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From my several conversations so far, a consensus view of Israeli education seems to be coalescing. As one person said, “There is no concept of comparative religions of the German or Northern European model.” The coursework in the regular public schools, if I understand correctly, is based on learning the Jewish Bible, with some Talmud and later commentary coming in the high school years. Christianity is encountered in history, and it is not a positive encounter – much of it being the story of anti-Semitism. Islam might come up a bit in history or if one chooses to take Arabic as one’s third language. Otherwise, very little about other religions is taught. Meanwhile the religious schools’ curriculum is even less cosmopolitan. Those with whom I have spoken describe a system they view as not even preparing students for gainful employment, in the case of some ultra-Orthodox schools. Even in religious schools with a broader mission, they say, a narrow religio-nationalistic superiority is frequently taught.

So far, no-one who I have met has even commented on the curriculum or on what is actually taught in the Palestinian Territories. One person commented, “Well, I wonder if they’ll tell you the truth. They’re not very well going to say, ‘We teach Islamic fundamentalism.’” A few seem to have implied that the schools teaching in Arabic in Israel do a good job on cross-cultural and cross-religious issues, or at least they have praised some administrators they know. I have just read, however, a scathing critique of how both the Israeli schools and the Arabic language schools teach about Arab and especially Palestinian issues. Ismael Abu-Saad, a professor at Ben Gurion University, wrote “State Educational Policy and Curriculum: The case of Palestinian Arabs in Israel” in 2006. As he summarizes, “This study demonstrates how Israeli educational policy and curriculum are designed to support the Jewish nation-building project. As such, they silence the Palestinian Arab narrative while reshaping regional history for both Jewish and Arab students to fit the Zionist narrative.” He does not address studying belief systems per se in the paper, but he does describe curricular lists from the Arab and Hebrew-speaking schools. He notes that both teach the Zionist interpretation of historical events. More concerning from my perspective is the portrait of the Israeli textbooks he cites from Prof. Elie Podeh of Hebrew University. Prof. Podeh wrote The Arab-Israeli Conflict in Israeli History Textbooks 1948-2000. The picture is not pretty – lots of bias and omission. At the same time, I have not yet read anything about what the textbooks in the West Bank sound like…