December 13, 2001
Peace Depends on Education
In 1920, author H.G. Wells, in his masterwork, the "Outline of History," described human history as a race between education and catastrophe. While the Western world has progressively moved beyond the peal of that alarm bell, there are areas of the world where 80 years later, it tolls as urgently as ever. One of those areas is the Arabic world. Here, education systems are riven with notions antithetical to the values of tolerance and understanding that are so intently promoted in the West. In recent years, the signal failures of those systems to reverse years of misguided teachings appear to be dooming the region to years of further conflict.
The most prevalent of those notions is anti-Semitism. Here government-sponsored textbooks spout Jew hatred on a level not seen since the 1930s in Germany. A recent report by the Committee for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in New York, found that of 58 children's textbooks used in the Palestinian Authority not one mentioned Israel by name, and none offered a map of the region that included the existence of the Jewish State. In children's' textbooks, most of which are Jordanian or Egyptian in origin, Jews are projected as "cunning," "deceitful," "disloyal" and "treacherous." They are alternatively described as "thieves," "wild animals" and "locusts." The Jewish State is referenced as "Occupied Palestine," "the Zionist entity" and "a Jewish racist administration."
The horrifying written examples abound. Take this translated quote from Islamic Education for Fourth Grade, Part 2: "Learn from this lesson: the Jews are the enemies of the Prophets and the true believers." Or this tendentious examination question from Modern Arab History for Twelfth Grade, Part 1: "With an understanding of the racist and aggressive character of the Zionist movement, please summarize the similarity between Nazism, Fascism and Zionism." Or this incitement to martyrdom in Our Arabic Language for Fifth Grade: "The Jihad against the Jew is the religious duty of every Muslim man and woman."
Reviewing the plethora of material available through CMIP, or the balanced reporting and translations of the Middle East Monitoring and Research Institute, it becomes patently apparent that Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority has embarked for years on a transparent attempt to fuel hatred of Israel and Jews among the most impressionable members of his populace. The Oslo Accords had recognized the vital importance of education in fostering peace between the two peoples. In the Cairo Agreement of 1994 Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed to "ensure that their educational systems contribute to the peace between Israel and the Palestinian people." A joint United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization-Palestinian institution known as the Palestinian Curriculum Development Center was established to implement this policy. It created a plan for a new education plan to begin in September 1999. Yet so far, only token changes have been made to the Palestinian curriculum, and most of the children's text books still derive from Egypt and Jordan.
Israel, on the other hand, has done much to promote the concept of peaceful coexistence. Study of Arabic culture and language begins in elementary school, and the works of Arabic authors and poets, even those hostile to Israel such as the Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish, have been included in the curriculum. Workshops, proposed by the Israeli Ministry of Education "to promote tolerance, understanding and peace" are regular events in Israeli high schools, and incitement against Arabs or Palestinians is bitterly proscribed.
How one nation educates its children on the characterization of another will often determine the relations between them. Populations are not culturally prone to hatred -- they are educated towards it. It is significant that studies conducted of former Hitler Youth, now in their 60s and 70s, have revealed that the anti- Semitism inculcated in their earliest years remains embedded in that generation's psyche. If that is true for elderly Germans, who today live in a society that is among the most liberal in Western Europe, how much more so does it apply to Palestinians whose cultural vehicles from media to mosque are unfettered carriers of the anti-Semitic contagion?
The region is tragically destined to endure years of war and violence, until Arab children are taught the values of peace.