THE KNESSET, JERUSALEM- Following an unprecedented official hearing of the Knesset Education Committee chaired by Member of Knesset Zvulun Orlev dealing with incitement against Israel in textbooks used by the Palestinian Authority, Orlev wrote an urgent letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu on behalf of the Knesset Education Committee, demanding that PM Netanyahu raise the issue with him in is meeting with President Obama on July 6.
The Knesset Education Committee, attended by Israel government bodies and NGO’s that address the issue of Palestinian textbooks, witnessed an audiovisual presentation from Itamar Marcus of the Palestinian Media Watch and from Ido Mizrahi of the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, located in the Hebrew university of Jerusalem [www.impact-se.org ]
Marcus and Mizrachi presented the details of how PA textbooks are rampant with incitement and de-legitimization of Israel, and how the new PA school books routinely remove Israel from maps of the area.
This hearing comes only one week after PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced that Abbas had met with AIPAC in Washington on June 9th, where he had assured Israel’s lobby in the US that the PA had “deleted all incitement from the PA textbooks.”
In the Knesset Education Committee letter of July 5 to the Prime Minister, the Committee Chairman MK Zvulun Orlev, wrote that the Committee learned of “worrisome’ and “troubling” findings that “the school textbooks that are being used by the PA are replete with “incitement to hatred and violence, a complete ignoring of the Holocaust, de-legitimization of Israel, and the negation of the connection between the people of Israel to its land, as well as an absence of messages of dialogue, reconciliation and peace.”
Orlev, who is from “Habayit Hayehudi” party, wrote that “This education contradicts, does not allow, and will not allow in the future any process of reconciliation between the peoples [Israelis and Palestinians] and will prevent any Palestinian leader to take the path of dialog and peace.”
“Your upcoming meeting with President Obama will be an opportunity to raise the need to change these dangerous messages and raise a new generation that will be prepared for reconciliation and the search for a means of dialog with ones neighbor.”
Orlev asked Netanyahu to raise this matter as a basic Israeli claim that will form the basis of any negotiations with the Palestinians.”
In his presentation to the Committee, Ido Mizrachi of IMPACT-SE, who reviewed official PA textbooks said they defined Jews as “snakes”, “rascists” “colonizers,” and in addition they glorified “shahids.”
“In atlases in PA textbooks, Israel is not there,” he added.
In his presentation to the Committee, Palestinian Media Watch’s Marcus also showed recent broadcasts from Palestinian Television, where the teacher is telling children that “Haifa, Akko, and Jaffa are all part of Palestine,
“This broadcast can also be seen by Israeli Arabs,” Marcus added.
Mizrachi, however, did note that he found a rare example of improvement in one PA grade 11 textbook, which referred to the Oslo process and an exchange of letters between Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin and then PLO chairman Yasser Arafat involving mutual recognition.
“This is an example of a positive change But this textbook was out of the ordinary (“Yotzeh Mehaclal.”), and not representative of the general overall picture [of denial of Israel’s existence],” Mizrachi noted.
Another Member of Knesset, Chaim Amsalem,from Shas, added that he believed this example was a “tactical change” designed to enable the PA to feign to foreigners that it changed its textbooks and “to help make us fall asleep regarding this issue.” (‘Lehardim Otanu”).
An Arab Knesset Member, Masud Gnaim, from Arab Nationalist Raam-Taal party, was present for only several minutes of the discussion. His only comment was that these books reflected a historic Arab understanding of Middle East history, which viewed Palestine as “Southern Syria”.
ISRAEL HAS FAILED TO CHANGE PA TEXTBOOKS IN ARAB SCHOOLS IN JERUSALEM
Danny Bar Giora, the new head of “Menehelet Hinuch Yerusahalayim” (the Jerusalem Education Authority) tried to reassure the Knesset Education Committee that the PA textbooks taught in Arab schools in Jerusalem go through rigorous Israeli censorship, and that “all objectionable passages of incitement and de-legitimization are deleted”. Bar Giora stated that this procedure of changing textbooks cost 2 million shekels to the Israeli taxpayer, which involved the re-issue of the books with a stamp of the Jerusalem Municipality.
However, Bar Giora’s statement was strongly contradicted by Dr. Yonatan Manor of the IMPACT-SE, who reported that a full review by his organization of the PA school books taught in Jerusalem over three years ago, in May 2007, found that all of the problematic statements /incitement contained in PA textbooks were in fact still left in the texts taught in Arab schools in Jerusalem. Manor reported that that the “only change was that the textbook said it was put out by the Municipality of Jerusalem instead of the PA.”
Also in may 2007, a TV reporter Sara Beck, arranged for school classrooms in Arab schools to be filmed and show on Israel Commercial TV Channel Two, where teachers in Arab schools readily confirmed that they were teaching from texts that were identical to the school books taught throughout the Palestinian Authority educational system
In addition, according to a staff member of the Center for Near East Policy Research interviewed Palestinian Authority Minister of Education, Ms. Lamis M. Alami, confirmed that that PA textbooks in Ramallah and Jerusalem are “precisely the same.”
In terms of accountability of the Israel Ministry of Education, which is supposed to oversee Arab education in Jerusalem, MK Ronit Tirosh, of Kadima, former director of the Israel Ministry of Education, nervously remarked that this issue had ‘fallen through the cracks.”
The precedent of including PA schoolbooks in Jerusalem began at the initiative of then Mayor Ehud Olmert.
At a press conference in May 2001, Mayor Olmert was asked about the incitement against Israel in the Palestinian school books, to which he responded that “they [the Palestinians] can teach what they want. We will teach what we want”
Prior to 2001, textbooks from Jordan were issued in Jerusalem but underwent stringent rewriting, to delete anti-Semitic passages.
Bar Giora undertook to have a full review of the matter. The Arab advisor to Mr. Bar Giora, Suhila Abu Gosh, who has overseen the inclusion of the PA school books for a number of years in East Jerusalem, was present during the meeting yet did not speak at the hearing.
Member of Knesset Eliezer Moses, of Agudat Israel, said that Israel in effect has been funding incitement by paying for the teachers in Jerusalem to teach textbooks which incite against and deny the existence of Israel.
MK Orlev also said that he would also be writing to the Belgium parliament, since Belgium is one of the funders of PA texts to raise the issue of the incitement with them, and to ask them to review the texts and make necessary changes.
Alon Aviator, a high ranking IDF education officer, confirmed that all textbooks in “Area C, under Israel’s control, were the same as those in areas A and B,” and it wasn’t the IDF’s responsibility to change anything in these texts without government orders.
Manor remarked that his institute found that the Egyptian and Jordanian schoolbooks, notwithstanding the existence of peace agreements, were also full of de-legitimization of Israel.
In an interview following the meeting, Manor said that when he reviewed the textbooks in May 2007 used in Arab schools in Jerusalem which were replete with incitement, Abu Gosh was in charge of this issue and that she only had one person who worked under her direction.
In a twist of irony, while the Israeli government has never issued any formal request to foreign governments to cease their funding of Palestinian school books, Italy withdrew its funding of Palestinian school books after officials of the Vatican condemned the “crass anti-Anti Semitism” in the new Palestinian school books.
Governments that have funded publication of the Palestinian school books are Belgium, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Ireland.
* Rhonda Spivak is editor of the Winnipeg Jewish Review.