In a recent Republican debate, as many of us witnessed, the issue of ongoing killing and terrorism by both sides in Israel and Palestine was deliberated. This warfare in a holy and sacred part of the world has gone on for decades and may lead to more and unprecedented bloodshed. The warring in Israel/ Palestine is as important as any issue candidates might discuss.
A few days prior to the debate, candidate Newt Gingrich made remarks to the effect that Palestine “did not exist.” From a historical standpoint, (Gingrich is the acknowledged historian of the Republican party, having instructed U.S. generals on fine points of world history) Gingrich might be right. In the opinions of some, Palestine does not exist. But rationally speaking, the descendants of the Arabs are there, have a modern society, and clearly do exist.
Moving toward the point of this article, we recall that the former speaker of the House was angered by the hatred and provocation in Palestinian childrens’ school textbooks. Candidate Michele Bachmann was also outspoken on the issue of textbooks in Palestine. She related an anecdote detailing a meeting she had with Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah in 1974. She asked, she said, the minister of finance about Palestinians teaching their children to hate Jews. She said Palestinians teach their children to call the Jews “pigs and swine – descendants from Hades.” She mentioned at this point in the debate that at that meeting she pulled out a manila envelope she had brought with her, and displayed photocopies to Fayyad of then current textbooks that clearly confirmed the allegations of hatred and defamation. Salam Fayyad suggested that the textbooks she indicated were old and outdated, and that newer books (the Bachmann/Fayyad meeting was in 1974) were not like that.
Gingrich may have spoken in haste, both in this debate and in his earlier remarks. And in the past Michel Bachman has demonstrated a capacity for hyperbole. In fact following the televised debate, there was a flurry of activity to confirm or negate the legitimacy of the textbook remarks.
Associated Press reporters Laub and Daraghmeh quoted Gingrich’s remark that textbooks in Palestine write, “If there are 13 Jews and nine Jews are killed, how many Jews are left?” These reporters were unable to find any writings verifying Gingrich’s claim. Laub and Daraghmeh tell us,
The textbooks don’t directly encourage anti-Israeli violence, but they also don’t really teach peace. The books lack material about the historic Jewish presence in the region and scarcely mention Israel and then mostly in a negative way. Texts in religious schools…glorify martyrdom.
The textbooks reviewed give an impression of an implicit denial of Israeli legitimacy.
Ghassan Khatib, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, which controls part of the West Bank, states, “We might have a problem with Zionism, but this is not incitement, this is a difference in views.” Nathan Brown, political science expert from George Washington University, writes, “While highly nationalistic, government texts don’t glorify violence, explicitly deny Israel’s right to exist, or portray Jews as villains.”
Textbooks in religiously run schools are somewhat harsher. The books are specifically for young Palestinians who may go on to be religious teachers and preachers. In glorifying martyrdom, one textbook, intended for students in the eighth grade, says “Muslim fighters must get rid of the usurping Jews from the usurped lands in Palestine and in the Levant.” In mitigation it should be pointed out that The Palestinian education ministry has only supervised the Islamic schools for a year, and is replacing the old texts with new ones based on moderation.