BEITUNIYA, West Bank (AP) _ Ask Karam Jamil about Jerusalem, just a few miles away from his school, and the first-grader’s hand flies up: “It’s the capital of Palestine, and it’s where we pray.”
Ask him about Israel and Karam _ indeed, the whole first grade _ stares blankly.
That’s not surprising _ their brand new civics textbook does not mention Israel at all, and the Jewish state is notably absent from the map on the classroom wall.
That’s hardly the “education for peace” outlined in peace agreements, say Israeli critics who have demanded sanctions against the Palestinians _ and who have now been joined by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, fighting a close Senate race in New York.
Addressing Jewish groups on Tuesday, Clinton called on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who is also the education minister, to remove what are alleged to be anti-Semitic passages in Palestinian textbooks.
“All future (U.S.) aid to the Palestinian Authority must be contingent on a strict compliance and an immediate good-faith effort to change textbooks in all grades,” Clinton said.
The textbooks have also become an issue for Prime Minister Ehud Barak as he seeks to complete a permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians. The leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, whose backing for a deal could be crucial, says the textbooks must first change.
“The textbooks of the Palestinian Authority tell how to kill and destroy the Jewish people,” Shas leader Eli Yishai told reporters Wednesday. “I don’t see how we can support an agreement if this continues.”
Palestinian officials deny that their textbooks contain anti-Jewish references, and believe that Clinton _ otherwise considered a friend of the Palestinians _ has been co-opted by hard-line Israelis to win New York Jewish votes.
Clinton “has to be very careful about where she gets her reports from,” Deputy Education Minister Nabil Abu Hommos told The Associated Press. “If she wants more information about the curriculum we can get it for her.”
Clinton may have been referring to “Our Country, Palestine,” by Arab historian Mustapha Mghad al-Dbaa, which advocates Israel’s destruction and denies any Jewish connection to the region.
Material distributed here and in the United States recently by hard-line Israeli groups charges that the book is used as a standard text. In fact, although widely read among Palestinians, it is not part of curriculum.
Still, the new Palestinian textbooks _ colorful, glossy notebooks used for the first time this year_ stirred much controversy when Israelis discovered their country was not mentioned at all.
Until now, Palestinian schools have relied on old Egyptian and Jordanian texts, which include anti-Semitic stereotypes _ although the Palestinians insist that teachers did not refer to the stereotypes in class.
Israelis, who have appreciably altered their textbooks to include sympathetic portrayals of Palestinians, had hoped that the new textbooks would adhere to the commitment to “educate for peace” outlined in the breakthrough Oslo accords of 1993.
In its chapter on tolerance, the civics textbook used in Jamal Husam’s sixth grade civics class in Beituniya shows a Muslim imam and a Catholic priest shaking hands, and includes passages from the New Testament and the Quran. Jews aren’t mentioned.
When references to Israel arise during classroom discussion, they are oblique and ambiguous.
Husam tells his pupils that “other religions” besides Islam and Christianity merit tolerance. Eleven-year-old Mohammed Jamil, reviewing last week’s lesson for the class, says the Arab nations would come together to defend Palestine and its borders _ but he does not say against whom.
Husam denies that the text or his lessons are anti-Semitic, saying: “The Jews aren’t even mentioned.”
That is precisely the attitude that infuriates even moderate Israelis. In a statement, Justice Minister Yossi Beilin _ an architect of the Oslo accords _ described the omissions as “inappropriate.”
Palestinians say it’s natural for their first self-published textbooks to focus on instilling a sense of nationhood in a people long dispossessed.
Abu Hommos defended the emphasis on Muslim-Christian relations, saying those were the two religions of the Palestinian people.
“Each curriculum in every country talks about its own people,” he said.
The writer is a staffer for the Associated Press