Marc Cohen

What If?

Reading Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech at the United Nations General Assembly last month, most of the rhetoric was more of the same. His agenda was one that casted Israel as aloof and as the root of the region’s problems while not taking any blame on himself or the people he represents, something most in the international community have learned to expect. Abbas is in the 12th year of a four-year term as the Palestinian Authority’s President and most of his speeches to an international audience have been critical and even belligerent towards Israel. Towards the end of his speech, he addressed the Israeli public and said: “we want to live in peace.” This specific statement runs counter to his domestic policies back in Ramallah despite what he may say in front of an international audience, specifically his administration’s policies on education, incitement to violence, and payment to the families of mass-murders and terrorists.

It is well known amongst people familiar with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that the Palestinians indoctrinate their children with violence and hatred for not only Israelis, but also Jews. The Palestinian education system is one that starts kids off from the very beginning of their learning to hate and kill Jews. In the news, we constantly see headlines from the West Bank and Gaza summer camps training kids with fake weapons to shoot Israelisplays and presentations of young children with knives and guns killing Jews, plays and presentations of young children with knives and guns killing Jews, and even inside UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) issued textbooks in elementary schools we see the indoctrination of violence. Just under two weeks after Abbas spoke to the General Assembly of the United Nations, The Jerusalem Post published an article in which newly distributed textbooks to various schools in the West Bank and Gaza encouraged martyrdom and praised violence against Israelis and Jewish residents. Finally, Danielle Ziri, the author of the article summarizes that “the authors of the study made clear they strongly believe that a meaningful peace must start with education and that ‘there are things that UNRWA must not teach.’”

Children are not born filled with hatred. They are taught to hate. During my time as an Israeli Defense Force soldier in the Binyamin region of the West Bank, a few events occurred that really made me realize this point and how the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA really brainwashed their students. After my unit had finished training, we were stationed near the Binyamin town of Shilo, and one of our patrols everyday was to walk along Route 60, the central highway in the region. Along the patrol were three elementary schools: one for girls, one for boys, and a co-ed school as well. Our job was to protect vehicles traveling on the main highway from kids in these schools who would throw rocks, an often occurrence. On the wall by the playground of one school, an image of a Palestinian State is pictured on the wall. The image depicted leaves no room for the State of Israel; the whole State of Israel is erased by a Palestinian flag. Palestinian children play and have fun while being taught to deny the State of Israel, something they also learn in the classroom. Often when students threw rocks at cars, the teachers would hide the students inside the buildings, knowing the army would not come into the schools. Unfortunately, I was witness to this several times. Young school children, some as young as seven or eight, would wait for a Jewish car and throw rocks at it. When they saw a patrol car, they ran back to the school, while young adults pelted us with rocks and explosives from houses in the village.

At the end of one of these patrols, we were waiting at the entrance to one of the local villages to be picked up. My squad and I were standing outside a house, and inside were two little girls, clearly not at the age where they were able to understand the dynamics of the conflict. They were looking at us from inside their house, debating whether to come out and play or stay inside. After all, we were in tactical vests, helmets and carrying rifles; why wouldn’t they be scared of us? I gave them a smile and a wave, wanting to show them we weren’t the bad and scary guys we were painted to be. After that, they came out and played in the sun on their front lawn, close to us, smiling at us the whole time, as if there were no problems in the region. Only smiles. It didn’t matter to them who we were, as long as we were friendly. It makes you think: what if President Abbas taught the children in Palestinian Authority schools to love and not to hate?




About the Author
Marc Cohen is currently pursuing his Master of International Affairs at Columbia University. He holds a B.A. in Economics-Political Science from Columbia University and is a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, having served as a lone soldier in the Kfir Brigade.
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