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European Union Policy Towards Palestinian Textbooks - A Critique

Brad Nielson

Background

On May 15, 2002, The General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union published a policy statement, summarising the EU position on the new textbooks published by the Palestinian Authority (PA) since the year 2000. This document has become the heart of EU policy on Palestinian education and has been adopted by many other countries.

The statement maintains that the PA is gradually replacing racist textbooks in Palestinian schools with more acceptable materials. It finds that allegations against the new materials are either mistaken and / or unproven.

The Funding For Peace Coalition firmly believes that this position was founded on misunderstandings and distortions. The result has been that many European governments are supporting an education system, which is detrimental to young Palestinians, as well as encouraging violence against others in the region. The result: while European taxpayers' money is being invested in meaningless projects, long-term prospects for peace in the Middle East are directly threatened.

Four Fundamental Flaws In The EU Policy On Palestinian Textbooks

The EU says that: "new textbooks…are free of inciteful content." Where's the proof?

The core of the EU policy is that the new textbooks are not inflammatory. This claim is unjustifiable.

Even IPCRI, a joint Palestinian - Israeli project has noted that: "these textbooks fail to apply the principles and concepts (of religious tolerance) to include Jews and the State of Israel…". Their report is replete with conceptual faults with the texts.

Undoubtedly, many of the statements and messages in the books are overtly political, a direct contravention of the 1959 Geneva Convention on the Rights of Children. Principle 10 states that: " a child shall be brought up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples." For samples of the texts, refer to the work of CMIP or pages on this website.

As noted above, the books fail to live up to basic international standards outlined by UNESCO. They would be most unlikely to receive the approval of a ministry of education in any Western country.

We must seriously question if the Palestinians are replacing all the racist materials.

The EU refers to a "replacement process". This is inaccurate. Not all racist texts are being replaced.

First, there are no plans to introduce new materials in kindergartens and universities. In fact, there is ample evidence [http://www.intelligence.org.il/eng/bu/hamas/education.htm] to suggest that Hamas and Fatah have targeted teachers unions as groups, which need to be controlled by political operatives. Also, it is well known that campuses in Gaza and in the West Bank have hosted violent demonstrations against Israel and from where acts of violence have been planned.

Second, with each academic year since September 2000, the PA has replaced books for two grades. There is currently no commitment to replace the books for 17 and 18 year olds. And few attempts have been made to withdraw offensive materials from other grades.

The statement refutes criticisms of the textbooks, but provides no evidence for its claims.

The Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP) specializes in monitoring textbooks in the Middle East. Its conclusions on Palestinian material are focused and damning. Reportedly, EU missions have gathered information, which repudiate CMIP findings. However, none of the evidence supplied by these "missions" has been published.

In fact, CMIP has now produced a series of surveys, all of which consistently come to the same conclusions: the new textbooks are inflammatory. They may not use the same overtly racist language as before, but they are totally unacceptable in a pluralistic society.

Further, they form the basis and foundation for ongoing conflict in the region. They carefully exclude all Jewish historical or contemporary presence from the Middle East. As shown in the case study below, when the child is taught that every Muslim has the personal obligation to eject foreign presence by jihad, the intent is clear.

The result of this education can be seen in the expanding and escalating violence, and the reducing age of the perpetrators. An example of the influence on the young - as expressed in a child's scrapbook found in an UNRWA school - can be seen at http://www.eufunding.org/Textbooks/UNRWA_Kalandia.html.

CMIP's work has now been confirmed by a series of different sources, many providing the original Arabic so that there can be no room for misunderstanding. The Funding for Peace Coalition present several specific examples.

The policy statement refers to an unwritten UNESCO review of Palestinian and Israeli textbooks.

The EU report bases its approval of Palestinian textbooks on a UNESCO report, which has yet to be written 2 years later on.

It needs to be stressed that Israel and UNESCO have cooperated for decades over many projects. Israel's Ministry of Education has frequently promoted projects crossing ethnic divides, such as the new "Dreams and Teams" initiative, which is co-sponsored by the British Council.

In contrast, Palestinian textbooks fail to meet UNESCO standards. They would be considered unacceptable in any society, which prides itself on democratic values and is appreciative of different cultures.

A Case Study

"Islamic Culture" for Eleventh Grade - issued by the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Education, 2003

The EU policy statement leads the reader to believe that former Egyptian and Jordanian texts are gradually being replaced.

In September 2003, the Palestinian Ministry of Education reissued the 11th Grade schoolbook, "Islamic Culture", based on previous Jordanian textbooks.

The book consistently and openly encourages the values of Jihad and martyrdom. Self-sacrifice is demanded to prevent the capture of Islamic lands as well as halting Missionaries preaching Western values. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has presented a full discussion of the text.

The book rules out alternative religions. In effect, it encourages the young mind to consider violent methods in order to deal with these "enemies". Peace and compromise are not viable options.

The reader will recall that the bulk of the PA's budget comes from international donations. Therefore, it is the money of taxpayers from around the world, which pays for the publication and distribution of this book to schoolchildren.

It must be repeated that the 2002 EU statement found no examples of incitement.

The Fallout From the EU Statement

The EU policy on Palestinian textbooks has become the classic shield for politicians around the world. Its "credibility" has enabled world leaders to justify pouring billions of dollars into supporting the PA and UNRWA, the UN's official Guardian Angel for Palestinian educational and social welfare.

One of the most blatant examples is a letter from Baroness Symons from the UK Foreign Office. On January 27, 2004, in response to a question from a church leader in Wales, she wrote that: "We have looked into concerns previously expressed on this issue and have concluded that the quotations which, it is claimed, are taken from Palestinian textbooks have not been found in new schoolbooks funded by some EU Member States. Those textbooks benefiting from funding by some member states funds are free from negative, inciteful content..."

Could it be that this reasoning provides the UK's government's justification for increasing its contributions to UNRWA in 2004?

It is time to face the facts. The Palestinian Ministry of Education has imposed a curriculum that fails to meet international standards. It uses inflammatory material, albeit in forms modified from past horrors. The EU should recognize its correct role, ensuring that Palestinian children receive the education, which they richly deserve, so that the Middle East has a peaceful future.

In the meantime, European leaders must stop hiding behind platitudes that had no relevance, even before they were committed to print nearly two years ago.

March 2004


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