How much should Palestinian children know about Nazi war crimes? According to Hamas, only enough to know the Holocaust is a lie.
A row erupted last week when Palestinian refugee camp committees complained to John Ging, the Gaza director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), that a proposed change to the Gaza school curriculum "confirms the Holocaust and raises sympathy for Jews." The camp committees said they "categorically refuse to let our children be taught this lie created by the Jews and intensified by their media." They offered two rationales: the Holocaust is not a fact, and the U.N. is trying to "mess with our children's emotions."
Mustafa al-Sawwaf, editor of the Hamas-run newspaper Filastin, said the U.N. "should also be prevented from implementing this destructive policy that harms our history and civilization as well as our people's culture." Yes, the official Palestinian history would be harmed by recognizing historical events that their leaders have torn from the record. Palestinian civilization might be threatened too, if you call life in Gaza civilization.
The controversy may have arisen because the human rights section of the curriculum is based on the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The declaration was issued in 1948 in large measure as a response to Nazi war crimes. It is difficult to discuss the document without reference to the Holocaust, and its history is incomprehensible without such discussion -- and the U.N. may have made inquiries about how much of this forbidden history it can go into. For its part, UNRWA has publicly condemned Holocaust denial and does not share the view of Gaza education committee head Abdul Rahman el-Jamal, who said the Holocaust is a "big lie."
But no need to fret; the U.N. issued a swift disclaimer. Karen AbuZayd, commissioner-general of UNRWA, said on Sept. 1 that the curriculum at the Gaza schools contains no references to the Holocaust. "I can refute allegations that U.N. school curriculum includes anything about the Holocaust," she said. "Anyone can have a look at the schoolbooks." The lesson plans are drafted in the regional U.N. office in the Gaza Strip and reviewed by Palestinian editors. There is no chance the odd Auschwitz reference or quote from Anne Frank's diary can slip in.
It's not that the Palestinians aren't interested in a good atrocity story. A high-level panel is forming to investigate charges leveled in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet that Israeli troops systematically harvested organs from dead Palestinian teens. Aftonbladet has since admitted there is no evidence to support the ghoulish allegations, but the Palestinians have pledged to get to the bottom of them.
We wonder which emotions the Palestinians are afraid will be "messed with" if their children learn about the Holocaust. Children in Gaza are raised on a diet of unreasoning, bitter hatred against Jews, the better to inspire them to grow up to be radicals, terrorists and suicide bombers. Learning about the Holocaust might introduce more beneficial emotions, like empathy, understanding and compassion. Start down that road, and who knows where it could lead. Peace, perhaps.