Marcus Sheff
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Time for Western donors to teach the PA a lesson

The PA's new curriculum promotes radicalization more than ever -- time for donor nations to cut off funding

On December 10, 2017, Yasin Abu al-Qar’a got up early. He calmly left his home outside Nablus, traveled to Jerusalem and plunged a knife which he had specially bought into the chest of a middle-aged Jerusalem bus station guard, Asher Elmaliach.

During his indictment for attempted murder and as reported in The Times of Israel, al-Qar’a told his Shin Bet interrogators that he had identified Elmaliach as a Jew and that his attempt to kill was “based on what he’d been taught in Palestinian Authority (PA) textbooks”.

The PA curriculum was recently overhauled, taking three years to write. PA Minister of Education Sabri Saidem touted it as a curriculum for the Steve Jobs economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The sad fact is, rather than grasp the opportunity to teach values of  progress, tolerance and peace, the new PA curriculum is a rallying call to extremism and martyrdom.

In “Our Beautiful Language”, a grade 3 textbook, the liberation of all of Palestine is described in a violent poem. Written for 9-year-olds, it calls for “sacrificing blood”, “eliminating the usurper” and to “annihilate the remnants of the foreigners”.

As our review and the examples here show, the new curriculum promotes radicalization to an even greater extent than before. The textbooks groom school children to sacrifice their lives and they promote hate. Negotiations with Israel are rejected, with children taught that a Palestinian state will be achieved only through violence and religious war. Martyrdom is preached as a life goal. Their reward is in heaven where 72 wives await. Girls find equality with boys through martyrdom. Dying, they are taught, is better than living.

Those who risk their lives are championed, while those who choose a path of nonviolence are denigrated as cowards. War is considered an eternal state of human nature, while even science is twisted to teach violence. The stated goal is to conquer Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, promoted through an Islamist and increasingly, a Salafist narrative. The curriculum’s focus is not merely on demonizing Israel, but to justify war as an ongoing and praiseworthy necessity.

Newton’s Second Law is taught in a Grade 7 science textbook through the image of a boy with a slingshot targeting soldiers, to explain power, mass and tensile strength.

Be in no doubt. Asher Elmaliach currently lies in intensive care as a direct result of the PA Ministry of Education’s carefully crafted curriculum, which systematically encourages young Palestinians to become expendable martyrs.

What is almost as shocking as the content of the PA’s curriculum, is the source of funding which has made it possible. The PA Ministry of Education is funded by the European Union and EU member states, through programs of the American and Canadian governments, and by international organizations that are generously financed by the United States and Europeans. All in all, hundreds of millions of dollars are transferred to the PA for education, thanks to the unwitting generosity of American and European taxpayers.

When challenged directly with the grim reality of the curriculum, with the clear evidence of our report in front of their eyes, Western diplomats to the PA are often surprised. But their response is inadequate. At best, they insist that the matter has been raised with the PA Ministry of Education. These diplomatic niceties have brought no apparent change. Meanwhile other Western envoys revert to a culturally relativist narrative which ultimately infantilizes and demeans Palestinians.

At a moment when around the Middle East, from Morocco to Jordan, governments are purging extremism from textbooks, fearful of radicalizing youth in their countries, the PA has made a strategic decision to do the opposite – to radicalize young Palestinians. Today, in schools across the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, 1.2 million Palestinian children are exposed to hate and encouraged to sacrifice themselves.

Change will not come from the diplomats on the ground. It will come through multilateral, international pressure, brought to bear on  respective governments by elected representatives. Already, there is progress – from Members of Congress who oppose USAID funding of the PA while this curriculum remains in circulation, a Labour Party MP who is leading the charge in Britain, Finnish politicians who are demanding their government abide by its own principles of zero hate in schools when giving aid to the PA Ministry of Education. Meanwhile, an energetic and effective group of MEPs are determined to condition the European Union’s massive annual funding to the PA Ministry of Education on removing hate in PA textbooks and a leading Belgian newspaper is asking its government why it is involved in promoting martyrdom.

2018 needs to be the year when donor nations begin to take responsibility for what young Palestinians are being taught at the expense of their taxpayers. The alternative is a conveyor belt of ‘martyrs’ just like Yasin Abu al-Qar’a. And too many innocent victims, just like Asher Elmaliach.

About the Author
Marcus Sheff is CEO at The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Curtural Tolerance in School Textbooks. IMPACT-se analyzes textbooks, employing standards on peace and tolerance as derived from international declarations and resolutions.