RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories – At Amin al-Husseini secondary school in the occupied West Bank, with an Israeli settlement visible in the distance, singing the Palestinian national anthem is a daily ritual of student life.
For the Palestinians, Haj Amin al-Husseini, former grand mufti of Jerusalem, is the hero of a 1936 revolt against the British mandate over Palestine.
To Israelis, he was an ally of the Nazis and naming a school after him is an example of incitement to hatred of Israel and Jews.
Few topics are more indicative of the starkly different viewpoints of Israelis and Palestinians than the debate over incitement in schools.
While Israel says it is a main cause of violence, Palestinian officials call such accusations baseless propaganda that seeks to deny them their right to teach children their history.
Last month, at his first White House meeting with President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said incitement was a key factor in the long-running conflict with the Palestinians.
“They continue to call for Israel’s destruction — inside their schools, inside their mosques, inside the textbooks. You have to read it to believe it,” he said.
“I think the Palestinians have to get rid of some of that hate that they’re taught from a very young age,” Trump said, responding to a reporter’s question about concessions each side needs to make.
“It starts in the school room,” he added.
Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan told AFP that the 1.19 million Palestinian students learn “from kindergarten to university” that Israel has no right to exist.
Israel does not appear on the maps in their schoolbooks or on the walls of their schools, which are named after “terrorists”, according to Erdan.
Tharwat Zeid, curriculum chief at the Palestinian education ministry, flatly denies the Israeli accusations.
“Our books are not for inciting hatred but for teaching,” he said.
“Historical Palestine” — the Palestinian territories and Israel — is taught to children “because it is our history and it was our land”, he explains.
Israel came into existence as a state in 1948 and the war surrounding its creation resulted in hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees.
– ‘Odes to the Israelis’ –
Since the end of the 1980s, the Palestinian leadership based in the West Bank — unlike Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip — has recognised the Jewish state’s existence.
School programmes are inspected by the international donors who finance the Palestinian Authority and therefore public education.
UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, has said in a report that nothing in the Palestinian study programmes under its oversight supports charges of inciting hatred against Israel or anti-Semitism.calls the glorification as “martyrs” of people who carry out attacks.
Israelis point to schools named for those responsible for attacks, while many Palestinians see such figures as heroes of their struggle against the occupation.
The Palestinians say it is the Israeli curriculum that teaches hatred and ask whether teaching their own history should be off-limits.
“Should we write odes to the Israelis and the occupation? Should we teach the history of Israel?” asked Al-Husseini teacher Ziad Khadash.
The debate gained resonance when a new wave of violence broke out in October 2015 that has killed 256 Palestinians, 40 Israelis, two Americans, one Jordanian, an Eritrean and a Sudanese national, according to an AFP count.
Most of the Palestinians who lost their lives were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, according to Israeli authorities. Many were young people acting on their own.
– ‘The other as the enemy’ –
Israel blames Palestinian education, social media and children’s TV programmes, whether broadcast by the Islamist Hamas movement or the Palestinian Authority dominated by president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah party.
Zeid says it is more likely that it is the overall situation created by the occupation that fuels hatred rather than schools.The Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas, which calls for Israel’s destruction, has been under an Israeli blockade for 10 years.The West Bank has been occupied for 50 years, is criss-crossed by Israeli checkpoints, largely blocked off on its western edge by Israel’s security wall.It is also dotted with Israeli settlements around which clashes are frequent.Some students are forced to make wide detours to reach their schools due to settlements in the area.
In the Gaza Strip, ravaged by three wars since 2008, the last conflict in 2014 destroyed 24 schools and damaged 190 others.Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian youngsters need psychological support, according to the UN.Both Palestinian and Israeli children, who have grown up with the conflict, lack “mention of the culture of the other”, says Sami Adwan, a researcher in education sciences.With a team of Israeli and Palestinian researchers, he analysed both sides’ study programmes.
They found that “instances of dehumanisation and demonisation of the other” regularly alleged by each side are actually rarely found in either curriculum.But “Israeli and Palestinian books contain unilateral national narratives that present the other as the enemy,” their study says.-AFP