March 20, 2013 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 950

The Narrative Of Return In Palestinian Textbooks

March 20, 2013 | By Y. Yehoshua*
Palestinians | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 950


The narrative of the Palestinian refugees' return to their homes is a central theme in the curricula of Palestinian Authority schools. This ideal is inculcated through texts describing the refugees' desire and determination to return to their homes, including to homes in cities inside Israel, such as Haifa, Jaffa, Acre, Beit Shean and Safed. The refugees' return is described as part the Palestinian struggle and jihad.

The narrative of the refugees' return is prominent not only in history and civics textbooks, but also in textbooks teaching Arabic, which include many poems on this theme. The indoctrination is also carried out indirectly, e.g., in a first grade textbook that mentions a school and a hotel called "Al-'Awda"("Return").

The following are examples of texts on this theme in Palestinian textbooks:

Extensive Reference To Issue Of Return In Fifth Grade Arabic Textbook

A fifth grade Arabic textbook[1] makes extensive reference to the issue of return, dedicating two units – 9 and 10 – to the refugees and displaced persons, and to their return. Unit 9 begins with a text titled "The International Aid Organization UNRWA," which states: "UNRWA attempts to relieve the suffering and pain of the Palestinian refugees in light of the harsh conditions in which they live due to the Israeli occupation of their homeland. [This will continue] until they reach a safe haven upon their return and the establishment of their independent state, when they achieve the liberty for which they yearn and for which they are fighting" (p. 79).

In the same unit, the pupils are required to write an essay about the refugees. The instructions say: "Write no more than five lines on one of the following topics: 1. One of the refugee camps inside or outside the homeland, with reference to the camp's location; why [the refugees] are living there; a description of life in the camp; the hopes of a resident of the camp; 2. A letter to the UN from a refugee child describing his suffering and the suffering of his family in the alleyways of the refugee camp and his right to return to his original homeland" (p. 86).

Unit 10 begins with the poem "We Are Returning" by Haroun Hashem Rashid, dealing with the return of the displaced persons: Palestinians who left the West Bank and Gaza as a result of the 1967 war, both refugees and non-refugees. The following is a translation of the poem:

"We Are Returning"

"Returning, returning, we are returning.
The borders shall be no more,
Nor fortresses nor fortifications.
So cry out, o displaced persons, 'We are returning.'
Returning to the homes, to the planes and the mountains,
Under the banners of glory, jihad and struggle.
With our blood and self-sacrifice, brotherhood and loyalty,
We are returning.
Returning, o hills, returning, o planes,
Returning to our childhood and youth.
To wage jihad with a drawn sword and to reap in our land.
We are returning" (p. 88).

The poem is followed by questions, including: "Where does the poet want to return?"; "Do borders constitute an obstacle to return?" "What does the poet ask the displaced persons to do…?" "Under what banners will the poet and his people return?" (p. 89). Other exercises also mention that issue of return. A cloze exercise includes the sentence "The dream of the _____ is to return to his homeland", with the options "tourist, believer, refugee, girl, and diver" (p. 92). Later in the unit, the pupil is required to write "an essay on the lives of the Palestinian refugees with reference to the following: The lives of the Palestinians before 1948; the expulsion of the Palestinian people from its land by the force of arms; the Palestinian people's dream of returning to its homeland" (p. 95). Another exercise requires the pupil to "write the names of five destroyed Palestinian villages and five Palestinian cities on the coast" (p. 95).

Seventh Grade Arabic Textbook: "We Shall Return"

A seventh grade Arabic textbook[2] also deals with the issue of return. It includes the poem "We Shall Return" by Abu Salma:

"We Shall Return"

"Beloved Palestine, how can I live
Far away from your planes and hills?
The mountain slopes call out to me, red with blood,
And on the horizon are blood-red traces.
The shores call out to me, weeping,
And time harkens to the mournful echoes.
Your orphaned towns call out to me,
Your villages, with their domed roofs, call out to me.
Tomorrow we shall return,
And all the generations shall hear the beat of our returning footsteps.
We shall return with the stormy, thundering winds,
With the sacred lightning and the shooting stars,
With winged hope and songs, with the soaring eagle and falcon.
Yes, truly, thousands of victims shall return,
The victims of injustice will open every gate" (p. 34).

Lines from the poem are used in subsequent exercises. The line "Yes, truly, thousands of victims shall return; the victims of injustice will open every gate" is used in an exercise on irregular verbs (p. 37), and a handwriting exercise requires the pupil to write out the line "Beloved Palestine, how can I live far away from your planes and hills?" in naskh script and in ruq'a script (p. 26). The latter exercise also appears in a seventh grade booklet of handwriting exercises.[3]

Seventh Grade Civics Textbook: The Right Of Return Is Anchored In The Palestinian Declaration Of Independence, Draft Constitution

A seventh grade homeland studies textbook[4] mentions the right of return as one of the rights anchored in the Palestinian Declaration of Independence and Palestinian Draft Constitution. It says: "The Declaration of Independence (Algeria, 1988) emphasized the right of return, the equality of all Palestinians, freedom of thought and expression, and the establishment of a democratic parliamentarian regime that protects the people's freedoms and rights…" (p. 44). A class exercise in this book requires the pupils to choose one of the articles of the Draft Constitution, read it carefully and discuss it. Article 32 states: "The right of the Palestinian refugee to return to his home and the original home of his ancestors is a natural right which cannot expire. Its exercise may not be delegated nor surrendered" (p. 46).

A fourth grade textbook says: "Four and a half million Palestinians live in the diaspora outside Palestine… Most are refugees waiting to return to the motherland, from which they were expelled."[5]

First Grade Textbook: School And Hotel Called "Al-'Awda" ("Return")

A first grade textbook[6] incorporates the ideal of return indirectly, though illustrations that include a school and a hotel called "Al-'Awda" ("Return"). The book opens with an illustration of children arriving at "Al-'Awda School" (p. 2). A section on time and the clock likewise includes an illustration showing the pupils arriving at "Al-'Awda School" at 7:30 in the morning (p. 42).

Illustrations in first grade textbook shows pupils arriving at "Al-'Awda School"

An illustration in the section titled "Where We Live" includes pictures of a city, a village, a Bedouin camp, and a refugee camp. The picture of the city includes a hotel called "Al-'Awda."

Illustration in first grade textbook includes "Al-'Awda Hotel"

Second Grade Textbook: The Refugees Are Determined To Return To Their Towns And Villages

Unit 10 in a second grade textbook on homeland studies[7] deals with the refugee camps. Defining a refugee camp, the book says: "The camps are where the Palestinian refugees were settled after they were forced to leave their towns and villages in Palestine, and they are determined to return to them" (p. 36).

Definition and photo of refugee camp in second grade textbook

Return To Jaffa, Safed, Beit Shean, Acre And Haifa

Textbooks often mention cities in Israel as places for which the Palestinians yearn or as destination to which they will return. A text in a first grade book mentions returning to Jaffa: "On a stormy winter night, the rains flooded the house of Umm Sabr [Sabr = perseverance, steadfastness]. Her young children woke up, frightened. The neighbors rushed to help Umm Sabr. One of the neighbors took the children to his house. After much toil, Umm Sabr sat down. Umm Sabr looked at the picture of her home on the wall. She said: I wish we had stayed in Jaffa. Her little boy answered: One day we will return to Jaffa." [8]

A fifth grade Arabic textbook includes the poem "Whispering to a Dove" by Rashid Hussein, which speaks of Jaffa and Safed:

"Are you a refugee like me, coming from the heights of Safed?
Or was your home in Jaffa, a nest in the rafters of a house there?
Oh dove, oh white flag, you flapped your wings in the night of my flight.
Why are you weeping like me? I wish you hadn't flown."[9]

A ninth grade textbook[10] includes a poem about Bisan (Beit Shean), by "a poet from Palestine," Ahmad Al-Muflih, which says: "Separation from you [Bisan] is tragedy and reunion is paradise. Life without your eyes is hell." The following is a translation of the poem:


"Are there still summer and stars in your eyes?
Is your fresh breast still fragrant with musk and 'andam [a kind of tree]?
Do lilies yet bloom between the shores [of the Jordan]
Cradling the yearning of the breathing valley?

"Take me. You have set all my boats on fire
To the tangle of oleanders. Lost, I leave footprints behind me,
Carving my poems on the loins of a fig tree,
Pitching my tent in the shadow of lindens.

"In my soul sleeps the breath of the gardens
In my soul [dwells] the tiny Galilee goldfinch
Pity me, O Jordan river, and take me back
To breathe in and kiss her caring breast

"On the banks of the river I give my last breath,
And at the mouth of the river my soul wanders.
Weary of wandering, I marvel at my plight
Tongue tied, I complain to you of my love.

"My words fail me, yet all my limbs
Repeat, 'O Bisan, I am mad with love.'
Without her love, air is bitter to me,
Only her soil has the power to purify.

"Separation from you is tragedy and reunion is paradise.
Life without your eyes is hell.
Don't deprive me of your fruits, let me be their redemption
God knows that my heart burns with love for you.

"I have endured and have grown old persevering,
And in the anguish of love, I still conceal what I conceal.
If a toddler of two is difficult to wean,
It is yet harder to wean me after 40 years.

"If I do not bring color back to your cheeks, I vow thrice
That I shall never again smell the fragrance of the orange blossom" (p. 55).

In the same book, a love poem to Palestine titled "The More I Love You," by Abu Sulma ('Abd Al-Karim Al-Karmi), mentions Haifa and Mount Carmel. The accompanying text explains that the poet is expressing his deep desire to return to his homeland:

"The More I Love You"

"The more I fight for you, the more I love you.
What soil is there, other than this fragrant amber soil?
What horizon other than this fragrant horizon?
The more I defend your soil, the greener the branch of life becomes.
My wing, O Palestine, is spread over the summit.

"O Palestine, a name that inspires and enchants.
The tanned color of your cheeks attests that beauty is brown.
I still read in your eyes poetry of the utmost beauty.
On the shores of your eyes the waves of Acre break.

"On the traces of our tears has the lemon tree blossomed,
The fields wept at our departure and the meadows withered,
And the wine vinyards [mourned].
The birds [that dwelt] in the pine trees no longer adorn the slopes,
And the stars of night no longer dwell over Mount Carmel.

"O Palestine, see your people in its hour of glory.
Avenging itself with the flame of rebellion and homelessness for the world to see.
No country is liberated until its people is liberated.

"Every man has his home and his dreams and his lute.
Bearing the history of my country, I stumble.
I continue to wander on every road, disheveled and dusty.

"Whenever your name waves above me, my words are suffused with poetry.
My words sow longing in every camp,
My words flame in every desert and land of exile.

"O Palestine, none is more precious, sweeter and purer.
The more I fight for you, the more I love you" (p. 97-98).

* Y. Yehoshua is Director of Research at MEMRI.


[1] Lughatuna Al-Jamila, Grade 5, Part I, Palestinian Ministry of Education, 2009.

[2] Lughatuna Al-Jamila, Grade 7, Part I, Palestinian Ministry of Education, 2007.

[3] Kurasat Al-Khat Al-‘Arabi, Grade 7, Palestinian Ministry of Education, 2008, p. 4.

[4] Al-Tarbiyya Al-Madaniyya, Grade 7, Palestinian Ministry of Education, 2008.

[5] Al-Tarbiyya Al-Wataniyya, Grade 4, Part I, Palestinian Ministry of Education, 2009, p. 43.

[6] Al-Tahyia, Grade 1, Palestinian Ministry of Education, 2002.

[7] Al-Tarbiyya Al-Wataniyya, Grade 2, Part I, Palestinian Ministry of Education, 2002.

[8] Lughatuna Al-Jamila, Grade 1, Part II, Palestinian Ministry of Education, 2002, p. 110.

[9] Lughatuna Al-Jamila, Grade 5, Part I, Palestinian Ministry of Education, 2009, p. 87.

[10] Al-Mutala’a Wal-Nussus, Grade 9, Part I, Palestinian Ministry of Education, 2004.

Share this Report: