Only UK exam board to offer curriculum on Israel-Palestine withdraws textbooks over accusations of Israeli bias

Only UK exam board to offer curriculum on Israel-Palestine withdraws textbooks over accusations of Israeli bias
The only exam board in the UK to offer textbooks that address the ongoing issue of Israel and Palestine has withdrawn them over accusations from rights groups that the content favours Israel.
4 min read
08 June, 2021
There are concerns that the issue is not being taught properly in schools [Getty]

Concerns are mounting in UK schools on their ability to accurately teach students about the ongoing conflict with Israel and Palestine after the only exam board to cover the topic in any capacity withdrew its textbooks following criticisms that it favoured Israel. 

A set of history books published by Pearson were withdrawn after a second revision was accused by academics of presenting a bias view that favoured Israel, following extensive edits made on the direction of several Jewish organisations, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and UK Lawyers for Israel.

Following a report from professors from the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (Bricup) which found that 294 changes were made to two textbooks – the vast majority favouring Israel – Pearson withdrew the textbooks for review.

The Edexcel textbooks in question are Conflict in the Middle East c1945-1995 for GCSE, published in 2016, and The Middle East: Conflict, Crisis and Change 1917-2012, published in 2017.

Two researchers and teachers of the Middle East, particularly the Israeli-Palestine conflict, John Chalcraft and James Dickins conducted a line-by-line comparison of the original versions and found the revisions to be “emphatically pro-Israeli”.

One example of a change that made a “substantial difference” to the framing of Israel-Palestine was the description of the Deir Yassin massacre.

An Israeli officer grabbing a Palestinian protester by the legs
Hundreds of Palestinians have been injured in the last few weeks due to increased Israeli aggression [Getty]

In the original textbook the massacre, in which Israeli forces killed at least 107 Palestinian civilians, was described as “one of the worst atrocities of the war”. However in the new revised text, the word “atrocities” was changed to “acts”.

In another instance a photograph captioned “Children crossing overflowing sewage in the Jabalya Refugee Camp in Gaza” was changed by removing the word “sewage”.

This, the report concluded, “prevented students from obtaining information about an important fact of Palestinian life in Gaza, and rendered the photograph very difficult to interpret”.

In addition, “references to Jewish and/or Israeli violence and aggression have been removed or softened, while references to Arab and/or Palestinian violence or aggression have been added or intensified” and in the revised versions, “the word ‘terrorism’ is applied much more frequently to Arabs and Palestinians than to Jews or Israelis (although over the years the number of Palestinian and Arab civilians killed by Israeli forces is much greater than the number of Jewish or Israeli civilians killed by Palestinian forces)”.

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Crucially, the report also pointed out that the publication did not indicate in any discernible way that revisions to the texts has been made, and the ISBN numbers of the textbooks are the same as the older versions.

Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told the Guardian: “We are proud of work we undertook with Pearson to address serious concerns of bias in the two textbooks, including a lack of contextualisation and omissions of peace efforts and of the suffering caused by this conflict to all involved.”

“The outcome is two textbooks that distort the historical record, failing to offer students a balanced view of the conflict. These books, we conclude, are not fit for purpose. School children should not be supplied with propaganda under the guise of education,” the two educators wrote.

Pearson says it is reviewing the textbooks and will "take action if there is more work to do".

Protests over Palestinian rights

Students across schools in Britain have been engaging in protests following Israeli aggression in Gaza which caused the deaths of at least 180 Palestinians, including 69 children.

The continued forced expulsions of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah are being given international attention thanks in part to Palestinian twins Mohammed and Muna El Kurd, who were arrested by Israeli forces after using their social media accounts to raise awareness.

Such political awareness from many school children in the UK stands in stark contrast to educators who, at best do not know how to teach the topic, and at worst who are providing incorrect accounts or censoring students’ voice, as was the case in one school in the country.