As the school year opens across the world, Gaza will have a new course taught in some of its schools, called Know Your Enemy. The class is a Hebrew course which Hamas officials decided to include back in March as part of the Gaza education curriculum this year.
According to a New York Times article in May, the director general of Hamas’s Ministry of Education, Mahmoud Matar, stated that “through the Hebrew language we can understand the structure of Israeli society, the way they think.”
It will be the first time the Hebrew language will be taught in Gaza schools in almost 20 years. If successful, Hamas will have all 180 schools in Gaza teach the Hebrew language in the future.
“We look at Israel as an enemy. We teach our students the language of the enemy,” said Matar in the Times article.
According to Dr. Eldad Pardo, a senior researcher at IMPACT-SE, (Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education) and a teacher at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Matar’s hateful language against Israel is characteristic of the themes taught in Palestinian Authority school textbooks.
“Palestinian schoolchildren learn that Jews have no connection to the land of Israel, that Jews belong to Europe. These textbooks say nothing about the Jews from Arab countries,” Pardo told the Tazpit News Agency.
“Jewish holy places in Israel are not recognized. They are presented as Muslim holy sites taken over by Jews. There is no recognition of Jewish people as a nation. Israelis are depicted as criminals and thieves,” Pardo added.
“The fundamentals regarding Israel are the same, both in the secular PA textbooks and religious textbooks, although the religious textbooks take a significantly harder, more anti-Semitic line, glorifying martyrdom and jihad,” said Pardo.
IMPACT-SE conducted a study of 70 Palestinian Authority student books and 22 teacher guides, along with 25 student books issued by the PA Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs last year. All 118 books and guides are in current use at PA schools.
Pardo did emphasize that there were improvements in the secular government textbooks. “There are positive themes like equal rights for women, passages against terror and violence within society, more education for democracy, and the like.”
“But the bottom line is that these textbooks do not promote peace with Israel. There is not one map where Tel Aviv appears in a Palestinian textbook,” said Pardo.
Israel’s approach to the conflict is very different according to Pardo. “In the Israeli education system, there is much respect for Arab culture, recognition that Palestinians have a national movement and respect for holy Muslim sites. Students also learn Arabic in schools.”
In Israel, Arabic studies are compulsory from the seventh to ninth grade, while some schools continue to teach the language until the end of high school or begin in the fifth grade onwards. Arabic is Israel’s second official language. The former head of Arabic studies in Israel’s Ministry of Education, Dr. Shlomo Alon, stated to Israel’s Walla news site two years ago that “studying Arabic will promote tolerance and convey a message of acceptance.”
“The difference is that Israel sees itself as part of the Middle East region and wants to fit in, while the Arab world does not accept the Jewish state. This does not mean that there is no dialogue between Jewish and Arab students in Israel because there are many education programs bringing these students together—but that’s not what the PA wants Palestinian students learning from their textbooks,” concluded Pardo.