Britain must stop enabling hate to be taught in Palestinian classrooms

Textbook (Photo by Valentin Salja on Unsplash via Jewish News)
Textbook (Photo by Valentin Salja on Unsplash via Jewish News)

This month, Palestinian children and young people will begin a new school year in which they will be taught from a curriculum which incites violence, extols the virtues of martyrdom and glorifies terrorists.

This isn’t a new development: the Palestinian Authority introduced a new curriculum in its schools three years ago in September 2017.

And it isn’t something for which the PA should alone bear responsibility. Through the Department for International Development, UK taxpayers’ aid funds the salaries of some 33,000 teachers and civil servants in the PA Education Ministry.

Moreover, as ministers admitted in 2018, they are “involved in the implementation process” for the curriculum, which is taught in almost all schools in the West Bank. In short, our government pays the salaries of the civil servants who devised the curriculum and the teachers who teach it.

The agreement between the UK and the PA which governs aid clearly states that Ramallah must take action against “incitement to violence, including addressing allegations of incitement in the educational curriculum”. The PA has entered into that commitment every year since 2016 – the very year, in fact, in which it was introducing its new curriculum.

Between 2017 and 2020, the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education has carried out four separate studies of the curriculum, in which they have examined over 200 new textbooks introduced since 2016.

Assessed on standards for peace and tolerance derived from UNESCO and UN declarations, IMPACT-se found that the new curriculum “exerts pressure over young Palestinians to acts of violence in a more extensive and sophisticated manner,”; has expanded its focus from the “demonisation of Israel to providing a rationale for war”; and is “more radical than ever, purposefully and strategically encouraging Palestinian children to sacrifice themselves to martyrdom”.

Thus the curriculum includes schoolbooks that teach five-year-olds the word for “martyr” and “attack” and 10-year-olds that “drinking the cup of bitterness with glory is much sweeter than a pleasant long life accompanied by humiliation”. Teenagers are taught that those who sacrifice themselves will be rewarded with “72 virgin brides in paradise”.

Terrorists – such as Dalal Mughrabi, who led the infamous 1978 Coastal Road Massacre, in which 38 civilians, 13 of them children, died – are described as “heroes”, while the 1972 Munich Massacre is described as a legitimate tool of “Palestinian resistance”.

This poison infects every aspect of the curriculum. Maths books ask nine-year-olds to calculate the number of “martyrs” who have died in uprisings against the Israelis. And science exercises teach Newton’s Second Law through the image of a boy with a slingshot targeting soldiers.

The schoolbooks also contain antisemitic messages, such as accusing Jews of sexually molesting Muslim women and claiming that they attempted to kill the Prophet Mohammed.

Indeed, across the curriculum, as a whole, there are 2,795 references to violence. The impact of this propaganda on impressionable young minds is impossible to calculate. But what is unarguable is that it does nothing to promote Britain’s long-standing commitment to promoting a two-state solution, peace and reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians. Instead, it reinforces the cycle of hatred, violence and terrorism which has made this conflict so intractable.

But – despite LFI first raising this issue with them three years ago – ministers have failed to treat this issue with the seriousness it deserves, even despite the cross-party consensus that has developed. After initially denying the existence of the problem, DfID promised a review of the curriculum in spring 2018. It then announced it wanted an independent, international review and promised that its work would be completed by September 2019.

That deadline continues to slip but there are some worrying signs about the shape of the UK-backed review, which is being conducted by the Georg Eckert Institute for the European Union. It has so far carried out two pieces of work: an initial scoping exercise – paid for exclusively by the UK which, after a year-long delay, the government was forced to publish due to a Freedom of Information request – and an interim report.

Following an examination of the scoping exercise and a presentation delivered by GEI on the interim report, IMPACT-se has raised some serious concerns about the quality of the review:

First, the interim report presentation praises Israel’s Jerusalem Municipality Arabic textbooks, which are presented by the GEI researchers as PA textbooks. In reality specific examples, which are singled out for praise by the researchers, are not used in Palestinian schoolrooms but those of Israeli-Arab pupils.

Second, only 24% of the 85 books covered in the grade 8-10 interim report are currently taught in the 2019-20 school year; 76% of the researched textbooks are no longer taught or used in PA schools.

Finally, the scoping exercise report contains basic Arabic translation errors, leaves out key words, shows a lack of familiarity with Palestinian culture, and quotes references to research that does not exist. References to the former Israeli president, Shimon Peres, were, for instance, translated as “piers”, such as the one you may have visited on your staycation this year. This is by no means an isolated example.

The EU is now suggesting that the interim report will not be published. UK ministers have suggested that, while they would like the report released, it is the property of the EU. Given that ministers were aware at the time they opted for an international review that Britain was leaving the EU, the decision to opt for a process over which the UK would effectively have no control or ownership is utterly incomprehensible.

It does, however, appear to have provided the government with another excuse for inaction, feet-dragging and buck-passing.

But while they seek to blame the EU, we shouldn’t forget that ministers are still writing the cheques the PA needs to inflict this dangerous and divisive curriculum on Palestinian children and young people.

About the Author
Steve McCabe is chair of Labour Friends of Israel, and Member of Parliament for Birmingham Selly Oak
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