The problem with Palestinian schoolbooks

With encouragement from a Vatican official, the government finally denounces a poisonous system that was introduced over 13 years ago.

Palestinian children play in rain. [File] (photo credit: Reuters)
Palestinian children play in rain. [File]
(photo credit: Reuters)

On Monday, Israeli Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz and the director- general of his ministry, Brig.- Gen. (ret.) Yossi Kuperwasser, held an unprecedented press conference in which they denounced the Palestinian Authority school system.

From the very genesis of the PA school curriculum, in 2000, the new schools of the PA, many of which are located in facilities run by UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and funded by more than 40 donor nations, adopted a policy of teaching the next generation to venerate the “right of return” to Palestine, all of Palestine, by means of holy war, martyrdom and education.
The PA rejected other curricula prepared by Bir Zeit University, a Palestinian academic facility located near Ramallah, which emphasized reconciliation and peace.
On March 1, 2000, Shimon Peres, then minister of regional development, addressed the international colloquium of the Jewish media, lavishing praise on the new Palestinian school curriculum for peace.
When I asked Peres to comment on the fact that the Palestinian school curriculum for peace to which he referred had been vetoed by the PA, Peres simply answered “I know.” He encouraged me to go directly to the PA education minister to get the new schoolbooks, which were to be issued in a few months’ time, and that is exactly what I did.
On August 1, 2000, the day that the new PA schoolbooks were issued, I traveled to Ramallah and met with the Palestinian education minister, Dr. Nayim Abu Humus, who authorized our agency to buy all the new PA schoolbooks.
Dr. Abu Humus asked that we give publicity to the new schoolbooks, which we readily agreed to do.
Returning to Jerusalem, following even a cursory review of the books, our Arabic-language journalist colleagues noted that they were problematic.
I brought a set of the books to Dr. Shlomo Ben- Ami, then the foreign affairs minister, showing him that the new maps produced by the nascent PA had deleted Israel. For every PA schoolchild, only Palestine existed between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
In these textbooks, there were lessons in which Palestinian children learned about the armed struggle to liberate all of Palestine. Palestinian children learned about Zionism as a war crime, and specific lessons instructed Palestinian children to revere those who murdered Jews.
Ben-Ami looked at the new PA schoolbooks as if I had brought him the Manhattan telephone book for his perusal.
As I left the minister’s office, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the pope’s “ambassador to the Holy Land,” called my cell phone with a request: Could I bring the PA schoolbooks to him immediately? “The pope wants to see them.” The honorary chairman of the ADL in Israel, the late Jack Padwa, had informed the archbishop that our agency had purchased these books.
Together with Padwa, I traveled to the archbishop’s office on the Mount of Olives and delivered the books that the Israeli foreign affairs minister had not wanted to look at.
The Vatican’s ambassador assured us that the pope would commission the first translation of the new Palestinian schoolbooks, which he did.
Archbishop Sambi brought the books with him to Rome, and initiated a study of them. The Vatican’s conclusion was that they were anti-Semitic and prowar in nature.
One month later, at the recommendation of the pope and with the encouragement of Archbishop Sambi, the Italian government announced that it would pull its money out of the Palestinian Education Ministry’s textbook project.
HERE ARE some examples of what Palestinian children are learning from PA schoolbooks, which were introduced between 2000 and 2006, and which have been in use ever since.
1. Israel does not appear on any maps of the world in the new PA textbooks, while maps of Israel replace the name “Israel” with “Palestine.”
2. The books ascribe Israeli cities to Palestine: “Haifa is a Palestinian seaport,” (Lughatuna al-Jamila, “Our Beautiful Language,” Vol. 2, fifth-grade textbook, p. 86); “Galilee, Nazareth and Beit She’an are regions in Palestine” (Al-Iqtisad al-Manzili, “Home Economy,” 10th-grade textbook, pp. 36-37).
3. The books mention Israel only as an enemy, in reference to “occupation of lands” in 1948 and 1967: “There is no doubt that the Israeli occupation has a negative impact on [Palestinian] agriculture and its export,” (Lughatuna al-Jamila, Vol. 1, 10th-grade textbook, p. 102).
4. The books present Zionism only as an enemy movement: “The Palestinian people are under an oppressive siege, limiting their movement and way of life,” (Al-Tarbiyah al-Islamiyyah, “Islamic Education,” Vol. 1, fifth-grade textbook, p. 49).
“The Palestinian family has problems... stemming from the occupation... it loses father, mother or son to death or imprisonment... endures the difficulties of life” (Al-Tarbiyah al-Wataniyya, “National Education,” fifth-grade textbook, p. 23).
5. The books make the false claim that an “extremist Zionist” set fire to al-Aksa Mosque in 1969 (Tarikh al’Alam al-Hadith wal-Mu’asir, “History of the new Modern World,” 10th-grade textbook, p. 106), when it was really a mentally unstable fundamentalist Christian Australian.
6. The books teach that the only ancient inhabitants of Israel were Arabs, ignoring any ancient Jewish presence: “Concentrated... in the land of al-Sham [Greater Syria]... was the culture of the Canaanite and Aramaic peoples who migrated there from the Arab peninsula,” (Tarikh al-Hadarat al-Qadima, “History of Ancient Civilizations,” fifth-grade textbook, foreword).
7. The books teach that Palestinians must use war and violence – especially martyrdom – to accomplish their goals: The heroic mother “...incessantly presents one sacrifice [fida’] after another” (Lughatuna al-Jamila, Vol. 2, p. 31).
“The warrior goes to war faced with one of the good options: victory or martyrdom in battle for the sake of Allah. (Ibid. Vol. 1, p. 70).
“Allah gave the people of this land (al-Sham and Palestine) an important task: they must stand on the forefront of the Muslim campaign against their enemies, and only if they fulfill their duty to their religion, nation and land will they be rewarded as stated in the scriptures” (Al-Tarbiya al-Islamiyyah, Vol. 2, p. 50).
8. The books feature children with names such as “Jihad” (holy war) and “Nidal” (struggle). (Tarikh al-Hadarat al-Qadima, p. 6).
9. The books stress the importance of “return” of refugees to all of Palestine – by violence: “The wrong must be made right by returning them to their homes: we returned to the homeland after a long absence.” (Lughatuna al-Jamila, Vol. 2, p. 43).
“Returning to the homes, the plains and the mountains, under the banners of glory, jihad [holy war] and struggle” (Lughatuna al-Jamila, Vol. 1, p.88).
SINCE SHIMON Peres, now the president of Israel, constantly attests to the moderate and peaceful intentions of Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the PA, our agency has been submitting a request to Peres for a response to Abbas’s education system for the past six years. We have spoken to all of Peres’s spokespeople and advisers. Yet the response from Peres’s office is consistent refusal to respond.
At the press conference conducted on Monday, Israeli government education experts described Abbas’s school system as “war curriculum,” and stressed that Abbas’s schools were inculcating Palestinian youth with the idea that Hitler is a role model for every Palestinian child to emulate.
Our agency asked Peres’s spokesman for comment.
After all, Peres convened a special briefing for visiting US senators during the first weekend of 2014 to say that he had “full confidence” in Abbas as a peace partner.
Yet that same Mahmoud Abbas personally oversees the PA school curriculum of war.
The response from the office of the president of Israel: No comment.
However, the government of Israel finally heeded the initial warnings of the Vatican that the PA schoolbooks are warlike in nature.
Archbishop Sambi , who died in July 2011 while he was the papal nuncio in Washington, DC, would have been proud. In my last conversation with Archbishop Sambi, shortly before his death, he asked if the Israeli government would ever make an official comment on the Palestinian school curricula. Now it has.
It took 13 years for the government to denounce the official curriculum of the PA, but now the Jewish state has done so, on the record.

The writer is the director of the Israel Resource News Agency at the Center for Near East Policy Research.