FARES AKRAM & JODI RUDOREN
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 fall 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 inquired whether the students would boycott Israeli products,as Arabs had boycotted Jewish businesses in 1929. A resounding chorus of Yes! came back from the class.
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 recognize modern Israel,or even mention the Oslo Peace Accords the country signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1990s.
Textbooks have long been a point of contention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,in which duelling historical narratives and cultural clashes underpin a territorial fight. And they are central examples of what Israeli leaders call Palestinian incitement against Jews,held up as an obstacle to peace talks newly resumed under US pressure.
Beyond their take on Israel,the new texts are also a salvo in the war for influence between the rival Palestinian factions: 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 Banks cities and villages.
Textbooks are always and everywhere a very important means of representing a national ethos, said Daniel Bar-Tal,a Tel Aviv University professor who helped lead a comprehensive recent study of Israeli and Palestinian textbooks.
When a leader says something,not everyone is listening. But when we talk about textbooks,all the children,all of a peer group,will be exposed to a particular material, he added. This is the strongest card.