The think tank that I run, the Center for Near East Policy Research, has completed a four-year research activity in which all 364 schoolbooks for grades 1-12 that were published by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the years 2013-2018 were examined. The chief researcher whom we hired to examine the texts used by the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools was Dr. Arnon Groiss, a scholar of Middle Eastern studies. The goal of this research project was to check the Palestinian attitude toward the Israeli-Jewish “other” and to the possibility of solving the war with the “other” in a peaceful manner, in the spirit of the peace agreements known as “the Oslo Accords” that were signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel in 1993-1995. The project yielded three studies which demonstrate that Palestinian students are learning that a peaceful resolution of the war with Israel is not an option. Instead, the theme that runs through the PA curriculum is that “Palestine” must be liberated from “Zionist occupation” by way of an armed struggle titled “Revolution [Thawrah],” which involves terrorist actions styled as “self-sacrificing operations [‘amaliyyat Fidaiyyah].”
You can see this in the context in a PA schoolbook reference in one of the books to the “1972 Munich operation” in which 11 members of the Israeli team at the Olympic Games were massacred (History Studies, Grade 11). Those who carry out such actions are called “self-sacrificing ones [Fidais]” and those among the liberation struggle are called on to liberate the Muslim holy place of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and removing it from the Jews’ sway.
Palestinian pupils are taught that “struggle for liberation” is not limited to the areas of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but rather the whole country from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, as Zionist occupation is said to have started in 1948 in what is termed “the Catastrophe [Nakbah]”, and not in 1967. Israel’s pre-1967 territory is termed “the Palestinian territories that were occupied in 1948” (Management and Economics, Grade 11). Pre-1967 Israel is never presented as a legitimate sovereign state nor does it appear on the map where it is replaced in its entirety by “Palestine.”
Israel’s very name is replaced in PA texts as “the Zionist Occupation” or “the Zionist Entity,” which should be extirpated from the Middle East (History Studies, Grade 12). Cities inside pre-1967 Israel, such as Nazareth, Jaffa, Haifa, Acre, Tiberias, Beer Sheba and Ashkelon, are transformed by PA schoolbooks into Palestinian cities. Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war and their five-million-or-so descendants are mandated by PA education to return to liberated Palestine and thus the 70-year old “Catastrophe” would end.
PA schoolbooks present all of the six million Jewish citizens as colonizing settlers motivated by racist sentiments (History Studies, Grade 12), who occupied Palestine, massacred and expelled many of its original inhabitants, and have held the rest “under occupation” to this very day. The illegitimate status of the Jews in the country in the eyes of Palestinian educators is well expressed by the noted absence from the map of cities established by Jews in modern times, or showing them under Arabic names. Tel Aviv’s name is presented as “Tal al-Rabi.“ Eilat appears as “Umm al-Rashrash.”
Not only is the current Jewish presence in Palestine delegitimized, but PA education denies past Jewish history in the country, as well as their holy places that are presented as exclusively Islamic ones, including the Western Wall in Jerusalem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. The Jews’ notions of historical ties to Jerusalem in particular, are described in PA texts as “baseless claims,” “superstitions,” “legends,” “illusions,” and “distorted narratives” (Arabic Language 1: Reading, Grammar, Prosody and Expression – Academic Path, Grade 12) and the Jews themselves are presented as “usurpers” and “invaders.”
As if this heavy de-legitimization of both Israel’s existence and the Jews’ very presence in the country is not enough, the PA schoolbooks also contain numerous pieces demonizing all Jews within two Islamic contexts: as a people disobedient to, even blasphemous of, God, according to Koranic verses, and as a group hostile to Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, and the early Muslims in Arabia. The impact of these accusations on the minds of young Palestinians who are relatively religiously-oriented portrays all Jews in Israel in a negative light, even more than their demonization in the context of the ongoing Arab-Israeli war which was launched by the Arab League in 1948. Israel, referred to in the PA texts by the epithet “the Zionist Entity,” is demonized in the context of the “primary sin” of its very establishment.
Meanwhile, PA textbooks accuse the Zionist entity of perpetrating numerous massacres against Palestinians, assassinating Palestinian leaders, destroying Palestinian villages, causing Palestinian children’s suffering, being aggressive, violating international laws and conventions, maltreating Palestinian “prisoners of war,” confiscating Palestinian land, uprooting trees, causing Palestinian unemployment, limiting Palestinians’ free movement, detaining school students, damaging Palestinian economy, polluting the Palestinian environment, and even endangering Palestinian nutritive security and causing the desertification of Palestine. PA texts ignore any Palestinian terror actions that may have contributed to the creation of this situation.
The effort of the PA schoolbooks is augmented by the absence of any objective information about Israel and the Jews that would counterbalance it. Nor do the PA schoolbooks refer to the Jewish-Israeli individual as an ordinary human being. Jews are referred to as a hated ethnic group, with all the accompanying connotations of alienation and threat, which makes them a legitimate target for violence. Indeed, using violence against Israel and the Jews is considered by the PA schoolbooks as legitimate (in defense of Islam and its holy places in the country), moral (in light of their perceived inherent evil), and legal (because they are presented as foreign occupiers who act in contradiction to international law, and said to constitute an existential threat to the Palestinian people).
Peace and co-existence cannot be an option, given the indoctrination of PA schoolbooks. Thus, these new schoolbooks contribute to the perpetuation of war. Indeed, one of the findings of the present study is that such indoctrination has spread to all school subjects, especially mathematics, and it appears as well in purely professional textbooks such as “Small Businesses” and “Management and Economics” of the Entrepreneurship and Business stream and “Entrepreneurship in Business” of the Technological stream.
We have presented our findings before the U.S. Congress, the Canadian Parliament, the Swedish Parliament, the British Parliament and, most recently, at the United Nations. People who support peace in the Middle East should raise their voices and demand that the Palestinian Authority change its war-oriented curriculum as a precondition to any move towards peace, in accordance with its commitments by virtue of the Oslo Peace Accords which form the basis of the very establishment and operation of the nascent PA. A peace accord without peace education seems futile.