Hamas textbooks spread militant ideology through Palestinian schools
'National education' textbooks introduced by Islamist movement are part of war of influence and show growing gulf between Palestinian factions
When a class of Palestinian ninth-graders in Gaza recently discussed the deadly 1929 riots over access to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, it was guided by a new textbook, introduced this autumn by the Islamist Hamas movement.
Asked the lesson of the uprising, one of the 40 boys in class promptly answered: "Al Buraq Wall is an Islamic property," using the Muslim name for the site, one of the holiest in Judaism.
Pleased, the teacher then inquired whether the students would boycott Israeli products, as Arabs had boycotted Jewish businesses in 1929. A resounding chorus of "Yes!" came back.
For the first time since taking control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, the Hamas movement is deviating from the approved Palestinian Authority curriculum, using the new texts as part of a broader push to infuse the next generation with its militant ideology.
Among other points, the books, used by 55,000 children in the eighth, ninth and 10th grades as part of a required "national education" course of study in government schools, do not recognise modern Israel, or even mention the Oslo Peace Accords the country signed with the Palestine Liberation Organisation in the 1990s.
Beyond their take on Israel, the new texts are also a salvo in the war for influence between the rival Palestinian factions: the Gaza-based Hamas, and Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority and the West Bank. They reflect a growing gulf between the 1.7 million Palestinians living in the densely populated Gaza Strip and the 2.5 million spread among the West Bank's cities and villages.
"Textbooks are always … a very important means of representing a national ethos," said Daniel Bar-Tal, a Tel Aviv University professor. "When a leader says something, not everyone is listening. But when we talk about textbooks, all the children, all of a particular peer group, will be exposed to a particular material," he added.
What Gaza teenagers are reading in their textbooks this fall includes references to the Jewish Torah and Talmud as "fabricated", and a description of Zionism as a racist movement with goals to drive Arabs out of all of the area between the Nile in Africa and the Euphrates in Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
"Palestine," in turn, is defined as a state for Muslims stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. A list of Palestinian cities includes Haifa, Beersheba and Acre - all within Israel's 1948 borders. The books rebut Jewish historical claims to the territory by saying: "The Jews and the Zionist movement are not related to Israel, because the sons of Israel are a nation which had been annihilated."
For contemporary history, there is a recounting of Hamas' battle with Israel a year ago that says rockets from Gaza sent "three million Zionists underground for eight days" (fewer Israelis were in and out of shelters); that Tel Aviv was hit (one missile landed in the sea and another fell short); and an attempted strike on Israel's Parliament building "forced the Zionists to beg for ceasefire".
The textbooks present a decidedly Hamas spin on Palestinian politics and recent history. For example, Ahmed Yassin, a Hamas founder, is given equal billing with Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian president, who remains the definitive national hero in the West Bank.
Anound Ali, a 10th-grader at another Gaza City school, expressed concerned that the new books could further divide Palestinians. "School textbooks were the last thing uniting us with the West Bank - now we study something different," she said one recent day after class. "The book has nothing about Oslo. It's our right to know about Oslo because it's a fact in our life."