By Anna Badkhen, April 25, 2002
Gaza City — Six days a week, kindergarten teacher Samira Ali El Hassain tells
her class of 30 5-year-old boys and girls what makes the world go round.
“Here is how an egg becomes a chicken,” she says to a student.
“Here is how to draw a circle,” she tells another.
Hassain then quizzes the class about a previous, more serious lesson. “Who are
the Jews?” she asks.
The children know the answer by heart: “The enemy!” they reply in
“And what should we do to them?” Hassain asks in a voice that is as casual as
when she discussed chickens and eggs.
“Kill them!” the children cry out.
Hassain works at a school run by Al-Mujamma Al-Islami (the Islamic
Association), an Islamic charity group created in 1973 by Sheikh Ahmed
Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of the militant group Hamas. Such
schools represent about 10 percent of Gaza kindergarten classes and are the
only ones to teach such vitriol.
Signs that extol violence are found everywhere these days in the streets of
Gaza City, the capital of the Palestinian-dominated Gaza Strip.
On the walls, graffiti calls on residents to “kill the Jews” and “die like
shahid (martyrs)” – the men and women who have died trying to kill Israelis.
Instructions on how to become a shahid are spray-painted, along with photos of
weapons, exploding buses and portraits of men wrapped in explosives.
And if that isn’t enough to convince Gaza’s children – many of whom spend
their days roaming the dusty streets, playing in sandbag barricades, shooting
toy assault rifles and throwing stones at each other – hatred of Israelis is part of
their kindergarten lesson plan.
“I tell them that they are Palestinians, that they must defend their land when
they grow up, that this land belongs to them and not to the Jews, our
enemies,” said the 35-year-old Hassain.
“Every morning, I ask them: ‘Did you watch the news? Do you love the
enemy who massacres the Palestinian people? Would you want to make peace
with them when you grow up?’ ”
Her 24-year-old colleague, Istama Showish, imparts a similar message.
“We teach them that Jews who live in Jerusalem and Palestine are
occupiers, that they have taken even the air that we breathe,” she said.
Al-Mujamma Al-Islami has won the hearts of many poor Palestinians in the Gaza
Strip by donating food and clothes and setting up affordable schools. The
kindergarten where Showish and Hassain teach costs just $7 a month, about
half the cost of a regular day-care facility here.
But Yassin, the organization’s founder, who uses a wheelchair and lives in a
compound in the slums of the city, is also indelibly linked with Hamas — which
claimed responsibility for some of the deadliest suicide bombings in Israel,
including the March 27 attack that killed 25 Israelis at a Passover meal.
Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a top Hamas political leader, denies that his group is linked
with Al-Mujamma Al-Islami. But he clearly supports the association’s anti-Israeli
curricula for 5-year-old children.
“You see? Even children want to sacrifice themselves for the sake of
Palestine,” Rantisi recently told The Chronicle at Hamas headquarters in Gaza
City. “We are using our own, simple means to say to the aggression of a strong
army: ‘Stop.’ ”
In an incident Tuesday night that shocked many Palestinians and has raised
questions about whether groups like Hamas are manipulating young people in a
dangerous fashion, three Gaza City boys – one 14 and the other two 15 – were
killed by Israeli troops near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim. The army said
they had been carrying pipe bombs, an ax and knives in an attempt to attack
EDUCATION MEANS PEACE
Two hundred miles north of Gaza, Sundos Battah is appalled by such incidents.
One of 9,000 Israeli Arabs living in the Gilboa region near the West Bank, he
sees education as a primary force for peace.
For the past nine years, Battah has been involved in a program that
brings together Jewish and Palestinian children from 11 to 17 years old three
times a year. He hopes such programs will become the basis of peaceful
coexistence in this war-torn land.
“They play, they paint, they do sports,” said Battah, who coordinates
the project on the Palestinian side. “As soon as they get together, they forget
about the political situation.”
But Battah says the Israeli incursion in the West Bank has made his work “very
“We have to explain to our children the violence they see on television in
a way that won’t ruin their budding relationship with the Jewish children,” he
said. “We must not let it deteriorate to the level of the Gaza children.”
Sigal Vaitsman, a 14-year-old Jewish high school student who participates in
the project, said, “We should be more mature — then we can solve things
around a table, not with bombings.”
Nur Saleem, 17, an Israeli Arab from the Gilboa village of Muqeble,
agrees and says the role of schoolteachers is crucial to peace: “If teachers
preach hatred for the Jews, or hatred for the Palestinians, we will repeat things
that we have learned at school when we grow up.”
LEARNING TO DIE
Back in Gaza, however, the kids at the Al-Mujamma Al-Islami kindergarten class
started a new game last week called “martyr’s funeral.”
“One of them pretended to be a martyr, while the others lifted him up
and pretended that they were burying him,” said Showish. “We tell them that
the shahid are very good people, our heroes. We tell them that they must grow
up and do the same.”
Khitam Ajrami, an expectant mother, says she will tell her unborn child
the same thing.
In the cool shade of her stripped-down home in the Jebaliya refugee camp, a
mile north of Gaza City, 20-year-old Ajrami mulls over the words she will tell
the child she expects to bear in two months. Last month, her husband, Najib,
was shot to death by Israeli soldiers when he tried to blow himself up at the
Jewish settlement of Dugit in Gaza.
“I will tell the baby that his father died a martyr,” Ajrami said, smiling
shyly from under her green-and-yellow scarf. “I will teach him to love our
country, to know that the Jews occupy our land, that we are right, and the
Jews are wrong. I will teach the baby to hate Israel.
“If the occupation continues, I will teach my child to do what his father