The number of British MPs from both the Labour and Conservative parties who appear to be concerned about the education of Palestinian children should be heart-warming. However, the focus of their concern is not about the Israeli snipers who appear to use the children as target practice, nor Tel Aviv’s policies which result in the bulldozing of entire schools; nor, indeed, the many military checkpoints that pupils have to navigate in order to reach their classrooms.
The MPs I’m talking about use every available opportunity to grill the Department for International Development (DfID) and any other organisation over any education aid for Palestine. On each and every occasion that a question is asked in parliament by one or more of these MPs, specifically on education, a government minister will assure them that the money does not fund terrorism, nor does it go towards funding “incitement”.
The questions are predictable and so are the answers but it is proof, if proof were ever needed, that the pro-Israel lobby is effective in Westminster because the MPs I’m talking about are invariably either Conservative Friends of Israel, or Labour Friends of Israel. Even though they always get the same answer, they will always keep asking similar questions because that is what is expected of them.
While bribery is clearly illegal, political lobbying is not, because it is regarded to be influencing political power and not buying it. However, we should be under no illusions, because the Friends of Israel groups — Conservative and Labour alike — will offer lucrative contributions that affect political outcomes. The Friends of Israel Initiative, registered as a British charity, has been funded by a dozen private donors from Spain, America, Israel, France, Italy and Britain since 2010. It has a working budget of almost £1 million a year and much of the money is used on lobbying individuals and/or their political parties.
Of course, some of the weasel-like politicians who benefit by signing up to Labour and Conservative Friends of Israel couldn’t give a flying fig about the welfare of Palestinian children. If they did, they’d be equally fastidious and pernickety about the content of the curriculum in the neighbouring Zionist State which, it could be argued, is poisoning the minds of young Israeli pupils with toxic messages of hate towards the P-People; some Israeli textbooks don’t use the term Palestinian.
While these pro-Israel MPs complain about textbooks issued by the Palestinian Authority which refer to Palestinians killed by Israel in the conflict as “martyrs” and use maps of Palestine without Israel, they are apparently blind-sided by Israeli text books. Maps of Israel are often published with no reference to Palestine; you could say, with justification, that Palestine has been wiped off the map in Israel’s geography and history lessons. What’s more, while Israelis and their supporters moan about Palestinians naming streets after “terrorists”, literally hundreds of streets are named after Israelis who were killed fighting the Palestinians or the British during the Mandate period.
According to the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPCTSE), textbooks used by the Orthodox Jewish community in Israel are littered with derogatory adjectives, prejudices, patronising expressions and disrespect toward Arabs. The Arab leadership is portrayed as motivated by an eternal hatred, independent of historical circumstances.
Without exception, textbooks for all ages and educational levels describe the Zionist wars as justified and blame the Arabs for initiating them. As the 70th anniversary of the Nakba approaches, don’t imagine for one moment that schools in Israel will openly discuss the Palestinian exodus in 1948. While the IMPCTSE discovered some books attribute the exodus to Arabs fleeing their homes, very few reveal that Palestinians were expelled by Israel or were forced to flee at the point of a gun. Some do not even mention or make reference to the Palestinian exodus at all.
Labour MPs like Joan Ryan, LFI’s chair, and her colleague Ian Austin, or the Conservative Party’s Andrew Rosindell would have us believe that they really care about young minds being manipulated by government propaganda. If they did, though, they would speak out equally about the content of Israeli text books which are clearly designed to poison young Jewish minds against Palestinians and the Arab world.
I’ve always said that the most difficult job of any cartographer would be drawing a map of Israel, as it has never declared what its borders are. As far as the children being educated by the Zionist State are concerned, though, there is no problem because maps in their textbooks include all of the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan. Many textbooks have maps of the Middle East on which only Israel’s name appears, with the land of the surrounding Arab countries left blank.
Back in 2004, after studying 124 textbooks used in Israel’s schools, Dan Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University concluded that generations of Israeli Jews have been taught a negative and often delegitimising view of Arabs. He said that Arabs were portrayed in these textbooks as primitive, inferior in comparison to Jews, violent, untrustworthy, fanatic, treacherous and aggressive. While history books in the elementary schools hardly mentioned Arabs at all, the high school textbooks that covered the Arab–Jewish conflict stereotyped Arabs negatively as intransigent and uncompromising.
This conclusion is endorsed by Israeli academic Nurit Peled-Elhanan, who says the depiction of Palestinians in school books is extremely negative. “They are called Arabs,” she explains. “The Arab with a camel, in an Ali Baba dress. They describe them as vile and deviant and criminal, people who don’t pay taxes, people who live off the state, people who don’t want to develop. The only representation is as refugees, primitive farmers and terrorists. You never see a Palestinian child or doctor or teacher or engineer or modern farmer.”
A professor of language and education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Peled-Elhanan published Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education several years ago. She describes what she found as racism, and in a Guardian article in August 2011 admitted: “One question that bothers many people is how you explain the cruel behaviour of Israeli soldiers towards Palestinians, an indifference to human suffering, the inflicting of suffering. People ask, how can these nice Jewish boys and girls become monsters once they put on a uniform? I think the major reason for that is education. So I wanted to see how school books represent Palestinians.”
At the height of the Ahed Tamimi case, Peled-Elhanan posted on her Facebook what the young Palestinian girl’s slapping of an Israeli soldier really meant to Israel. She pointed out that among many Israeli observers, “The educators will not be able to forget the girl of their own age, who stood in a T-shirt and jeans, her hair blowing in the wind, her eyes clearly exposed, who taught them what it means to be a young liberated woman. A young liberated woman does not mean to dress up as a thug and behave as the Golem of Prague. A young liberated woman fights for her freedom with bare hands. [Ahed] will never be forgiven or forgotten this insult.”
Before Labour and Conservative Friends of Israel are prompted to ask any more questions in Westminster about Palestinian education, perhaps they need to go back to school, preferably in Tel Aviv on one of their Israeli government-funded junkets. There they can learn first-hand what it means to hate and the power of propaganda on young minds. And maybe they can then start to question the Israeli school curriculum and textbooks which poison young minds ahead of their military service. How can Israel’s younger generation even think of peace when the lesson today is one of racism and hate? The snipers are bad enough, but the real brainwashing happens much earlier, in Israel’s schools. Britain’s Friends of Israel MPs need to look in the right place for their lessons in hate and incitement.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.