Every now and then, an Israeli or American politician will reiterate some version of the accusation that the Palestinian curriculum teaches Palestinian kids to “hate Jews.” That accusation has been debunked again and again, with studies showing the opposite, namely that racism pervades Israeli textbooks. Today, a large section of Israeli society is racist, and proud of it, as evidenced by multiple reports and youtube videos, including chants of “Death to Arabs.” Israel’s overall national ethos, and more specifically its school curriculum, are to blame.
Nevertheless, as soon as the accusation that Palestinians “teach their kids to hate Jews” resurfaces, Israeli apologists eagerly seize upon it, and gleefully repeat it, along with various historic misrepresentations of the Palestinian people.
Textbooks, and school curricula in general, have long been a battlefront in Israel’s war on the Palestinian people. A recent manifestation of that war is the fact that McGrawHill, an otherwise reputable textbook publishing house, has actually destroyed textbooks that featured the popular “Palestinian loss of land” graphic, after a Zionist blogger rallied Israel supporters to complain to McGraw Hill about this graphic being inaccurate.
While it is worrisome that an established American educational publishing house would actually apologize for these graphics, and destroy titles in its own catalog, the incident is not new. Years ago, Walmart also deshelved globes that showed Palestine, after receiving complaints from Zionists. And Israel has stolen entire Palestinian libraries, in what is widely acknowledged as an attempt at cultural dispossession. The private collections of numerous Palestinian families and intellectuals are now considered “abandoned property,” even though their owners have asked to get them back, after they were seized by Israel in 1948.
Nevertheless, while the “developed world” engages in book burning to satisfy Israel apologists, the Palestinian people today has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Palestinian schoolchildren continue their education against all odds, in burnt out schools, in the streets, at checkpoints. These children walk past soldiers and settlers on their way to school on a daily basis, engaging in education as yet another form of resistance. Any violence that these children learn is not found in their textbooks, it is found on the streets they have to walk to get to their schools. It is learned when they are harassed, attacked, detained, tortured, sexually assaulted, while going to school. But it is not a violence that they are practicing, it is the violence they witness, and are subjected to.
In this context, where education is a daily victory over trauma, Palestinian schoolteacher Hanan Al Hroub was recently awarded the “Global Teacher award” for 2016, for teaching students traumatized by violence. The award created by The Varkey Foundation, which aims to “improve the standards of education for underprivileged children throughout the world,” comes as Palestinian teachers are confronting not just the occupation, but also the corruption of their own supposed leadership, the Palestinian Authority.
Hroub created her curriculum when her own husband and children were shot at on their way home from school. The incident, an all-too frequent occurrence in the West Bank, traumatized the children, whose overall behavior and academics suffered. She looked around, but found no readily-available lessons to address the trauma. Even though she was not yet a teacher herself at the time, she set out to create her own lessons, to help her children reject violence, while working to overcome their trauma. The lessons were fun, involving play, and lots of much-needed laughter. Soon, neighbors started sending their children to her. “Our job is humane, its goals are noble,” Hroub explained. “We must teach our children that our only weapon is knowledge and education.” At her award ceremony, Hroub asserted that teachers “can change the world.”
Hroub’s statements, and her work, are yet one more iteration of the Palestinian embrace of non-violence, and it is deeply satisfying to see it being acknowledged as such.
All Palestinian teachers need to be honored. They are carrying on one of the most necessary, most sustaining tasks in any society, despite the everyday violence of the Israeli occupation, and the relentless criticism from Zionists around the world, who persist in their claims that that “Palestinians teach their children to hate.” The teachers are also functioning despite extreme corruption from their employer, the Palestinian Authority. Approximately 20,000 Palestinian teachers in the West Bank went on strike in mid-February, to protest the fact that the PA ha still not raised their meager salaries, despite a 2013 agreement to do so. The Palestinian teachers’ salaries are so low that many of them moonlight at other jobs in order to support themselves and their families.
During the four-week strike, only recently suspended when Abbas promised the teachers a pay raise in the 2017-18 academic year, the teachers had the full support of Palestinian parents, even though almost a quarter million children were impacted. Their stance was one against the neglect of an infrastructure which could and should be improved, even under occupation. The PA set up checkpoints to prevent the striking teachers from joining demonstrations, while the streets filled up with supportive parents, also frustrated with the PA’s cronyism, its corruption, its utter lack of support for the people it is supposed to represent. The teachers’ strike became a venue for all citizens to vent their own frustration with the PA’s lack of leadership. Israeli journalist Amira Hass reports that, during their strike, Palestinian teachers became “the people’s heroes.”
Under these circumstances, Hroub’s award becomes even more meaningful. It represents the sumoud of a people neglected by its leadership, abused by the world’s leaders. Above all, the award is an acknowledgement that, as Rafeef Ziadah put it so powerfully, even when engulfed in unfathomable violence, “We Teach Life, Sir!”