It was the perfect feel-good feature story about a region that doesn’t produce many of them. A Palestinian teacher that grew up in a refugee camp and who teaches her students about non-violence was awarded a coveted Global Education Prize. At a time when the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has grown even more bitter, Hanan Hroub’s triumph seemed to provide a much-needed counterpoint to the standard narrative of hate and intolerance. The $1 million prize won by Hroub, announced by Pope Francis, recognized her excellence as an educator. Her play-therapy approach and a “No to Violence” curriculum that has won wide acclaim.
But whatever else she may have accomplished in helping her students, Hroub also seems to prove that the Palestinian war against Israel can’t be excluded from any narrative about their lives, no matter how positive. Though Hroub may be a great teacher who has bettered the lives of the children in her care, peace isn’t being taught in her classroom. Nor does her life stand as a rebuke to those in the Palestinian media and government seek to influence youngsters to hate Jews and dedicate their lives to violence.
The first indication that the Hroub story wasn’t quite as straightforward as it seemed came when it was learned that her husband had not spent his life promoting non-violence. Omar Hroub served ten years in prison for his involvement in a 1980 terror attack that targeted Jews in Hebron. Six Jews were killed and 20 injured when a group returning from Friday evening Sabbath prayers was attacked. Hroub, a chemist, helped make explosives that were used in the attack, although some Palestinian accounts also speak of him as its mastermind. For this, he was described in one Arab newspaper covering his wife’s award as “a freedom fighter … who took part in one of the most daring guerilla operations in the occupied territories.”
Hroub is also part of the narrative of his wife’s motivation for teaching peace since she conceived it as a reaction to seeing her husband shot by Israelis and experiencing the terror of her children. But I haven’t seen her mentioning the terror felt by her husband’s victims and their families in any account of her receiving the prize.
Today, Omar Hroub is an official with the Palestinian Authority and, according to most of the coverage of his wife’s honor, supports PA President’s policies. If so, he is no supporter of peace since the PA has spent the last year supporting the “stabbing intifada” and fomenting exactly the kind of religious-based hatred against Jews that his wife’s curriculum is supposed to be combating.
But even if we leave the husband out of the discussion, a New York Times feature published today that includes an account of a visit to Hroub’s classroom gives us a taste of what Palestinian peace education means.
When most observers think of Middle East peace education, the assumption is that the students are taught the sorts of things that are a routine element of most Israeli schools: respect for the other side and their culture and language, the importance of non-violence and recognizing the rights of all ethnicities and faiths even in the midst of a struggle between two peoples for their own separate national identity and sovereignty in one land. It’s a difficult thing to teach in a country where violence and hatred against Jews is being promoted by the other side and there are those that resist the message. But despite the claim that Israel is becoming more intolerant, the rarity of incidents of anti-Arab violence, and the generally tolerant nature of Israeli society at a time when their nation is under assault from a wave of terror testifies to the success of its peace education curriculum.
But, in the Hroub classroom, peace education isn’t about how to get along with Israelis and Jews. It’s about teaching the children how to peacefully disagree with each other and their teacher. That’s a good thing for them to learn, especially at a time when so much of Palestinian popular culture and official media encourages violence. But it is not the same thing as promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
To the contrary, while Hroub says she doesn’t teach anything about politics, the large map of the region on a wall in the classroom does not acknowledge Israel’s existence. During one exercise mentioned in the Times story, Hroub also took the children for an imaginary drive through Jerusalem. But in her virtual Jerusalem, there are only Muslim and Christian holy sites. The Jewish ones and the two-thirds of the city’s population that is Jewish don’t exist.
Hate education in Palestinian textbooks and in official PA media, especially as it has stoked lies intended to justify terrorism against individual Jews, isn’t just an education problem. It’s a formidable obstacle to peace since generations of children raised since the Oslo Accords put the Palestinians in charge of their schools, who don’t recognize the legitimacy of Jewish rights to any part of the country and cheer terrorism.
Hroub may be teaching Palestinian children to be respectful of each other and that might make them slightly less inclined to engage in terrorism. But she appears quite comfortable being part of a system and curricula that feeds the conflict rather than seeking to promote mutual respect and recognition.
Hroub’s award may be a feel-good story, especially in a West Bank governed by a corrupt PA kleptocracy that prioritizes the war against Zionism over education. But once we realize what is meant by Palestinian peace education it becomes clear that rather than being part of a solution to the conflict, she is actually part of the problem.