BEIRUT — The cover of a school textbook is having an unexpected impact on Lebanese education. The controversy arose Saturday, just a few days before public schools reopen for a new school year. The subject was the unauthorized reprinting of a civics textbook.
The book's cover depicts United Nations headquarters with an array of flags in front, including that of Israel. The textbook was reprinted because no publishing house responded to a call for tenders to reprint the textbook officially — payment for which would be in Lebanese lira, at a time when the national currency has witnessed record depreciation.
Lebanon does not recognize the state of Israel, and the Israeli flag is strictly forbidden in school textbooks. The word "Israel" is replaced by "Occupied Palestine" in educational texts.
In a press release, the Ministry of Education denounced "an increase in copies and reprints of textbooks published by the Center for Research and Pedagogical Development (CRDP), the latest being a civics textbook, for which the CRDP normally has exclusive rights guaranteed by the constitution."
The ministry warned schools against using textbooks that reproduce the Israeli flag, while calling on security forces to intervene to stop unauthorized reprints. The text explains, however, that this situation has been caused "by the current economic conditions ... and the fact that no publishing house is willing to participate in tenders for the printing of textbooks in Lebanese books."
Two Education Ministry sources contacted by L'Orient-Le Jour were unable to provide information on the exact number of textbooks printed without authorization, the regions where these books were sold, or the classes concerned.
Minister Halabi asked CRDP President Hiyam Ishak and the center's legal department "to take legal action against all those who have illegally copied, printed or altered the 'Civics and Citizenship Education' textbook, and who have violated the production rights of official textbooks."
Ishak has also been tasked with closely monitoring textbook falsification and distortion, in collaboration with the publishers' union, which works in close coordination with the CRDP and the Education Ministry.
Condemning the "double illegality" of the actions undertaken by the publishing house concerned, the publication of an Israeli flag and the illegal reprint, a source at the ministry assured L'Orient-Le Jour that "the matter is in the hands of the police and the competent authorities."
Books withdrawn from the market
In a statement issued Saturday, Dar Aoun publishing house, which printed the book with the offending cover, apologized for what it described as "an unintentional error."
"When we published the civics textbook for 2024 ..., we unintentionally included a photo of the flag of the usurping Israeli entity."
The publisher apologized and undertook to withdraw the textbooks from the market, pointing out that the owner of the publishing house is "known for his positions towards the Israeli enemy and in favor of the just cause of the Palestinian people." The company's address, mentioned in the press release, is located in the southern suburbs of Beirut, an area of influence for Hezbollah, Israel's sworn enemy.
When contacted, the CRDP president said that the Dar Aoun reprint is "pure and simple plagiarism of the version published by the Center, the only difference being the cover." She added that a complaint had been lodged and that the owner of the publishing house had asked to see the CRDP on Monday.
Asked about how to legally and officially access the textbook, given that it will not be reprinted this year, Ishak explained that the Ministry "has produced a digital version that is accessible to all students in private and public schools. All that's required is access to an application created by the Ministry and that the student has login details and his or her school is registered with the Ministry."
She acknowledges the limitations of this alternative, due in particular to schools' limited promotion of the app and some students' limited access to electronic devices.
The Federation of Private School Teachers Saturday condemned "the exploitation of the difficult economic situation by certain traders, as well as the lack of official supervision," which have led to this situation.