Dr. Arnon Groiss
This week, the DAGEN newspaper from Norway commissioned an evaluation of the new “Human Rights Curriculum” that has recently been published in Arabic by UNRWA,the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the organization that oversees refugee camps and services for Palestinian refugees of the 1948 war, along with their desdendants.
The professional commissioned by DAGEN to evaluate the UNRWA “Human Rights Curriculum” is Dr. Arnon Groiss, a journalist and now a senior official of the Israel Broadcastng Corporation’s Arabic Radio Service for almost 40 years.
Dr. Groiss was the Director of Research for The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance, www.impact-se.org, between the years 2000-2010 and authored its reports on schoolbooks of Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Tunisia and the Palestinian Authority.
Dr. Groiss holds an MA and PhD degrees from The Princeton University Department of Near Eastern Studies and an MPA from The Harvard University J. F. Kennedy School of Government, in addition to a BA degree from the Hebrew University’ Departments of History of the Middle East and Arabic Language & Literature.
These are the conclusions reached by Dr. Groiss:
· The books, entitled “Human Rights Curriculum”, are intended for grades 1-6 and each grade includes two parts – one for each semester. The number of pages varies between 30 (Grade 1, Part 1) and 77 (Grade 4, Part 2). Few pages are missing from the (photocopied) Part 2 books. The date of publishing on the front cover page of each book is 2010 accompanied by “Third Experimental Copy”. The inscription on the back cover page reads: “Mansour Printing Houses, Gaza, Telephone [Number] 08-2866705″. The photocopied books do not include the cover pages.
· The books are well organized and easy to use, with apparent didactic qualities both in form and contents. Each lesson deals with a specific theme using a story and pictures and accompanied by a variety of exercises and activities. In many cases, especially in books for the lower grades, images of animals, plants and objects are personified in order to bring forward the message. Typos are rare.
· Each book begins with the two-and-a-half-page Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations’ General Assembly – with no source. In some cases (very few) a sentence from the declaration is given as a support for an issue studied within a specific lesson.
· The content includes social, behavioral and environmental values such as: good social manners, mutual respect, tolerance, equality between members of the different sexes, races, socio-economic classes etc., personal hygiene, care for personal and public property, non-discrimination against the poor and the handicapped, mutual help, conversation manners, time management, freedom of expression and respect for others’ views, cooperation, respect for the law, integrity, protection of the environment, peace and non-violence, love for family members and friends, social responsibility, patriotism, equal opportunities, free elections, peaceful collective expression of views (that is, meeting, assembly, rally, demonstration, etc.), non-smoking, social activity through NGOs, respect for others’ feelings, listening, negotiation, peaceful solution to conflicts, the courage to admit mistakes, respect for others’ privacy, respect for others’ rights, recognition of the right to be different, the importance of education, the importance of order and cleanliness, respect for one’s parents, etc. The discussion of these values repeats itself along the grades.
· As one can see, the list is long and includes a wide spectrum of issues not necessarily considered part of human rights education. On the other hand, there are rights mentioned in the Declaration that are not included here, such as the right to social insurance, work, participation in directing the affairs of one’s country, etc., as these issues do not probably concern school children. What is also missing from this list – with no justification – is freedom of religion, religious equality and religious tolerance. In fact, the books are totally devoid of any mention of religion.
· The Middle East war is absent from the books. None of the values mentioned: peace, tolerance, peaceful resolution of conflicts, non-violence, etc. is given an interpretation in connection to the conflict. On the other hand, there are few references to aspects of the conflict – all presenting the Palestinians as victims. For example, an exercise includes a picture of two girls sitting next to a tent with a demolished house in the background. The caption reads: “A family whose house was demolished lives in a tent” (Human Rights Curriculum, Grade 3, Part 2 (2010) p. 34). In another example the children of Gaza fly kites “in spite of the [Israeli] siege” (Human Rights Curriculum, Grade 5, Part 2 (2010) p. 66).
· In conclusion, the books – if they are indeed used in school, which I could not ascertain – contribute to the creation of more tolerant atmosphere within Palestinian society (save for Muslim-Christian relations). Their contribution to a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is nil, if not negative.