Since the Hamas terrorist attack on 7 October, the conflict has been raging once again in the Middle East, while its inevitable import is causing considerable damage in Europe and Belgium in particular, not least because of a worrying resurgence of anti-Semitic acts. Physical and verbal attacks, tags, publications and other visuals comparing Israel with Nazi Germany… The list of manifestations of hatred towards the Jewish community is long, so much so that Jewish schools and places of worship are under tighter control throughout Belgium, particularly in Brussels and Antwerp.
Young people are particularly affected by this conflagration. It was therefore essential to provide schools as soon as possible with a distanced look at the tragic events currently unfolding in Israel and the Gaza Strip.
The French Ministry of Education therefore undertook to provide a teaching aid on this subject as soon as possible. The fact sheet was finally published after four long weeks. And its content is disappointing, to say the least. A look back at a difficult birth.
On 17 October, when asked to comment on the issue, the office of the Minister for Education, Caroline Désir (PS), said that the federal development agency Enabel, which produces teaching tools from time to time, would shortly be publishing an educational fact sheet on the Questions vives website1 devoted to the current conflict in the Middle East.
Like all the other thematic fact sheets, it will consist of two main parts: the first devoted to factual information, the second to food for thought. A methodology that we can only endorse, because it is essential to first delve into the history of this conflict, which has been going on for 75 years, in order to try and get to the bottom of it.
Enabel is in fact the Belgian development cooperation agency. To produce its fact sheets, it works with the High Council for Media Education (CSEM), Amnesty International and our public news channel, RTBF. It boasts on its website that it is particularly fast: “The strength of this system lies in the high level of responsiveness to which the partners are committed: the factsheets are published and sent out no more than 36 hours after the occurrence of a live news event”. In addition, as far as the information is concerned, the company undertakes to “present the facts as they are known and verified at the time the article is written”.
So why did the publication of the fact sheet on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict take not 36 hours, but more than 600? Apparently, it was delayed by the cabinet of Caroline Gennez, the Minister for Development Cooperation (from the Flemish socialist Vooruit party), who was supposed to approve its content.
The subject is also said to be so “explosive” – no pun intended – that fear of the consequences has paralysed the authors of the report. It opens with this warning: “The subject is sensitive and requires great caution. We cannot be held responsible for any difficulties that may arise”. So we’ve been warned!
The authors prefer to refer to three media sources, whose links they merely mention, before suggesting a few ways of understanding the complexity of the situation.
Yet how can we seriously consider the facts, with all the distance required, without a minimum of information on the chronology of this conflict, the historical context, the geography of the region or the geopolitical stakes? Isn’t it precisely up to schools to provide this information, in a way that is accessible, succinct, complete and factual, in other words, in complete fairness?
And on the subject of neutrality, the factsheet states that “The authors of this factsheet have taken care not to pose a central question, as visible as an elephant in the corridor: which side is right? There are several reasons for this: the fear of attracting the wrath – sometimes extremely violent – of the followers of one side or another; the need to respect the rules on neutrality in schools; and the desire to provide an opportunity for calm reflection on issues related to this conflict.”
Questioning is fashionable, particularly in education. Its advocates insist on the need to arouse the interest of pupils, and we can only agree with them on this point. But when it comes to such a hot topic, we can bet that the interest is already there, and even dare to suggest that it is sometimes excessive, if we compare it with that aroused by other conflicts that claim many innocent victims – we’re thinking here of the Uighurs, the Ukrainians, the Sudanese, the Burmese, the Iranians or the Ethiopians, for example.
So, as long as we’re asking questions, why not invite the students to take a step back in search of verified information, to answer a few questions, for example:
What is Hamas?
What is the current composition of the Israeli government?
What happened on 7 October 2023?
Why did Israel blockade the Gaza Strip in 2007?
Why did the 2005 peace process fail?
What are the intifadas, when did they begin and what triggered them?
Who was Yasser Arafat and how did his political position evolve, from the creation of the PLO in 1964 to the Oslo Accords in 1993 and his death in 2004?
Who was Yitzhak Rabin, and why and by whom was he assassinated?
When was the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab country signed?
What was the Yom Kippur War, why was it called that and how did it end?
What is the “three no” policy established in 1967?
When and why did Israel start building settlements in Palestine?
What is the “nakba”?
When was the first Arab-Israeli war?
What is the Balfour Declaration?
What was Palestine before the 1948 partition plan?
Other, more thought-provoking questions may then be proposed, such as :
In your opinion, was the partition plan introduced by the UN in 1948 fair? Why or why not?
Can we consider that the establishment of a Jewish home in Palestine was a mistake?
Is it conceivable, 75 years later, to question the existence of a Jewish state in the region?
What do you think would be the fair borders of the two states (Israel and Palestine)?
Is it conceivable, in your view, that the conflict could lead to a one-state solution, with the two peoples coexisting peacefully?
Looking back through history, at what points do you think each of the parties missed an opportunity to establish lasting peace in the region?
How important do you think the religious factor is in this conflict?
This conflict is often presented as being between two camps. However, there are Arabs who defend Israel and Jews who support Palestine. What are some examples?
What do you think the Palestinian people could do to achieve peace and security?
What do you think the Israeli people could do to achieve peace and security?
This list is obviously not exhaustive, and it would be necessary to add to it in-depth research into what international law in particular provides for in terms of war, in order to define more precisely the concepts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, terrorism and colonisation.
However, in such a context, it is illusory and even scandalous to provide teachers with only four “flimsy” pages that take absolutely no risks and will certainly not help anyone to see things clearly. Above all, by inviting students to give their opinion on facts about which they have no information, we can only encourage them to maintain a stance essentially guided by emotion. The “funniest” part is that this educational sheet, which is entirely made up of questions – generally unanswered – ends with a second warning stating that “The ideas presented in these sheets do not necessarily reflect the positions of BeGlobal-Enabel, Amnesty International Belgique francophone, the Conseil supérieur de l’éducation aux médias or the RTBF”.
What can we conclude from this, other than that fear reigns supreme, including among those who should be helping us to see things clearly and helping to ease tensions?