the Descriptions of Jerusalem in Geography Schoolbooks

“Values and Ideology in the Descriptions of Jerusalem in Geography Schoolbooks: The Israeli Case”

in International Research in Environmental Education, 1998, Vol. 7, pp. 151-157

Yoram Bar-Gal,


a) Socialization systems, especially the education system, constitute a link between knowledge and ideology, according to Foucault (1980). Ideology is aided by education for purposes of survival, continuity and immortalization of values. From a behavioral perspective, there is an assumption that the creation of a sense of territorial belonging with which to orient himself in the world is crucial for the shaping of the individual’s personality and for his worldview (Muir and Paddison 1981). From the social perspective, states saw a need to include geography as a subject in school when nationalism in Europe in the 19th century was at its peak — in order to assist in achieving the political goals of nationalism (Capel 1981). It seems, therefore, that the territorial connection of the student to his or her homeland is one of the goals of geographical education; this connection lies hidden in curricula and school textbooks.

As mentioned, school textbooks are central to the process of territorial socialization (Duchacek 1970). These texts contain the ideological consensus which allows them to become accepted and desirable in the education system. Because these texts are written and edited by educated, scientific people, one can assume that they insisted on the reliability of the information presented in the books. However, one can assume that their writing is also affected by the acceptance of the ideological conventions under whose influence they acted. The authors of the textbooks were not always aware of the ideological influence which directed their writing, and often this influence was unconscious. Therefore, the maps and the texts of the textbooks contain subjective , linguistic and cartographical leanings which are the influence of the controlling ideologies at work in the education system (see, for example, Hicks 1981, Henley 1989, Gilbert 1989, Bar-Gal 1996).

b) In the years which passed from the beginnings of Zionist settlement in Palestine in the second half of the 19th century until the end of the British mandate in 1948, the ideological and organizational foundations of the Hebrew-Zionist education system were laid. In this period, there was a politicization of education, and an emphasis on the ideological purposes of education generally and geographical education specifically. Geography was seen as a subject which must assist in establishing a connection for the children of immigrants with their new country, by emphasizing the Zionist-Jewish aspect of the subject. Geography was not only intended to convey knowledge about the Land of Israel, but also, principally, to assist children’s emotional absorption in the country, through transferral of knowledge about Israel’s past, landscapes and nature. These general principles of the Zionist movement were translated practically into the following three ideological commentaries: liberal, socialist, and religious. Each of these was pushed by the political parties which existed within the Zionist movement, and each one had a separate chain of primary and high schools. Each political stream emphasized its own principles in its curricula, and therefore one can also discern the political commentary about geography in the textbooks which were written at the same period (Bar-Gal 1993).

In order to face the challenges, after the establishment of the state of Israel (1948), two laws were passed: the law of compulsory education, and the law of governmental education, which united all of the streams of education into two kinds of schools: governmental-secular and governmental-religious. The central educational ideological goal of these laws was Jewish and Israeli, and within it existed the geographical dimension (love of the homeland). The other values are liberal (freedom and tolerance), socialist (equality, mutual assistance), and pioneering values (Curriculum, 1954) . All of these values had to be expressed in the various curricula, and in the textbooks which were created at the same period. However, in the field of geography the curricula emphasized the nationalist goals, as the principle goal.

Zionist ideology and its various streams determined the approach of the curricula toward places in the territory on which the goals of education were focused. In the geography textbooks, various places are represented with differing esteem, in conjunction with their ideological value. The selection process of the material in the textbook, in other words, the selection of the places and the ways in which they are presented, is connected to personal siftings which stem from the personalities of the book authors and their social-political worldview. Interesting places, from the point of view of the author, will be described in depth, while other places will receive relatively less discussion. Also, evaluation of the places is accomplished thorugh contrasts and use of adjectives to describe their nature. Places which are highly esteemed are described with positive expressions, such as order, beauty, health, plenitude and happiness; in contrast, other places are described with expressions such as filth, poverty, sickness, neglect and sadness.

From these, the purpose of this article becomes clear: to demonstrate how the attitude to central places in geography textbooks has changed, according to the ideology and worldview governing the Zionist education system. Of about 200 geography textbooks written in Hebrew over the last century, about one-third are dedicated to the subject of the Land of Israel. The descriptions and attitudes towards central places in Israel have been taken from these books, and this short paper deal with the ideologically charged representation of Jerusalem


The holiness of Jerusalem, and its role in Jewish identity, were very strong for thousands of years, since the Jews were exiled from their country. Therefore, it is not surprising that from the establishment of the first Jewish schools in Palestine, in the third part of the 19th century, the description of Jerusalem took an important place in textbooks, besides its place in religion and in various prayers. It must be remembered that Jerusalem of the late 19th century was a walled city, including the holy sites of the three monotheistic religions, as well as living quarters of the various believers — Muslims, Christians and Jews. In the last quarter of the previous century, people began to leave the walls of the Old City and build new neighborhoods, from which the new city of Jerusalem developed, which is mainly Jewish. In 1948, following the War of Independence, the city was divided into old Jerusalem, which was annexed by the Kingdom of Jordan, and the western part of the city, new Jerusalem, which became the capital of the State of Israel. Following the 1967 Six Day War, the city was reunited. The textbooks which represent Jerusalem are not indifferent to the city, and the descriptions in the texts are accompanied by positive and negative evaluations. The city receives a bi-valued treatment. On the one hand, Jerusalem is represented as the historical link, the connection of generations to the land, and the redemption of Israel; on the other hand, it is represented as an old world, as having patterns of life from which pioneering Zionism tried to distance itself.

The Jerusalem of the beginning of the century is represented inTzusmer (1918) from the perspective which is rooted in thousands of years of Diaspora: “How many ancient memories and glorious hopes for the future are linked with this name? Each stone in it, each footfall, represents a page in the book of our great history” (p.197). However, his assessment of the city is dualistic: “However, Jerusalem does not have any more the glory of Kingdoms . . . Its face is dark, it glory has turend, it has rejoiced and become a wasteland. . . Its streets are now narrow and dark, its houses old and crowded, and only shreds of its antiquities recall its early honor and its ancient wealth” (p. 197). In comparison to the sorrowful present of the city, he commented, that in the future Jerusalem will be considered “one of the best places in the world for humans to live on the face of the earth” (p.202).

Renewal of the city, as a Zionist message, is an important basis in the descriptions of Jerusalem in the 1920s and 1930s. Several authors emphasize the building projects, especially the cultural and educational institutions founded there (Metropolitanski 1921, p. 219; Blanc 1930, p. 113) but the building projects are not only an example of the Zionist value of the city of Jerusalem, but also of the changes which took place in its residents. Another geographer, A.Y. Brawer, wrote textbooks which were studied for dozens of years. Because he was a religious man, he very much appreciated old Jerusalem: “A beautiful and clean city was Jerusalem before its destruction. Its streets were paved with stone and they were honored every day” (1936, p. 78). Beauty and cleanliness, which are clearly positive landscape symbols, which Brawer attributed to the city’s past, stand in complete opposition to the appearance of the old city in his time. Jerusalem outside the walls was not perceived as important by Brawer, in comparison to its other parts.

The holiness and splendor of the city in olden days, in contrast to its day-to-day greyness and pathos, are a motif that is repeated over and over in the textbooks which were written later. One of the important motifs which the textbook authors used to create images of the landscape is the motif of light and darkness. Darkness and greyness aid in creating the image of an abandoned, frightening place, while light, or “darkness which is disintegrating” directs the student to the most important place, the holy site, symbolized by light Light is not only the strong radiation of the sun of the Israeli land, but also a meaningful cultural symbol representing beauty, exaltedness, holiness, happiness, good and more. In the late 1930s the textbook authors, who belonged to the socialist and liberal stream of education, began to describe at great length the new Jerusalem, by decreasing their treatment of the Old City. In the description of the city the same urban elements which symbolize the Zionist renewal are emphasized.

The end of the British mandate, the announcement of independence and the naming of Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel (1948) gave it a central political role. The battles between the Jews and the Arabs over control of the city and the roads leading to it, and the suffering of the Jewish residents who lived in siege, added a dimension of bravery to its image. In the textbooks which were written after 1948, the city’s history from the 1948 War provided an emphasized pedagogical, educational message. Expressions such as “bravery,” “hardship,” and “sacrifice” had not been associated with the city of Jerusalem until then in the textbooks.(Paporisch 1960) They were preserved for the description of the Zionist pioneering settlement. It seems, then, that the War of Independence in Jerusalem brought about the inclusion of Jerusalem in the “club” of settlement of the pioneering frontier, a club which was defined by the struggle for the right to settle in the homeland and to own it, and the textbooks communicate this ideological message.

The War of Independence added, therefore, a dimension of bravery and self-sacrifice to the religious and historical aspects of the city. The city was divided, and in the eastern part of the city, the Old City was left in the hands of Jordan. This political and geographic division forced the textbook authors to relate to the event. Thus wrote Shaked: “Only from a distance can we look at the glory of our past which is in the hands of strangers. When our hearts go out to this ancientcity, to Jerusalem, thousands of years old whose memory is linked with our people and is holy to us until today.” (Shaked 1965, p. 79). The author continued to describe the old city and the lifestyles within it, as they existed until 1948.

In the years from the establishment of the state until the Six Day War (1967), there was a distinct tendency in the textbooks to prefer the new city in the description of Jerusalem and to emphasize its centrality as the capital of the State of Israel. The Six Day War brought about, as known, a new connection of the western neighborhoods with eastern Jerusalem. The new city was connected to the old. The unification of the city provided an opportunity to give an educational message: Orni and Efrat (1972) extensively describe the destruction of the Jordanian period, as opposed to the development and renewal which characterized the city after its liberation. “Within the old city the most fundamental rehabilitation work was necessary in the Jewish quarter, which had been neglected and which the Jordanian authorities fouled deliberately, through demolition of the traditional elaborate synagogues. The offensive alleyways near the Western Wall were eliminated and a plaza for prayers was opened in the holiest place of Judaism” (p 294).

By comparing the books written in the period before the Six Day War to those written afterwards, it seems that the year 1967 was a watershed in terms of attitudes towards the city. Harel and Hir (1965) describe the city briefly with an emphasis on the historical aspect, and their book did not assign Jerusalem a central role, compared to Tel Aviv. In the 1970s and 1980s, on the other hand, Jerusalem received a central role once more, in which the Zionist values of development and building the land were expressed. Jerusalem, until 1967, was described as a formal capital, as a border city and as a periperal area, which returned to its greatness after 1967, as a central place in the Land of Israel (Patkin 1984, Harel and Nir 1992).


In conclusion, it may be said that from the beginning of the century through the present day, textbooks represent Jerusalem in various ways, in accordance with the ideological perspectives of the textbook authors. Usually, before 1948, the city’s historical aspects were represented, and the lifestyles of its Jewish residents were described with reservations. Between 1948 – 1967, the city received additional positive characteristics, related to Jewish heroism and the struggle for Israeli independence. From 1967 onwards, Jerusalem became a focus for Zionist values, as it represented development and rehabilitation. The new Jewish Jerusalem, located outside the walls of the Old City, received positive appraisal from the beginning of the century: it represents the renewal of the Jewish settlement, Zionism, and building up of the country. After 1948, the new city of Jerusalem represents Israeli sovereignty and government, first as a peripheral border city, and later as a central city whose sides had been reunited.

In order to understand the various changes in ideology in textbooks, one must turn to language, which transmits the ideological meanings horizontally (within a certain period) and vertically (for a period of time). Language serves ideology in transmitting a certain “reality,” which it aims to perpetuate, for the sake of survival. Textbooks provide “social manifestoes,” which include the “formal language” in which ideology is used for purposes of communication and socialization.

Geography textbooks may be used as unexploited “raw material” for the purpose of understanding the culture which creates them. As raw material, the culture which “writes” the textbooks lies hidden within them, and these texts creates images crucial for the culture’s survival. The “reader” of texts who is contemporaneous in time period and culture to the texts cannot always succeed in deciphering the variety of meanings located within them.

From the example discussed in this article, one can see that geography textbooks create different representations of the same place. One can see that the representatiof places in geography textbooks (which influence the construction of a student’s spatial conception) is a direct result of the reigning ideology. Therefore, one may assume that the student’s relationship to space in the future, as he or she matures, will be influenced by the representations to which the student is exposed in childhood and youth. In this way, the educational system, which is an extension of the reigning political power, may insure continuity and survival of its ideological perception of space.


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