Jews don’t exist. The Western Wall is Islamic property. The Torah and Talmud are fabricated.
These are not the ravings from a lunatic; as of this year, they’re “facts” taken from new textbooks in use throughout Gaza.
Hamas, which administers most of Gaza’s schools, has made a few changes in the way the schools are run. Modesty patrols now monitor college campuses. Gaza high school students can take military training as an elective. And contact between any school in Gaza and one in Israel is now a criminal offense.
The New York Times reported on November 4, 2013 some of Hamas’ educational initiatives. The new curriculum is Hamas’ latest salvo in the cultural war it’s waging in Gaza. History is being rewritten – the new textbooks don’t mention key recent events like the Oslo Accords – and take demonization of Israel and Jews to new lows.
The goal, according to one Hamas educational advisor, is to prepare children to “resist” Israel. (Jerusalem Post, 5/22/13)
Israel, they learn, is a racist country, and wants to drive all Arabs out of Iraq, Syria and Turkey. (Turkey is not an Arab country, but that didn’t seem to deter Hamas educational officials.) Hamas’ history is also rewritten: it emerges as a heroic resistance movement. Even current history is being rewritten: kids are learning (erroneously) that as recently as last year, Hamas rockets launched from Gaza hit Tel Aviv, and “forced the Zionists to beg for cease-fire.”
These are hardly the statements of a progressive, peace-seeking movement.
Yet, incredibly, Hamas continues to enjoy funding donated from an array of foreign governments and charities. In 2012, the European Union confirmed that it would continue funding the Palestinian Authority as usual, despite its new pact with Hamas, an EU-designated terrorist group. In lifting its six-year-old ban on funding Hamas, the EU expressed its expectation that the new joint government would be commitment to non-violence. Hamas is now allowed to share in EU funding directed to the Palestinian Authority, an amount that exceeds 50 million Euros each year.
Hamas’ latest textbook is only the latest in a series of biased educational curricula adopted by Palestinian leadership and supported by western governments.
A 2013 study by Yale University found that textbooks used in Palestinian Authority-run schools contained less information about Israelis than Israeli state textbooks contained about Palestinians. They portrayed Israelis negatively, and were less self-critical than Israeli state textbooks. (Israeli state textbooks, by contrast, were found to be more informative and positive about Palestinians, and more likely to contain self-critical information.) According to the Yale researchers, fully 84% of the material in the Palestinian Authority textbooks dealing with Israel was negative.
Examples of troubling material in Palestinian Authority educational material abound. Maps without Israel on them are common. And while student are taught to envisage a world without Israel, Israel’s creation is described – in one 12th grade textbook – as a “catastrophe that is unprecedented in history.”
Some Palestinian Authority texts glorify violence and death. An 8th grade reading book, in use since 2006, contains an ode to “heroes”: “Your enemies seek life, while you seek death”, while a 6th grade Arabic textbook asks students to read a poem The Martyr: “I shall carry my soul in my palm and toss it into the abyss of destruction….” (Texts translated by Palestinian Media Watch).
The 2011 matriculation exam for Palestinian Authority-run high schools asked students to punctuate phrases such as “we shall die in order that our land shall live” and “do not view the occupier as human” (reported in Ramallah-based newspaper Al Ayyam May 3, 2011).
A third major organization running Palestinian schools is the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA). The UN defines aiding development as “enlarging people’s choices” and “expanding human capabilities”. You’d think that schools run by its agency would promote moderation but, sadly, this is not always the case.
There have been several instances of high-profile Hamas officials and even fighters working in UN schools. In 2008, a deputy headmaster and science teacher at the UNRWA-run Rafah Boys Prep School in Gaza was killed in an Israeli airstrike. It turned out this UN employee had also worked as a rocket engineer for the extremist group Islamic Jihad for eight years. After his death, Islamic Jihad hung a poster celebrating his martyrdom at the entrance of the UN school where he worked. (Jerusalem Post 8/21/11)
In 2009, according to the Jerusalem Post, the teachers union at UNRWA schools voted to pass control of their school curricula in Gaza to the ruling Hamas regime.
Despite this, Western governments have continued to bankroll UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority. International donors pledged $7.4 billion in aid over two years to the Palestinian Authority at a major conference in 2007, exceeding previous years’ support. In 2013, the Palestinian Authority approved an annual operating budget of $3.8 billion. The United States and European Union donate much of the UNRWA’s billion-dollar annual operating budget.
The United States, European Union, and others have a real interest in encouraging peace in the Middle East. In announcing that it would fund the new Palestinian Authority-Hamas government, the EU declared that it looked “forward to continuing its support, including through direct financial assistance, for a new Palestinian government that should uphold the principal of non-violence.”
Yet Hamas’ new textbooks – and other Palestinian books and schools that encourage hostility and celebrate bloodshed – are anything but non-violent.
Hamas’ new textbooks betray the very students they educate. Instead of giving Gaza’s children the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century, they are re-writing the history of the past. Instead of helping the region’s children understand the world around them, they are cruelly limiting their capacity to change that world for the better.
In 2010, then Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, responded to similar criticisms that Palestinian textbooks were biased and incited violence: “We are grateful for European aid, and without aid from the US and Europe there would be no chance of peace, but since the Oslo agreements were signed, the Palestinians have received more aid per capita than the people of Europe in the Marshall Plan after the Second World War and they have nothing to show for it. The money has either gone to terror or just isn’t there.”
Hamas’ latest textbook makes a future of violence and confrontation more likely. Concerned individuals and nations should be seeking ways to provide constructive alternates.