Two textbooks, two stories as Palestinian parents protest Israeli curriculum

Roleen Tafakji & Sinan Abu Mayzer

Reuters  /  October 3, 2022

JERUSALEM – Outside an East Jerusalem school, the trestle tables were piled high with textbooks that Palestinian parents protesting what they call an Israeli censorship campaign handed out to arriving students.

The books, covering several subjects, contained passages removed from the edited texts mandated by Israeli authorities that the students, growing up in the mainly Palestinian part of the city, are given in class.

The protest, part of decades-long struggle between Israelis and Palestinians over Jerusalem’s – and their own – identity, took place on Saturday and followed a one-day school strike in mid-September.

“The Palestinian curriculum represents us, our heritage, religion and history,” said parent Um Yazan Ajlouni as she handed out the unedited texts in an outbuilding outside Iman Elementary School in the Beit Hanina neighbourhood.

“We do not accept another curriculum that changes all of that.”

Dozens of parents had demonstrated outside the school last Monday carrying banners with slogans including: “No to the Israelization of education”.

Examples shared by Palestinians on social media of sections removed from textbooks by Israeli edits included: a verse mentioning Israeli checkpoints from a poem from a Arabic language book; illustrations of a key – the symbol of Palestinian refugees – from a math book; and a paragraph on treaties that divided the Middle East from a geography book.

Israel says the Palestinian textbooks contain content that amounts to incitement against the state and its security forces, and in July sought to revoke the licences of Iman and five other schools, having given them a year to switch to an approved and redacted version of the Palestinian Authority’s curriculum that they teach.

Traditions at loggerheads

Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. It declared the whole city as its eternal and indivisible capital, citing biblical, political and historical links.

Palestinians, who make up 38% of Jerusalem’s population and of whom only about 5% are Israeli citizens, seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state that would include the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Successive attempts since 1967 to introduce an Israeli syllabus in East Jerusalem schools were blocked by parents and teachers, and that part of the city adopted a Palestinian curriculum in the 1990s.

Israeli Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton wrote on Twitter last month that schools there “that portrayed Israeli soldiers as murderers and that glorified terrorists were made to fix their content” or lose their license.

Among mandated edits enforced by East Jerusalem’s Israeli municipality and cited by it were: changing an exercise asking children to name Palestinians held in “the occupation’s prisons” with one that asks them to name the peace bird; and changing a text accusing Israel of destroying Palestinian heritage and stealing artefacts accompanied by a map that did not label Israel.

A municipality official said it supported the use of textbooks “that adhere to UNESCO standards and do not incite violence”. The official also said authorities offered schools the option of using the Israeli syllabus rather than imposing it – a contention the Palestinian side says is misleading.

According to a 2016 report by the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, an independent Jerusalem-based think tank, Israeli authorities have consistently used financial incentives to pressure East Jerusalem schools to teach the Israeli curriculum.

According to the municipality official, 15% of East Jerusalem’s student population is taught the Israeli curriculum compared with around 3% ten years ago.

For concerned parent Tareq Akash that shift is part of a process he fears may end with the erasure from memory of the seminal event underpinning his community’s identity: Al-Nakba – or The Catastrophe – of the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.

“We will not allow the brainwashing of our children,” he told last Monday’s demonstration.

Reporting by Roleen Tafakji and Sinan Abu Mayzer; additional reporting and writing by Henriette Chacar; editing by John Stonestreet