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'A field trip to the Jaffa Port in Palestine'
Experts warn Gaza preschoolers' fascination with terror against Israel indicates a very real threat
Itamar Marcus, founder and director of the Palestinian Media Watch research center, does not draw a distinction between Hamas educators and the Palestinian Authority.
"Unfortunately, these things are routine," Marcus said. "There are nuances between the programs, but the messages are the same – Israel has no right to exist or simply doesn't exist."
Therefore, he noted, children are taught about "the occupations of 1948 and 1967," and that every Israeli city is actually Palestinian.
Two young boys act out a torture scene
According to Marcus, geography lessons in the PA ignore Israel's existence. "Children point to the map and say that they went to Jaffa and Haifa, and the teacher responds, 'How nice that you traveled in our Palestinian state.' When the teacher asks what the most important port in Palestine is – Jaffa, Akko, or Haifa – a kid who answers 'Jaffa' will be applauded."
Recently, the Swiss, British, and Norwegian parliaments have discussed the issue and tried to influence the Palestinian school system. Marcus says that this is the right way to solve the problem, "since the Palestinians won't drop anything on their own without international pressure."
One method of restraining the education in question could come from a proposed US law that would tie funding to pedagogical content. "It's possible to see the beginning of change. If in the past governments trusted (PA President Mahmoud) Abu Mazen and his promises, they are starting to believe he is lying to them," Marcus observed.
Shiftan, on the other hand, believes that if any change takes place, it will begin at the roots. "Only a society can decide to change its political culture. Outside pressure can hold it down, or moderate public displays, but it's very hard… to change the political culture itself," he says.
Thus, Shiftan is pessimistic. "The Arab culture is in no way standing before a positive change. Like in Egypt - one oppressive regime is replaced by deeper oppression."
Shiftan argues that the Palestinian school system is based on "embracing the image of the victim and presenting the other as the oppressor."
As the children grow older, he says, and in the PA's institutes of higher education, there is "no willingness to accept responsibility for their suffering. In their eyes, they are simply the victim. Great. As far as they are concerned, they were sitting innocently at home and suddenly began getting killed."
The result, according to Marcus, has a profound influence on the political dialogue.
"There is a consistent educational trend here that will lead to no new generation that grows up willing to accept Israel as a neighbor. The curriculum and schools of the PA – not only Hamas – are the ones that teach hate-filled songs and stories."