ON MY MIND: Teaching peace

Israeli leaders speak openly of their aim to negotiate directly with the Palestinian Authority to achieve a two-state solution.

A Jewish man holds his son at a vineyard belonging to Mitzpe Kramim, east of Ramallah in the West Bank (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Jewish man holds his son at a vineyard belonging to Mitzpe Kramim, east of Ramallah in the West Bank
(photo credit: REUTERS)
One consistently overlooked obstacle to achieving a sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace is education. Youngsters tend to internalize the ideas and values they hear from authority figures. And here, differences between Israeli and Palestinian approaches are stark, illustrating clearly the deep chasm that divides the two peoples.
Israeli leaders speak openly of their aim to negotiate directly with the Palestinian Authority to achieve a two-state solution. PA leaders, however, while at times stating a similar but qualified vision, simultaneously undermine it by repeatedly expressing in public – in the media, on Palestinian TV and radio, and in mosques and schools – hatred of Jews, endorsements of violence, and a historical narrative that distorts the facts about Israel.
The anti-peace script is embedded in Palestinian curricula approved by the PA and taught in Palestinian classrooms, ensuring that the next generations of Palestinians will embrace a fanciful worldview conjuring up the eventual elimination of Israel.
A new report by the Mideast Freedom Forum Berlin concludes that “the content of official Palestinian textbooks is detrimental to fostering understanding between the two groups. The books do not appeal to the possibility of understanding and reconciliation, but rather encourage aggression and strengthen prejudices. They describe Palestinians and Israelis as enemies, and contain nothing to render mutual understanding a likelihood.”
The German NGO report is based on an analysis of books used in grades 1 to 9 in West Bank and Gaza schools. The Holocaust, anti-Semitism, Jewish heritage, and Israel do not exist. Indeed, the State of Israel is not even on the maps. The message is clear: all of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is Palestine, and what the world has recognized as Israel since 1948 is simply the “inner lands” that will eventually be liberated.
To reinforce the vision of a Palestine from river to sea, children are taught that their people are also fighting to return to communities within present- day Israel. In one pictorial a father hands his son, named Jihad, a key that will ostensibly unlock the door to the family’s original home. Another graphic shows a party celebrating “the return.”
There are no references to Jewish historical and religious sites. Only the Arabic name is used for places important to both Judaism and Islam. The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron is the Ibrahim Mosque, Rachel’s Tomb is the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque. And the Temple Mount is only an Islamic place. Sound familiar? UNESCO has taken the official Palestinian curriculum as a source to deny any Jewish connections to the Temple Mount, as well as the burial places for Abraham, Sarah and Rachel.
Since the textbooks leave out anything about Jewish history and heritage, anti-Semitism in Europe, and the Holocaust, “Palestinian students learn nothing of some of the key reasons for Jewish migration from Europe and Arab countries to Palestine, and are left with only the impression of an aggressive invasion,” states the MFFB report.
Fighting the invader is a constant theme in the textbooks, and acts of Palestinian violence are glorified and their perpetrators celebrated as “martyrs.”
When the PA honors terrorists, names schools and public squares after them, and pays their families, it is reinforcing a culture, learned in schools at the earliest ages, that values open-ended conflict over peace.
EVEN MORE distressing is that what the German researchers found in 2016 is identical to the findings of a 2008 report on Palestinian textbooks published by AJC and the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance. That study looked at schoolbooks in use seven years after the PA began publishing textbooks for use in West Bank and Gaza schools. Then, as now, there was no recognition of the State of Israel and no advocacy of peace with it.
Instead, the textbooks promoted violent struggle, and included hateful descriptions of Jews and the West.
The MFFB report raises important questions about European, and especially German, funding of these provocative textbooks, noting that “German and European taxpayers’ money is being used to fuel anti-Jewish hatred.”
The report calls on the European Union and its member states to reevaluate how their financial aid for the PA is used. Such assistance, vital to the PA, “should be tied in a more committed and publicly transparent way to conditions that prohibit Palestinian media and schoolbooks from stirring up and spreading anti-Semitic motivated pictures, prejudices and resentments,” the report concludes.
Countries and multilateral organizations, including the EU and its individual member states, committed to the search for a two-state accord should focus on what is happening in institutions controlled by the PA, especially schools, since that is where the Palestinian society’s vision and foundation are being formed.
Until Palestinian children are taught to live in peace with their Israeli neighbors, peace will likely remain elusive. Palestinian leadership must be pressed not only to commit to a culture of peace, but to act to achieve it.
The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.