The present research covers the attitude to the Jewish-Israeli “other”, and to the issue of peace with it, as expressed in the most updated schoolbooks issued by the Palestinian Authority for use in all schools in the West Bank and Gaza, and also in the East Jerusalem schools that follow the PA curriculum. These books are taught in government-owned schools, as well as in non-governmental ones, that is, schools operated by the various churches, Islamic charity associations, privately-owned schools, and those ones operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Within the present research, 144 textbooks of various school subjects, taught in grades 1-12, have been examined. The source material includes all forms of text, including language exercises, assignments and footnotes, as well as photographs, illustrations, maps, charts and graphs. Some 20 of the books checked were published recently, in the summer of 2016, within a new project of rewriting the PA schoolbooks.
The authors of this research strongly believe that a meaningful peace must start with education: the younger generation on both sides should be given a chance to understand the wider background of the conflict in which their societies are entangled and be shown the mutual benefits of its peaceful resolution. That entails a clear-cut recognition of the adversary, alongside a respectful description of its identity, beliefs and interests. The sole purpose of this research is the promotion of peace education on both sides of the Middle East conflict, and the authors hope to add to the present research soon a similar one on the Israeli schoolbooks.
From the findings of this research one can sum up the PA schoolbooks’ attitude to the Jews, Israel and peace in three fundamentals: De-legitimization, demonization and call for a violent struggle instead of peace. On the basis of these fundamentals a narrative has been built that presents the conflicts in a distorted form historically and does not leave any hope for ending it in peaceful coexistence of the two parties involved, with grave implications as far as their future, and their children’s future, is concerned. These findings also reveal the PA’s goals on the long run and the extent of UNRWA’s involvement in pursuing those goals.
De-legitimization of Jews is expressed by non-recognition of their being a nation having rights in the country they consider their ancient homeland. Rather, their attachment to it is described as “greedy ambitions (atma’)”. Their national movement – Zionism – is portrayed as a colonialist one in the service of Western Imperialism. There are very few references in the PA schoolbooks to the Jews’ presence in the country in antiquity, contrary to the Palestinians who are said to have been descendants of the ancient Canaanites. The latter are described in the books as “Arabs”, thus creating an impression that the Palestinians preceded the Jews in antiquity as well. The Jewish holy places, such as the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, are not recognized as such. Rather, they are presented in the books as Muslim holy places the Jews aspire to usurp. The 6 million Jews living in the country are not counted among its inhabitants, contrary to millions of Palestinians who live abroad. Their cities, such as Tel Aviv, are not shown on the map. In a recently-published book Tel Aviv appears under an Arabic name, which probably indicates a new myth in the making meant at presenting it as an Arab city occupied by the Jews. Even the Jews’ national language – Hebrew – is erased, literally, from a British Mandate stamp reproduced in a PA book for grade 2. The message of all that is simple: Jews do not belong here and their presence in Palestine is temporary. This is actually the basis for the “Right of Return” issue, namely, the foreign Jews should leave and the legitimate Palestinians should return and take their place.
The Jews’ state – Israel – is not recognized as a sovereign state and its name does not appear on maps, except for one case in which it is depicted as an occupying entity since 1948. Both in text and on maps it is sometimes replaced by Palestine as the sovereign state in the region, and the latter is supposed to cover all Israel’s territories after their liberation from the occupation. Regions, sites and cities within Israel’s pre-1967 borders are presented exclusively as Palestinian, and instead of the term “Israeli territory” the books use circumlocutions such as “the Lands of 1948”, “the Interior” and “the Green Line”.
Jews are demonized by presenting them as enemies of Islam’s revered prophets – Moses, Jesus and Muhammad – which automatically places them in the camp of the forces of evil and prepares for their further demonization within the context of the conflict. The PA schoolbooks attribute to the immigrating Jews intentions of annihilating (ibadah) the Palestinian inhabitants and portray them as an existential threat to the Palestinian individual. They are de-humanized as wolves and snakes. Demonization of Jews reaches its peak in a traditional Prophetic Saying (Hadith) by which the Muslims will kill all Jews, with the help of trees and rocks, as a precondition to the End of Days.
Israel is severely demonized by directing over thirty accusations against it, starting with its usurpation of Palestine and expulsion of its inhabitants, through massacres, murder of Palestinian children, assassination of Palestinian leaders, aggression against neighboring Arab countries, destruction of cities and villages, desecration of holy places, mass arrests, attempts at the elimination of Palestinian identity and cultural heritage, besieging the Palestinians by the separation fence, damaging Palestinian economy and society, and ending in perpetuating the state of illiteracy among Palestinians and responsibility for intra-family violence and drug abuse in Palestinian society.
The demonization effort is further intensified by the almost total absence in the PA schoolbooks of substantial objective information about the Jews and Israel that would counter-balance the numerous demonizing pieces. Also, the Jewish-Israeli “other” is treated as a group only, without any reference to Jewish or Israeli individuals as ordinary human beings, which is bound to create the impression among the students of an alien and a threatening entity. No attempt is made either to understand the adversary’s motives and the PA books are totally devoid of self-criticism. Israel and the Jews are depicted as the ultimate criminal party and the Palestinians are the ultimate victim.
The PA schoolbooks are also devoid of any support of the idea of peace and coexistence with the State of Israel. On the contrary, they talk of a violent struggle for liberation without limiting it to the areas of the West Bank and Gaza. Rather, they refer to places inside pre-1967 Israel, such as Acre, Haifa and Jaffa as ones that are supposed to be liberated. Even the return of the so-called “refugees” has violent connotations, and in this particular case it is the pre-1967 territories of Israel that are meant. In this framework traditional Islamic concepts such as Jihad and martyrdom (shahadah) are used in order to give the liberation struggle a religious character and thus, make it further intensified. Though explicit support of terrorist attack against Israel is rare in the books, such actions are implicitly supported by praising their perpetrators who are called “ones who sacrifice themselves (fidai)”. Those among them who are killed in action, or imprisoned, are named “martyrs (shahid)” and “prisoners of war (asir)”, respectively. The books that were published lately, in the summer of 2016, further emphasize that Israel’s pre-1967 territory is an integral part of sovereign Palestine, and increase the intensification of the liberation struggle.
Although no explicit call for war against Israel, or for murder of Israelis, is found in the books, it is evident beyond any doubt that they prepare the students intellectually and mentally for a violent struggle for the liquidation of Israel under the slogan “liberation of Palestine from the occupation”.
In view of this situation it is clear to any intelligent person that no advancement towards a peaceful solution to the present conflict is to be anticipated without total change in this line of thought that the PA has been systematically inculcating into its students for over twenty years by now.
But if the demand for a change in the PA attitude is dependent on the negotiation process and on the political circumstances prevailing between the two parties to the conflict, this is not so regarding UNRWA, which is not a party to the conflict and is supposed to be committed to the UN principles of its peaceful resolution. Therefore, it is unconceivable that texts calling for a violent struggle against Israel and exalting Jihad will be taught in its schools, especially when the perceived struggle includes the internationally recognized territories of sovereign Israel. UNRWA is also obliged, as a UN organization, not to allow the presentation of a member state – Israel – to its students as a delegitimized entity. A schoolbook in which Israel is not marked on the map should not enter an UNRWA school in the first place. Even if Israel itself allows for the use of such books in schools in East Jerusalem under its declared sovereignty, for political or other considerations, UNRWA does not have such a privilege. As an international relief agency, UNRWA is not supposed to follow any political line.
To that, one should add UNRWA’s educational failure professionally, by adopting questionable material, to say the least, such as the attribution of a fabricated Canaanite origin to present-day Palestinians, and the crude falsification of a historical document – the Mandatory stamp. Moreover, by allowing the circulation in its schools of textbooks educating its students for a future war with Israel, UNRWA has betrayed its moral obligation to protect the Palestinian children in its care from such calamities.
In conclusion, there are things that UNRWA should not teach! Therefore, it is high time that the schoolbooks used in its schools be immediately revised, no matter what the PA does in this field. It is anticipated that the democratic donor states financing UNRWA’s educational activity would demand just that.