This paper deals with the attitude to the Jewish-Israeli “other” and to the issue of peace on the part of Palestinian Authority (PA) schoolbooks used in schools operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. It is based on 110 books in various school subjects, mostly published in 2014-2016.
The findings show that the PA schoolbooks used by UNRWA do not follow the principles agreed upon within the Oslo Accords, namely, mutual recognition, resolution of the conflict by peaceful means only and the rejection of violence. Instead, they adopt a threefold attitude of de-legitimization, demonization and indoctrination to future war for the destruction of the State of Israel.
De-legitimization is expressed by denying the Jews any rights in the disputed country. They are said to have “greedy ambitions” there, instead, and their nationalist movement in modern times – Zionism – is described as a colonialist movement. The Jews’ presence in the country in antiquity is hardly mentioned; their holy places there, such as the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem are not recognized and described as Muslim holy places usurped by Jews; the Jews’ mere presence in the country today (some 7 millions – the majority of the population there) is portrayed as illegitimate and their cities – including Tel Aviv – are absent from most maps; Israel is not recognized as a sovereign state and its name does not appear on any map, while Palestine sometimes replaces it on maps and in textual material as the sovereign state in the region; places inside Israel within its pre-1967 boundaries are presented as exclusively Palestinian; circumlocutions such as “the Territories of 1948”, “the Interior” and “the Green Line” are used to avoid the term “Israeli territory”; the Jews’ national language is denied recognition to the point of falsification of historical documents: a Hebrew inscription is erased from a British Mandatory stamp reproduced in a PA textbook; the very establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, in accordance with the UN Partition Resolution of 1947, is dubbed “occupation”; and the PA itself is referred to as “the State of Palestine”.
Demonization is manifold, and what aggravates its impact is the almost total absence of objective information about the Jewish-Israeli “other” that would balance its numerous manifestations. Also, the PA schoolbooks used in UNRWA schools never treat the Jewish or Israeli individual as an ordinary human being. The Jewish-Israeli “other” is always presented as an alien and threatening group, thus aggravating its demonization. The PA books attribute to the Jews genocidal intentions towards the Palestinians and present the latter as the ultimate victims in the conflict. Nowhere do the books used by UNRWA admit that the war of 1948 was initiated by the Palestinian party. Thus, the war and its aftermath are blamed on the Jews alone. There are over twenty accusations against the Jewish-Israeli party to the conflict, including the occupations of 1948 and 1967, massacre of Palestinians, expulsion of the Palestinian people from its land, destruction of villages, aggression against neighboring Arab countries, murdering Palestinian children intentionally, assassinating Palestinian leaders, demolishing houses, uprooting trees, robbing land and water, jailing Palestinian so-called freedom fighters, damaging various branches of Palestinian economy, responsibility for in-family violence in Palestinian society and for drug addiction there, polluting the Palestinian environment, attempts at erasing the Palestinian cultural heritage, desecrating Muslim and Christian holy places, violating human rights, besieging Palestinian society by what is termed “the separation and annexation wall” (originally built to block Palestinian suicide bombing attacks), etc. Demonization of Jews is further extended beyond the scope of the current conflict, presenting them as opponents to the prophet of Islam in Arabia and to Jesus Christ and his disciples. Needless to say, such a portrayal is bound to increase the hatred Muslim and Christian students in UNRWA schools might feel towards Jews in general, and not to the particular Jews involved, thus transforming the conflict from a mere national one into a far more intensified religious enmity. Finally, there is a poem describing the alien aggressor as one who directly threatens the very existence of the local person, which makes the conflict a fight for mere survival.
Indoctrination to war is emphasized by the fact that the PA books used in UNRWA schools never advocate a peaceful solution to the conflict and never discuss a future of co-existence with Israel. Rather, they talk about a violent struggle for liberation of Palestine from Israeli occupation with no restriction whatsoever of this struggle to the territories of the West Bank and Gaza. Within this violent struggle, traditional Islamic ideals – Jihad, Ribat (standing on guard against the enemies of Islam) and martyrdom – are exalted, and the students are encouraged to adopt them. The “Right of Return” concept is incorporated into this struggle and assumes, accordingly, a violent character.
It should be noted that the most recently published books, which signify the beginning of a PA project of renewing the curriculum, emphasize further the issue of the violent struggle for the liberation of the territories inside pre-1967 Israel, much beyond what used to be done previously. Thus, if there were hopes for change to the better, they have been crushed.
These findings cast a heavy shadow over UNRWA’s participation in the PA anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli campaign. Having been an international body, it should not take part in the conflict, should not treat a UN member state – Israel – as an illegitimate entity, and should not promote hate education against the Jewish state. It is inconceivable that UNRWA uses textbooks that call for Jihad against Israel, eliminate Israel from maps, falsify history and historical documents, and – beyond all – lead its own students into a future of destruction and misery. UNRWA has heavy moral responsibility here. Therefore, the books it uses should be thoroughly and immediately improved, and it is the democratic donor states’ obligation to make it happen.