The PA’s latest educational curriculum is a strategic move toward hate

IMPACT-se has been examining curricula in the Middle East for over twenty years through the prism of internationally-accepted standards of peace and tolerance.

September 16, 2019 21:46
4 minute read.
The PA’s latest educational curriculum is a strategic move toward hate

Palestinian schoolchildren take part in a lesson at a school run by UNRWA in the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)

No educational curriculum is developed by chance. No textbook is written by accident. They are carefully crafted to reflect the values, hopes and ambitions of their authors. That is why Gershon Baskin is to be commended for placing such emphasis on the importance of curricula in these pages during recent weeks. As he rightly notes, there is a “far-reaching effect of education in the promotion of reconciliation, tolerance and peace, or in the promotion of hatred, violence and fear.” Indeed, education can tip the balance between war and peace.

Baskin is a much-admired, indefatigable campaigner for peace. He played an historic intermediary role to help secure the release of Gilad Shalit. His voice carries considerable weight. However, in this case, his assessment is wide of the mark.

IMPACT-se has been examining curricula in the Middle East for over twenty years through the prism of internationally-accepted standards of peace and tolerance. Recently, we have been delighted to observe positive change in Tunisia, Jordan, Morocco and Egypt.

In Israel, peacemaking as the way to resolve conflict has been a central value in textbooks for many years. Gershon is mistaken that they do not teach about the Other. For example, a grade 4 civics textbook describes the life of Yazan, an Israeli Arab and his family. The father is an engineer and the mother is studying for her Master’s degree. Their lives are discussed from a first-person perspective.

A grade 9 civics textbook features a sick and elderly disabled Palestinian man who collapses while at a checkpoint. Students are asked discuss the issue in a lesson about human dignity.

He is also wrong to assume that the Palestinian national perspective is not taught. In fact, in textbooks introduced during the rule of recent right-wing Israeli governments and ministers of education including Naftali Bennett, an Israeli grade 11-12 history textbook teaches “since 1967, Israel has controlled more than three million Palestinian Arabs, who have no citizenship rights and are subject to the rule of military occupation.” One civics textbook uses the expression “Nakba” and explains that it was “one of the central, most important, and most fateful occurrences accompanying the war,” and continues, “It is estimated that some 700,000 Palestinian Arab residents left, fled, and were expelled, becoming refugees in Arab countries (Palestinian estimates are higher).”

Our analysis of the latest PA curriculum reveals a stark contrast. It is clear that the Palestinian Authority has made a strategic choice to radicalize 1.3 million children every school day.

The PA curriculum has been pilloried by the international community, including the UN. The European Parliament, UK and the United States have launched investigations or legislative measures to prevent their funding for PA education, from turning impressionable young minds towards violence, conflict and hatred.

Quite literally thousands of violent references plague textbooks teaching Arabic, Islamic Education, Social Studies and National Education. Of 50 textbooks analyzed across these subjects, just two do not include problematic material, as defined by UNESCO standards.

Some of the examples are breathtaking. A poem for nine-year-olds calls for “sacrificing blood” to liberate all of Palestine. Meanwhile, Newton’s Second Law is explained with the use of a slingshot targeting soldiers, to explain mass and tensile strength. While children worldwide are taught basic arithmetic by adding apples or other innocent objects, the PA’s textbooks ask pupils to add the number of ‘martyrs’ killed in the First and Second Intifadas.

Peacemaking has been intentionally removed. Unlike versions before 2016, this year’s PA curriculum sees an almost total absence of any Jewish connection to the Land of Israel. Similarly, where PA peace agreements with Israel once featured in the curriculum, they are now nowhere to be found, as if they simply did not exist. The Israeli Other is mentioned only to dehumanize. Ninth-grade Arabic students learn that a firebomb attack on Israeli bus passengers was a “barbeque party,” rendering Israeli life worthless. The logical conclusion isn’t hard to predict. Martyrdom and jihad is a recurring theme in the curriculum. Fifth graders are taught as part of their Arabic class, that “Giving one’s life, sacrifice, fight, jihad and struggle are the most important meanings of life.”

But, as Gershon Baskin says, things can change. Jordan is a useful case in point. The curriculum has undergone sweeping reform, to counter youth radicalization. Although the attitude towards Israel remains problematic, the Jordanian curriculum has made great strides, increasingly celebrating diversity. It now embraces the country’s Christian population and recognizes Jews as a distinct ethnic group with Middle Eastern roots. Clearly a strategic decision was made towards real change.

The PA has chosen to increase encouragement of hatred and violence, despite the strong, clear and vocal opposition of the international community. Sadly, there is no reason to think that it will accept Gershon’s recommendations. He speculates that if peace one day returns to the political agenda, the Palestinian education system will require reform. He has confused the cause and effect. Palestinians will continue to reject peace precisely because today, they are systematically educated to violence and conflict.

The writer is CEO of The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education. (IMPACT-se).

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