In a symposium held in Nicosia, Cyprus in April 2000, Palestinians and Israelis discussed "How to Strengthen Peace through Education." Representatives from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia were also present. Heading the Israeli delegation was then Minister of Education, Yossi Sarid, and the Palestinian delegation was lead by Anis Al-Qaq, PA Undersecretary of Planning and International Cooperation.
Al-Qaq stated at the symposium that he is "interested in teaching the history of the Holocaust in Arab and Palestinian schools... I believe that Palestine and the entire Arab world need to learn about the Holocaust, and therefore this subject should be included in the school curriculum." Al-Qaq added that "We cannot be proud of anything, until we know about the subject [of the Holocaust]." He admitted, however that "it will be difficult to remove the anti-Israel expressions from the Arab curricula."
The Palestinian press did not report on the symposium, with the exception of one newspaper that omitted Al-Qaq's speech. The Arab media on the other hand, reported that Al-Qaq told the Israeli Minister of Education that the PA established a committee of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, to examine the possibility of including the Holocaust in the Palestinian curriculum in the next school year. Al-Qaq's remarks provoked anger among Palestinian intellectuals. Following is a survey of some of the responses by leading Palestinian figures.
Dr. Musa Al-Zu'but, Chairman of the Education Committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) said, "There will be no such attempt to include the history of the Holocaust in the Palestinian curriculum. The Legislative Council enacted a law about the general framework [of the school curriculum]. The Council in general, and the Education Committee in particular, follow what is being taught in the curriculum, and evaluate whether anything contradicts or harms Palestinian history."
Al-Zu'but continued, "The Holocaust has been exaggerated in order to present the Jews as victims of a great crime, to justify [the claim] that Palestine is necessary as a homeland for them, and to give them the right to demand compensation. When the history of the Holocaust is taught [in the Palestinian schools], it must be explained to the students that the Holocaust was inflated and that we, the Palestinians, had to live with the results: Our country, Palestine, was lost and was occupied by Israel. It is better to teach the students about what is happening to our people."
Al-Zu'but expressed his hope that in his statements, Al-Qaq intended that it must be taught that the Holocaust was blown out of proportion. He concluded by saying, "We [the Palestinians] have no interest in teaching the Holocaust. If the purpose is to express sympathy, this is useless for us, since we are the ones who suffered as a result."
Chairman of the Political Committee of the PLC, Ziyad Abu Amr, asked what explanation was given by Al-Qaq for the need to teach the Holocaust to Palestinians. "Did Al-Qaq call for teaching the Holocaust because of Yossi Sarid's initiative to include Mahmoud Darwish's poems in the Israeli curriculum?" he asked, adding: "Why must we teach the literature [i.e. the "Jewish version" of the Holocaust] of a people and a state who occupied our land? When the situation changes, we will be able to be more open to their literature and heritage, just as we are now in regard to other countries."
Abu Amr added that in any case "This topic cannot be mandatory. People who studied the history of the Holocaust in the past have come to very different conclusions. Why, then, must we force our students to study the history and the heritage of the Jews? We are in dire need of studying our own heritage and history. Likewise, our relations with them must be recovered first, through their recognition of our people's rights in their entirety. The fundamental problems between us and them have not been solved and I do not believe that this is the time to program our children by teaching them Jewish history in general, and not only the Holocaust."
PLC Member and Fatah leader, Hatem Abd Al-Qader, said that teaching the Holocaust in the Palestinian schools "is a great danger to the developing Palestinian mentality. It would be dangerous to change the Palestinian curriculum in such a direction. First, the Jews should learn about our disaster, the massacres, the murder and the exile, because this disaster is still alive. As for the so-called Holocaust, it has already been moved into the museum of History."
Abd Al-Qader added, "We cannot annul the Palestinian historic dream, even if we remove it from the official Palestinian rhetoric... This land was promised to us by Allah, while it was promised to the Jews by Balfour. If such a decision [about teaching the Holocaust] is made, it will undoubtedly ruin the Palestinian dream and aspirations. It will entirely obliterate the past, present and future of the Palestinians. We, in the Legislative Council, will oppose any experiment that might harm the mind, the identity or the historic roots of the Palestinians."
Palestinian historian, Dr. Isam Sisalem, who has in the past denied the existence of the gas chambers, expressed his amazement at Al-Qaq's statements. "We as Palestinians," he said, "condemn the indiscriminate killing of many people by the Germans, but we cannot allow that the killing of the Jews be used to oppress another nation, namely the Palestinians. The Nuremberg courts exploited [Jewish] lies to divide Palestine, claiming that the Jewish community had suffered annihilation and was in need of a homeland in which to settle. What interests us, however, is our own people who suffered from the exile and destruction of thousands of its people. We are more entitled [than the Jews] to the support of all of the nations."
Dr. Sisalem said that, since the Stockholm convention in 2000 requiring all European states to include the history of the Holocaust in their curricula, the Western media has lied and exaggerated about the Holocaust. He said, "The Zionist movement exploited it in order to disguise its loathsome crimes in Palestine. It also continues to extort the European states to this very day. The truth is that the Zionist leaders negotiated with the Nazis and signed agreements with them under which many Jews were expelled to Palestine."
Palestinian intellectual Abdallah Horani also expressed astonishment at Al-Qaq's statements: "I don't believe that Israel and the Zionist movement need the efforts of the Palestinians to spread the false story about the Holocaust. There are those whose loyalty to Israel... is greater than their loyalty to the national and Pan-Arab cause. Instead of talking about the so-called Holocaust, Al-Qaq should have followed the doubts [about it] which are gaining momentum in the international arena and among leading European intellectuals. He should have spoken about the massacres perpetratred by the Israelis against the defenseless Palestinian people, who, wherever they are found, still suffer from the cruel Zionist terror."
Al-Horani added that Al-Qaq's statements "remind him of those who 'volunteered' to refrain from talking about the return of the refugees to the land from which they were driven out in 1948. These declarations come in the framework of what is known as the 'culture of peace,' which is supported by the US... The goal of this 'culture of peace' is to propagate the American interpretation of globalization, which means giving into the American terms, and consequently to the Israeli terms. The meaning of this globalization is also to erase the memory of nations, to efface their national heritage and history, [and to neutralize] any opposition to foreign ideological or cultural invasion."
Horani warned of the "culture of peace and its followers" in the region and called on Arab intellectuals who worry about the history and heritage of their nation... to take an antagonistic approach towards this culture and to such a peace.
Leader of the "Palestinian Islamic Jihad" Movement in Gaza, Sheik Nafez 'Azzam, said in reaction to Al-Qaq's statements that "in light of the current political situation, one might start to believe sometimes that he lives in an imaginary world. It is inconceivable that a nation would respect its murderers and the robbers of its rights and its land. Why do people speak only of the Jewish victims in WWII, why don't we even mention our [own] victims and martyrs?! Before anything else, we must teach the history of this conflict which symbolizes the great wrong done to the Palestinian people, by the silence and conspiracies in which most of the world's governments take part."
'Azzam stated, "Whoever puts his trust in brainwashing is bound to fail... Such a program will have no influence on the formation of the minds of the [sons of] nation. The intention to teach the Holocaust in the Palestinian schools contradicts the natural order of the universe," he concluded.
On the other hand, Sheik Jamal Mansour, a Hamas leader, said, "It is not fair to deny the Holocaust or to diminish the importance of the persecution that the Jews have suffered. We must clearly condemn it and stand by the oppressed - whoever they may be - and against the oppressor." However, Sheik Mansour explained that the problem is with "the West, which takes a rigid stance when it comes to the history of the Jews with the Nazis and forces all of the governments and peoples to teach one history of the Holocaust. In addition, the West uses Zionist historians in order to establish this [narrative] and turn it into an axiom, which no one is allowed to question."
"At the same time," adds Sheik Mansour, "they want us to forget all of the massacres, the tens of thousands of victims, the millions of exiles, our confiscated land, our occupied land, and our blood which continues to be spilled... The Jews have mobilized the so-called free and civilized world in order to bow the heads of its victims, to apologize for their history and to commit to their well-being and to protect their strength in the future, and all this because of one crazy man who was an enemy to the entire world and not the Jews alone, and who murdered 20 million Russians with his own hands."