Wednesday, April 30, 2008

How Palestinian children really learn

Quite frequently some columnist or pundit will claim that the Palestinian education system is (at least in part) to blame for the continued violence. Sometimes the claim is that religious texts are used to teach Palestinian children to hate Jews, and sometimes it is claimed that Palestinian textbooks incite hatred of Israel. These claims are popular features of many analyses, presumably because they offer an explanation for Palestinian hostility to people who do not or will not acknowledge the horrors of the occupation.

The first piece below tears apart the myth that Islamic doctrine is what inculcates hatred in Palestinian children. Palestinian children are traumatized by the constant sight and threat of violence, as well as the institutions of occupation that impede their mobility and block any hope of a decent life: they drink contaminated water, eat insufficient amounts of food, and witness events such Monday's rocket attack that killed a mother with 4 small children ( And yet somehow it's the schoolbooks that are responsible for the children learning to hate?

No doubt there are institutions in Palestine teaching messages of hate, as there certainly are institutions teaching messages of peace and co-existence. The point is that such lessons are far and away superseded by the daily lessons in brutality that Palestinian children experience under occupation.

The second piece (an action alert from the Middle East Children's Alliance describes how the Israeli military is closing down schools and orphanages run by a charity in Hebron. The military has already destroyed the food supplies and bakery that the charity uses to distribute goods to children in need. It is pretty clear what lesson this action will be teaching to the children of Hebron.

Judith Norman

How Palestinian children really learn
Carol Scheller, The Electronic Intifada, 15 April 2008

On 22 March, The Miami Herald published an article entitled "Dreaming of a peaceful Mideast." The initial reaction to such a headline is naturally one of pleased interest. Reporter Frida Ghitis praises the Israel/Palestine Centre for Research and Information for "working to create" a "culture of peace" in order to "put a stop to incitement and hatred." However, Ghitis goes on to state: "It is absolutely imperative to recast the poisonous message drilled into Palestinian children. In Gaza, in particular, even the youngest children are taught that killing Jews is a duty of Muslims ..."

This is the stuff of much sensationalist, biased journalism which does its best to neutralize all genuine attempts to foster trust and cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis. Having visited and lived in Gaza four times since a month before the beginning of the second intifada and known many families and children there, I was deeply dismayed.

It is a common mistake to hold religion as the core issue in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. This is incorrect and harmful. The issue is territorial: two peoples lay claim to the same land, land which they are going to have to somehow share, someday, no matter what form of religion they happen to profess, if they indeed practice a religion. Ghitis's statement is empty of everything except the very things she criticizes: "incitement and hatred."

The main influence on children in Gaza is the fear of arbitrary injury or death from the air and the surrounding land inflicted by all the different arms available to the Israeli army. Gaza children can identify all sorts of munitions they scavenge after attacks. They know the names of all the different kinds of Israeli aircraft and can identify them by their sound. Thousands of children have lost their homes to demolition by the Israeli army. Some children have had the terrifying experience of seeing their homes occupied and used by Israeli soldiers who crowd the family into one room preventing them even from using the bathroom.

Some children can tell you about the sonic booms caused by Israeli warplanes for the sole cruel purpose of frightening and disorienting civilians: their force has even knocked children out of their beds and broken their bones. The children can tell you about the massacre of an entire family in Beit Hanoun in November 2006 and of course about the recent horrific events all over Gaza last month.

Just going to school is a major act of courage and in school, children lack the basic necessities: books and paper, to start with, because (and this the children can tell you), the Israeli authorities will not permit their importation. Worse, many children can no longer go to school at all, as their families cannot afford to pay for their transport, uniforms or even pencils. Despite this, the main message in school in Gaza, as in many schools the world over, is that if you want to succeed, you need to get good grades.

The children know that their big brothers and sisters can no longer hope to travel abroad to complete their education because Israel will not permit them to leave. A young man I know who graduated brilliantly from secondary school in June has shelved his dreams of studying medicine abroad, like some of his aunts and uncles. He is now studying to be a pharmacist, well aware that at the moment, thanks to the Israeli blockade, most of the products he might someday want to offer to clients are unavailable.

Ever so many children in Gaza know that their fathers no longer have jobs because the border is closed, and they cannot go to Israel to earn a living. A lot of joy has gone out of family life. Children know that there is no gas for cars or trucks or ambulances and that they must often go without electricity (no television, no clean clothes) because Israel has decided this. Many of the things children like to eat have also disappeared.

All the children in Gaza can tell you how their elders are worried, terribly worried, especially about them and their future. The children hate this situation. They do not understand it. They think it is unfair. They ask why. Children in Gaza indeed dream of "a peaceful Mideast." It is their deepest wish, as it is the deepest desire of Israeli children and their parents, especially those now suffering from Qassam rockets.

The Muslim and Christian families and the families who go to neither mosque nor church who I know in Gaza teach their children to live correctly, respecting themselves and others. They do not need to say anything about Israel: the actions of its army and authorities dominate every single aspect of life in Gaza.

Parents in Gaza tell their children that they hope things will get better. They tell them to work hard in school and to be patient.

But what does the Israeli army teach the children?

Children listen to adults, then they observe and form their own opinions on the world.

Ghitis's article is a prime example of intentionally slanted reporting which needs to be criticized and corrected. Her references to "peace" cannot mask the fact that she is appealing to basic fears and prejudices that only reinforce negative, false stereotypes guaranteed to stalemate any progress in dialogue between Israelis (many of whom, we should remind Ghitis, are not Jewish) and Palestinians.

Carol Scheller, a retired public school teacher, lives in Geneva, Switzerland. She and Walid Shomali translated the guidebook Palestine and the Palestinians from French to English in 2004, when Scheller worked briefly for its publisher, the Alternative Tourism Group, in Beit Sahour. Scheller has been writing a blog for the Tribune de Geneve called "Au jour le jour, Gaza" during and since a stay in Gaza from April to June 2007 (


Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA)
Take Action: Israeli Military Trying to Close Palestinian Orphanages
Action Alert from the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs:

Israel has killed 1,020 Palestinian children since 2000 and Palestinians have killed 124 Israeli children. Too many precious children have suffered and died as a result of politics. Another outrage is about to occur and you can help stop it. On April 23 a program on French TV Channel 5 highlighted a tragedy that may occur at any moment. This news is not even discussed in the United States.

The Israeli military is about to close down schools and orphanages run by the Islamic Charitable Society (ICS) in the West Bank city of Hebron. More than 240 boys and girls, aged 5-18 live at the orphanages, while thousands of other children, many of whom have lost at least one parent, receive schooling, food and clothing from the charity. The Israeli military has already seized $157,000 worth of goods - including rice, oil, sugar, clothing and first aid kits - from the ICS warehouse.

Israeli soldiers entered the Rahma Bakery, owned by the society, on April 14, destroyed the oven, and confiscated more than $43,000 of equipment, including all the display cases, refrigerators, fixtures, and most of the inventory. Upstairs, the soldiers destroyed heating ducts. This bakery provided bread for the orphanages.

The charity has appealed to the Israeli High Court of Justice. The Israeli army claims that ICS is supporting the Hamas movement, which started in 1987. The society, founded in 1962, argues that ICS is a Palestinian charitable organization, with no political agenda, which is monitored regularly by the Palestinian Authority.

Israel and its supporters in the United States and Europe have targeted almost every charity that is trying to keep Palestinians fed, clothed, and educated. By closing this charity and others, Israel will complete the economic strangulation and even ethnic cleansing of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel's wall and checkpoints are already preventing Palestinians' access to jobs, fields, medical care and schools.

If the Israeli army shuts down the ICS and its projects in the city of Hebron, nearly 300 orphans will have no place other than the street to sleep. Please fax, telephone and e-mail your representatives to ask Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to stop this outrage. Ask him to show Palestinians that he does want peace by stopping this heartless eviction.


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