Although a new report states that Palestinian Authority textbooks now feature descriptions of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” as being an “integral part” of Zionist history that was approved in “a confidential resolution of the First Zionist Congress,” the Belgian government says it is continuing to fund production of the textbooks and does not consider them offensive.

“We do not find [the textbooks] anti-Semitic in any way,” said a spokesman from the Belgian government press office, speaking to The Jerusalem Post by telephone. “We have a screening process that goes through and reads the books. There has been some controversy about it in the past, but we have had people look into it.”

However, other countries may be having second thoughts. While Finland, Italy and the Netherlands have also provided aid for PA textbooks in the past, this year’s books only credit Belgium and “Arab nations” as providing aid.

Widely regarded as a cornerstone of anti-Semitic theory, the fabricated Protocols purport to disclose the secret plans of a Jewish conspiracy for world domination.

The description of the Protocols is one of many anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic statements made in PA textbooks, according to a report issued by the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP) on Monday, a watchdog group.

The 122-page report notes that Israel is omitted from all maps of the Middle East, and that Palestinian martyrs are portrayed as “heroic” strugglers against the “occupying force.”

“Unfortunately, the whole Palestinian Authority operation of publishing new books for schools has fallen short of the standards set by the international community,” said Arnon Groiss, who wrote the report. “Until massive changes are made, I don’t think that the Palestinian Authority’s textbooks contribute to peace. The opposite is being done.”

The PA Ministry of Education could not be reached for comment and did not return phone calls.

However, a document on the ministry’s Web site says that the issue of incitement in PA textbooks is “a myth.”

Claiming that CMIP has engaged in an “orchestrated crusade against Palestinian education,” the ministry’s document also denies that PA books incite hatred against Jews and says that it is, in fact, Israeli textbooks that incite hatred against the Palestinians.

“Those who are critical of what Palestinian children are learning should try to find out how Israeli children are taught to hate Arabs, and trained to kill them,” the document says.

Prior to 1967 Jordanian textbooks were used for schools in the West Bank and Egyptian textbooks were used in the Gaza Strip.

“When we took over funding of the textbooks, we did so because we wanted to replace the totally outdated textbooks that had been used up to that point,” said the Belgian spokesman. “We wanted them to stress social values, human rights and democracy.”

In “A Study of the Impact of the Palestinian Curriculum,” commissioned by the Belgian Technical Cooperation at the end of 2004, researchers concluded that in “light of the debate stirred by accusations of incitement to hatred and other criticisms of the Palestinian textbooks, there is no evidence at all of that happening as a result of the curriculum.”

The report added that violence from “soldiers and settlers shooting in the streets and in schools” and “occupation” were preventing Palestinian children from realizing democratic values.

Members of CMIP claim that the other countries withdrew their funding of the books because of their content, but officials in those countries could not be reached for comment.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which provides millions of dollars to Palestinian schools and universities each year, said that the international community could not be expected to “turn its backs” on the PA education system.

“There are problems in any education system,” said Sylvana Foa, head of USAID’s public diplomacy office in the West Bank and Gaza. “But there is a conscious effort being made to improve the Palestinian system.”

The European Union also helped fund the PA textbooks until 2001, when a group of pro-Israeli members of the European Parliament attached a rider to an EU budget line saying the organization’s money must not be provided for PA textbooks if they contain material that is anti-Semitic or incites hatred.

“Israel supports the international effort to aid the Palestinians,” said a Foreign Ministry official. “When such support is given by the international community, we hope that that aid is done in a way that encourages positive political development in the Palestinian territories.”

He added that the government encouraged all international groups to make certain that they were not supporting an education process that was anti-democratic or “encouraging xenophobic, nationalist or any racist stereotypes.”

This piece ran in the Jerusalem Post on July 12, 2005