The Palestinian Textbook Revision That Never Was
In June 2021, after years of educating, persuading, presenting the hard facts, and preventing a whitewash, the European Union released its report on Palestinian Authority (PA) textbooks.
The EU found, inevitably, that these Palestinian education materials teach antisemitism, incite violence, glorify terror, and have removed all previous references to peace negotiations.
Though the report was held up at the EU commission for many months before it was finally released, once it was, officials felt free to speak — and with quite some intensity.
Maciej Popowski, whose directorate commissioned the study and oversees all aid to the Palestinian education sector, said, “It is very clear that the study does reveal the existence of very deeply problematic content that remains of serious concern.”
He added that the EU “will not let off until we see change happen and we get assurances that no questionable content in books are in use.”
Fernando Gentilini, the top Mideast diplomat at the EU, stated that “one would have to draw conclusions” if the PA does not take action.
Another top EU director, Henrike Trautman, said, “changes to the curriculum are essential.” And EU Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, who oversees all aid to the Palestinian education sector, wrote that any “inappropriate use of EU funding” will mean that PA funds can be taken away.
By September 2021, the PA — finally faced with the prospect of losing funding from its largest donor — agreed to a “roadmap” with the EU Commission. This should have been the moment that hate, antisemitism, and incitement to violence were finally taken out of the Palestinian curriculum, and replaced with peace education.
That is what the EU had hoped would happen. But, predictably, it did not.
The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) analyzed the 2021-2022 Palestinian curriculum, and found no positive changes.
In fact, there were no changes at all.
The Palestinian Authority had simply taken all of the 2020 textbooks, replaced the date stamp with 2021, and reprinted thousands of copies. This was done without telling the European Union, throwing the roadmap to the wind. The European Commission was not even aware this had happened until IMPACT-se presented them with its report.
But this was just the beginning. Even as the PA agreed to a roadmap for textbook change with the EU, its Ministry of Education was writing thousands of pages of new material — study cards — roughly equivalent in size to all the textbooks in the curriculum. The material, in some places, contained content even worse than the current Palestinian textbooks, with a greater number of lessons that directly incite violence and propagate overt antisemitism.
These study cards contain additional justifications for violence not found in the textbooks, and antisemitic descriptions of Jews as devious, treacherous, and hostile. Students are taught that Jews control global events through financial power, manipulative behavior, and encouragement of others to fight in wars. Students are directly incited to violence and instructed to commit jihad against Israelis, and die as “martyrs” liberating the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Israel is demonized; it is literally described as Satanic. One of the rules of jihad included in the texts explains that those who die as martyrs while killing infidels — Christians, Jews, and polytheists — will receive God’s grace and be greatly rewarded. In fact, jihad for the liberation of Palestine is described as a “private obligation for every Muslim,” and students are encouraged to sacrifice themselves for their homeland and “redeem it with blood.”
The EU should not have been surprised.
PA Prime Minister Shtayyeh made it clear that there would be no changes to the textbooks at a PA Cabinet meeting in September 2021. Shtayyeh stated that “everything mentioned in the textbooks is an accurate and honest description of the suffering our people have been going through for more than seven decades.”
It is this uncompromising rejection of any plan to offer Palestinian children some hope for an education conducive to peace and tolerance — and the total unwillingness to finally jettison the teaching of hate — that the European Commission now needs to digest and address.
Marcus Sheff is CEO of the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Tolerance in School Edudation (IMPACT-se).