The Israeli Curriculum and the Palestinian National Identity in Jerusalem

Education is an essential tool with which to build the human character, identity and future. Following the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, the education system in East Jerusalem was ruined, as the occupation targeted the existing educational structure of schools, teachers and pupils. As a result, the level of educational achievement declined, with a rise in school dropout rates, and the level of manners declined, too.

There have been continuous attempts by the Israeli occupation to interfere with the East Jerusalem educational system and in the Palestinian curriculum taught in the Palestinian schools, the objective being to eliminate the Palestinian national identity and Palestinian history taught in schools, and to replace it with the Zionist and biblical narratives about Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque and Palestine.

Recently the Israeli occupation tried to force its curriculum on the Palestinian elementary schools — the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh grades, with the pupils ranging from 10 to 12 years old. Educators know how dangerous targeting these age categories is.

Eliminating the Palestinian Jerusalemite National Identity

Palestinian roots going back thousands of years in Jerusalem are connected with the Arab and Islamic civilizations. The Israeli educational system has been used as a tool to reshape the Arab Palestinian identity of the Palestinians living inside Israel within the 1948 borders. It was used as a tool for brainwashing and distorting history and identity to eliminate their national identity. Applying the same educational system in occupied East Jerusalem is a very dangerous step. The identity of Palestinians in East Jerusalem is based on religion, language and history.

The Israeli alternative identity aimed at the Palestinians is taught in a civil education book series called Living Together in Israel, which teaches topics that include homeland, society and other civil issues for elementary school children in the second, third and fourth grades.

These topics are introduced from a Zionist perspective to Palestinian children. This book series teaches the concepts of family, personal, social and national identity. However, when this Israeli book series was reviewed, it was concluded that it was against the concepts of Palestinian national and religious identity.

The Objectives of the Educational Series Living Together in Israel:

First: “Establishing a common denominator for all pupils in the State of Israel, focusing on the unique living environment, of pupils who come from different backgrounds.” This leads to eliminating the child’s original religious belonging and teachings, followed by his parents and ancestors.

Second: Establishing the foundations for life and behavior in a democratic society.

Third: Preparing the pupils for living in an environment that is different from their original environment and for coexistence in their immediate environment. In the context of the Palestinian Jerusalemites, this means accepting the Israeli occupation of our Palestinian lands and its attacks on our holy places.

Fourth: The educational series also introduces values and concepts of living together among the children in their immediate environment and in the State of Israel. Therefore, the fear is that the child would give up the values of his national identity and religion and adopt the carefully constructed values taught in this series.

This educational series addresses the towns in Israel, including Arab Jerusalem, as representing Israeli society — with its Israeli character defined as being a society of diverse ethnic segments, different communities and different problems.

First: A Review of the Second-Grade Curriculum

Israeli Citizenship

The concepts of Israeli citizenship are introduced on page 134. The definition of the citizens of Israel is: communities that live in villages, kibbutzim, small cities, big cities; 7 million of them, old and young, women and men, Jews, Arabs, and Druze that were either born in Israel or came from other places. Some are religious and some are secular.

The Jerusalemite [Palestinian] child would be reduced to being only a member of this group. This section shows that there is no recognition of the Arabs’ religions; they are only labeled as “Arabs”, while Judaism, which is a religion, is treated as a nationality/ethnicity, while it mentions the Druze as a religious sect. Yet there is no reference to Islam or Christianity.

The Roots of the Jewish Citizen

Under the title “Israel Is My Homeland,” page 133 shows a picture of people of various origins, a mixture of Jewish and Arab families. In the same picture there is a blond girl quoted as saying, “My family has lived in Jerusalem for 10 generations.” Upon examination, this picture reveals a message that this foreign Western Jewish girl says that her roots have been in Jerusalem for many generations, that she didn’t come from an external country. This is taught to the Palestinian indigenous child, whose roots have been for thousands of years in this country. The Palestinian Jerusalemite child is taught that this Western Jewish girl has deeper roots in this country than him/her. He barely has rights, with no equal citizenship.

The Palestinian Jerusalemite character is presented in the lesson titled “Let’s Meet Majeda and the Group” on pages 136-137. In this lesson a picture is shown of a young Palestinian Jerusalemite man, referred to as Imad; he is the best among his siblings in singing and in telling jokes. What a role model to teach children! But nothing about his education, manners, good character, seriousness or his moral objectives. He is good at shallow and trivial activities. In the image, he carries a picture of the “Jerusalem” that he comes from, but Jerusalem has no religious or national symbols — not the iconic image of Jerusalem.

It Is “Yerushalayim – Urshalim” the Jewish City

Opposite the picture of “Majeda and the Group” is a map of Jerusalem titled “Yerushalayim”, the Jewish city. On page 139, there is a map that shows the mountains of Yehuda, the mountains of Jerusalem (Mount Sodom, Dimona, the Big Crater and the Small Crater). All these places are portrayed as being in Jewish Israel, so where is Palestine and where is the Palestinian Jerusalemite identity?

On page 152, a lesson about a “Trip to Jerusalem” teaches how sacred Jerusalem is to the Jews, that King David was the first to make Jerusalem a big and important city. King Solomon built the Temple and the remaining Western Wall is part of that temple. According to Muslims, it is called Al- Buraq wall. The caption under the picture says that “it is interesting to see all of these important places sacred to everybody,” meant to include what they construe as the Wailing Wall!

From our Palestinian perspective, Jerusalem is the city of prophets and messengers of God, and Al-Aqsa Mosque is the center of sacred inspiration and the principle of prophecy. Its foundations were laid by angels; Prophet Mohammed prayed in it, and its importance is portrayed in the Quran, in Al-Isra’a chapter, verse 1:

Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al- Haram to al-Masjid al-Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing.

These are the right concepts that ought to be taught to our Palestinian children, and these concepts are not taught in the Israeli curriculum. The Israeli educational curriculum is aimed at the Judaization of the land and the people, at teaching our children the Zionist distortion of facts and acceptance of the Zionist narrative as historical and religious facts.

Pictures of Jerusalem Without Islamic Sites

Another example, under the title of “Tour of the Old City,” is on page 154. There are two pictures that show the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. The first is a recent picture, and the second is a picture of the Old City 100 years ago. There are no Muslim or Christian religious sites in these two pictures.

Although the Jewish Quarter was much smaller prior to the 1967 war, its plaza was expanded after Israel expelled the Palestinian residents of the Moroccan Waqf Abu Madyan Quarter. The area was combined to form what is known today as the Jewish Quarter in its 130 dunums.

Undermining Islamic Sacred Existence

Under the title “Tour of Jerusalem’s Modern Sections” on page 156, the places that are most liked by visitors are the Museum of Science and the Biblical Zoo. All of the place names mentioned in the book are given in accordance to their biblical context. The people shown in the picture are quoted as saying, “Jerusalem, a beautiful city, because it is built from stones,” not because it has religious sites and is sacred, a distortion of the measurement of beauty that undermines other religions’ importance in the city.

Israeli Political Structure

On page 157 is a lesson about the Israeli political system and the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. This lesson ignores the Palestinians’ political and national aspirations.

Second: A Review of the Third Grade Curriculum and Equality

Page 48 teaches children about equality in Israel and that minorities have the same rights as the majority. This slogan is not implemented in reality, in that the Israeli policies are built on discrimination and racism.

On page 126, with the title “The Establishment of the State of Israel”, the lesson addresses how people live in the country and that “this Land is called by the Jews as the Land of Israel” This quotation is an attempt to eliminate the name Palestine from the Palestinian child’s mind.

The Struggle of the Jewish People

On page 129, “Arabs and Jews in the Country,” there is a reference to the Jewish people’s struggle, the Zionist idea, and the mention that Zion is one of the names of this country in the Torah. But there is no mention of Arabs. The intention is to forcefully Judaize the mind of the Palestinian pupil.

The Character of the Jewish State

In the following pages, the student is taught about the establishment of the State of Israel — sections that assert the Israeli identity to the Palestinian Jerusalemite while undermining the Palestinian identity:

On page 133 is a lesson about the establishment of the State of Israel, followed on page 134 by Ben-Gurion’s declaration of the establishment of the state, and on page 135 the Israeli Declaration of Independence. And on page 139, the Palestinian pupils are taught how to become citizens of the State of Israel, with an image of the Israeli identification card.

The book imposes the Jewish identity on every aspect of the curriculum, in lessons about the Israeli political system, introducing the Knesset first, then the Israeli government, Israeli courts and the president of the state (pages 147, 148, 152, 151).

On page 154 the Palestinian Jerusalemite pupils are taught about the symbols of the Jewish state: the Israeli flag, the Jewish Menorah (candelabra) and the Israeli national anthem. All of these are impressed upon the mind of the Palestinian pupil. Just contemplate this page in the curriculum where the pupil is asked to sing the national anthem for the State of Israel’s independence.

On page 7 of the same book series Living Together in Israel for the fourth grade, the lesson is about Israel’s map and its divisions, its geography from the Jewish Zionist perspective such as “Judea and Samaria,” and on page 22 the pupils are taught about Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

A picture at the bottom of the page shows Jerusalem’s state institutions such as the Knesset, High Court, governmental buildings, and a picture on page 23 of the Western Wall (i.e., Al-Buraq Wall) is shown as a Jewish symbol for prayer and for what is referred to as the Temple Mount. This conflicts with the Palestinian national identity and Islamic faith, which views this wall as sacred to Muslims, being part of Al-Aqsa Mosque as numerous Qur’anic verses and traditions show, including the following first verse of Al-Isra’/Chapter 17 (The Night Journey):

“Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al- Haram to al-Masjid al-Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing.”

Jewish Religion for the Palestinian Child

The book for the fourth grade introduces Palestinian children to the Jewish religion, Jewish customs and Jewish holidays. Most of it conflicts with the Islamic faith’s teachings and beliefs, such as:

Abraham Was Jewish

The first paragraph on page 44 mentions that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are the ancestors of the Jewish people, and that the Jewish people multiplied and became a nation which is the Jewish people of today.

According to the Qur’an: the Torah and the New Testament came after Abraham:

“Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was one inclining toward truth, a Muslim [submitting to Allah]. And he was not of the polytheists. Indeed, the most worthy of Abraham among the people are those who followed him [in submission to Allah] and this prophet, and those who believe [in his message]. And Allah is the ally of the believers.”

Forced Assimilation/Integration

The Israeli curricula introduced in the Palestinian schools of East Jerusalem at different levels are aimed at convincing the Palestinian pupil about Israel, its religion, nationality and state, while forcing the integration of the Palestinians within that system. Furthermore, for at the high school level, the students are taught a book titled Civil Education for High Schools, about how to become citizens of the State of Israel, instead of being taught the Islamic faith, history, language, heritage and Arab and Islamic values and belonging to the Arab and Islamic nations. This book is divided into sections:

    • The first and second sections address two elements of governance in Israel: democracy and Judaism.
    • The third section teaches how these two elements are implemented in governance, society and politics in Israel.
    • The fourth section teaches the students that Israel is the State of the Jewish people.
    • The fifth chapter of the book titled ‘To Become Citizens of Israel’ is ‘Identity of Citizens of Israel’.

The Identity of the Arab Citizen

The book Civil Education defines the Arab citizens in the context of the law and that the identity of the “citizen” is Israeli. The Palestinian Jerusalemite is taught in the Israeli curriculum to introduce him/herself as an Arab Israeli, like the Jew in Britain would say, “I am a British Jew,” and that Israel is the ancestor of the nation. Furthermore, this book teaches them to employ the terms “People of Israel, Land of Israel, and the Bible of Israel.” Using these terms not only transforms the culture of the Palestinians but also asserts the dominance of Israel on the land, as there is no other identity but Israeli identity.i

A Jewish Democratic State

The idea that the State of Israel is a democratic state is far from the truth. The Declaration of Independence asked the Arabs to maintain peace, and to take a share in building the Jewish state on the basis of equal rights and equal citizenship, while being represented in the institutions.

“WE APPEAL — in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months — to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.”ii

The truth is that the Israeli authorities representing the state didn’t allow the Arabs to form their own organizations and there was no freedom of expression, and unlike the Jews they were also denied several social and political rights.

The Israeli political and military institutions along with the majority of Jews view the Arab minority as a “security dilemma” for having cultural, linguistic and national ties with the Arab states, not to mention family ties.iii

To Conclude, What Is the Palestinian Jerusalemite Student Supposed to Believe?

The Israeli curriculum wants the Jerusalemite Palestinian to believe, deep in his/her heart, that Israel is a Jewish national state in accordance with Israel’s Declaration of Independence — justifying the reasons for establishing this national liberal state and its rights in culture, justifying the national state as tool to obtain social solidarity, democratic justification, and its right to security as a nation-state. The authors of the book conclude with a religious justification for establishing the nation-state:

“That the Jews are God’s chosen people” (Book of Exodus) and Judaism contains several religious public duties, such as: defensive war, and a legal system that abides with the teachings of the Torah and this is only possible through the existence of the Jewish state.iv

Isn’t this a theocratic state? Those who are calling for democracy and human rights — how can they justify being “God’s chosen people” from among all people? Isn’t this racism?

These are examples of what Palestinian children in Jerusalem are expected to learn and apply and be convinced by, so as to be accepted as a “good citizen” of Israel, a Jewish state that views the Jews as superior to any other race or religion.

i To Become Citizens of Israel, pp. 243-245.
ii From the Declaration of the State of Israel.
iiiThe Arab Minority in Israel, p. 30.
iv To Become Citizens of Israel, pp 204-209.