The education system in Gaza and the West Bank reinforces antisemitism and hatred of Israel among young Palestinians. This includes the curriculum in schools run by the United Nations. A study analysing 222 Palestinian textbooks points this out and cites a number of specific examples.
In 2019, the non-governmental organisation Impact drew attention to the way young Palestinians were educated in schools. The organisation then reanalysed Palestinian textbooks a few years later.
They looked at more than 200 textbooks and compared individual versions over time. A specific list of the textbooks examined and approved by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education of the Palestinian National Authority is included in an attachment to Impact’s report. On its website, Impact-se (Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education) presents itself as “an international research and political organisation that monitors and analyses education around the world”.
Their analysis includes curricula implemented in schools in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East).
“Our extensive research has consistently shown a systematic insertion of violence, martyrdom, and jihad across all grades and subjects, with the proliferation of extreme nationalism and Islamist ideologies throughout the curriculum, including science and math textbooks”, the review states, adding that the possibility of peace with Israel is rejected and any historical Jewish presence in the modern-day territories of Israel and the
Palestinian Authority is completely omitted from the textbooks. Jews are referred to as colonialist invaders.
An immortal terrorist in the hearts of Palestinians
Impact emphasises that in assessing content, it utilises “standard content-analysis research methodology, examining textbooks according to the following condensed criteria of UNESCO’s standards for peace and tolerance in school education: ‘Our methodology is designed to consider every detail within the textbooks; it does not paraphrase, rely on interpretations, or attempt to illustrate preconceived notions.’”
Impact concludes that textbooks used to educate young Palestinians encourage martyrdom and the sacrifice of lives for the sake of constant struggle, commonly using words such as revolution, uprising, and jihad.
“Math is still taught to fourth graders by adding up numbers of martyrs killed in Palestinian uprisings”, they offer as an example. In the various editions of the textbooks, the authors reportedly corrected the number of martyrs, or rather assassins, from the First Intifada from the previous 2,026 to “only” 1,392.
In one of the textbooks there is a ten-page chapter that covers in detail the 1978 massacre on a coastal road in which 38 people, including 13 children, were killed and 72 people were injured. Dalal Mughrabi, a member of Fatah, is said to be praised, holding up the terrorist act as an example of “heroism” and presenting her memory as “immortal in the hearts of Palestinians”.
A geometry exercise in which fifth graders learn to calculate the perimeter of a rectangle uses a rectangular map of Palestine, which includes all of Israel. In the 2020 version of the textbook, an asterisk with a footnote has been added, stating that the map shows “historic Palestine”.
Students are also directly led to antisemitism by being fed “information” about how Jews control the flow of money, the world media, and politics. The imagery includes the depiction of a hand with a Star of David holding the globe.
Jews are portrayed as enemies of Islam who tried to assassinate the prophet Muhammad, and jihad “for the liberation of Palestine” is presented as “the personal duty of every Muslim”.
Reading comprehension is also taught through a violent narrative promoting suicide bombings and highlighting Palestinian fighters at the Battle of Karameh as they “slit the throats of enemy soldiers” and “wore explosive belts, turning their bodies into a fire-burning Zionist tank”.
Violence is commonly found in math and science. For example, velocity and acceleration are taught in physics through the illustrative example of a young girl throwing a stone from a slingshot. Students are asked to answer the question, what will be the speed of the stone “if the young girl doubles the speed of the sling, but the radius remains constant”.
Or elsewhere, the Israelis in the picture are shooting at passing Palestinian cars. Students are asked to determine the number of cars that will be hit if the probability of hitting a car with the first shot is 70% and the invader has shot at ten cars.
Jerusalem and the Palestinian curriculum
In 2016, Alexandra Pleskačová from the University of West Bohemia in Plzeň focused on education in the al-Askar Palestinian refugee camp in her master’s thesis. She had personally visited the West Bank camp on the outskirts of Nablus a year earlier.
“The curriculum content is the sole responsibility of the Palestinian Authority. This includes the content of individual subjects and approving teaching materials such as textbooks and workbooks. The only exception is the English language, as a British company is hired to write English textbooks. UNRWA uses the same curriculum, and some subjects differ in private schools. For example, they may provide German or French language tuition, but the core subjects remain the same”, Pleskačová explains in her thesis.
UNRWA runs one of the most extensive education systems in the entire Middle East. In total, it is responsible for 700 schools with half a million students. “All children of school age with a refugee status registered with UNRWA can enrol in one of UNRWA’s primary schools, which will provide them with access to a nine-year education system”, the author wrote in her thesis.
She also emphasised that thanks to the work of UNRWA, the Palestinians are now one of the most educated nations in the Middle East, with the lowest illiteracy rate and the highest percentage of university graduates.
The children’s school plan consists of subjects such as mathematics, Arabic, health and environment, civic education, English, physical education, art, literature, Islamic education, history, geography, national education, and the study of Jerusalem. The author herself emphasises that the data she provides only refer to the al-Askar refugee camp:
“I am not able to make a relevant assessment of the extent to which, for example, the curricula and methods differ in public schools in the Gaza Strip”, she says.
But the Palestinian curriculum, at least in 2016, reportedly included the dispute concerning the status of Jerusalem. Its history was recounted, facts connected with Christianity were also mentioned, and Jewish history was not denied. “But the main objective is to highlight Palestinians’ claim to Jerusalem as the nation’s capital city”, the author wrote eight years ago, quoting the director of the Nablus branch of the education ministry:
“The goal of the Palestinians is not to deny the Jewish religion, history and their claim to exist. The problem is that the Israelis have driven hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes.”
Emotions are said to have been stirred by the fact that the Holocaust has been included in the curriculum of Palestinian schools: “Hamas in the Gaza Strip found it very hard to accept that the curriculum of UNRWA schools included information about the events related to the tragedy of the Holocaust. During the protests, leaders of this Islamist party described plans to introduce Palestinian children to the issue of the Nazi extermination of the Jews as a crime against Palestinian refugees to prevent their claim to return”.
Raised for jihad
The fact that education is of enormous interest to Islamists is confirmed by recent findings in the Swedish media.
According to sources in Sweden, dozens of former Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists work in local schools, leisure centres, kindergartens, and social services. This has been the case despite repeated warnings by security services that returnees from ISIS-controlled territories, usually from Syria, can contribute to the radicalisation of local communities.
The topic was brought to attention by the Euractiv server. Lotta Edholm, the Swedish Minister for Education, subsequently described Sweden’s policy on the return and supervision of former Swedish Islamist fighters as “naive”:
“It is completely unacceptable that people who are ISIS terrorists work in Swedish schools, leisure centres, and the like.” Edholm said that employers in the education sector in particular should do more background checks on their employees.
In one case reported by the Swedish press earlier this year, an ISIS returnee was initially convicted under a law that prohibits people from travelling to a terrorist-controlled territory. However, three months after serving his sentence, he was able to start working with children in Gothenburg, as this offence was not recorded in his criminal record.