Palestinian education reform is seen to be a key element in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Many observers express concern that the PA curriculum incites hatred of Israel & Jews among the younger generation of Palestinians, making peace harder to achieve in the region.
On multiple occasions, UNRWA has stated that the textbooks in question are subjected to close examination, including studies commissioned by the U.S. State Department, and found to be largely free of incitement. This bill may be addressing a problem that does not exist.
What is it?
This bill would require the Secretary of State to submit annual reports to the House Foreign Affairs Committee reviewing the educational material that the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) use in schools in the West Bank and Gaza.
This bill would mandate that the Secretary of State check the PA curriculum against internationally-recognized standards of peace and tolerance, which are outlined below with examples of where the PA's curriculum falls short of those standards.
In-Depth: Rep. David Young (R-IA) introduced this bill to increase State Department oversight of the end result of U.S. funding of education in Palestine.
IMPACT-se, a research institute that analyzes educational materials for their compliance with standards of peace and tolerance based on international declarations and resolutions, has played a major role in shaping this legislation, which it supports. IMPACT-se CEO Marcus Sheff said:
“Congressman Young’s vision in initiating and introducing this bill is timely, remarkable and potentially extremely significant in offering young Palestinians a peaceful vision for the future… Ultimately, [current] textbooks are a major impediment to the possibility of peace… They deny young Palestinians the chance of a violence-free and peaceful future and perpetuate eternal war.”
There are three cosponsors of this bill, including two Democrats and one Republican.
Of Note: Despite a curriculum overhaul in 2016 and 2017, Palestinian education for grades 1-11 fails to meet the international standards of peace and tolerance in educational materials established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. UNRWA — the branch of UN that runs UN-sponsored schools in Palestine — maintains 349 schools in the Palestinian territories, with 240,000 students in Gaza and 50,000 students in the West Bank.
The U.S. contributes millions of dollars a year to the Palestinian Authority and UNWRA (in 2017, the United States’ $354 million contribution was more than double that of the EU, the second-largest funder).
This bill would mandate that the Secretary of State check the Palestinian Authority curriculum against internationally recognized standards of peace and tolerance:
* RESPECT: The curriculum should promote tolerance, understanding and respect toward the “Other,” his or her culture, achievements, values and way of life.
* INDIVIDUAL OTHER: The curriculum should foster personal attachment toward the “Other” as an individual, his or her desire to be familiar, loved and appreciated.
* NO HATE: The curriculum should be free of wording, imagery and ideologies likely to create prejudices, misconceptions, stereotypes, misunderstandings, mistrust, racial hatred, religious bigotry and national hatred, as well as any other form of hatred or contempt for other groups or peoples.
* PEACEMAKING: The curriculum should develop capabilities for non-violent conflict resolution and promote peace.
* UNBIASED INFORMATION: Educational materials (textbooks, workbooks, teachers’ guides, maps, illustrations, aids) should be up-to-date, accurate, complete, balanced and unprejudiced, and use equal standards to promote mutual knowledge and understanding between different peoples.
* GENDER EQUALITY: The curriculum should foster equality and mutual respect between women and men. It should refrain from stereotyped gender roles.
* SOUND PROSPERITY and COOPERATION: The curriculum should educate for sound and sustainable economic conduct and preservation of the environment for future generations. It should encourage regional and local cooperation to that effect.
* Radicalization is pervasive across the curriculum. Textbooks groom young Palestinian to sacrifice themselves through martyrdom, glorify jihad, and feature a radical Islamist (and occasionally Salafi) worldview.
* It rejects negotiations with Israel as the preferred method of achieving statehood. Rather, current curricula teaches that a Palestinian state will be achieved through martyrdom, violence, and religious war.
* Martyrdom is taught as a life goal, and it is implied that children should not tell their parents if they intend to become martyrs. Boys are told their reward for martyrdom is marriage to 72 wives in heaven; girls are told that martyrdom gains them equality with boys; and those who choose a nonviolent life are denigrated as cowards.
* Jihad is held up as the most important aspect of life. Science lessons are used to teach violence, and war is a permanent state of being. Violence is specified as a legitimate and even necessary tactic to gain Palestinian statehood.
* Palestine’s war with Israel is portrayed as a permanent and natural state of existence, as a phenomenon that has accompanied humanity since the dawn of history.
* It demonizes Israel, mostly describing it as the “Zionist Occupation” and systemically characterizing it through examples of evil-doing. There are no examples of cooperation between Israel and the PA, and no education for peace and coexistence.
* Violent images, imagery, and examples are evidenced throughout the curriculum. For example, the new textbooks contain graphic descriptions of the Nabka. A fifth-grade linguistics textbook describes leaving behind “body parts” of friends and neighborhoods in 1948. Science textbooks use violence in everyday examples of scientific principles: for example, a science textbook teaches Newtonian gravity through the image of a boy with a slingshot targeting soldiers to explain power, mass, and tensile strength.
European Union lawmakers, observing these issues with the Palestinian Authority’s curriculum, approved amendments in April preventing aid from the EU to the PA from financing educational materials considered to be discriminatory or intolerant.
On a high level, the debate over PA textbooks generally falls along two lines of argument: the first, in opposition to current textbooks, argues that PA textbooks spread a culture of violence that prizes martyrdom and jihad (as discussed above). The second line of argument holds that, although imperfect, PA textbooks represent a step forward in the evolution and design of a Palestinian school curriculum that is essential to the development of a national identity. Those in the latter camp assert that PA textbooks do not incite Palestinians towards anti-Jewish views or violence, or constitute a “war curriculum.”
At the foreign policy level, Palestinian curriculum reform is an important element in the broader U.S. policy goal of promoting Middle East democracy and governance reforms. Multiple U.S. agencies, including the United States Agency of International Development (USAID), the State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), and the State Department, fund education reform and initiatives in the West Bank and Gaza.