Ziad Asali
U.S. Senate
Special Senate Hearing: Palestinian Education--Teaching Peace or War?
October 30, 2003 - 1:00am

Mr. Chairman,
Honorable Members of the Committee,

It is an honor and a privilege to appear before you to testify about yet one more vexing problem of the Palestinian Israeli conflict, that of the Palestinian education.

I received an invitation to this hearing the night before last while at an Iftar dinner at the table of the President of the United States. I learned that other Arab American and Palestinian leaders had turned down this opportunity, and I myself was strongly advised by friends and people more experienced with the affairs of the Hill than I against accepting it. It is, however, my judgment that each and every occasion should be explored to bring about peace and amity to the long-suffering Palestinian and Israeli people. Therefore I appear here before you as a citizen, a man concerned about the tragic and dehumanizing cycle of violence in the Middle East, a physician sworn to maintain the health and well being of all people and an individual who was born and raised in Jerusalem and was privileged to become an American citizen and enjoy the attendant benefits such as testifying before this august body.

Fear, anger, despair, violence and an almost exclusive sense of victimization on both sides, the Palestinians and Israelis, have their most damaging consequences in narrowing the space needed for policy options and rational debate. Public discourse is stunted, simplistic and crude. It is easier in this climate to follow the safe course of demonizing and dehumanizing “the other”. To assume the worst and to impugn the motives of the other is much safer than to explore possibilities of compromise and working out solutions. This is the kind of atmosphere that makes it possible to advance racist and fascist arguments sometimes openly stated but more often felt and implied, “They are not human; they understand nothing but force and violence; we should never show them any mercy because they will think it is a sign of weakness; a face for an eye”. In short a prescription for more disasters and mayhem.

The problem with history is that it has been around too long. It has provided arguments, based in fact, fiction or perceived wisdom, for each party to the conflict and even for those who seem to have no axe to grind. The difference between the Palestinian and Israeli narratives continues to feed polarizing and centrifugal forces that fail to see the existential need for compromise. Each and every effort directed against the vision of peace, the two- state solution so clearly stated
by President Bush, is yet one more tool to extend the violent and destructive realities of the status quo. It is in this context that we should view all facets of this conflict, education included.

Because the time allotted to me is so brief, and because others I know who have spent years studying this subject and writing about it are not present on this panel, I will sketch briefly the contours of the arguments as I see them. I am for the record enclosing what I think are useful and thoughtful studies about the issue of Palestinian textbooks and hope that people entrusted with making decisions about it; or are serious students of it, will take time to read them.

Jordanian Textbooks in the West Bank and Egyptian Textbooks in Gaza continued to be taught to students from 1948 through 1967 and for several decades after that under Israeli occupation till the problem of their content was faced after Oslo by the Palestinian authority in 1994. At that time the Curriculum Development Center (CDC) was established and it began studying and overhauling the educational system and started over to phase in a new set of books beginning with the academic year 2000-2001. Much, if not all of the criticism leveled at the “Palestinian Textbooks” for incitement, anti-Semitism or marginalizing Jewish history has in fact been directed at the Egyptian and Jordanian textbooks over which the Palestinians had no control. In fact it was the Palestinians who toiled for years after Oslo to give birth to reasoned and thoughtful solutions to the unique issues that face a people under occupation and how they should educate their children. No serious scholarly substantiated criticism has so far been directed against the new textbooks, although strident, emotionally-charged and factually- challenged statements continue to be bandied about. Akiva Eldar, the renowned Ha’aretz columnist wrote in January 2, 2001 “The Palestinians are punished twice. First, they are criticized for books produced by the education ministries of others. Secondly, their children study from books that ignore their own nation’s narratives.” I have included his article for the record.

The European Union, in a statement issued in Brussels on May 15, 2002 concluded that “Quotations attributed by earlier Center for Monitoring the Impact on Peace, CMIP, are not found in the new Palestinian Authority schoolbooks”. “New Textbooks, although not perfect, are free of inciteful content and improve the previous textbooks, constituting a valuable contribution to the education of young Palestinians.” It concluded, “Therefore, allegations against the new textbooks funded by EU members have proven unfounded.”

I have included that statement in the record.

The eminent scholar Nathan Brown, Professor of political science and international affairs at the George Washington University issued a 26-page report in November 2001 prepared for the Adam Institute on Democracy, History, and the Contest over the Palestinian Curriculum that made a most significant contribution to this subject.

He concluded by stating, “Harsh external critics of the PNA curriculum and textbooks have had to rely on misleading and tendentious reports to support their claim of incitement.” A reading of this full report that I included for the record is most enlightening.

No full understanding of this issue can be claimed without reading the Israel / Palestine Center for Research and Information IPCRI Report I submitted to the Public Affairs Office, US Consulate General in Jerusalem on March 2003. This scholarly, textured report grounded in a context, cannot be reduced to a concluding statement but it sheds light on complicated issues that ought not be subjected to strident and simplistic generalizations. A careful reading of this document that I submit for the record is most informative.

The daily life of these children, with occupation, closures, violence, demolitions, checkpoints, bravado, fear, suicide bombing, air raids, humiliation, economic hardship, vengeance, religious extremism as well as breakdown of traditional values are realities that cannot be dissociated from the classroom. It is those realities that we need to resolve by bringing about peace and security for all. Textbooks that Israeli students read can also be reviewed to bridge the gap between
their realities and their classrooms as we improve on those realities too.

In conclusion I would like to say that history has been unkind to the Jews, the Israelis and the Palestinians. Their narratives of pogroms, ghettos, Holocaust, survival and achievement on the one hand, and dispossession, occupation, demolition; and humiliation as well as resistance and persistence on the other are but just sad tales of two people caught in a complex web of history. Let us, at least those of us with hope for humanity, try with our thoughts focused on the future of our children rather than the past of our forefathers, work for peace and dignity for these two courageous people. Let us not allow the demagogues of all sides, the violent elements, and the ones with the least sense of fundamental human values, dictate the agenda and undermine peace.

Thank you for your attention and for the opportunity to speak.

Ziad Asali MD
President, American Task Force on Palestine
Washington, DC
October 30 2003


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