DevMode
The viewpoints expressed in this paper are rooted in the authors' experience of the Israeli educational system, both as professionals and as clients - as teachers, teachers' trainers, and authors of educational curricula, on the one hand, and as students and mothers of children educated in the system. In other words, we very much live and work within Israel's educational system. In addition, our specific perception of educational practices in Israel and in Jerusalem stem from a shared background of peace, feminist, and human-rights activism.
Therefore, while definitely part of the system, we are at the same time often deeply critical of it. The following analysis focusing on parts of this criticism presents a view constructed cumulatively over years of our own involvement and reflection.

Three Systems of Jewish Education

Jerusalem, like the whole of Israel, operates three systems of Jewish education. The majority of Israeli students, about 71.4 percent,1 currently attend what is perceived by Israel's secular Jewish majority as a secular, civic school system. A second system, attended by about 20 percent of Israel's students, are the schools operated by religious Zionist groups, which are often (though not always) affiliated with the National Religious Party. Such schools are overtly religious, dedicating daily blocks of hours to religious studies, alongside subjects such as mathematics or history, which are considered secular. A third school system, titled the Independent Stream, comprises a broad range of ultra-Orthodox schools, each affiliated with a specific religious school of thought, or political party. About 8.3 percent of all Israeli students attend Independent Stream schools.
The percentage of students attending the religious streams is much higher in Jerusalem than in most of Israel, giving the religious streams added weight in the dynamic that forms this binational city. For instance, among some 58,700 students attending primary schools in Jerusalem in 1994-95, about 29 percent (less than a third)2 were attending secular schools, as opposed to 68.3 percent of secular primary school students nationwide.3 About 47 percent of Jerusalem primary school students - almost half - were studying in the independent ultra-Orthodox stream, compared to a nationwide percentage of 10.3 percent of primary school students. Moreover, a comparison of average class sizes in the primary schools may give some indication of the allocation of resources in the Jerusalem educational system. The most crowded Jerusalem classes were in the secular primary schools, averaging 29.5 students per class; the Zionist religious classes averaged 26.5 students per class, and the schools of the Independent Stream averaged 24.7 students per class, despite servicing the largest portion of the student population.4
The present discussion broaches the question of how the other people, the Palestinians populating the other part of the city of Jerusalem, are reflected and depicted by secular Jewish education in the city. The overview it offers will cover the secular school system but not the religious Zionist stream, which is also highly nationalistic, or the independent ultra-Orthodox stream. Research conducted among students of 27 countries, by a team based at Hamburg University, has found the students of religious Zionist schools in Israel to be the most nationalistic and most racist group of all those studied by the project.5
Our assumption is also that attitudes to, and perceptions of, the Other in the independent, Orthodox school system are fundamentally similar to those of the religious Zionist system, with the difference that they tend to be even less tolerant and more blatantly expressed.

Secular Jewish Education in Jerusalem and the 'Other'

The perception of the Other instilled through secular education in Israel is a product of the mainstream culture, which is Jewish-Zionist, Ashkenazi, male-centered and militaristic. This educational system includes almost no manifestations of any of the non-dominant cultures of Israeli society: Palestinian culture, Sephardi/Oriental Jewish culture, woman-centered or feminist thinking, etc. For the most part, such schools of thought are simply absent from the curricula, embodied in the world of the Sabra-accented, Ashkenazi-descended, male Israeli Jew. The Other is accordingly anyone who differs from the "us," either in nationality (such as Palestinians), language/accent (such as new immigrants), skin color (such as Ethiopian Jews), appearance (such as victims of cerebral palsy), ethnicity, gender (such as non-military and thus second-class women citizens). The educational system works, although often implicitly, and to a large extent probably unknowingly, to channel children into the mainstream. The products of its success are those who have adopted the prevalent views of this stream, that is, of the ruling culture.
Meanwhile, although this may often be inadvertent, the Other is depicted as either inferior or as the enemy in a broad range of forceful messages conveyed through Israeli secular education. And indeed, such a depiction of the Other is one of the major bases of the militarized education required and practiced in a society that raises its children to comply with mandatory military service. Dehumanization and brutalization, viewing the Other as a non-person or an inferior creature, are components of the mindset that allows one, as a soldier, to take another life.

Festivals and Their Significance

In pre-school and in the first six grades, children spend large blocks of time studying Jewish holidays. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, for example, commemorates the revolt of the Jews against Greek rule in 167 BC. The uprising broke out after decades of Greek control, in response to the coercion of Jews into the Hellenic religion. Pre-school and elementary school children are taught that the Greeks persecuted us, only to be defeated by the heroic Jewish Maccabees. Constructing a clear dichotomy of good guys vs. bad guys, the emphasis is on strong identification with the brave fighters of the Maccabees who defeated the evil Greeks. Rather than a universal message of freedom of religion, what is stressed is the importance of Jewish freedom and nationalism, of power, of the strength of the Maccabees.
The cumulative message of this seemingly "innocent" celebration and study of festivals is twofold, then. On the one hand, it implies that "the whole world is against us, one enemy after another have set out to destroy us." On the other hand, it states "we're alive to tell it, we've persevered," focusing on heroism, strength, combat as the major means of survival. The lore, rituals and traditions of religious and national holidays studied and observed every year, from pre-school to sixth grade in Israeli schools, thus convey the emotional and cognitive message that Israeli Jews must be strong and united so as to face mortal danger. It is a message of the victimized, rooted in the history of anti-Semitism and, particularly, in the residual trauma of the Holocaust.
This message is introduced to children at an early age, prior to the development of independently critical faculties. This sharply decreases the likelihood of subsequent doubts, questions or re-examinations of the assumptions, whether conscious or unconscious, underpinning these holidays.
Another holiday - Jerusalem Day - specifically honors Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state and homeland. Pre-school children spend hours cutting out and pasting up images of the Old City and the temple, invariably using gold and silver paper on black backgrounds, to depict the gold and silver domes of the al-Aqsa and Omar mosques alongside the temple. These images iron out the complex historical-political realities, representing the city as an ahistoric, timeless entity not unlike the imaginary, gold-and-silver castles of fairy tales: an idealized, romanticized perception of the city, detached from concrete reality, conceived through an exclusive prism of Jewishness vs. non-Jewishness. Within such a sovereign Jewish entity, the city is said to be "united" or "reunited" as Israel's "eternal capital."

Oppressor and Oppressed

The Old Testament is studied consistently in Israeli secular schools, over eleven years of school, from second grade on, for three to four hours a week. These Bible studies provide an occasion to focus on the persecution of the Jews, for instance by Pharaohs, and the exodus from Egypt. The implied analogy to the Jews' flight from Europe and the Holocaust, and their conquest of the ancient homeland of Palestine from its native inhabitants, is obvious.
In addition, the very antiquity of the biblical source and its worldwide recognition as a revered, authoritative text, are taken to demonstrate that "we" were "really" here first, that the Jewish people has a rightful claim to Eretz Israel, the Land of Israel, and particularly to its capital, "united" Jerusalem.
In the higher grades, history, too, has traditionally been taught from a mainly Israeli-Jewish, Zionist perspective. From this viewpoint, anti-Semitism is the major axis along which the Jewish people relates to other nations. History, by and large, has been perceived as two millennia of anti-Semitism, during which various oppressors plotted against the Jews. Thus history studies have added rational "facts" to the emotional sense, derived at a younger age, of a continuum of plots against Jews in different countries, occurring in contexts as disparate as medieval Spain (the Spanish Inquisition and the 1492 expulsion of Spanish Jews), and the 17th-century Ukraine (the Chmielnicki peasant revolt and pogroms). The resulting view has been simplistic, black and white, posing a choice between just and unjust, right and wrong.

Less Demonization

Until very recently, modern history in the curricula of the higher grades usually presented the historiography of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict as a military history, battle by battle. For the most part, it omitted the cultural, economic, or social contexts in which both these battles and other events were taking place. Here too, the actual Palestinian Arabs, whose homes and lands were at stake in the history of Israel's foundation and growth, were effectively erased from the picture, obscured behind the vague and inclusive term "Arabs." The central motif was clear and straightforward: Jews defending their lives against their Arab aggressors.
In the past few years, a serious attempt has been made to provide a broader and more varied account of national Jewish history. The Ministry of Education changed the entire structure of history studies, canceling the former rigid divide between world and national history. As a result, several new textbooks for high school and the upper grade of junior high were published. In bringing up to date the history both of the twentieth century and of the Israeli-Arab conflict, they placed the establishment of the State of Israel in the broader context of other national struggles, such as India's independence and partition from Pakistan, or the wars in Vietnam. In addition, Israeli history was no longer related as a history of wars, but now devoted substantial space, rather than merely paying lip service, to issues such as immigration or economic development. In these textbooks, modern history was brought up to date to include the Israeli-Egyptian peace accords, the Oslo agreement and the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty. As a result, the term and conceptual framework of "peace" entered the discourse as a feasible reality, and the Other became somewhat more visible and human.
Palestinians are identified in such books as Palestinians, rather than lumped together and erased under the category of "Arabs." The narrative became more complex, describing controversy and divisive issues in Israel. Some books, for instance, wrote of the Palestinian national catastrophe of 1948, introducing the Palestinian term "Nakba" and clearly connecting this event to the national success achieved by Zionism in founding the State of Israel. Regional and world conditions were included. Arab countries were portrayed as responding to, and acting within, a variety of global forces and trends: economic, political, social, religious. This has decreased the demonization implied through earlier textbooks and concepts of history, supporting perceptions of Arabs and Arab countries as explicable, rational, and, therefore, potential partners for peace negotiations and treaties. These new works are not presented incontestably as "the truth" and don't conceal the author's views.

'Insufficiently Zionist'

The actual substance and views presented by these books, and their authors' relatively explicit positioning, have fed considerable controversy. All of these textbooks (which only number about 3-4) were compiled and developed according to the guidelines prescribed by the Ministry of Education core curriculum. In no way can they be suspected of non-Zionist or anti-Zionist perspectives, or even of truly multiple narratives. The outlook they convey is a firmly Zionist, though liberal, one. However, heated public debate aroused by this school of curricula engulfed Israel's Knesset and media, which saw the controversy in political rather than educational terms.
The current situation includes the disqualification of one of the more controversial textbooks, by the new minister of education, Limor Livnat, a Likud right-winger. The grounds cited for disqualifying it for study in schools were its failure to incorporate sufficiently Zionist views. Very recently, another local peace education curriculum developed by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, dealing with tolerance and Jewish-Arab coexistence, was disqualified by an appointed committee within the Ministry of Education.
The last few years in Israel have witnessed some honest educational work aiming to provide more complex pictures of reality, presenting divergent views of the Jewish-Arab conflict, and of the Arab Other. They have seen the beginnings of the Arabs' portrayal as understandable, equal human beings. However, this approach still constitutes the center of an ideological and political power struggle being waged between right-wing and left-wing circles in Israel, the outcome of which still remains to be seen.

The Holocaust and Its Lesson

Finally, the Holocaust has naturally been the linchpin of this multi-channeled portrayal of Jews as victims throughout all of history. It represents the epitome of the Jewish sense of powerlessness, manifested in the myth whereby Jews went "like sheep to the slaughter." While children study the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto and the activities of Jewish partisans, the central messages carried by schools, the media, commemorative institutions and rituals, emphasize the victimization of the Jews, with which the children are called upon to identify. During the Holocaust they/we were helpless and vanquished. It could occur and be imposed upon them/us because they/we had no independent means of protection, no state or, in other words, no army and no sovereign territory to escape to. This, it is stated, can never be allowed to happen again.
The account usually provides no options outside the victim vs. perpetrator pattern, no alternative strategies for self-protection (such as peace, for example). The internal world-picture conveyed is that of the persecuted, an internal reality characterized by aggressiveness, vulnerability, anger and guilt. As absolute victims, they/we cannot wrong, only be wronged. All evil is projected onto the Other, our enemy, who understands nothing but the language of force. And force or strength is the only option that will ensure our physical survival. The strongest survive; the weak are in danger of extinction. The only choice is to be strong and ready for war. The victim psychology provides justification for wars into which we are forced, wars of which we are - again and always - the victims, as they/we were in the Holocaust. It provides full justification for the demonization of the enemy. The highly publicized Eichmann trial in Jerusalem (1961), gave expression to the central role of the Holocaust in the education of new generations of Israelis and Jews.
A three-year study of students in high schools and teachers' colleges, conducted by Nili Keren, Gila Zelikovitz and Yair Oron, has found that many of the students - now three or four generations after the Holocaust, did not view it as history, but rather as pertaining to their own existence.6 Keren has found that, due to the way in which the topic is handled and taught, many students tend toward the paranoid attitude that the entire world is against us. While they demonstrate considerable knowledge of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, they show very little knowledge about subjects such as Christianity, Islam, the Jewish-Arab conflict, and they understand the concept of racism to pertain mainly to Jews.
Jewish secular education in Israel and Jerusalem thus gradually and consistently, if not always consciously or intentionally, has been constructing a message which is particularistic rather than universal, portraying the Jews in the constant face of an enemy. This interpretation hardly needs the history of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict to augment it. As the State of Israel is the only answer to the Holocaust, the Arabs have been equated with the worst and most nightmarish of the successive forces out to destroy the Jews. It remains to be seen whether the recent indications of the changing, more peace-oriented attitude towards our neighbors will be able to exert a real influence on the educational system.
Interestingly, the secular school system constructs this portrayal implicitly and largely through omission rather than the overt representation of Arabs or Palestinians. During most of the early years of secular education, Arabs as such are not explicitly present. Students at non-religious schools repeatedly report that they have hardly ever discussed Palestinians in class, as a study topic.
In studying Jerusalem and its significance, what is stressed is its importance to the three main monotheistic religions, unrelated to the actual neighbors, the physical, living Palestinians who share the city with the students. It is put into highly abstract, generalized terms - Christianity, Islam, Judaism - obscuring the human embodiment of these terms in communities and ethnic groups. The image is thus idealized, presenting a fiction of coexistence, pluralistic, tolerant, visible in the churches and mosques and holy Jewish sites side by side. The focus is on the buildings, the stone shells, or, at most, on the usually peaceful flow of tourists/pilgrims of all religions from all over the world. But the congregations, the people who populate these buildings regularly, and do not coexist peacefully, have been "whited out."
When Jewish students in Jerusalem study the environs of their schools, they tend to concentrate on the segregation between Jews from different Diaspora communities and its reflection in various Jerusalem neighborhoods. Little mention is made of eastern Jerusalem and its Palestinian population. This entire part of what politicians, the media, national and school ceremonies often term the "reunited city" stays shrouded in silence, fully in keeping with the fact, physically known and obvious to most secular Jewish Jerusalemites, that the other half of the city is dangerous, out of bounds, never visited.
Similarly silenced is the evidence of a previous Palestinian presence in parts of West Jerusalem. N. described a field day they had conducted a year before he/she was interviewed, when students explored several neighborhoods surrounding the school. One group went to the old part of Malha. "I looked at the old architecture of the neighborhood. Houses built by Arabs who lived there and I think in the Six-Day War they were evacuated. How it's a different kind of building, structured in a different way. I don't think there was any discussion of the fact that they were evacuated." Here too the people and the complexity of relations with them, whether present or absent, are erased, and the buildings are isolated as a safe study subject.

Jewish Self-Perception

When some of the students were asked about what they learned under the heading of "Tolerance," a nationwide study topic in civic studies, it was the secular-Orthodox chasm that occurred to them in answer. The present reality of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict was a non-topic, even though some of these students had participated in an extended series of meetings with Palestinian contemporaries from nearby Israeli Arab towns. Such programs were described by several children as "nothing much," or "not serious," N. said.
It is not surprising, of course, that these children couldn't speak each other's language. However, while a majority of Arab children growing up in Israel usually end up learning a great deal of Hebrew, which they need in order to function in the Hebrew-speaking state, most Jewish children get a maximum of an hour or two a week of Arabic, for one to two years during primary school. Many study no Arabic at all, and those who do, often tend to forget the basics due to disuse. This fact goes hand in hand with what we view as an erasure of the existence, the history and even the presence of Palestinian Arabs in both the country and the city of Jerusalem. We believe that this erasure is one of the means of maintaining two levels of awareness, vital to the liberal Jewish consciousness embodied in the secular school system. It is an aspect of the split of this consciousness into two detached and non-communicating realms, a split that keeps at bay the duality, clash and dissonance between these realms.
On one level is the perception of the Other that we have described above. On another, partitioned from the first by a barrier of silence, is secular Jewish self-perception. On the first level, the Other has been largely stereotyped, dehumanized, perceived in black and white, providing full justification for his/her brutalization. Meanwhile, on the separate second level, a liberal self-image is carefully preserved through the avoidance of any overt statement of hatred. The liberal, secular consciousness cannot afford to see itself as intolerant, hating, dehumanizing, xenophobic. So the image of the Other almost automatically mapped onto the Arab has been constructed, whether intentionally or not, through hidden means built into the secular educational system. The bearers and receivers of this secular liberal education can accordingly retain an image of themselves as tolerant, open-minded, humane and, consequently, right. And the silencing mechanism is established as a central tool, a message in its own right for managing the dissonance between their attitudes towards Palestinian Arabs and their liberal self-image.

Some Concluding Remarks

Since October 2000, we have witnessed a spiraling rise in violence in Israel-Palestine. A large percentage of the Jewish-Israeli public have concluded that the Palestinians "betrayed us," that they supposedly chose armed struggle over a very generous peace offer, that therefore they are no longer serious partners for peace negotiations. Many of the people expressing such views would formerly have classified themselves as liberal or left-wing. In our view, the speed with which such people have reverted to earlier characterizations of the Palestinians as a one-dimensional enemy is actually strong evidence of how effective Jewish education has been in entrenching a demonized, superficial and intolerant image of the Other.
The sense of "betrayal" is explained by many as resulting from the Palestinians' alleged irrationality and unpredictability: "We offered them more than ever before and they preferred violence…." This, too, demonstrates how easily the Israeli-Jewish public, all products of the state education system, regress to viewing the Other in stereotypical, dehumanized black-and-white terms. Questions such as: What were the Palestinians' reasons? What arguments were they offering? How did they reach their conclusions and choose their actions? These all stay unasked: the automatic assumption, in the best tradition of the Orientalism described by Edward Said, is that the Palestinians, in fact, have no good reasons, that they act on irrational emotions, vindictively, impulsively, even when such action is against their own best interests.
This reaction not only follows from, but also feeds or re-feeds into, educational concepts and practices. It is part of the vicious circle re-arousing and reinforcing a stereotypical and fearful image of the Other. Disqualification of the new textbooks on history and coexistence is a tangible part of this circle. While these steps originated with the new rightist minister of education, the disqualification has not aroused any real resistance or debate among most educators. This itself reveals how deep-set the prevalent images are and how readily educators have reverted to them under the present circumstances.
While today's circumstances may seem increasingly hopeless, it is our belief that, in the end, the only viable alternative will be a peace agreement and cooperation between the two peoples of Israel and Palestine. However, if there is to be peace, it can only exist - in the long run and especially in Jerusalem - if it becomes a peace between people, not merely between peoples. As far as Israel is concerned, it is unclear how many Israelis can grow up to create such a peace, while the education of Jewish children in all of Israel, as well as Jerusalem, includes - in its very structure - the mindset of barring and overpowering the Other. As demonstrated by the international Hamburg University study - conducted after the Oslo agreement and very soon after the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty - Israeli students (both secular and religious) ascribe relatively little importance to peace.7
Throughout the years of peace negotiations conducted with the Palestinians and with various Arab states, there has never been an education committee among the many bodies appointed to the business of peace-making. At no point did anyone seem to be seriously asking what fundamental changes are needed in the way Israeli and Palestinian children are schooled, in the material they are taught, if they are to become adults who live with each other in peace. Achieving peace is viewed as one more military operation. This is a forceful example of the militaristic thinking that has guided peace processes in our region, and of the lack of investment in deconstructing the enmity, of truly building alternative ways of thinking and acting. Peace is perceived in Israel, and in Israeli education, as merely the lack of war.


1. These and the following nationwide statistics were reported by Chinuch Acher, October 8, 1996, and pertain to the school year of 1994-95.
2. These and the following figures for Jerusalem are based on The Israel Statistical Annals 1995, Central Bureau of Statistics, pp. 267-268.
3. These and the following nationwide figures were reported by Chinuch Acher, op. cit.
4. Ibid.
5. Reported on by Arieh Caspi, Ha'aretz, Nov. 11, 1996.
6. Reported on by Joseph Algazi, Ha'aretz, Aug. 15, 1996.
7. Arieh Caspi, Ha'aretz, op. cit.

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