European Funding Fuels Hate, Misogyny, and Stereotypes in Palestinian Society.

A new report by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE) found the perpetuation of gender-based biases in Palestinian Authority textbooks, including stigmas regarding women’s mental capabilities, leadership skills, and sexual behavior.

The report examined 13 textbooks for the 2023-24 school year, assessing efforts toward gender equality as per the Palestinian Ministry of Education’s announced strategic plan for 2017-2022. According to the report, despite intentions to eliminate discrimination, mixed results are identified in addressing gender issues, including persistent gender biases, especially in Islamic Education materials, which often portray women as inferior and emphasize traditional roles, albeit with some acknowledgment of their role in nationalist efforts.

The report finds that the curriculum presents an uneven picture of gender equality, with an inconsistent approach evident in the contrasting depictions of women, from upholding traditional roles to glorifying their participation in nationalist ‘resistance,’ including the problematic celebration of female terrorists as icons.

This depiction of women and gender roles, the report stresses, starkly diverges from UNESCO standards and international gender equality treaties ratified by the PA itself, exposing a significant gap between PA educational policies and global benchmarks and raising questions about the impact of international support and funding aimed at fostering gender equality in Palestinian education.

Textbook 370 (credit: REUTERS)

A mixed message: inferior in life but equal in death

The report brings twelve examples of the propagation of gender stigmas and biases, including a suggestion for students to run a campaign called “No to gender equality, yes to gender justice.” In one lesson, the teacher is encouraged to answer a “wrong misconception,” holding that “some women are smarter than men” by saying that it is true but “not overwhelmingly.” In another instance, it is explained that divorce lies in the hands of men, not women, since “he thinks from his mind and she (thinks) with emotion, so the family will be destroyed if the woman takes the right to divorce.”

Another example explains a Hadith in which women are said to be “lacking in mind and religion” as an instant of praise, not humiliation; while in another instance, it is said that the head of the state in Islam must be a man since it is a mission for those who have strong “bodies, minds and hearts.”

Two other examples include the statement that Muslim women who dress properly are kept from harm, and “no weak or sick person would dare to hurt them,” implying that a woman’s choice of clothing is to blame for assaults – not the assailant; and a clarification that the women are propagators of adultery, and their adultery is more horrible and more obscene than that of men.

On the other hand, the report exposes the glorification of so-called “martyrdom” by women in the fight against Israel, as well as an encouragement to kill, be killed, and send children to die. In these nationalistic instances alone, the report finds, Palestinian women are portrayed as being equal in virtue to Palestinian men. This includes instances of glorification of women terrorists such as Dalal Mughrabi, a Fatah terrorist who murdered 35 Israelis and injured 71 on a civilian bus during the Coastal Road Massacre of March 1978.

‘Infantilization of Palestinians’

Palestinians during clashes in the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. June 18, 2021 (credit: REUTERS)

IMPACT-SE is a veteran non-profit think tank that has examined school curricula in the Middle East and North Africa for over 25 years, from Turkey down to the Gulf, including Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Institute scrutinizes textbooks in largely state-sanctioned education systems through internationally recognized standards of peace and tolerance and produces policy recommendations, engaging with local Ministries of Education to improve curricula in the region.

According to Marcus Sheff, CEO of IMPACT-SE, multiple countries in the Middle East have made great strides in improving school curricula in the MENA region in the last few years. However, when it comes to the Palestinian Authority, whose curriculum is also taught by UNRWA and Hamas, Sheff points to two main issues, namely the encouragement of violence and antisemitism and the discriminatory views towards women.

“This fosters an environment where sexual violence against Jewish women is normalized, something that we saw in the most unimaginable way on October 7th and something which we all fear might be continuing now for those women hostages being held in Gaza,” adds Sheff.

Sheff reminds us that in Gaza, “generations have been taught to cut the necks of Israelis, that Jews should be annihilated, and that dying is better than living. They are showing descriptions of violence against Israelis, they learn that jihad is the highest peak of Islam.

“This encouragement to revenge against Jewish women is exemplified by an Islamic Education lesson which teaches that Jews have sexually harassed Muslim women, and it includes a Hadith about a Jewish goldsmith in early Islam who maliciously tricked a Muslim woman into exposing herself before an amused Jewish crowd, something which absolutely should not be taught to young people this day and age,” he adds gravely.

Sheff lists the different points learned from these lessons: “Men are wiser than women, full gender equality is an injustice and equality of the sexes is called a ‘biological lie.’ Women are to blame for men’s sexual harassment of them because, they learn, temptation mostly comes from women.

“This fusion of antisemitism, encouragement of violence, gender-based blood libels, and discriminatory views towards women taught to thousands of Palestinian children offers a window into how it was possible for terrorists to systematically weaponize extreme sexual violence against Jewish women in the October 7th attack,” he adds.

Finally, Sheff calls on Norway, Finland, Germany, Ireland, and other nations that support the Palestinian education system and allow gender disparities to be in school curricula to review their policies. “This is infantilization of Palestinians,” concludes Sheff.