For years, Israelis and Palestinians have accused each other of incitement of hatred within the education system. Israeli authorities have repeatedly stated that Palestinian children are taught early on that Israel has no right to exist, that Jewish presence in Palestine before 1948 is deliberately omitted in Palestinian textbooks and that peace education is not mainstreamed across the curriculum. Palestinian authorities claim that their curriculum attempts to educate children and nothing else. Palestinian history cannot be ignored, but that does not mean that school textbooks should ignore content that is known to incite hatred.
Children’s education constitutes a very powerful tool in shaping the mind of a whole population where it can be used to instil values, attitudes and provide an identity to a nation – the content of the lessons is therefore paramount. It can be either extremely dangerous or beneficial for the development and the prosperity of a society, depending on the substance of the education policy and regulated curriculum in place in the country.
In April 2019, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, confirmed that ‘an academic study on Palestinian school text books is planned’. She added that the study should start in spring 2019 and should be carried out by an ‘independent and internationally recognised research institute…with a view of identifying possible incitement to hatred and violence and any possible lack of compliance with UNESCO standards of peace and tolerance in education’.
The EU provides 360 million euros per year to Palestine, with most of this budget dedicated to education. In addition, almost 160 million euros are donated by the EU to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA). Here again, most of this budget goes to Palestinian schools. Considering the EU’s involvement in the Palestinian curriculum, the EU has the legal and moral duty to ensure that the funding is not being used to sponsor incitement to violence and mistrust between two communities that live on the same territory. The study announced by Ms Mogherini is therefore encouraging and the results will be carefully analysed.
However, Palestine and Israel are not the only countries where teaching curricula has been put into question. The power of education is, for instance, very well understood and used by the Chinese Community Party (CCP) who have launched a campaign against religious belief throughout China over the last years. Chinese students are forced to sign document and swear an oath that they will resist religious belief, that they will boycott religious holidays and celebrations. Even worse, the very contents of literary classics, language and history textbooks are altered so that any reference to religion or to the ‘Western world’ is eradicated. Yet, European countries and European educational institutions have built strong relationships with China. Europe cannot stay silent on the eradication of ethnic and religious minorities currently taking place. Furthermore, trade and especially the belt and Road Initiative with investment and infrastructure from certain EU member States means there must be a facilitation and an exchange of culture, knowledge and people with prejudice or bias.
Pakistan receives continuous trade preferences and projects worth millions of euros. In January, the EU launched its latest support to the country through Education, Rural Development and Democratic Institutions in Pakistan with 115 million euros grants funding, with 50 million going exclusively for education.
Yet the Government of Pakistan has also been accused of altering the content of textbooks and manipulating the curricula to instil a certain distrust towards non-Muslims. Pakistan is a Muslim majority country, where Muslims and the several religious minority communities have co-existed peacefully for decades. Despite this diversity, Pakistani children are taught from a very young age that Islam is the only acceptable religion. Non-Muslims are portrayed in textbooks as outsiders and unclean, and must be considered as Pakistan’s enemies. This kind of education inevitably creates mutual intolerance between religious and ethnic minorities. Intolerance ultimately turns into hatred, which, in far too many cases, leads to acts of violence, hate crimes or acts of terrorism. Indeed recently, increasing cases of discrimination against religious minorities in Pakistan have been pointed out by several international organisations.
Palestine, China and Pakistan have a long-standing relationship with the EU mainly centred on diplomatic, economic and trade levels. However, equally, albeit less obviously, the EU is involved in these countries when it comes to education, peace and security. The disclosures of recent evidence from Palestine, China and Pakistan demonstrate that the EU is complicit in supporting educational systems of countries that use their education curriculum to provide biased teaching, promote intolerance and incite to hatred at a certain level, especially through the minds of young and vulnerable children.
Europe sets itself on a pedestal as a global leaders in the promotion of tolerance, respect for human rights, and respect of diversity. As such, the EU must set the same threshold for the countries it is collaborating with, regardless of geopolitical influences. If the EU is serious about its decision to commission an academic study on Palestinian textbooks, why is a similar measure not being considered for other countries that Europe also gives subsidies to such as China and Pakistan?