The Palestinian Ministry of Education (MOE) was set up late 1994. It is a well-known fact that it has inherited a deplorable educational situation in the West Bank and Gaza from the Israeli occupation authorities. Since then, the Palestinian Ministry of Education has exerted a significant effort in tackling the deterioration befallen on the educational system during the occupation. It was beset by serious problems like triple school shifts, lack of teacher training and the dire consequences of recruitment practices, etc. However, the MOE felt the need to develop a curriculum relevant to the students’ needs to replace the duality of curricula use in the West Bank and Gaza and, consequently, to unify the educational system. The plan includes contemporary topics in areas of democracy, human rights, children’s rights, women’s empowerment, pluralism, and tolerance. The new vision also includes new subjects: health, the environment, Christian education, and information technology, in addition to improvements and changes in foreign-language teaching. Soon after its establishment, the MOE sought the assistance of UNESCO and donor countries in setting up the Palestinian Curriculum Development Center (PCDC). PCDC is now fully engaged in developing the first-ever Palestinian curriculum. It has so far published Palestinian textbooks for two grades only: the first grade (children aged 6 years) and the sixth grade (children aged 11). For pedagogic reasons, it is planned and expected that the Palestinian textbooks for the remaining ten grades will be produced in stages by the year 2004/2005. Meanwhile, these grades are still using Jordanian textbooks in the West Bank and Egyptian textbooks in Gaza, which has been the case since 1950.
Why This Clarification
During the past three years, there has been significant interest in the issue of the Palestinian textbooks, both locally and internationally. The international interest and questioning, though, were mainly focused on what Palestinian children study at school. There was no similar interest in what their Israeli counterparts study.
The textbooks used in Palestinian schools have been under continuous scrutiny, mainly by an NGO called the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP), a right-wing, anti-peace Israeli center. CMIP started as a cyber institute (www.eduing.com) three years ago. It now maintains offices in Israel and an address in the U.S.A. CMIP spent its first two years and more looking into textbooks used in Palestinian schools. Its reports on this subject were mainly used to argue against providing assistance to the Palestinian Ministry of Education and UNRWA in the U.S.A. Congress and European parliaments. So far, the MOE has chosen to answer only questions or queries addressed to it directly and officially, and not to engage in media or lobby campaigns. We now feel that the internationally waged campaign regarding textbooks used in Palestinian schools has been one-sided and unfair. Therefore, we have decided to state our position regarding curriculum development in Palestine and to clarify some claims and misconceptions that appear in various CMIP reports and publications.
Some Important Issues
1. The Palestinian problem did not start with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. It started with the dispossession and eviction of the Palestinians from their homeland in historic Palestine and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. This fact is alive in the individual and collective memories of the Palestinians. Curricula and textbooks will not be credible if they do not address this fact. We will not brainwash our children and miseducate them about the past. They will have to come to terms with the fact that the Palestinians are making historic concessions in order to achieve a just and durable peace in their country and in their region, in preparation for a better future for them.
2. The MOE is grateful to Jordan and Egypt for allowing us to use their textbooks until the Palestinian textbooks for the whole range of school grades are produced. The MOE reprints the Jordanian and Egyptian textbooks and uses them in Palestinian schools until they are replaced by the Palestinian curriculum, which is staggered over a five-year period.
3. The MOE has avoided dealing with unresolved political issues in Palestinian textbooks. It has not mentioned Israel’s borders on maps. Israel itself has not defined its borders. The borders of the future independent Palestinian state are still not defined. These matters will be decided on by representatives of both countries and peoples through negotiations and agreements. Once these decisions are made, and are ratified by the international community through the UN, then they will be included in future Palestinian textbooks.
4. The MOE has chosen a participatory approach in developing the Palestinian curriculum and in writing the textbooks. It has invited qualified academics and educators from universities, colleges and schools to participate in the writing of textbooks through public advertisements. This participatory process required a lot of effort and time. The textbooks that have been produced so far reflect the general mood of the Palestinians at this stage.
5. The produced textbooks will be tested in schools and will undergo changes based on input from schoolteachers, Palestinian academics, and the community at large. The MOE welcomes comments on its published Palestinian textbooks from partners and all types of professional bodies. It will review this input and introduce the changes that will, hopefully, improve the textbooks.
6. We have referred to Israel in some of the Palestinian textbooks as the occupier; this is what Israel is, in fact, on our land. This is what the United Nations calls, in its resolutions, Israeli presence on our land. We hope that Israel will end its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza soon. Once it does, then we will stop using this designation.
7. The Palestinian textbooks produced do not include any racist remarks against any people. This is a big step forward in the direction of reconciliation and peace, bearing in mind the fact that Israel is still occupying our land and subjecting our people to various forms of repression, harassment, collective punishment, killing, assassinations, destruction, denial of our human and national rights and confiscation of the future and dreams of our children.
8. East Jerusalem was occupied by Israel in June 1967. The Palestinians have the full right to mention Jerusalem in their textbooks as an occupied city. Moreover, the former Israeli prime minister agreed in last summer’s Camp David talks [July 2000] to return the city to the Palestinian people. They have the full right to consider Jerusalem as their future capital and to mention this position, hope and aspiration in their textbooks. Doing so does not constitute incitement against anybody.
9. Palestinians are Muslim and Christian, so our textbooks teach tolerance between them. This is part of civic education. Our textbooks focus on Palestinian society at this stage. The Israeli occupation authorities have denied us our right to teach about our country and our people throughout the period 1967-1994. This teaching is part of our efforts to build a civil society and a modern democratic state. In the textbooks we have produced so far, we have not dealt with any other people, religion or country outside of Palestine. But the intention of the ministry is to avoid all forms of stereotyping on the basis of race, gender, religion, or disability. Additionally, we expect it to encourage the development of positive images of people who are different from ourselves.
10. The inclusion of pictures or drawings of the Palestinian flag is not an act of incitement, nor is it in violation of any agreements or accords signed with Israel, as some CMIP reports state. Palestinian flags have been officially raised on all Palestinian institutions, even on places where meetings with Israeli leaders and officials have taken place.
11. Like any other people on earth, we have the right to decide what our children study without pressure or coercion. As stated above, we welcome comments on our Palestinian textbooks after they are published and distributed.
12. We are producing curricula and textbooks in the shortest period possible. It is in our national interest to do so. A Palestinian curriculum is a necessity for the creation of one national identity and unity. We have chosen the stages and the sequence of producing the Palestinian textbooks so that the process will not cause gaps in and harm to the education of our children. Meanwhile, we will go on using the Jordanian and Egyptian textbooks in grades which do not have Palestinian textbooks. It is not possible to shorten the period required for developing the Palestinian curriculum and textbooks. We will maintain this logical sequence, which we have chosen as a result of a long discussion.
The donors and the international community should help the Palestinians along the difficult path of negotiations leading to independence and peace. The donors and other UN member states should have the courage to voice their honest opinion about reality here in Palestine as they learn it firsthand through the presence of their representative bodies. They should not be coerced into silence by unofficial lobbyists from any side. We expect them to use due process before they take positions and pass judgment. The first step in this process is to seek and find out the truth. This requires talking to all parties concerned and not accepting one-sided and biased reports. We are, and have always been, willing to answer questions and to clarify matters.
The Palestinians and Palestine have the right to have a place under the sun. The Palestinians have suffered enough due to the inactivity of the international community in the face of enforcing the UN resolutions pertaining to this land. The Palestinians should be supported in building an independent, sustainable, prosperous, modern and democratic state. The process is long and they should be allowed the needed time to grow gradually and to develop their own views and convictions. With the assistance and backing of sincere partners, the Palestinians will be able to overcome their frustrations and to regain hope in a better future for their children in the region.
The MOE has worked, and is still working, earnestly for the benefit of Palestinian children, for a better future, and for a just and durable peace based on international legitimacy. It is grateful to all those who have supported its difficult work, commented frankly on its shortcomings, and celebrated its achievements and successes.
May 5, 2001