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Israel references in UJ geography book cause controversy

By Suzanna Goussous - Nov 25,2015 - Last updated at Nov 25,2015

The cover of a geography textbook currently taught to students at the University of Jordan

AMMAN — Students and members of the National Campaign for Defending Students’ Rights (Thabahtoona) on Tuesday criticised the University of Jordan (UJ) geography textbook for containing words that “promote normalisation” of ties with Israel. 

“We are not used to seeing a book at Jordanian universities that recognises the Zionist entity and the state of what is referred to as ‘Israel’,” Thabahtoona coordinator Fakher Daas told The Jordan Times.

According to Daas, this is the first time any academic book has been used in Jordanian universities that includes the word “Israel” without mention of Palestine. 

Students disapproved of the first two paragraphs on page 13 in the 2015 edition of the geography book, which was written by Ziyad Makhamreh, Yusra Husban, Hamzeh Khawaldeh, Abdul Fattah Lutfi, Dalal Zureiqat, and Nazeeh Manasyeh, and edited by Makhamreh and Husban from the faculty of arts’ geography department.

The first paragraph on page 13 states that “the economic importance of the Gulf of Aqaba increased after the occupation of Palestine, as it is considered the only port that connects Jordan to the world”. 

The second paragraph on the same page reads: “… Aqaba Gulf plays an important role in geopolitics between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel, for its proximity to Arabian oil fields.” 

“Authors of the book clearly mentioned the names of Jordan’s neighbouring countries, so mentioning Palestine or the occupied lands wouldn’t have made a difference,” Daas said.

“The book has been in bookshops for three years now and professors insist on keeping the text, which proves that what is written in the manuscript was not a mistake,” he added. 

Daas believes the phrasing used in the book is a way of encouraging young Jordanians to “normalise” ties with Israel.

A student who is taking the geography course this semester said the page’s content was discussed with some of the book’s authors during lectures. 

“At first, we were in shock… it was the first time [‘Israel’] is identified as such in our curricula. The professors explained it to us and it makes sense, but anyone would misunderstand it when it is written like that,” said the student, who preferred to remain unnamed. 

Book editor and co-author Makhamreh told The Jordan Times that the state of Israel is recognised in the UN and students should separate sentiments from reality. 

“The part where Aqaba Gulf is mentioned was misunderstood by many students. We meant that the port attracted more attention after a competitor came to the region,” noted Husban, the other editor.

“We must understand that there is an entity sharing the land with us,” she added.

Makhamreh said the authors and editors received several complaints about the issue, but there is a difference between “providing academic facts” and delivering a speech “only to gain people’s sympathy”, noting that the terms used in the book are “academic” and “political”. 

Husban and Makhamreh said the book does not represent the viewpoint of any official bodies — only its authors’. 

Professor Ibrahim Shraah from UJ’s history department said that although the content provided in the book is correct, it could have been “phrased better”.

“Jordan and Palestine used to conduct business together during the British mandate. Economic relations were present until the Zionists occupied more than 80 per cent of Palestine’s land in 1948,” Shraah told The Jordan Times.

“… It does not mean that the occupation of Palestine served Jordan… the Aqaba Port was expanded to support importing and exporting products,” he added.

Shraah said the Kingdom’s deals with Palestine were interrupted when “the Zionists” took over, which prompted official institutions in Jordan to develop the port as the Kingdom’s only “access point” to the world’s economy.

 

The next edition of the book will be released in 2016 and Israel will be replaced with “the occupied territories” or Palestine, according to Husban.

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