Peace Education Now?
While the world media descended on Israel to cover the hard fought Israel prime ministerial election campaign between dovish Labor incumbent Ehud Barak and hawkish Likud challenger Ariel Sharon, the international press has downplayed the issue that united both Barak and Sharon, both of whom have stressed throughout the campaign that neither one of them will sign any peace agreement unless and until the PLO’s Palestinian Authority engages in peace education, as required by all agreements signed between Israel and the PA.
Those agreements between Israel and the PA mandate both parties to prepare their respective populations of children for a new era of reconciliation and mutual recognition.
While the Israeli school curriculum has been drastically adjusted over the past seven years to pioneer a peace education curriculum, the Palestinian Authority has rejected any parallel peace curriculum for the school system under its control.
Ironically, neither Barak nor Sharon do not exclusively blame the PLO for its curriculum of incitement against the Jews.
That is because Israel’s leaders point a finger at the nations who fund the curriculum that explicitly encourages a new generation of Palestinian children to make war on the state and people of Israel.
Palestinian education has been funded since 1994, by a consortium of nations led by Italy, Holland, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Canada, all of whom also participate in the funding provided for humanitarian concerns of UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency which provides health, education and welfare services for the refugee population who make up half of the population now under the civil control of the PA.
Our news agency interviewed an official of the UNRWA curriculum department, under the condition that we not use his name. I asked him if UNRWA would accept any changes suggested by Israel. Until 1993, Israel had overseen the publication of UNRWA textbooks and removed passages that encouraged Arab children to hatred and war against Zionism and the state of Israel. Yet in the words of that same UNRWA official, “Since 1994, Israel has not been allowed to ‘interfere’ in the publication of any school book or any aspect of the Palestinian school curriculum since the inception of the Palestinian Authority in 1994”.
Meanwhile, UNWRA schools use precisely the same school books as the P.A., the nascent Palestinian Authority.
These texts graphically encourage martyrdom. For example, “Martyred Jihad fighters are the most honored people after the prophets”… (for 10th Grade); “I shall take my soul into my hand and hurl it into the abyss of death,… I see my death and am marching speedily towards it” (for 5th Grade); and the poem “My Homeland” to be “learned by heart” by 5 and 6 year olds, which includes the following “… We draw our water from death,… Our symbol is the ‘sword’ and the ‘pen’, but not ‘words'”. For 8th Grade, “Oh, Palestine, the youth will redeem your land, Oh, Palestine, with our bare breasts we will defend you. Therefore either life or death!” In these contexts repetitive questions to the students in the texts ask “What is the way to liberate Jerusalem?”
The content of these school books, has been known to the donor nations of the PA for the past few years, thanks to exhaustive reports published by The Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace ( whose website is located at: www.edume.org), yet there has not yet been any reaction from the donor nations
In March, 2000, I asked the representative for Canada to the Palestinian Authority about changes in PA education. He indicated that he “hoped” that the new set of textbooks that would be published in the Fall of 2000 for the UNRWA camps and the PA schools would be different.
These much heralded new textbooks created by the Palestinian Authority which were supposed to disclaim any such incitement were launched for the 1st and 6th Grades in September, 2000.
The consuls from Italy, Belgium, Holland, Ireland and Canada, all confirmed to our news agency, on the record, that these new textbooks from the PA were supposed to be vetted by these donor nations.
However, in August, 2000, the PA department of education informed us that they would not share the new books with the donor nations.
And the donor nations to the PA filed no protest whatsoever.
At the Dutch Representative Office located in El Bireh in the Palestinian Authority, now the scene of many recent gun-battles, we met with a recently appointed Palestinian education official. He presented himself as a resident of the UNRWA Dehaisha refugee camp, who had been working for the past ten years with the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Education and now was employed by the Netherlands government to handle matters of education for the Dutch government. He made it clear that it was Dutch policy not allow any “interference” in the educational curriculum development of a nation that receives aid from the Dutch government. He therefore explained that the Dutch would not welcome any Israeli involvement in the new PA curriculum.
In light of the PA curriculum issue, our news agency sent a query to the Commissioner for External Relations of the European Union, Mr. Christopher Patten, to inquire about the position of the EU regarding the new textbooks of the PA,
We specificially asked if Patten would favor a change in the PA curriculum, since the EU itself was also providing grants to the PA educational system.
Patten’s office responded swiftly, in the negative.
The reason given from Patten’s office: The EU is “not in itself competent” to monitor the Palestinian curricula, “nor is it responsible for development programs of E.U. Member States”.
Yet according to contracts between the donor nations and the PA, a monitoring committee of the PA schools was supposed to meet at least twice a year. These meetings did take place, yet they dealt only with logistical matters and not with what was being taught in the PA classroom.
The new PA curriculum, introduced in September, 2000, was supposed to introduce a new era.
With the written permission of the PA minister of education, we purchased these new school books at the beginning of the school year.
We handed these books over to the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace for evaluation.
The CMIP provided a review of these books, in early January, 2001 at a conference sponsored by the Truman Center for the Advancement of Peace and on its website, www.edume.org.
The CMIP showed that the new books of the PA gave no evidence whatsoever that any education for peace and reconciliation existed anywhere in any of the new texts of the Palestinian Authority.
Instead, the message of the new PA textbooks negates the existence of Israel, teaching Palestinian Arab children that a ” State of Palestine” is to replace Israel, while Azzadin-al-Khassam, the martyr and hero of the violent “Hamas” movement appears together with his photograph as a great and honored figure of Palestinian history in the new PA civics book for the sixth grade.
In January, 2001, representatives from the donor nations to the PA approved further aid to the PA school system, rejecting any condition that incitement be dropped from the official curriculum of the Palestinian Authority school system.
While it would seem logical that aid to the Palestinian Authority in the context of a peace process should be contingent on dropping all incitement, it would seem that logic and foreign aid policies do not always coincide.