I remember my kindergarten graduation. We wore crowns on our heads and had big smiles on our faces. We sang songs, cute songs about the changing seasons and growing up. And then we received our diplomas, had an ice cream party and were hugged and kissed by our loved ones.
It was a traditional early childhood graduation, replayed over and over, year after year, in almost every school.
But then, I didn’t grow up in the Palestinian Authority or Gaza.
Traditions are different in the Palestinian Authority and Gaza. In Gaza this graduation season like in years past, three, four and five year old children marked their big day with ceremonies depicting Palestinians becoming martyrs and by dressing up as Israelis who torture Palestinian men, women and children. Certainly, an educational message was being presented, as it should be at every graduation, but not a positive message. Here it is a message of murder.
These young Palestinian graduates performed plays about slaughter, marched with weapons and wore traditional bandanas. They sang songs of love and they glorified murder. No Palestinian graduation from pre-school through high school is complete without stories, performances and songs about the killing of Israelis.
It is a part of the general Palestinian curriculum and it is a major theme at graduation time. In one school a teacher was quoted as saying: “At every kindergarten graduation ceremony we focus on the children to represent the role of struggling and resistance in the way of Allah so they will grow up to love the resistance and serve the cause of Palestine and Holy Jihad, as well as to make them leaders and fighters to defend the holy soil of Palestine.” That same school’s kindergarten director took it even further: “It is our obligation to educate the children to love the resistance, Palestine and Jerusalem, so they will recognize the importance of Palestine and who its enemy is.”
Even at a tender age, the message is not lost on the students. In their own, translated, words from Ynet we hear children saying: “When I grow up I’ll join Islamic Jihad and the al-Quds Brigades. I’ll fight the Zionist enemy and fire missiles at it until I die as a shahid and join my father in heaven.’ And: “I love the resistance and the martyrs and Palestine, and I want to blow myself up on Zionists and kill them on a bus in a suicide bombing.”
That’s just one example. The internet and Youtube are full of other examples, some posted by media outlets like Ynet, others posted with pride by Hamas and by general Palestinian Authority sources.
Kindergartens in Gaza are sponsored by Islamic Jihad. But it would be wrong and narrow minded to believe that only Hamas and Islamic Jihad engage in this kind of war mongering cum education, wrong to think that only they transmit this hateful educational message. PA sponsored schools in the West Bank are on board with Muslim extremists when it comes to glorifying resistance and martyrdom - catch phrases for murderous attacks against Israelis and Jews. It is a part of their curriculum, too, it is enshrined in their school books.
Israelis teach about peace and coexistence as a formal part of their curriculum. But for the Palestinian educator, it is easier to teach hatred than to talk about peace. Idealizing mass murderers and calling them defenders packs much more emotional punch than does talk about co-existence. And when Palestinian children march with toy guns and accompany mock coffins, when during their ceremonies they play ‘Kidnap an Israeli Soldier’ they are cheered on by older children they admire and by adults they respect.
It is hardly education. It is indoctrination. And what happens when these educational goals and objectives are challenged? What happens to the
Palestinian family that does not think that the only good Israeli is a dead Israeli? They are labeled as collaborators, as people who have sold their heritage for money. They often have to seek refuge and sanctuary outside the Palestinian Authority, they are no longer welcome within.
Graduations, we are told, do not signify the end, they embrace a new beginning. We do not conclude, we commence. How frightening.
Micah D. Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. His latest book is “Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder” (Thomas Nelson).