Analysis from Israel

In confronting the current onslaught of lone-wolf attacks, the tactics Israel has used successfully against terrorist organizations have so far proven ineffective. That begs the question of what it should be doing instead. I have no solutions for the short run, but there’s one obvious step Israel must take if it wishes to prevent attacks like these over the long run. That step emerges from two of the most salient features of the current violence: Permanent residents of Israel have committed a huge proportion of the attacks, but citizens of Israel have committed very few.

The permanent residents in question are mainly east Jerusalem Arabs, and they have committed more than eight times as many attacks as Arab citizens have, even though Arab citizens outnumber permanent residents by more than 4:1. This enormous gap certainly can’t be explained by the popular fallacy that terror is motivated mainly by economic concerns; as permanent residents, east Jerusalem Arabs enjoy the same access to jobs, the same freedom of movement throughout Israel and the same health and welfare benefits that citizens do. Granted, Arab citizens are generally better off, but the difference isn’t dramatic enough to explain the dramatic gap in terrorist activity.

There is, however, one difference quite dramatic enough to explain this gap: Whereas Arab citizens study the Israeli curriculum in school, most of East Jerusalem’s permanent residents study the Palestinian Authority curriculum. And that curriculum, as sweeping reports by both Palestinian Media Watch and IMPACT-SE have detailed, is filled with vile anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement.

Inter alia, as PMW’s report notes, this curriculum rejects the legitimacy of Israel’s existence (textbooks refer to “the so-called State of Israel”), justifies violence against it, defines such violence as a religious obligation and informs students that Jews and Zionists are irredeemably evil (one book, for instance, refers to “the robbing Jews”; another tells students that Israel “killed your children, split open your women’s bellies, held your revered elderly men by the beard, and led them to the death pits”). These messages are then reinforced by the “educational” programs broadcast on the PA’s official media, where Jews are described as “monkeys and pigs,” “enemies of Allah” and the “most evil of creations,” among other charming epithets.

East Jerusalem schools have been using the PA curriculum, with Israel’s consent, ever since the PA’s establishment in 1994. In other words, Israel decided two decades ago to let the PA indoctrinate a generation of East Jerusalem schoolchildren to abominate Israel – and now it’s shocked that the graduates of this indoctrination are going out and trying to murder Israelis.

The PA curriculum obviously isn’t the only problem; the PA also contributes to the climate of incitement that drives these attacks in many other ways, including statements by its senior officials, broadcasts by its official media organs and Facebook posts by its political parties. Nor can this incitement be excused as a response to despair over the frozen peace process: This is how the PA chose to “educate” its people even in the heyday of the Oslo process when most of the world believed peace was at hand.

But completely ending the PA’s massive incitement campaign would essentially require turning the clock back to the days before Oslo – eliminating the PA, deporting its officials, shutting down its media organs, banning its political parties and removing its curriculum from the schools. And though Israel may be driven to such drastic measures someday, it’s hard to see that happening right now.

In contrast, East Jerusalem is officially under full Israeli control even according to the Oslo Accords, so there’s no impediment to altering its school curriculum. Moreover, this is in many ways an opportune time to do so. Over the past few years, there has been a sharp rise in the number of East Jerusalem Arabs seeking to take the Israeli matriculation exam rather than the Palestinian one and a surge of interest among Jerusalem Arabs in bettering their Hebrew. Thus, the move is liable to meet less opposition than it would have a few years ago when East Jerusalem Arabs showed little interest in integration.

But opportune or not, Israel must replace the east Jerusalem curriculum if it wants to avoid future rounds of violence like the current one. It’s too late to do anything about the current generation of East Jerusalem Arabs; they’ve already been thoroughly indoctrinated to the view that Israel is evil incarnate. But it’s not too late to prevent the PA from brainwashing another generation of children.

Originally published in Commentary on November 24, 2015

One Response to To End Violence, Scrap PA Curriculum

  • Rafi says:

    This is an absolute no-brainier.
    Given that, it must be asked: why was this obvious step – forbidding incitefull “education” in Israel׳s capital- not taken long, long ago?
    It is one of Binyamina Netanyahu’s blind spots.
    The Har HaBayit slanders have been alowed to dominate the discourse while areas where Isrsel can meet no legitimate opposition from the international community, and which would assert Jewish sovereignty in Jerusalem, have been ignored, to our great cost.
    Another such “blind spot” example is Netanyahu’s (and everyone else’s) acquiescence to Arab aggression on the ancient Jewush cemetery on Har HaZetim, the Mount of Olives.
    Jews cannot visit graves without armed guards and without fear of the frequent attacks by Arabs in an ancient Jewish cemetery in the ancient Jewish capital.
    The international community could not voice any rational opposition to Israel placing a permanent IDF unit on Har HaBayit for as long as necessary.
    And if they do, so what?
    The government is abducating in both of the above responsibilities.

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How a Changing American Liberalism Is Pulling American Jews away From Israel

In his essay “Why Many American Jews are Becoming Indifferent or Even Hostile to Israel,” Daniel Gordis lists, as key sources of tension, four major differences between the American and the Israeli political projects. His analysis strikes me as largely accurate, yet I think he misses something important by treating the differences as longstanding and perhaps even inherent. In fact, most are of recent vintage, and there is nothing inevitable or intractable about them. They are the product, first, of dramatic changes in the tenets of political liberalism, and second, of a collective decision by many American Jews to follow the new liberalism wherever it leads—even when it contradicts longstanding axioms of both American politics and traditional Judaism.

Take, for instance, the issue of universalism versus particularism. It’s true, as Gordis notes, that unlike Israel, America was not founded to serve a particular ethnic group. Nevertheless, throughout most of its history, America has viewed itself and functioned as a nation-state. Thus, despite promoting supranational projects like the European Union, which entail forfeitures of sovereignty, America has shunned any such project for itself, preferring jealously to preserve its own sovereignty. This preference traces straight back to the founders’ distrust of “entangling alliances.” Even today, there is bipartisan agreement that America’s first responsibility is to itself, whether or not the “international community” agrees; that’s why even a thoroughly liberal president like Barack Obama didn’t hesitate to launch strikes against anti-American terrorists worldwide without waiting for UN approval—something few European countries would deem thinkable.

Of course, the agreement isn’t wall-to-wall. In recent decades a vocal subset of American liberals, mostly housed in the left wing of the Democratic party, has come to believe that—in the words of Walter Hallstein, first president of the European Commission—”the system of sovereign nation-states has failed.” As perhaps inevitable corollaries of this belief, they argue that national decisions require “global legitimacy,” and that one’s fellow citizens have no more claim on one’s allegiance than do citizens of other countries.

Princeton University, my alma mater, exemplifies this evolution. When I graduated in 1987, the university’s motto was “Princeton in the nation’s service,” which nobody considered problematic. A decade later, the idea that a university should dedicate itself to serving its own country in particular had become unacceptable in advanced liberal circles. And so, in 1996, the motto was changed to “Princeton in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.” Two decades later, even this was deemed too particularistic; last year, the university’s trustees recommended a new version: “Princeton in the nation’s service and the service of humanity.”

The change is hardly trivial. Americans who view their country as a nation-state, even if not the state of a particular ethnic group, have no trouble understanding why, when Israeli and Palestinian interests clash, Israel puts its own interests first: why it is reluctant to cede more territory to Palestinians when every previous such cession has massively increased terror, or ready to fight wars to stop rocket fire on its civilian population. Only for liberals who believe that countries have no right to prioritize their own citizens over other human beings are such decisions unacceptable.

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