A bipartisan bill proposed in Congress mandates the review of educational materials used in Palestinian schoolbooks. The bill states that despite a curriculum rehaul in 2016 and 2017, Palestinian education for grades 1 through 11 “fail to meet the international standards of peace and tolerance in educational materials established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.”
The United States contributes millions of dollars every year to the Palestinian Authority and UNWRA (the United Nation’s Relief and Works Agency which provides services in Gaza), organizations responsible for the education of Palestinian children. Moreover, the U.S. is the largest single donor to UNWRA with $354 million pledged in 2017 (more than double the donation of the European Union).
However last year, the U.S. ended up withholding $305 million from UNWRA after the agency fails to implement reforms the U.S. deemed necessary.
Clarion Project recently caught up with Marcus Sheff, CEO of IMPACT-se (the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education). IMPACT-se reviewed Palestinian textbooks last year, finding that the textbooks “groom young Palestinians to sacrifice themselves to martyrdom” and “feature a radical Islamist…worldview.”
The review has already been used by legislators from the European Union in April to stop providing funds to the Palestinians used to finance educational materials considered discriminatory or intolerant.
Clarion Project: Can you explain the purpose of the Palestinian Authority Educational Curriculum Transparency Act and how it will work?
Marcus Sheff: The bill will mandate the secretary of state to check the PA curriculum through the prism of internationally recognized standards of peace and tolerance. These are:
- 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.
Clarion: What specifically have you seen in PA/UNWRA textbooks that prompted the need for this bill?
Sheff: The key findings are:
- Radicalization is pervasive across this new curriculum, to a greater extent than before. The new textbooks groom young Palestinians to sacrifice themselves through martyrdom. Tthey promote hate, are committed to jihad war and feature a radical Islamist, and occasionally, a Salafi worldview.
- The curriculum rejects negotiations with Israel as the preferred method of achieving statehood. Instead, schoolchildren are taught that a Palestinian state will be achieved through martyrdom, violence and religious war.
- Martyrdom for boys and girls is taught as a life goal. Their reward will be in heaven where martyrs are married to 72 wives. It is implied that children should not tell their parents they intend to become martyrs. Girls gain equality with boys through martyrdom. Dying is better than living. Those who risk their lives are praised and those who choose a non-violent life are cowards and denigrated.
- Jihad is most important aspect of life. Science lessons are used to teach violence, and war is a permanent phenomenon. The struggle is nationalistic: to conquer Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea but also Islamist with increasingly obvious Salafi influences. Death is a privilege and fighting an ongoing necessity.
- The curriculum’s focus is no longer on simply demonizing Israel, but on laying out justification for war, which is a permanent and natural fixture, portrayed as a phenomenon that has accompanied humanity since the dawn of history.
Clarion: What happens if State Department reviewers find hate in the textbooks?
Sheff: The secretary of state will report back to the House Foreign Affairs Committee about radicalization and whether U.S. taxpayer money is being used to pay for it. The committee will take action based on the report.
Clarion: The Palestinian Authority remained defiant after the passage of the Taylor Force bill, which stops payment from U.S. tax dollars that the PA uses to compensate terrorists and their families. Do you think this bill will motivate the PA and UNWRA to change?
Sheff: Yes, in term of textbooks, pressure from the U.S., EU and European countries could well motivate UNWRA and might motivate the PA to change.