The following article from the Israel Resource News Agency was written on September 6th, before the current violence erupted.
I work with a senior Palestinian television journalist named Mustafa, who, like me, has a 6-year-old child who will begin first grade this week.
My own child, Meira, is excited to know that ever so soon, she will learn how to read and write like her older siblings.
I witness the same excitement I see on Meira's face when I see Mustafa's son, Muhammad, at his home in Ramallah. Muhammad, who always runs to get me kosher cookies when I come to pick up his father on a filming assignment, tells me that now that he's in first grade, he'll be able to read the kosher label on the cookies. Yet, when I joined Mustafa this week to cover the beginning of the school year in both the Israeli and Palestinian first grades, the difference in the curriculum could not be more clear.
When I went to the curricula center in Al Bira, a well-kept, middle-class Palestinian suburb of Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority director of curriculum showed my colleague, the Palestinian journalist, and myself the new school books that have been published for the first time by the P.A. itself. They published the books with special grants received from the European Union, beginning this year with brand new books for the first and sixth grades.
The other school books used by Palestinian school children, published for the P.A. in Egypt and in Jordan, are rife with passages that prepare Palestinian children for war against the state of Israel while describing the Jewish state in Nazi-like terms.
Many people had held out hope that the new school books published by the P.A. would contain passages of peace, unlike the others.
No such luck.
The history and geography books for both the first and sixth grades contain maps that portray all of Israel as Palestine, and numerous new passages that call on a new generation of Palestinian children to liberate all of Jerusalem and all of Palestine.
The contrast to what Israeli school children are learning is striking, since a peace curriculum has been required in the Israeli schools and on Israeli educational television since 1993.
As I browsed through the Palestinian school books, I could not help but think about the difference between Meira and Muhammad.
Meira knows the Sesame Street song, "Let's be friends" in Arabic from the program that she has been watching on Israeli educational TV since she was 4, and she even insists on singing it at the Shabbat table. For her, the idea that she should be friends with Arab school kids has been taught to her from a young age. Yet Muhammad, at the same age, can't stop singing the "Biladi" song of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the marching song that calls on every Palestinian youngster to take up arms against the Jews.
Such manipulation of children was not supposed to be part of the peace process. After all, "peace education" was to be included in the second paragraph of the Oslo declaration of principles that was signed in September, 1993.
Yet, almost seven years to the day from that declaration of principles, and despite numerous grass-roots efforts at reconciliation, the official organs of the PLO and its administrative creation, the P.A., have yet to issue their first statement in Arabic calling for peace and reconciliation with Zionism and/or the state of Israel. P.A. education constantly depicts Israel as a Nazi entity that needs to be wiped off the face of the earth. Recognizing that the PLO and the P.A. had espoused incitement to violence in their official rhetoric, the United States, the Palestinians and Israel agreed at the Wye conference in October, 1998 to establish an ongoing task force to address the subject of official PLO incitement to war.
That task force met constantly for more than a year, even into the administration of Prime Minister Ehud Barak. When I finally located the Israeli Foreign Ministry staffer who was assigned to the incitement committee, he informed me that the task force on incitement was no longer meeting.
I then decided to find out whether the Italian consul, Gianni Ghisi, who was responsible for organizing the funding of the new Palestinian textbooks by the European nations, had even seen the new P.A. textbooks that he had funded. Ghisi responded to the question by saying that the P.A. would not let him see the books before they were published, despite an agreement that they had to review the texts before publication. So, there you have it.
Meira begins first grade singing the Sesame Street song in Arabic, wondering aloud if she will ever have an Arab friend, while Muhammad will be handed a map of the whole of Israel as Palestine on his first day of school and be inculcated to do everything that he can in his young life to make war on my children.
It was therefore not surprising that The New York Times, in a front page story on Aug. 3, titled "Palestinian Summer Camps Offer Games of War," documented how the schoolyards of Palestinian educational institutions were used all summer to train 25,000 Palestinian school children in the art of war.
David Bedein is bureau chief of the Israel Resource News Agency in Jerusalem. This article originally appeared in the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia.