, they do not bear out the charges.
It will be remembered that both Judaism and Christianity existed in the Arabian Peninsula at the time of the Prophet Mohammad. This fact is mentioned in the sixth-grade history book. Numerous verses in the Koran refer to Jews, Judaism and Jewish prophets, as well as to Christianity, Christ, Mary and Joseph; incidents from the scriptures of both religions are recounted in the Koran. The Islamic education textbooks revolve around the study of chapters from the Koran, some of which mention the other two religions. Christianity and Christian holy sites are mentioned in other textbooks as part of the Palestinian social fabric and heritage. There is no other mention of Judaism or, for that matter, other world religions in these other textbooks. However, respect for all religions is mentioned several times.
Israel is not mentioned in any textbook. However, this does not support some fanciful claims that have been made in this regard. An example of such claims is the following:
Israel is defined as foreign to the Middle East and is categorized as a colonialist conqueror. Israel's name does not appear on any regional map and its land is included in the "State of Palestine." Every reference to Israeli cities, regions and geographic areas identifies them as "Palestine."5
Since Israel is not mentioned at all, it obviously is not defined in any manner. The issue of maps is more involved. The textbooks include maps of Mandate Palestine. Some of them are schematic with dotted lines clearly delineating the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Others are of a geographic nature only. Maps with a political connotation detail the Gaza Strip and the West Bank only. No map bears the legend "State of Palestine." It is clear that what is the "Land of Israel" to some is the "Land of Palestine" to others. However, none of the maps or texts in any way identify the area of the "State of Israel" as the area of the "State of Palestine." It must be mentioned that official Israeli maps still present an ambiguity that carries dangerous implications. An example is the annual Statistical Abstract of Israel, which is published by the Central Bureau of Statistics. Successive volumes of the Abstract, including the latest volume 51 covering the year 2000, have maps titled "State of Israel," which color the West Bank (under the name Judea and Samaria) and the Gaza Strip (under the name Gaza Area) differently from the neighboring Arab countries, portions of which appear on the maps. The coloring scheme creates the strong impression that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are parts of the State of Israel rather than adjoining it.
Ms. Livnat proceeds to claim the following:
The new textbook Our Beautiful Language devotes three pages to Mustafa al-Deba'a's Our Country Palestine, including the following quotes: "There is no alternative to destroying Israel" (banner on the title of Volume I) and "The Jewish claim to historical rights in Palestine has no justification" (Introduction).
The reference is to the sixth-grade Arabic textbook which consists of two volumes. The banners on the covers of the two volumes do not include the claimed statement. The introduction - which is the same in both volumes - concentrates on educational issues. It states the aims of the authors including "… that the Palestinian curriculum confirms the pride of our youth in their Arab and Muslim identity, their adherence to a tolerant humanistic attitude which does not discriminate among people on the basis of race or creed, and urge them towards virtue and noble values…."
The essay about Mustafa Murad al-Dabbagh (the correct spelling) is one of more than 40 prose and verse pieces that are included in the two volumes of the textbook. The topics cover a wide and balanced range: the importance of science, the olive tree, water as the basis of life, the telephone, the airplane, a (highly condensed) summary of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, Jerusalem, etiquette and manners, environmental pollution, Ghandi. Of this diverse content, the following have a nationalist bearing:
• "The Olive Tree," a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, which begins "If the olive tree were to remember the one who planted it, its oil would turn to tears."
• The essay in which al-Dabbagh describes how the first volume of his history Our Country Palestine was published in 1947 and how, many years after his exodus from Jaffa in 1948, he had to revise it.
• A narration by Izzat Ghazzawi of his meeting a 14-year-old boy in prison during the first Intifada.
• "The Intifada," a poem by Abdul-Latif Aqel about the first Intifada.
• "Acca and the Sea," a poem about Acre by Rashed Hussein.
• "Identity Card," a poem by Mahmoud Darwish about the difficult life of Arabs in Israel.
This list would not have been necessary were it not for the distorted perception of the Palestinian curriculum. Ms. Livnat states towards the end of her article: "Learning about the past is the only way to ensure our future." This is as true of Palestinians as it is of Israelis. In a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy,6 Ms. Livnat said: "Israeli post-Zionism denigrates Jewish rights to the Land of Israel, disparages Jewish values, and trivializes the historic justice inherent in Israel's rebirth." Does Israel have the right to demand that Palestinians adopt a "post-Palestinianism" which "denigrates Arab rights to the Land of Palestine, disparages Arab values and trivializes the historic justice inherent in Palestine's rebirth"?
The contradiction between what Israel emphasizes in its education and what it is trying to force on Palestinian education is still growing. The Israeli Ministry of Education has recently adopted a new program due to be implemented in September 2001. The program will "enrich school curricula with more lessons about Jewish heritage and Zionist history."7

An Authentic Palestinian Narrative

In this dawning century of pluralism and individual and collective rights, alternative narratives of history have to be accepted and respected. Native Americans are no longer expected to celebrate Columbus Day with relish, and the indigenous peoples of Central and South America are no longer expected to admire the exploits of the conquistadores. Israelis have their heroes whom they glorify and Palestinians have their heroes whom they glorify; neither side has much love for the heroes of the other side. The establishment of Israel in 1948 is celebrated by Israelis as their Independence Day. That same day was in fact a disaster for the Palestinians, who commemorate it as al-Nakba (Catastrophe) Day. Peace cannot be established on the basis of one party asserting its identity, while forcing a denial of identity on the other party. The past half-century should have convinced Israel and its supporters that this approach is self-defeating and can lead only to further alienation, divergence and conflict.
The Palestinian narrative of the history of Palestine/Israel is as authentic, valid, factual, and deeply felt as the Israeli narrative. The Palestinian sense of identity is as real as the Israeli sense of identity. For more than half a century, the Israeli educational system has perpetuated a narrow and one-sided version of these facts; a small experiment at presenting a broader view seems to be on its way out, while a narrow-minded approach is again gaining ascendancy. This article has attempted to show that the Palestinians have been engaged in a serious and dedicated effort to resurrect their educational system, notwithstanding the huge problems they inherited and the tremendous challenges they face. This effort should be encouraged and assisted, rather than obstructed.


1.The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has developed during the past few years an excellent system of national statistics supervised by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). Figures cited in this article are based on data and projections of the PCBS, the Palestinian Ministry of Education and the Palestinian Ministry of Higher Education. All statistical projections are subject to varying margins of uncertainty, but Palestinian projections in particular are subject to the possibility of unforeseen demographic and economic shifts. The projections cited there are based on the assumption that the future will be a "reasonable" continuation of the present. Unpredictable dramatic changes are not - and cannot be - taken into account.
2. It should be mentioned that Israel, after more than half a century of existence, still blurs the distinction between the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael) as a geographic-historical term and the State of Israel (Medinat Yisrael) as a political entity. The initiative for clarifying this ambiguity should come from the Israelis who have their state rather than from the Palestinians who are still aspiring to theirs.
3. Again, the Israeli curriculum either ignores the existence of Palestinians and Arabs or portrays them negatively. An attempt at a more balanced presentation - the textbook A World of Changes - was short-lived.
4. Despite some changes in emphasis, the Jordanian and Egyptian education systems and curricula of the post-Second World War era were based on the model adopted during the years of British domination in the 1920s, although some French influence can also be detected in the Egyptian system. Not only has this model become outmoded; it was intended for an elitist, relatively small system. Demographic growth and increased enrollment rates have made this model totally inappropriate and dysfunctional.
5. Quoted from "A World of Falsehood," an article by Limor Livnat, the Israeli minister of education, in The Jerusalem Post, March 19, 2001. It is to be noted that Ms. Livnat devotes only one-third of her article to a (misinformed) presentation of the Palestinian curriculum. The remainder of the article consists of an attack on the ninth-grade history textbook introduced in Israeli schools in 1999 and which she intends to abandon. See footnote 3.
6. See "Livnat: No Chance of a Palestinian State on '67 Lands," The Jerusalem Post, April 29, 2001.
7. The Jerusalem Post, June 25, 2001

Comodo SSL