Continued from page 1

Political tension inside the schools is rising, others say.

Tenth-grader Sumara Awaiseh, a Fatah supporter in a Ramallah school, said he gets into fights with pro-Hamas classmates. “They’ll chant something against Fatah, and that’s how fights get started,” he said.

While Fatah supports a Palestinian state alongside Israel, Hamas refuses to recognize the Jewish state and renounce violence.

One of Hamas‘ first acts after taking control was to lift a ban on private teaching materials, including one that adopts a tough Islamic approach to the conflict with Israel.

That booklet was written by al-Buraq, a Hamas-allied education center shut down by Israel several months ago. The preface says it seeks to “emphasize the Arab and Islamic identity” of the Palestinians, highlight the “brutality of the occupier” and “to create the energy to get rid of all types of occupation.”

During the second Palestinian uprising, it says, U.S. cease-fire initiatives “ignored the political rights of the Palestinian people and did not recognize the Palestinian people’s right to resistance to regain its rights.” In contrast, the draft of a textbook for grades eight to 10 on modern Palestinian history, written when Fatah controlled the schools, is a largely matter-of-fact description of events. Fatah educators say Hamas held up its printing because it’s too neutral. Hamas denies it.

Mr. Shaer, while removing the ban, hasn’t explicitly recommended the al-Buraq booklet to the students — to the disappointment of the Islamic center, which had presumed it now had a sympathetic ear in the ministry. Some Hamas ideologues are growing impatient with the slow pace of change.

“We want to implement the Palestinian dimension, and the Islamic and Arabic dimension,” said Hamas legislator Sheik Hamed Bitawi. “Anything that comes in conflict with our Islamic ideology should be taken out.”

Last summer, Sheik Bitawi and other Hamas members of parliament’s Education Committee demanded that a chapter on U.S. history be removed from a 12th-grade textbook, arguing that the United States is an enemy of the Palestinians and that students instead should learn about Japan and other nations they deemed more supportive.

The proposal never got far — sidetracked in part because most Hamas legislators were rounded up by Israel after last summer’s capture of an Israeli soldier by Hamas-allied militants in Gaza. Sheik Bitawi was also arrested in last month’s Israeli sweep, along with more than 30 senior Hamas officials.

Palestinian textbooks, written in stages over the past seven years to replace Egyptian and Jordanian imports, are under intense Israeli and international scrutiny for suspected anti-Israel incitement. For example, an Israeli watchdog group complained recently that the Holocaust is not taught in a high school history book.

Outside approval is important because Palestinian public schools depend on foreign aid. Before international sanctions were imposed last year in an effort to force Hamas to recognize Israel’s existence, public schools received more than $350 million over a decade, most of it for building new classrooms.

Any attempt to radically change the textbooks likely would create an uproar and undermine the government’s efforts to portray itself as politically moderate and restore foreign aid.

Where Hamas has been most aggressive is in replacing senior Fatah-allied educators with Hamas loyalists.

Fatah supporters old enough to retire were sent home. Others kept their jobs, but were stripped of their authority. Fatah’s Jihad Zakarneh, who had been in charge of hiring teachers in the West Bank, had his signing powers revoked. In Gaza City, a senior Fatah loyalist, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions, said he now spends his day in the ministry reading newspapers.

Story Continues →