A Palestinian Authority Education Ministry official accused Hamas of deepening the six-year-long political divide by introducing new militaristic textbooks to middle schools under its control in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas’s Education Ministry, which functions independently from the PA ministry based in Ramallah, altered a subject called “patriotic education” taught in grades 8-10 at the start of the 2013 school year, introducing new school books highlighting the Palestinian armed struggle with Israel.
According to Professor Jamal Abu-Hashem, head of the committee that wrote the new school books, the purpose of “patriotic education” is to “develop the patriotic tendencies in the hearts of the students and make them prouder to belong to their nation.”
The PA’s problem with Hamas’s textbooks is not the use of terms such as “jihad” or “resistance,” Jihad Zakarneh, director general of the Education Ministry, told Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera on Tuesday. School curricula, he noted, were meant to “defend the people’s right.” Rather, he stressed, the PA took issue with Hamas acting unilaterally in altering the curriculum taught in Gaza’s governmental school.
“No change should be made in one part of the nation unless it’s through a professional committee that can judge the curriculum needs professionally and objectively,” Zakarneh said.
Images of armed masked Hamas operatives and locally manufactured rockets adorn many of the books’ pages
The new schoolbooks authored by Abu-Hashem and his team have chapters about all Palestinian factions including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, highlighting “Palestinian resistance” through recent events in Gaza’s history such as Operation Pillar of Defense of November 2012. A chapter in an eighth-grade book titled “The Palestinian liberation project” includes among its objectives “the strengthening of faith and love of resistance as a means to regain rights” and “uniting efforts to liberate all of Palestine.” Images of armed masked Hamas operatives and locally manufactured rockets adorn many of the books’ pages.
“Enriching the curriculum with material relating to the Palestinian principles increases the pupils’ awareness to the regional danger posed by the Zionist project. It credits the role of the Palestinian people and its leaders in resistance and liberation,” Abu-Hashem told Hamas’s Education Ministry website in September.
The curriculum change in Gaza follows the drafting of a new education law in April, spelling out Hamas’s educational philosophy.
Article 5 of the law stipulates that the role of Gaza’s education system is to “prepare students to develop a patriotic personality and adhere to the Palestinian, Arab and Islamic culture. [The education system] will foster in the student faith in God and pride in his religion and his homeland Palestine, within its historic borders.”
Article 43 of the law prohibits private schools and internationally run ones (such as those under UNRWA, the UN agency which educates 225,000 of Gaza’s students) from “receiving donations or aid aimed at normalization with the Zionist occupation or propagating any Zionist activity.”
Zakarneh of the PA told Al-Jazeera that these decisions by Hamas did little but deepen the political divide between Hamas and Fatah, six years after Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in the Summer of 2007.
But Mutasim Al-Binawi, a spokesman for the Hamas government in Gaza, said the curriculum change had nothing to do with the political divide between Gaza and the West Bank, and everything to do with asserting the Palestinians’ right to their land. The only reason textbooks in the PA are not amended, he added, is that they are subjected to Israeli censorship.
“We know there are enormous pressures placed on our brothers in the West Bank by the Israeli occupation regarding changes in curricula,” Al-Binawi told Al-Jazeera, “unlike Gaza which enjoys more freedom in this regard.”