This is the second part of a three-part post on Hillary Clinton and "incitement" in PA schoolbooks, which I started last year but which got overtaken by other things . When complete, I will combine the three parts into a single item. You might want to begin by reading part one.
I’m sorry that this letter is getting a little wordy, but bear with me as I revisit one point that the Akiva Eldar article cited above touches upon, namely that the texts that CMIP and yourself use to excorate the new PA curriculum for grades one and six don’t actually come from the PA curriculum at all, but appear in texts from Egypt and Jordan. To make sense of that fact, we need a little historical background.
You are of course aware, Senator Clinton, that Palestinians have been responsible for the Palestinian education system only since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Before that, Palestinian schools, and the subject-matter taught therein were the direct responsibility of the Israeli occupation authorities. And of course before the Israeli Occupation began, Palestinian schools were run by the Egyptian and Jordanian authorities who had occupied since 1948 large parts of those territories that were allocated to Arab Palestine at partition, which we now commonly call the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. So, until very recently, Palestinian education was in the hands of three foreign countries who, frankly, had no use whatsoever for an educated, articulate Palestinian populace and invested next to nothing in their education.
Consequently, the school system that was dumped on the lap of the PA in 1994 was a disgrace. As then-Deputy Minister for Education Na'im Abul Hummous explains:
"The educational system that we inherited was in a sorry state…. overcrowded classes, lack of teachers and antiquated textbooks dating from pre-1967, teaching Gaza children, for instance, about the greatness of the Egyptian kingdom and its 20m inhabitants [Egypt became a republic in 1953 and now has a population of 65m]."
To rectify this situation, the PA established in 1994 a Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) – staffed by education professionals from the Palestinian public and private sectors, and supported by staff from UNESCO and from moderate Arab states like Morocco - in order to completely overhaul the national educational system. The CDC produced a 700-page outline for a new Palestinian curriculum which was put before the Palestinian legislative assembly and passed unanimously. In 1998 work began on the first textbooks based on the new curriculum, funded by a donation from Italy, administered by the World Bank. Because of the size (and cost) of the undertaking, the new textbooks were produced and distributed incrementally, at a rate of two grades per year. In the meantime, the Jordanian and Egyptian books that the PA had inherited from the pre-Oslo education system were still used for those grades whose new textbooks were not complete.
The first of these new, genuinely Palestinian textbooks (for grades one and six) were introduced to schools in the fall of September 2000. (It is interesting to note that this coincides exactly with the collapse of the peace process and the outbreak of the second intifada. In other words, the new school books and CMIP's immediate attack on them came out at a highly-charged period in Palestinian-Israeli relations, when established critics of the PA might well be looking for any soft target they could attack in order to discredit the Authority). These were the textbooks that CMIP claimed to be reviewing in The New Palestinian Authority School Textbooks for Grades One and Six, the report that you apparently used as the basis for your accusation of incitement in your letter to the President. Unfortunately, none of the examples of anti-Semitism cited in that CMIP report – including the "destruction of Israel" quote that you used in your letter, and the "no room for Jews in the PA vision of peace" illustration that I cited above - actually appear in the new Palestinian Authority school textbooks for grades one and six. They are extracted instead from the textbooks left over from the Jordanian and Egyptian adminstration of Palestinian schools, which the PA was actually in the process of phasing out. In hindsight, perhaps you would agree that it is unfortunate that you associated yourself with the dishonest pretence that these books were part of the new Palestinian curriculum when in fact, as Ha’aretz pointed out on 2 Jan 2001, Palestinians had no say at all in their content:
[W]ho, dear children, is taught in the first grade that the Jews are treacherous people and the Israelis are evil enemies? Please circle the correct answer: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's grandson, Jordanian King Abdullah's nephew, or Yasser Arafat's daughter (when she is not in Paris with her mother?) The answer: These anti-Semitic and racist stereotypes are taken from Jordanian and Egyptian textbooks. For the past 33 years, these books have also been used by the Palestinian schools in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Every prime minister, military governor and Jerusalem mayor knows that to this day the Palestinians have not had any impact on the contents of the textbooks their children learn from in class…
I have gone into some detail about the historical background to PA textbooks, because a review of the historical context gives a couple of very useful insights into the way that organizations like CMIP manipulate the emotive issue of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement for their own politic purposes - a dirty process in which you, a U.S. Senator, have unwittingly inserted yourself by unthinkingly reproducing their research. Frankly, some of the things you said in your letter make you look positively foolish, once the reader is aware that the basis for the assertions you repeat is propaganda rather than objective research. For example, you wrote to President Bush:
There cannot be a meaningful, lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians if the Palestinian Authority does not act to end the preaching of hate and replace it with the language of peace...
Doesn’t that look a bit silly now you know that those hateful Palestinian textbooks that are supposedly preventing the emergence of Middle East peace aren’t Palestinian at all, but come from Egypt and Jordan, the two countries that actually have actually managed to make a meaningful, lasting peace with Israel? You can surely see that it is absurd to claim that Jordanian textbooks make peace impossible between Israel and Palestine when, as Gabriel Baramki (Consultant to the Palestinian Ministry of Education) pointed out in a Jerusalem Post editorial of 7 Sept 2003, they didn’t make peace impossible between Israel and Jordan?
The same Jordanian textbooks that the Palestinian Authority is using, did not stop Israel from signing a peace agreement with Jordan and, in fact, the peace between the two countries is rather an active one. This should be a good indication that once there is intention on both sides and partners to attain peace, the textbooks cannot stand in the way.
And of course there’s a much bigger issue arising out of the historical background to Palestinian education, that blows a hole in the “Palestinians are inciting hatred in the books they use to teach their children”. And it’s this: Where did the PA get the Egyptian and Jordanian schoolbooks that allegedly instill anti-Semitism in their schoolchildren? Well, indirectly of course they got them from Egypt and Jordan, but those two countries haven’t had any responsibility for Palestinian education since Israel took over the Occupied Territories in 1967. The PA actually inherited the Jordanian and Egyptian books that are being used now to attack the Palestinians for incitement from the Israelis, who were responsible for education in Palestinian areas from 1967 to 1993. If there are anti-Semitic books in Palestinian schools left over from the Egyptian and Jordanian period, it is because Israel was content for them to be used to educate Palestinian children during the 26 years that the Israelis ran Palestinian schools. So apparently, these books are anti-Semitic enough for the Israeli Right and certain U.S. Senators to use as a stick to beat the Palestinians in the post-Oslo period, but they weren’t anti-Semitic enough for Israel to stop their use in Palestinian schools in the pre-Oslo period! Are you sure you wanted to lend your good name to a partisan campaign that gets as stupid as this?
And just when you think it can't get any more absurd, of course it does. Consider this interesting snippet from Ha’aretz’ Reading, Writing - and Propaganda, that considers the use of old Jordanian text books in PA schools:
Prof. Nathan Brown, from George Washington University, a former adviser to the U.S. Agency for International Development, noted an odd phenomenon in his study of the Palestinian curriculum (November 2001). He found that even though the PA's National Education books for grades 1-6 were "devoid of any anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli material," Israel "allowed the offensive Jordanian books to be used in the East Jerusalem schools but barred the innocuous PA-authored books, probably fearful that use of the PA books would be an implicit recognition of sovereignty."
Can you see what that is saying, Senator? Palestinian students in East Jerusalem are still being taught from old Jordanian schoolbooks that incite hatred, even when a new, innocuous and inoffensive Palestinian textbook is available instead, simply because Israel is concerned that the use of a PA textbook implies that Arab East Jerusalem is occupied territory to which the Palestinians have a claim of sovereignty. Are you appalled that Palestinian children are being taught hatred and racial incitement just so that Israel can make a political point? Will you be whisking off an outraged letter to the President about the Government of Israel's part in perpetuating "hateful, anti-Israeli rhetoric"? I expect not. Not too many votes for you in doing that, are there?
[Continue to Part 3]