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Vol. 1  /  2003                                             A JOURNAL OF POLITICS AND THE ARTS      


Educating Palestinian Children
in the Post-Oslo Era

Raphael Israeli


As long as the Palestinian entity existed only in slogans and in “armed struggle” during the long uphill battle which pitted the uprooted and destitute Palestinians against their Zionist enemy, the education of Palestinian children was tackled mainly by the authorities under which the Palestinian citizenry and refugees lived, in various Arab countries or under Israeli rule. In this regard, Jordan, between 1949 and 1967, bore the brunt of that burden inasmuch as more than two thirds of the Palestinian people found themselves under its aegis both east and west of the Jordan. The rest were either under Egyptian military government in the Gaza Strip, or dispersed in the refugee camps of Lebanon and Syria, or as a minority within Israel, or else engaged in careers in the oil-rich Gulf states, or in search of their future in other diasporas in the Arab world or in the West.

This meant that during the formative period of 1949-67, most Palestinian children who pursued regular schooling, even those in the UNRWA school system, depended more or less on the curricula of the Jordanian Ministry of Education. Not surprisingly, the civic education imparted to Palestinian children under that system was of a general Arab-Islamic character, with special emphasis on loyalty to the Hashemite crown, and a clear skirting of the issue of Palestinian nationalism. As in other Arab educational systems, it included a strong element of totalitarian political indoctrination founded on sloganeering, memorizing, citations, repetitions and conformity, and little in the way of free thinking, creativity, imagination (in the sense of the imaginative, not the imaginary which was rife), and innovative spirit. Political education, either explicitly stated or implied, was geared to reinforce Arab and Islamic identity, to bring up children committed to Arab and Islamic causes, to Arab and Islamic unity and solidarity, and to resist the perceived enemies, be they abstract imperialism or colonialism, or concrete Israel and Zionism.

When Israel took over the West Bank and Gaza following the war in 1967, it found itself constrained to maintain the legal and educational systems which had existed in those territories prior to the war on the one hand, but on the other hand it took the liberty to alter many passages in dozens of textbooks which it considered hateful, bigoted and inciting against Jews, Zionism and Israel. The extirpation of those passages from the books predictably produced barrages of condemnation from the interested Arab countries, from Arab educators and from Western countries and UNESCO, to the effect that Israel, as an occupying power, had no business in altering, censoring, rectifying, or otherwise correcting existing textbooks that had prevailed prior to occupation. It is noteworthy that Israel had abstained, during the campaign of revision of those textbooks, from tampering with citations from holy Islamic sources, such as the Qur`an or the Hadith, even when they were considered highly offensive, but the Arab and Islamic ire did not subside.

When the Palestinians gained self-rule in those territories following the Oslo Agreement (1993), one of their main and immediate concerns was, understandably, to take renewed control of the future of their population and guide it into the new moulds of Palestinian identity, nationalism, statehood, independence and relations with the outside world. Shaping the minds of Palestinian children, via textbooks and the state-controlled media, was considered a supreme priority. Many reasons were implied for this urgency, which also occasioned the prompt restoration of the passages which had been obliterated by Israel during the years of occupation:

  1. Palestinian children who missed school during the intifada, which many credit for the Oslo Accords, now deserved to have their future chartered and guaranteed by the new Palestinian Authority;

  2. The nascent Palestinian entity was soul-searching for its identity, challenged as it was domestically by the Islamic Movement, notably the Hamas, and it became crucial to educate the new generation according to the Authority’s prevailing vision of a Palestinian society in the making;

  3. The new Palestinian entity would need increasing numbers of technicians, teachers, cadres, intellectuals and bureaucrats to man its fledgling state institutions, its school system, its professional associations, its growing security apparatus and its economic management. Planning school curricula was considered vital for the provision of all those needs, and for instilling in them the new state ideology;

  4. The Palestinian entity, which grew out of the Oslo Accords, was still locked into a bitter and prolonged struggle to achieve its full independence from an enemy that was not forthcoming in according it all its aspirations. Since the foreseeable Palestinian future seemed tightly tied in with that struggle, it was necessary to define the enemy, to render society resilient in confronting it, and to shape the relations with it. For example, if during the intifada Palestinian children viewed the Israelis as oppressive occupiers who usurped Palestinian lands, they might have to be made to change their perceptions when dealing with a partner for peace, a neighbor, an employer, or perhaps even a legitimate political entity in its own right.

For all these reasons, although the new textbooks sponsored by the Authority, and its policy statements over its media, do not necessarily express public opinion there, they certainly reflect the intentions and state of mind of the Authority as to the policies it wishes to pursue and the way it aspires to shape the thinking of its future citizens. All the more so since the Palestinian Authority has been under pressure to comply with its international obligations under Oslo I and II (1993 and 1995, respectively) and the Wye Plantation Agreements (1998) with regard to eradicating the statements of hatred and incitement against Israel from its school books and state-controlled media. The Palestinian Authority’s unwillingness or inability to expunge such statements from the textbooks it has sponsored since its inception, can also be a measure by which to gauge its intentions and plans for the future.

The textbooks under examination here cover some 140 examples which were published by the Palestinian Authority during the years 1995-8. In the previous years of the existence of the Authority (1993-5), the Jordanian and Egyptian textbooks which had been in use under Israeli rule, continued to prevail, except that the corrections introduced by Israel, which had extirpated the anti-Jewish stereotypes, were abrogated and the original defamatory text was restored for that transitional period. The Palestinian new textbooks are all of the Authority’s making, and in this regard they reflect its educational policy better than the previous two substitutes. The textbooks under discussion cover the whole span of first to twelfth grades, not in the fields of science which are supposedly value-unrelated, but in humanities and social sciences which are loaded with values and therefore reflective of policy intentions, such as civic studies, grammar, literature, history, geography and Islamic studies.

Building a National Myth

School education in the Palestinian Authority understandably provides answers to the questions of identity, roots and history of the Palestinians. Enough evidence exists independently of the textbooks to sum up the elements of Palestinian identity since the 1920s when the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, raised the vanguard of Palestinian nationalism both against the British occupiers and the Zionist contenders. Prior to that, when Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire, it was divided into several sanjaks (counties) under the Vilayet (province) of Damascus, and not recognized as one political unit.1 The local inhabitants consisted of several landed clans, some prominent families in the cities, a few nomadic tribes, and a mishmash of minorities and new migrants from Syria and Egypt, and they certainly did not consider themselves as one nation, their focus of identity being either local, tribal, Muslim or Ottoman, or a combination thereof.

Nascent Palestinian nationalism, however, feels the need to lend depth to its history, either because “old is beautiful”, or because there is a necessity to contend with the Jews who provide a millennial recorded history of their link to that land. If there is no Palestinian historical record to satisfy that need, myths are concocted, and school textbooks are one of the most efficient ways to promote and diffuse them. Let us cite several examples from these textbooks and then try to make sense out of them:

  1. Dear pupil, do you know who the Palestinians are? The Palestinians are descended from the Cana`anites.2

  2. Jerusalem is an ancient Arab city, built by the Jebusite Arabs before Islam.3

  3. Jerusalem [introduces herself]: I am an ancient city, thousands of years old. I occupy a mountain plateau in the center of Palestine. My most ancient name, Jebus, is derived from the ancient Arabs, the Jebusites.4

  4. At the conference...the Jewish claims and historical allegations in favor of their right in Palestine were noted, and the historical right of the Arabs over Palestine ever since the dawn of history was stressed...5

The claim to Palestine as Arab naturally delegitimizes those who today counterclaim it, and this theme will be discussed in more detail below. Here suffice it to note, that the repeated stress of the Palestinian educational system on the ancient Arab identity of the land is obviously geared to posit Palestinian antiquity, never mind if imagined, created, invented, without even feeling the need to produce any evidence to sustain the claim, much like other mythologies which need only to be repeated, not proven. Moreover, by making Jerusalem introduce itself (citation 3 above), in an innocent and straightforward fashion, as if addressing the third-graders directly, weight is added to the statement of its Arab identity by itself, making any outside evidence redundant.

Evidence by omission is another device used by the writers of these textbooks. For example, both PA Television and the schoolbooks use a map of the Middle East in which Israel does not exist and is replaced in its entirety by a country called Palestine and so it goes as well for the privately produced new atlas that was adopted by the PA educational system. Illustrations:

  1. Under the words “our country Palestine”, a map replaces all Israel.6

  2. A map entitled “Map of Palestine before and after the war of 1967” defines the area of the State of Israel as the Arab lands conquered before 1967, while the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are defined as the Arab lands conquered in 1967.7

  3. Maps of the Middle East in which Israel does not exist and its area is marked as “Palestine”, appear in many pages of these textbooks.8

  4. A map which accompanies the lesson, “Palestine our Homeland”, encompasses the entire State of Israel and specifies numerous Israeli cities as Arab even though some of them date from biblical times: Safed, Acre, Haifa, Tiberias, Nazareth, Beit Shean, Jaffa, Jerusalem and Beersheba.9

  5. A drawing shows a woman waving the Palestinian flag while in the background is the map of Palestine in the place of all Israel.10

  6. Nineteen times in a geography book, maps mark Israel as Palestine.11

The Palestinian Television shows the same map, many times daily, at the beginning and the end of every news report. And so it goes for all geographical features of Palestine which bear present-day Israeli names, some of which relate to Biblical, clearly pre-Arab, locations such as the Valley of Jezreel (called Bani `Amr Valley in the Palestinian textbooks and media).12 Similarly, there are vows to return to Jaffa13 which has been part of Tel Aviv for the past 50 years; or continued references to Israel as “occupied Palestine”; or to the Galilee as part of Northern Palestine.14

This substitution of Palestine for anything Israeli, including Israeli industries which are not an intrinsic part of the claimed land (e.g. in Palestine there are two oil Haifa and Ashdod),15 which is part of myth-building by omission, stands out, incidentally, not only in textbooks and the official Palestinian Television, but also in other media. For weeks, in July-August 1996, the Jerusalem daily, Al-Quds, carried a daily page of chronicles of the history of the “Palestinian-Cana`anite people”, where academics of the West Bank Universities explained how Israeli archaeological finds bolster the claim of the Palestinian-Cana`anites to age-old rootedness in the land. All these write-ups led to the celebration of the Summer Festival of Sebastya that was staged by the Palestinian Ministry of Culture in August 1996, where Arab youth dressed in robes bearing ancient Cana`anite figures brandished torches as they danced about the town square that was packed with officials of the PLO and PA administration. Others arrived atop horse-drawn chariots modeled on drawings found at the Israeli archaeological excavations at Meggido.16

On the same stage in the middle of the square, a dramatic passion was acted out with the Ba`al, God of the Heavens and Fertility, in the Pantheon of the ancient Cana`anites struggling against Mut, God of the Underworld. Ultimately, the Ba`al emerged victorious and the narrator took the opportunity to heap praise on the loyal Palestinian-Cana`anite nations: the Amorites, Girgashites, Jebusites, and Perizites which had fought at its side in the battle against the Hebrew invaders across the Jordan.17 This part is rather puzzling if one takes into account the numerous references in the Qur`an of God’s Covenant with Jews and His promise that they would inherit the Land [of Cana`an]; all the more puzzling is the modern use of Ba`al, a pagan god, in a society where the Islamic trend is a serious contender for Palestinian nationalism.

This whole historical structure that has been created, invented, imagined, adopted and elaborated by the Palestinians, raises several questions. First, the problem of the totalitarian fashion in which this questionable concoction of events is being instilled into the minds of children, not as an idea, an option or a theory, but as an absolute and irrefutable truth, as History, as their history, without criticism, evidence or sources. This is not without precedent in the Arab world there is Saddam Hussein’s revival of Hamorabi’s heritage as his own during the first years of his rule (1975-90). In consequence of the Gulf War when he needed the help of other Arab and Islamic countries, he had to abandon his claim to antiquity, and Sadat’s repeated references to Egypt’s “7,000 years of Pharaonic history” which he inherited. In both cases, those cultures were superseded by the Arabo-Islamic civilization that bears no resemblance to, nor claims descent from, those ancient cultures. Similarly, Jordan has been claiming as its own, the ancient heritage of the pagan Emorites, Edomites, Amonites and even Romans. In all these cases, as in the case of the Palestinians, the attempt is clearly to construct a direct bridge to antiquity in order to gain legitimacy. However, in the case of the Palestinians, and to a certain extent the Jordanians, this myth-building is also designed to deprive their rival, Israel, from it, while in the other cases there are no contenders around to claim legitimacy over those ancient lands.

Indeed, the striking characteristic of the Palestinian version of myth-building is not only the constant need to construct its past from imaginary building bricks, but in so doing, to disregard and omit others, even refute them and deny their heritage and existence. For example, the entire 1,000 years of two Jewish commonwealths in ancient Palestine are simply skipped over, and history is so rewritten as to erase from its pages any mention of the Jews. Or worse, pages of history are torn off, and the remaining pages are re-numbered so as not to disturb the smooth flow of events by the embarrassment of inquisitive questions. However, due to the existence of Israel as a living claimant to that heritage, Palestinians cannot relate to ancient history without displacing their rival first. As we have seen, displacement is achieved either by omission or by active assumption of that heritage as exclusively theirs, by leapfrogging Jewish ties to the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judea, and rooting themselves in the far past that preceded the Jewish commonwealth.

When acting in this fashion, the Palestinians could have generously and realistically admitted the existence of an ancient Jewish heritage which is past, and reclaimed the Cana`anite heritage as preceding it, but they do not. They resort to constructing their bridge to the Cana`anite past on an historical void, for fear that a recognized intermediary period where the Jews predominated, might threaten their way to the far end of the bridge. The omission of the Jews on the one hand, and the claim to Cana`anite descent on the other, seem inconsistent with each other: if the Palestinians descend from the Cana`anites, then the Jews in the intermediary period do not matter anyway because they do not interfere with the neat lineage. But when the Jews are omitted, this in itself raises the suspicion that either the Palestinian myth-builders themselves do not trust in their Cana`anite roots, or they acknowledge that their grounds are so shaky that they had better eliminate the contenders who stand on a more solid historical ground, than face them in open debate. If fever cannot be controlled, one may break the thermometer and eliminate any evidence of a threatening temperature.

Self Aggrandizement and Enemy Denigration

Jahiliyya poetry in pre-Islamic Arabia, which attained high peaks of imagination, creativity and idiom, stood out in its purple verbiage of self-praise of the poet’s own chief, family, clan and tribe and their feats of heroism and valor on the one hand; and his scathing, humiliating and abusive language in denigrating the enemy tribes and clans. This device, which seems to have been borrowed by many a contemporary Arab poet and leader, is also applied by the writers of the Palestinian school textbooks. Apparently, those educators somehow felt that rather than only erecting a peak for their people by singing its praise and making up its history, they also had to dig a pit for their rivals/enemies in order to augment the perceived chasm between the two. Maybe they sensed that rather than being overshadowed by the successful West and its perceived appendix – the Jewish state – both of which are not to their liking, they would rather minimize them to the extent possible, by castigating them, denigrating and diminishing them, in contrast with the lofty innate qualities of the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular.

Look, for example, at what a Palestinian textbook for 11th graders18 instills into their minds:

In the present period...of unprecedented material and scientific advances..., scientists in the West are perplexed by the worrying increase in the number of people suffering from nervous disorders..., and the statistics from America in this matter are a clear indication of this (p. 3).

Western civilization flourished, as is well known, as a consequence of the links of the West to Islamic culture, through Arab institutions in Spain, and in other Islamic countries where Islamic thinkers and philosophers took an interest in Greek philosophy...

Western civilization, in both its branches – the Capitalist and the Communist, deprived man of his peace of mind, stability...when it turned material well-being into the exemplary goal..., his money leading him nowhere, except to suicide (p. 5).

There is no escape from a new civilization which will arise in the wake of this material progress and which will continue it and lift man to the highest spiritual life alongside his material advancement... Is there a nation capable of fulfilling such a role? The Western world is incapable of fulfilling it... There is only one nation capable of discharging this task, and that is our nation... No one but we can carry aloft the flag of tomorrow’s civilization (p. 12).

We do not claim that the collapse of Western civilization and the transfer of the center of civilization to us will happen in the next decade or two, even in fifty years, for the rise and fall of civilizations follow natural processes, and even when the foundations of a fortress become cracked it still appears for a long time to be at the peak of its strength. Nevertheless [Western civilization] has begun to collapse and to become a pile of debris. We awoke to a painful reality and to oppressive Imperialism, and we drove it out of some of our lands, and we are about to drive it from the rest (p. 16).

It is noteworthy in the above, however, that although the argument for Islamic superiority and ultimate victory is clear, an allowance is made for “natural processes” to unfold. Other fervent believers in Allah would rather impute to Him alone the decision and the timing of the Western collapse. One also wonders how the Palestinian Authority in fact expends tremendous efforts in the real world to find solace and seek favor in the West while teaching its school children that the very source of its sustenance is about to collapse. With regard to Jews, Israel and Zionism, statements of vilification are even more straightforward. For Israel, the immediate and most implacable enemy, does not deserve any sparing; it is the source of Arab misery and universal evil. The Jews, who constitute the majority of its population, are corrupt by nature and cannot be expected to improve, and the Zionist ideology which nurtures the Jewish state is the paradigm of racism and doomed to failure. Consider the following sample:

  1. One must beware of the Jews, for they are treacherous and disloyal.19

  2. Racism: mankind has suffered from this evil both in ancient as well as in modern times. For indeed, Satan has, in the eyes of many people, made their evil actions appear beautiful... Such a people are the Jews. 20

  3. The clearest examples of racist belief and racial discrimination in the world are Nazism and Zionism.21

  4. ...Israel’s mean, brutal, inhuman, fascist, racist, genocidal, cleansing wars. The Jewish gangs waged racial cleansing against innocent Palestinians..., large scale and appalling massacres, saving no women and children.22

  5. It is mentioned in the Talmud: We [the Jews] are God’s people on earth... He forced upon the human animal and upon all the nations and races of the world that they serve us, and He spread us through the world to ride on them and to hold their reins. We must marry our beautiful daughters with Kings, Ministers and Lords and enter our sons into the various religions, thus we will have the final word in managing those countries. We should cheat them and arouse quarrels among them, then they fight each other... Non-Jews are pigs whom God created in the shape of men in order that they be fit for service for the Jews, and God has created the world for them.23

These passages derive from either ancient Islamic sources, considered irrefutable in themselves, or from speculation which mixes wishful thinking with emotional distress caused by frustration in the face of formidable and successful rivals who refuse to disappear from sight. However, while Palestinian defamation of the Jews and Zionists can be understood in terms of the subjective sense of humiliation caused by a century of conflict and loss, it is much harder to comprehend the fabrication of “evidence” from the Talmud. Unless the writers of the text have themselves fallen into the trap of their own propaganda, it remains incomprehensible how educated people of obvious scholarly merit, could posit a fake text which is verifiable as an authentic textual source. Worse, how could they hope to train a new generation of scholars by feeding them with apocryphal materials as the paradigm of truth. Understandably, the writers of the text refrained from quoting a precise reference and hid behind a general attribution to the Talmud. Thus, instead of erecting a logical case based on evidence, the writers of the text seem to be content with mud-slinging, vilification and deprecation, assuming that by force of repetition, some of it will stick and serve the purpose of political indoctrination.

Jihad and Martyrdom

This is how Yasser Arafat, the Head of the Palestinian Authority, was introduced on PA Television during a ceremony at Gaza’s al-Azhar University on the occasion of Mi’raj Day.24

This is the Commander, this is the man, his face is like a bright sunny day... May Allah grant him noble qualities of manhood... The leader of this nation whom Allah watches over...

Allah, Allah, Allah!!!

Let Abu ‘Ammar25 lead us to Jihad.

And then, came Arafat’s turn to speak to the crowds:

...Bless you! Bless your struggle and your Jihad on this land...

We renew our oath to the martyrs... I say that all of us are made for martyrdom. Hence I say to all martyrs who have died, on behalf of the martyrs who still live... that we stand by our oath to pursue [the battle].26

The message of martyrdom and Jihad carried and repeated by the Head of the Palestinian Authority on its official media could not but influence the textbook writers who cannot help internalize these symbolic and powerful concepts. When Palestinian politicians are castigated for this sloganeering of Holy War in an era of peace negotiations, they always insist that Jihad is meant in its metaphorical and spiritual sense. Certainly, this word may have been made to designate an intellectual striving too, but in Islamic Shari`a it clearly means a military action designed to expand the outer borders of the realm of Islam or to protect the boundaries of the Pax Islamica from encroaching Unbelievers. Since Jihad does not necessarily have to be offensive and can also apply to defensive wars against aggressors, the Palestinians, like other Muslims, can claim that due to the Jews’ aggression against them in Palestine, they are entitled to thwart the attackers by Jihad.

When at the turn of the century, new winds of liberalism and reform began blowing in the Islamic world as a result of the impact of the West, some apologetic currents in Islam attempted to limit Jihad to its strictly defensive scope, or to extending assistance to persecuted or otherwise needy Muslims. But again, the identification of the aggressor against those Muslims remained problematic when it was done by interested Islamic parties against other Muslims (Iran-Iraq, Egypt-Yemen, Morocco-Polisario, etc.). Liberal thinking has also been detected by some scholars in the early years of Islam when the Prophet is said to have usually elected peaceful means over violence and war.27 But the violent and warlike interpretation of Jihad prevailed again when the Prophet launched his attacks against Mecca and Khaybar, and especially when Islam sprung out of Arabia after his death, and all through the Islamic conquests. The violent interpretation usually continues to prevail in the modern world, especially in the jargon of the Muslim fundamentalists28 and certainly in regards to Israel.29 All the more so when statements of Jihad are coupled with qital (battle), nasr (victory) and shahid (martyr). For it is difficult to envisage a spiritual Jihad where people are enjoined to partake of battles and where martyrs fall in combat, especially in an era of peace where those powerful symbols were supposed to have been abandoned.

The textbooks in Palestinian schools do not lag far behind the statements of the leadership, as reflected in the reports of the Palestinian Television and other state media, which are directly relevant to the prevailing ambiance of a continuing struggle, where the enemy is vilified and made legitimate prey:

  1. Know, my son, that Palestine is your country...that its pure soil is drenched with blood of martyrs... Why must we fight the Jews and drive them out of our land? [The text follows a map of Palestine that replaces all of Israel.] There will be a Jihad and our country shall be freed. This is our story with the thieving conquerors. You must know, my boy, that Palestine is your serious responsibility.30

  2. My brothers! The oppressors have overstepped the boundary. Therefore, Jihad and sacrifice are a duty... Are we to let them steal its Arab nature?  Draw your sword, let us gather for war with red blood and blazing fire... Death shall call and the sword shall be crazed for such slaughter... Oh Palestine! The youth will redeem your land... [the book then asks questions to emphasize the message that Israel, the enemy, is to be fought and defeated]:

  3. What is the road to victory over the enemy that the Poet mentions?

  4. The Poet urges the Arabs to undertake Jihad. Indicate the verse in which he does so...31

  5. In your left hand you carried the Qur`an and in your right hand an Arab sword. Without blood, not even one centimeter will be liberated... Therefore, go forward crying: Allah Akbar! [Allah is the Greatest!]32

  6. Muslims must protect all mosques...and must wage a Jihad both of life and property, to liberate al-Aqsa Mosque from the Zionist conquest.33

  7. Make use of the following expressions to make logical sentences: The Zionist Danger...; calling for Jihad...

  8. A Poem of Palestine:

    To Palestine: Greetings from Arab hearts
    Who have stubbornly and successfully resisted the chains of the enemies
    For me, the promise of martyrdom
    And Jerusalem is my song.

  9. If the enemy has conquered part of the land [of Palestine] and those fighting for it are unable to repel the enemy, then Jihad becomes the individual religious duty of every Muslim, man and woman, until the attack is successfully repelled and the land liberated from conquest.35

These sample passages from a wide array of PA textbooks, point to the tenacity in which the Authority wishes to instill into the minds of its children, from the early ages of childhood until adolescence, with regard to the necessity and inevitability of a prolonged Jihad to liberate all Palestine from the Jewish-Israeli grip. The insistent demand that the children should be prepared to fight and die in the service of this dream is unequivocal inasmuch as the textbooks do not offer any glimmer of hope for a peaceful settlement and way out. Rejection of Israel, Zionists and Jews, which is based on moral, political, nationalistic as well as religious considerations, is total, irreversible and immutable. Thus, a protracted and open-ended struggle is foreseeable, where Islamic and nationalistic rhetoric promises success at the end of the process, if every Arab and Muslim regards it as his/her personal endeavor (fard `ayn) and not only as a vague commitment of the community (fard kifaya).

This approach is surprisingly identical to that of the Hamas,36 which means that although the Palestinian Authority has been at odds with its formidable domestic rival for the soul of the Palestinian people, it has conceded to them in matters of school education, inasmuch as the Hamas messages are unequivocally and uncritically echoed in the Authority’s textbooks. While this partnership and collaboration might mitigate differences between the two contenders in the short run and make for a Palestinian united facade, it may prove in the long run to be dangerous when the fifth and seventh graders of today come of age and begin to make their political choices.

Significance and Consequences

As is often the case in authoritarian regimes in general, the point is not declaring lofty principles and promulgating liberal-minded constitutions, agreements and treaties, but fulfilling them in the real world. Thus, the Oslo Accords notwithstanding, there is a question to what extent do the school textbooks, that are a priori commissioned or a posteriori approved and adopted, by the Palestinian Authority, reflect its thinking and policy. And if they do, are they in accord with the Authority’s engagements, obligations and commitments, both domestic and international.

On the domestic front, it is evident that a state in the making must also lay claim to its past, its identity, its myths and its particular culture which make it different from all others, in order to build social cohesion, construct a political consciousness, and rally the masses behind it. It is less clear why such legitimate claims to the past, or to continuity on a national soil, must delegitimize others and deny their future, and nurture a conflicting and confrontational state of mind among the children, who must grow to accept or reject the counterparts of Palestinian nationalism as enemies or partners, as may be the case. We have seen that in both myth-making and self-aggrandizing, there are strong elements for displacing or ignoring the rival to such an extent as to exclude it from any permanent settlement of the problem. For as the children grow up and imprint in their minds the illegitimacy of the other, and its systematic satanization as the paradigm of evil, there is little hope that those stereotypes could be reversed when the children later become able to see and judge for themselves as policymakers and decision takers, or as common citizens.

Thus, while strenuous efforts are being made in Israel, with admittedly mixed results, to initiate peace education projects and educate Israel’s children in the school system to comprehend the concepts of peace, acceptance, tolerance, sharing, listening and coexistence, both as a necessity and as an ideal and a value in its own right; and as several Israeli-Palestinian institutions have been striving to inculcate those values into Israelis and Palestinian Arabs with various degrees of success, the official Palestinian textbooks seem not only oblivious of these valiant efforts, but they appear rather intent on perpetuating the negative stereotypes and scuttling any attempts at reconciliation and goodwill.

On the international front, it appears that the Palestinian Authority, rather than breaking new paths and making its impact on world public opinion, is bent on sustaining the current state of affairs. To be sure, when the Palestinian textbooks adopt or condone anti-Israeli stereotypes, they do not operate in a void. They conform, in fact, to much of the anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli stereotyping that has prevailed in the Arab world since before and after the beginning of the peace process in the late 1970s. For example, when Egyptians accuse Israeli expert farmers who help develop Egyptian agriculture, of poisoning Arab land and destroying the local farming industry, no one should be surprised that the Palestinian representative in the Human Rights Commission in Geneva accuses, with impunity, Israelis of injecting the AIDS virus into hundreds of Palestinian children. Or when Robert Garaudy, the notorious French anti-Semite and Muslim convert who denies the Holocaust in his “scholarly research”, is given a hero’s welcome in the Arab world, it is no coincidence that denial of the Shoah among Arabs/Muslims becomes a universal consensus. Similarly, in order not to contradict themselves on the Holocaust issue, even the Arabs who have made peace with Israel have banned "Schindler’s List" from their screens although there is little Israeli or Zionist aspects in it, but it does illustrate an event of the Holocaust. They overlook and deny the antiquity of Jewish presence in Israel even when they allocate rooms in their museums to other ancient peoples in the Middle East who have long disappeared from the scene. They even attribute Israel’s peace measures to dark schemes reminiscent of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, calculated to take over the Arab world culturally and economically in the “New Middle East”.37

These organized and institutionalized attitudes towards Jews and Israel, which may be hidden or uttered in the privacy of one’s intimate circle, once given the official stamp of authority and approval by the Palestinian textbooks, cannot but encourage Palestinian children to express those feelings and attitudes in public, and to sense that it is legitimate to do so. This was the reason why Israel insisted in both the Oslo and Wye Agreements on the eradication from textbooks of the statements of hatred, but it remains to be seen whether a turn-about in the official Palestinian attitude will be implemented. So far, the only changes that the Palestinian Authority made in this regard was, as mentioned in the introduction, to restore the negative stereotypes that had been eradicated by Israel from the Jordanian and Egyptian textbooks when it ruled the West Bank and Gaza.

Constructivists in the domain of educational psychology, such as Jean Piaget, have tackled the question of how the individual learner goes about the construction of knowledge in his/her cognitive apparatus; for other constructivists, the individual learner is of little interest, and what is the focus of concern is the construction of human knowledge in general. But there are also constructivists who are interested in both poles and who believe that their theories throw light on both the question of how individuals build up bodies of knowledge and how human communities have constructed the public bodies of knowledge. And they raise the question of whether acquired new knowledge is made by the thinking individual or is out there and merely discovered.38 Writers in the field of constructivism conclude that construction of knowledge is an active process, whether we define it in terms of individual cognition or in terms of a social and political process.39 However, even according to Piaget, who is usually labeled as the High Priest of individual cognition, heteronomous morality follows moral rules given by others, out of obedience to an authority which has coercive power. Heteronomous morality means that an individual does not regulate his/her behavior by means of personal convictions. Rather, his/her activity is regulated by impulse or unthinking obedience, in contrast to autonomous morality which follows self-regulating principles.40 It is argued, however, that without the belief that rises from personal conviction, children will not be likely to follow moral rules given ready-made by adults.41

The ramifications of these theories are clear in our context of the Palestinian textbooks: While Palestinian children absorb at home and from their environment basically anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish stereotypes, and bring them as their luggage of knowledge and conviction when they come to school, that body of knowledge and convictions is enhanced when reinforced by the teachers who, regardless of their personal experiences and convictions which they had also picked up within the same environment, must impart to their students the contents of the textbooks, give and take their personal additions, interpretations and elaborations. In the literature dealing with political violence, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that verbal abuse and delegitimation of the enemy are necessary steps towards the use of violence against him. Conviction, authority and action then converge in a deadly cocktail to perpetuate hostile attitudes and hostile actions on the part of the children, which are backed by the approval of the Palestinian Authority. This is the most worrying question that arises from the reviewed textbooks: will they only remain part of a political indoctrination program which reflects public opinion and/or shapes it; or will they push the growing children of today and the adults of tomorrow, to transcend rhetoric into the dangerous and ominous grounds of hostile action.



See the important treatise by Haim Gerber, “Palestine and Other Territorial Concepts in the 17th Century”, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 30, 1998, pp. 563-572, where the author discusses the term Palestine as a socio-cultural concept.


National Palestinian Education for 5th Grade, #550, p. 19.


Islamic Culture for Eighth Grade, #576, p. 50.


Palestinian National Education for Third Grade, #529, p. 12.


A report on PA Television of May 19, 1998, of a conference where these themes were discussed.


Palestinian National Education for Second Grade, #519, p. 21.


Modern Arab History and Contemporary Problems, Part II, for Tenth Grade, #613, p. 66.


E.g. Social and National Education for Fifth Grade, #549, pp. 81, 84, 88, 89, 103, 107, 109, 110, 120, 124.


Our Arabic Language for Fifth Grade, # 542, p. 64.


National Palestinian Education for First Grade, # 509, p. 11.


Geography of the Arab Homeland for Sixth Grade, #557, pp. 12, 20, 23, 36, 48, 50, 53, 55, 61, 66, 72, 73, 75, 80, 81, 88, 90, 115, 124.


Geography of Arab Lands for Twelfth Grade, #650, pp. 49, 55.


Composition and Summarizing for Eighth Grade, #581, pp. 13, 20.


Modern Arab History and Contemporary Problems Part II, for Tenth Grade, # 613, pp. 70, 91, 95.


Geography of the Arab Lands for Twelfth Grade, #650, p. 186.


Editorial by Yoram Hazoni, Azure, No. 2, Spring 1997, pp. 3-5.




Outstanding Examples of our Civilization for 11th Grade.


Islamic Education for Ninth Grade, p. 79.


Islamic Education for Eighth Grade, p. 95.


The New History of the Arabs and the World, p. 123.


PA Television, May 14, 1998.


The New History of the Arabs and the World, p. 120.


Mi’raj is the ascension of the Prophet to Heaven from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.


The nom de guerre of Arafat, borrowed from an illustrious general in early Islam.


PA Television, January 1, 1995.


See Jihad, The New Encyclopaedia of Islam.


See Sayyid Qut’b, Ma’rakatuna ma’a al-Yahud (Our Campaign against the Jews), Beirut, 1986; and R. Israeli, “The Charter of Allah: the Platform of the Hamas”, in Y. Alexander (ed.) The 1988-9 Annual of Terrorism, M. Nijhoff, Netherlands, 1990, pp. 99-134.


Esther Webman, “Anti-Semitic Motives in the Ideology of Hizbullah and the Hamas”, in Projects for the Study of Anti-Semitism, Tel Aviv University, 1994.


Our Arabic Language for Fifth Grade, #542, pp. 64-70, (the map is on p. 64).


Reader and Literary Texts for Eighth Grade, # 578, pp. 120-122.


Ibid., pp. 131-133.


Islamic Education for Seventh Grade, p. 184.


Our Arabic Language for Second Grade, Part II, # 513, p. 51.


Islamic Education for Seventh Grade, # 564, p. 108.


See the Charter of the Hamas quoted above.


In fact, Shimon Peres’ book on the New Middle East was criticized in Egypt as “conclusively demonstrating” that the old international Jewish conspiracy was still valid, even though its author is hailed throughout the Arab world as the champion of peace.


This passage is based on D.C. Phillips, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: The Many Faces of Constructivism”, in Educational Researcher, Vol. 24, No. 7, October 1995, p. 7.


Ibid., p. 9.


Rheta De Vries, “Piaget’s Social Theory”, in Educational Researcher, Vol. 26, No. 2, March 1997, p. 5.