An education system tells us a great deal about the kind of society its leaders wish to create. It passes on the values they hope will shape the next generation, worldview and national identity they wish to fashion. Curricula are key to achieving the tolerant and open-minded societies of the future. But they may also be where negative influences: skewed historical narratives, hatred of the Other and political violence take root. Which is exactly why nobody can afford to ignore the recent attempts by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to brush aside grave revelations about its latest curriculum.
In recent months, the stark truth over the PA’s new reformed curriculum — its first revamp since 2000 — has been laid bare. The textbooks and materials being taught to Palestinian students are at complete odds with the values of the Western governments footing the bill for their production. Comprehensive research by the Institute for Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) has shown that this curriculum is replete with encouragement to violence. Newton’s Second Law is taught by way of a slingshot and the image of a violent confrontation.
Nine-year-olds in grade 3 recite a poem calling for “sacrificing blood” to remove the enemy from the land by “eliminating the usurper” and to “annihilate the remnants of the foreigners.” Young Palestinians are even exhorted to sacrifice themselves. They are taught that jihad is the pinnacle of ambition, that martyrdom for boys and girls is a life goal. In perhaps the ultimate betrayal of young people, they are told that choosing death is better than choosing life.
We brought this sorry reality to the attention of Western governments, which have been unwittingly hoodwinked by the PA into funding a curriculum fueling hate. They were rightly outraged. The European Parliament passed legislation last April stating that European Union funds to the Palestinian Authority must not be used for teaching hate. UK parliamentarians sounded alarm bells over London’s contribution, while the country’s Middle East Minister Alistair Burt raised the matter with the PA Minister of Education Sabri Saidam. Western governments are correctly sending an unequivocal message to the PA, that peddling hate has consequences.
Which brings us to the most recent development.
A long-classified report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the Palestinian curriculum taught in UNWRA schools was obtained by the congressional offices of Lee Zeldin and Scott Perry, with whom we discussed the issue. They ensured its declassification—and a double deception was uncovered.
The report shows that UNWRA officials responsible for schooling the PA curriculum were presented with irrefutable evidence that American funds had been abused to inculcate intolerance; they pledged to create supplementary materials to rectify the issue. However, the findings further show that UNWRA took no such actions, but lied to Washington about having done so. In other words, UNRWA officials were caught red-handed not only deceiving the U.S. government, but having gone to great lengths to avoid teaching the most basic principles of tolerance and respect.
Clearly legislation in the U.S. is necessary to ensure transparency in relation to reports on the Palestinian curriculum. It is extremely gratifying that there exists a broad bipartisan consensus for this.
The PA’s response has been both stunning and telling. Fully aware of their guilt, PA officials are doing everything possible to deflect from the very real issues at stake. Rather than discuss fundamental values in education, instead of engaging over the principles which will guide future Palestinian society, the PA is trying to turn reality on its head. It is playing the wounded victim.
The president of the Palestinian National Committee for Education, Culture and Science, Mahmoud Ismail, called for international intervention to stop “the ruthless Israeli war on the Palestinian curriculum” at a Ramallah press conference. In the same vein, at a separate press conference in Ramallah, the PA revealed a “new, intense Israeli campaign targeting the Palestinian national curriculum, stigmatizing it as inciteful.” This coincided with an opinion article from Education Minister Sabri Saidam, alleging that Palestinian education is being “besieged” by a “feverish” campaign, which he pledged will be defeated.
The PA is plainly hoping that hysteria and divisive rhetoric will turn attention away from the hatred and violence it is preaching to impressionable young minds. The one thing that the PA’s media offensive has got right though is the existence of a campaign to expose its poisonous curriculum. But unlike the conspiracy the PA claims it to be, this campaign is rather a transparent and determined effort to expose the hate and demand change as long as 1.3 million Palestinian children are radicalized every day at school.