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Unscientific portrayal of the Israel-Palestine conflict in Swedish textbooks

The portrayal of the conflict between Israel and Palestine in Lower Secondary school textbooks is presented on the basis of ideological assumptions without any adequate basis in research or the curriculum's objective of a critical approach, reveals a thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

In his thesis Michael Walls looks at how the conflict between Israel and Palestine is presented in Lower Secondary school textbooks, how the textbooks reflect the research, and what 13 Social Science/Civics teachers think of how the conflict is presented in the books. Walls makes use of so-called curriculum theory. According to this, the content of the textbooks is neither true nor objective, but is determined more by political, ideological and cultural considerations. As an example, Walls shows how the Israel-Palestine conflict is presented in Israeli textbooks.

"There Biblical myths are woven together with nationalistic symbols. The state of Israel and the Jewish people are presented as permanently linked to their land, Eretz Yisrael, which was defended during what the Israelis call the "War of Independence" in 1948. This ideological framing of Israel's history is also supported by the country's political leaders and is established in various state institutions such as schools," says Walls.

So what is the situation in Swedish textbooks? That is to say, in a Swedish political, ideological and cultural context. Just as in the Israeli textbooks, there is an emphasis on the Jewish people's Biblical and nationalistic connection to the land. However, there is also mention of the Palestinian people's Canaanite connection to the land. Historical events such as the war of 1948 and the Holocaust are mentioned, as is the expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948. The situation of the Palestinian refugees is dealt with, and violent actions carried out by both parties are mentioned.

But Walls believes that this apparently balanced presentation of the conflict is very much characterised by ideological assumptions and a weak link to established research. This means, among other things, that the unequal power relationship that has existed in the conflict since the very beginning does not find its way into the textbooks. "Which in turn leads to an unbalanced presentation of the history of the conflict," says Walls. "The ever-present idea that the conflicting parties have an equal claim to the land stands in the way of a more critical reflective orientation of the history of the conflict."

Walls considers this to be a problem, as one of the tasks of History as a subject is to encourage a critical and analytical approach for both teachers and students. In order to be able to explain and understand the complex historical causes of the conflict, the presentation needs to be more research-based and less ideological.

The thesis has been successfully defended. Opponent: Professor Nurit Peled, Israel.

For more information, please contact: Michael Walls Te.l: +46 (0)33 - 41 82 69 Email: michael.walls@globalstudies.gu.se

idw :: 06.12.2010