Commentary Magazine


Contentions

The Significance of Hamas’s New Textbooks

The Hamas-Fatah civil war’s impact on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has long been a blind spot for reporters who seek to cover the conflict as a two-dimensional struggle between identifiable enemies. And so it is encouraging to see today’s highly-placed New York Times story on the new Hamas textbooks–a story which covers a second common blind spot for the media: Palestinian incitement and officially sanctioned anti-Semitism.

Today’s Times story explains that schools in Gaza are using new textbooks that, for the first time since Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip, deviate from the Palestinian Authority’s standard texts “as part of a broader push to infuse the next generation with its militant ideology.” I’m not sure what is worse: that until now the official PA curriculum was anti-Semitic enough and sufficiently bloodthirsty for Hamas, or that Hamas is looking to ratchet up the hate even further. Either way, this should raise the alarm because in this (and just about every other) respect Gaza is not Vegas: What happens in Gaza does not stay in Gaza.

The significance of textbooks for propaganda purposes is not lost on the Times:

“When a leader says something, not everyone is listening. But when we talk about textbooks, all the children, all of a particular peer group, will be exposed to a particular material,” he added. “This is the strongest card.”

What Gaza teenagers are reading in their 50-page hardcover texts this fall includes references to the Jewish Torah and Talmud as “fabricated,” and a description of Zionism as a racist movement whose goals include driving Arabs out of all of the area between the Nile in Africa and the Euphrates in Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

“Palestine,” in turn, is defined as a state for Muslims stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. A list of Palestinian cities includes Haifa, Beersheba and Acre — all within Israel’s 1948 borders. And the books rebut Jewish historical claims to the territory by saying, “The Jews and the Zionist movement are not related to Israel, because the sons of Israel are a nation which had been annihilated.”

The reaction to stories like this is usually a mix of low expectations and the sunny search for a silver lining by noting that the situation is better in the West Bank, where Israel’s “peace partners” reside. And the response to the latter part of that reaction is, but for how much longer?

In fact, the gap between Hamas and Fatah/PA policy is misleading. That the gap doesn’t narrow often confuses outsiders into thinking there has been no overall, significant shift. But the truth is quite often the opposite. The Hamas-Fatah split manifests in competition over which side can be trusted to best lead the efforts to dismantle the Jewish state next door.

When Hamas increases its militancy in some way, it adversely affects the behavior of Mahmoud Abbas’s PA in at least one of two ways: it makes the PA’s incitement seem milder than it is by comparison, as if the PA has taken a step forward when in reality Hamas has taken a step back. And it encourages the PA to play catch-up by trying to prove its anti-Israel bona fides.

It’s not as though PA textbooks were models of coexistence. As the Jerusalem Post reported in 2011:

“There is generally a total denial of the existence of Israel – and if there is an Israeli presence it is usually extremely negative,” said Eldad Pardo, an IMPACT-SE board member, and head of the organization’s Palestinian textbook research group. “For the next generation, there is no education at all about collaboration and no information about the many collaborations that already exist between Israelis and Palestinians in environmental and other areas.”

In geography textbooks, Israel usually does not appear in maps of the Middle East, instead “Palestine” is shown to encompass Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Jaffa is also shown on maps of Palestine, but Tel Aviv and other predominantly Jewish cities, such as Ramat Gan, kibbutzim and moshavim, are not displayed. …

Other textbooks told students that “the rank of shahid stands above all ranks,” and included a Muslim hadith about the destruction of Jews by Muslims on the day of the resurrection, which also appears in the Hamas charter.

The Hamas deviation from the PA’s anti-Israel brainwashing means that for now, the two Palestinian territories will be teaching their children different versions of history. Both versions are false, and are fabricated in a spirit of hatred that is then instilled in Palestinian youth. But the teaching of parallel histories in the territories is not sustainable–certainly not for a stateless people seeking a unified national identity.

And so the danger in the new Hamas textbooks is not simply that Palestinians in Gaza will be poisoned with an even more malevolent form of Jew-hatred. It is that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, recipient of American aid and global diplomatic legitimacy, will follow suit.

The new high school textbooks, we are told, “do not recognize modern Israel, or even mention the Oslo Peace Accords.” What will a “peace process” be like with a Palestinian polity raised to believe there was never any such thing? Looks like we’re about to find out.