Hamas’ school curriculum: one, two, three, war…writes Gabsy Debinsky

November 22, 2013 by Gabsy Debinski
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The lessons we are taught at school as children stay with us for life. They are the ideas that inform the people we will become and the values that will define us as adults. While it may be possible to reverse the beliefs instilled in youth, it is hard. Sometimes even impossible.  

Gabsy Debinski

Gabsy Debinski

School education is crucial and the huge responsibility given to teachers and educators cannot be overemphasized. Students are like putty in the hand, they will be shaped however they are moulded.

Recently, the Hamas leadership in Gaza announced a change to the high school curriculum, to be taught to over 55,000 students in years 8, 9 and 10.

This means that for the first time since taking control of the Gaza strip in 2007, Hamas is deviating from the PA sponsored ‘national curriculum’ as part of its push to further its radical, anti-Zionist ideology. Most significant is the change of textbooks for a subject called “patriotic education,” which according to the book author, Abu-Hashem, aims to emphasize “the Palestinian armed struggle with Israel.”

Among other crucial issues, the new school books do not recognize modern Israel. Earlier this month The New York Times ran a report on the hateful Hamas curriculum after reporters were shocked at what they had seen.

“What Gaza teenagers are reading in their 50-page hardcover texts this fall includes references to the Jewish Torah and Talmud as ‘fabricated,’ and a description of Zionism as a racist movement whose goals include driving Arabs out of all of the area between the Nile in Africa and the Euphrates in Iraq, Syria and Turkey,” the NYT reported.

The content disseminated in Palestinian classrooms has been a source of dispute for time immemorial. According to the Israeli camp, it is the refusal to acknowledge modern Israel or the Jewish connection to the land, and the continued call for violent ‘jihad’ that is the biggest obstacle to the newly resumed peace talks. This has been touted by Prime Minister Netanyahu on the world stage, but to no avail.

Netanyahu reportedly even showed this disturbing video of incitement from a Palestinian classroom in Balata near Nablus to US Secretary of State, John Kerry, on his most recent visit to Israel.

The timing of the newly introduced curriculum could not be more pertinent. It comes at a stage where the US administration (headed by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry) seems almost desperate to direct some sort of ‘solution’ to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and/or the Iranian nuclear issue. It goes without saying that Obama’s insistence on putting settlements at the top of the ‘issue list’ has distorted the real nature of the conflict, by diverting attention away from the Palestinian culture of incitement and anti-Semitism.

This week former foreign minister, Bob Carr published a highly controversial opinion piece in Fairfax publications, condemning Australia for not voting to condemn Jewish settlement expansion on “Palestinian land” at the UN.

Carr writes; “Last week’s announcement of 3500 new settlements forced John Kerry, US Secretary of State, to lament that more settlements raise questions about Israel’s commitment to peace. He asked, “How can you say, ‘We’re planning to build in the place that will eventually be Palestine?’” In other words, how can the Israeli cabinet repeat its support of a two-state solution and continue to lay down suburbs on land that must comprise a Palestinian state?”

Surely the hate-filled text books being distributed at Palestinian schools highlights the inanity of the ‘settlement’ argument. How can Israel make concessions or compromise with a partner that won’t even acknowledge its right to exist? How can it even be expected to?

According to the Times of Israel, a chapter in an eighth-grade book titled “The Palestinian liberation project” includes among its objectives “the strengthening of faith and love of resistance as a means to regain rights” and “uniting efforts to liberate all of Palestine.” Images of armed masked Hamas operatives and locally made rockets also fill the pages, it says.

The curriculum change in Gaza follows the drafting of a new education law in April, which outlines Hamas’ educational framework. The new law will apply across Gaza’s 693 schools, which includes around 468,653 students.

The TOI refers to article 43 of the law which “prohibits private schools and internationally run ones (such as those under UNRWA, the UN agency which educates 225,000 of Gaza’s students) from “receiving donations or aid aimed at normalization with the Zionist occupation or propagating any Zionist activity.”

The deviation from the PA endorsed ‘national curriculum’ also highlights internal rifts between the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera Jihad Zakarneh, director general of the Education Ministry said that the PA were furious with Hamas’ actions, not because it used phrases such as “jihad” and called for “resistance” but because Hamas acted unilaterally in altering the curriculum without consulting them.

Zakarneh maintained that this decision by Hamas worked to deepen the internal political divide and was therefore deeply regrettable. The PA’s message is crystal; You can teach our children to hate Israel and call for its destruction, but you have to let us know about it first. 

Indeed this brings to the light the deep-rooted hatred that pervades daily in the Palestinian media, classrooms, summer camps, websites and internalized by the population.

Undoubtedly, there are lay Palestinians that wish to live in harmony with their Israeli neighbours so they can get on with the normal things in life like going to work and providing for their families. The problem is that the leadership (of both political parties) is more concerned with perpetuating hatred and mistrust rather than working to find a resolution that makes life better for its own people.

People of all backgrounds continue to denounce Jewish settlements, claiming that this 7% of land is the major obstacle to peace. But the real focus needs to shift to that classroom in Balata near Nablus (clip above) where a teacher asks her class; “whose father or brother is a martyr or in in prison?” And in response the children vie for her approval; “Mine is… mine is…” they shout

Gabsy Debinski is Advocacy and Media Director at the Zionist Federation of Australia

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