A textbook case

Left- and right-wing NGOs debate the merits of a Palestinian Authority curriculum in east Jerusalem schools.

Dr. Eldad Pardo 521 (photo credit: Sam Sokol)
Dr. Eldad Pardo 521
(photo credit: Sam Sokol)
‘The Hour [of Resurrection] will not come until you fight the Jews. The Jew will hide behind stones or trees. Then the stones or trees will call: ‘Oh Muslim, servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’” These words, uttered in January by the grand mufti, the highest-ranking cleric in the Palestinian Authority, led to widespread Israeli condemnation of the persistent issue of Palestinian incitement in the PA’s official media and in its education system.
The resultant furor over the mufti’s comments, made on the 47th anniversary of the establishment of the Fatah terror organization, also led to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s directly calling for the police to launch a criminal investigation into the matter, launching a Palestinian counter-protest over what the mufti later termed an Israeli attack on freedom of religion.
This hadith, or saying attributed to the founder of Islam, was also quoted by the mufti’s predecessor, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the founder of Palestinian nationalism, during his time as a guest of Adolf Hitler when the Islamic religious leader used it as part of an appeal to Balkan Muslims to join in the Nazi genocide.
Given the prominence of this controversial religious tradition in Palestinian education – it shows up in textbooks all over east Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria – In Jerusalem visited Dr. Eldad Pardo, the director of IMPACT-SE, the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, at the Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus.
IMPACT-SE monitors school curricula throughout the region, checking for compliance with standards set by UNESCO. The center issues reports regarding UNESCO compliance and has been a valuable resource for Israeli and Palestinian groups concerned about the culture of jihad and martyrdom promoted by the PA’s Education Ministry.
While the hadith quoted by the grand mufti is a part of Islamic tradition, says Pardo, it has historically been relegated to dusty old books and has not played an important part in Islamic life. It is only with the advent of radical Islam, he explains, that this verse has gained prominence, especially in the rejectionist education promoted by the Palestinians.
Pardo explains that PA textbooks, originally modeled on Jordanian texts, are used in schools run by UNRWA and the Wakf in east Jerusalem. Although the books do not always bear the PA logo, they are identical to those produced by the PA for use in Ramallah and other Palestinian-controlled cities.
“After almost 20 years of the peace process, [the Palestinians] haven’t found the time to update these books, and they include really terrible material,” says Pardo. This “includes anti-Semitic material, anti- Christian material [and] anti-Western material.”
This anti-Western attitude, he says, is especially harsh regarding Britain, which the Palestinians blame for the invention of Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel.
While the textbooks do contain some progressive content, especially regarding gender equality and environmentalism, this is not enough to offset what Pardo believes to be the promotion of a “culture of martyrdom and violence.”
Among the texts quoted in IMPACT-SE’s research is a 2002 text for eighth-graders in which children are told that “Your enemies seek life, and you seek death.
They seek spoils to feed their empty stomachs, and you seek a garden the width of which is both Heaven and Earth [i.e., Paradise]. Do not be sad to encounter them, for [the taste of] death is not bitter in the believers’ mouth. These drops of blood that flow from your bodies will be transformed into red fiery shooting stars that will come down upon the heads of your enemies.”
In one educational magazine distributed in Palestinian schools, Pardo says, schoolchildren can read the story of a young girl who holds an imaginary conversation with Hitler regarding the perfidy and evil of the Jews and the necessity of fighting them.
In a multi-ethnic city such as Jerusalem, where many children internalize such messages, such hate education can only lead to problems, says Pardo.
While a child reading such stories in Saudi Arabia may never meet a Jew or an Israeli, the Arab students absorbing the lessons of this magazine may well interact with Israelis on a daily basis.
Certainly, he notes, the efforts made by the PA to label Jewish holy sites such as the Western Wall and Rachel’s Tomb as mosques will lead to problems.
In another example, Pardo quotes from a new textbook, issued in 2010, in which ribat, the Arabic term for a guerrilla war, is called a constant in the Land of Israel that will continue until the day of resurrection. War, Pardo explains, is seen by the Palestinians as a state in which they have been engaged against foreign invaders since pre-biblical times. Palestinian education, he says, emphasizes the Palestinians’ identity as Canaanites and, as such, attempts to portray them as having lived in the land centuries before the Bible.
IMPACT-SE, he says, prepared a comparison between the books used in the PA and those used in east Jerusalem.
“It turned out that in some places they would erase a sentence here or a sentence there; not something really significant,” he explains. Citing the Los Angeles Times, Pardo says that “the [Jerusalem] Municipality on its own initiative went through and erased much more, including the Palestinian flag and material like that.”
According to the article Pardo cites, Israel has replaced many textbooks in east Jerusalem with edited and censored copies, leading to parents going bookbag to bookbag in local schools, replacing the Israeli texts with the Palestinian originals.
“Officials estimate that most east Jerusalem schools are quietly using Palestinian versions, despite threats from the city to take action against schools that do,” the LA Times reported.
The LA Times’s claims are borne out by a 2011 education report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which cited demands made last spring by the Jerusalem Education Administration (Manhi) that “the ‘recognized but unofficial’ schools [in east Jerusalem] buy textbooks exclusively through it. These textbooks, although virtually identical to those printed under Palestinian authorities, use somewhat altered political terminology. In addition, the Knesset Education Committee, headed by MK Alex Miller, expressed its intent to apply the Israeli curriculum to east Jerusalem.”
DESPITE ISRAELI condemnations, however, some claim be that the blame for the presence of incitement in Palestinian textbooks lies with Israeli authorities.
Speaking with In Jerusalem, Idan Ring of the legal and policy advocacy group Ir Amim, quoted a letter his organization had sent Netanyahu, which alleged that “after Israel annexed east Jerusalem, Israel’s leaders understood that the question of the contents of the curriculum that would apply there required a sensitive and creative approach and a complex and delicate solution. Thus, in past decades, schools in east Jerusalem continued to teach the Jordanian curriculum. Later, as per the second Oslo Accords, they adopted the Palestinian Authority’s curriculum, which they have been using for the past 15 years.”
Moreover, he asserts, east Jerusalem’s Arab populations “understand the attempt to impose the Israeli curriculum on them as yet another unilateral and aggressive act adding tension to life in the city and further violating their basic rights.”
The future of the curriculum in east Jerusalem, he stresses, must be handled as part of the political process, though he does not mention the Palestinians’ Oslo obligations regarding the eradication of incitement.
According to ACRI, “the east Jerusalem school system has suffered from severe neglect for many years,” and “despite the Israeli government’s obligation to provide free education, thousands of children in east Jerusalem remain outside of the school system each year.”
The Jerusalem Municipality did not respond to requests for comment in time for the publication of this article.
Together, official and recognized schools, as well as those schools known as unofficial and recognized – 110 institutions in total – cater to around 68,000 pupils, or around 73 percent of the total student population of east Jerusalem. Most of the rest are served by private, Wakf and UN-run UNRWA schools, ACRI says, stating that “4,387 Arab children are not registered in any educational institution and have dropped out of the system.” Pupils enrolled in Wakf and UNRWA schools “fall under the supervision of the Palestinian educational system,” explains ACRI, despite Israel’s stated policy that the PA not be allowed to operate in Jerusalem. There are some 20,000 children attending these PAaffiliated institutions.
It could very well be that the presence of the Palestinian curriculum is simply the PA moving in to fill a void left by Jerusalem’s municipality. In a culture where only those sectors that yell loudly receive their full share of the municipal services pie, the Arabs of east Jerusalem do not vote in any significant numbers and simply have been left out of the political process as a result.
Regardless of the matter of where to place the blame, the issue is the impact such education has on the city’s children.
“We see this kind of education as a kind of child abuse,” Pardo sums up. “It has no connection to reality. It’s imaginary and it encourages jihad... and there is nothing about collaboration or friendship. We should develop a curriculum of peace and tolerance for the entire city.”
While he is not sure whether Israel could “impose” a new curriculum on east Jerusalem schools, he does believe that the country should “offer the opportunity for those who want it. I think Israel should be more responsible for east Jerusalem in every way.”