February saw three terror attacks by Palestinian youths, two of whom were 13 years old and one of whom was 14. All were from eastern Jerusalem. The attacks have refocused attention on anti-Israel incitement in Arab schools, including in the capital.
“Arab children in east Jerusalem are marinated in incitement,” said Maor Tzemach, chairman of Lech Yerushalayim, an NGO that focuses on Jerusalem-related issues.
Of roughly 110,000 Arab students in eastern Jerusalem, 85 percent use the Palestinian Authority curriculum, according to Tzemach.
“The Palestinian Authority, which is frankly the enemy of Israel, pushes the Palestinian narrative,” he said. “Israel tries to fight this through a type of censorship, but it’s not succeeding within the schools.”
A new report by Tzemach’s group calls the P.A. study materials the “foundational layer” of incitement. While noting the difficulty in uncovering the incitement taking place behind school doors, the report nevertheless presents specific examples.
One involves a graduation ceremony in June 2021 at a high school in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa, at which students and parents chanted enthusiastically: “With spirit, with blood, we will redeem Al-Aqsa”—a religious rallying cry often associated with terrorism. Students also participated in a dance featuring PLO flags. Noteworthy is the fact that this particular high school was within the Israeli school system.
Terrorist supporters like Muhammad Alian are invited to visit the schools as honored guests. Alian, the father of a terrorist who carried out a 2015 attack that killed three and wounded over a dozen others, himself reportedly has close ties to Hamas. Another honored guest was Sheikh Ekrima Sa’id Sabri, former grand mufti of Jerusalem, whom the report describes as “the main inciter in Jerusalem in recent decades.”
Arab children are also exposed to incitement through “informal” education, Tzemach said. He listed memorials, shows, days of commemoration, (Palestinian Heritage Day, Palestinian Prisoners Day), sports clubs, community centers, scout groups and “all kinds of associations that work in the so-called social space and which inculcate a nationalistic, radicalized worldview against the State of Israel.”
“All of it leads a boy, age 13, to take a pistol and to carry out a shooting, something which is shocking in our eyes,” he added.
IDF Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch, director of legal strategies for Palestinian Media Watch, agreed, saying, “In theory, they’re educating, but in practice what they’re teaching is horrible incitement, and the result is 13-year-old children carrying out terror attacks.”
Children are not born with hate, said Hirsch, “but they are taught to hate. They are brainwashed to see Jews as evil, as the sons of apes and pigs; thieves who stole their land. When you push those really disastrous messages, then the path to terror is virtually guaranteed.”
Israel’s Education Ministry shares much of the blame for failing to provide proper oversight and allowing schools within Israel to use the P.A. curriculum, he said. “In many cases, the schools are actually funded to a great extent by the Israeli taxpayer.”
Hirsch noted that Israel also saw young terrorists in 2015-2016, but has since done little to deal with the underlying factors that led to it. “While we talk about incitement a lot, we don’t actually do a lot to address it,” he said.
If the school is Israeli, only the Israeli syllabus should be allowed, he said. “Somebody needs to take control and stop any type of infiltration of the Palestinian school syllabus into Israeli schools.”
Israel’s previous education minister, Yifat Shasha-Biton, in June 2022 ordered the revocation of the permanent operating licenses of six schools in eastern Jerusalem due to incitement in textbooks. Texts claimed, among other things, that Israel was denying water to Palestinians and preventing ambulances from reaching injured people.
Following a hearing to which the principals of the schools were summoned, it was decided to give them conditional yearly licenses. If they made the required changes to their textbooks, they’d again be granted permanent licenses.
However, the effort only highlighted the lack of determination on Israel’s part. Tzemach’s group found that when the ministry recently sent a team of inspectors to the offending schools, they were forcibly evicted by the school’s security guards.
The ministry also faces hostility from the Arab population. In protest against Shasha-Biton’s plan to reform the textbooks, the parents of 70,000 Arab students in eastern Jerusalem kept their children home for a day.
The ministry insisted that the strike at the time was organized by political figures, not parents. And clearly not all Arab parents agree with what their children are being taught. An Arab father this month pulled his son out of an eastern Jerusalem Arab school.
“They are teaching my son that it is necessary to murder Jews. They are told that killing Jews is legitimate,” he wrote the Education Ministry in a letter reprinted by news site Mynet Jerusalem. The father transferred his son to a bilingual school in Beit Safafa, where both Arabs and Jews study.
It’s a small example of how little had been done since the violence of 2015-2016, dubbed “Intifada of the Individuals,” said Tzemach, who told JNS that the articles from that period were practically identical to those being written today. “Same reactions. Same ideas. Same problems. Nothing has changed. All that’s different is the date.”
Tzemach specifically calls out Israeli bureaucracy.
“The Israeli system is very difficult to change. Maybe they don’t want to change. I don’t know. Something’s stuck. But what’s clear is that change is needed. People’s lives are at stake,” he said.
Tzemach has worked out a solution. In the short term, he said, the answer is to stop the incitement and tighten supervision. In the longer term, he continued, all Jerusalem schools must be brought into the Israeli system. A separate department should be set up within the Education Ministry, he said, which will set targets, like 5% of eastern Jerusalem schools absorbed into the system every five years.
“The answer is a quality education within Israel which leads to a diploma and a track into Israeli universities. There are Palestinians who want to learn in the Israeli system but a lot of students now go to Jordan and the Palestinian Authority for higher degrees where they’re indoctrinated still further,” he said. “We need to enable those who are interested to study here. For those who are not interested, it doesn’t mean they get to incite terror. Sovereignty has many sides. One of those sides is taking responsibility for what children are taught.”
Another aspect of his plan: Any school a terrorist comes out of will be closed the same day and reopened in two weeks with an Israeli directorship.
“If they did that, already 50% of the schools would be Israeli,” he said.
Hirsch said whatever plan the government settles on, it needs to start taking the situation more seriously. “The government has been avoiding the Jerusalem school issue because issues related to the capital are combustible, no matter how irrational the other side’s case may be. Take Sheikh Jarrah as one example. But there’s a cost. At the moment, they seem to be more willing to spend people’s lives than spend political capital.”