Monday, October 25, 2021

  • Monday, October 25, 2021
  • Elder of Ziyon
Last week, CAMERA posted a discussion of a story "Uncle Meena" by Palestinian author Ibtisam Barakat. The story is assigned as reading in some elementary school classes.

As CAMERA notes, the story shows a one-sided, false view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But it is even worse than that.

The story is about a Palestinian girl from Ramallah, Noora, whose family is visited by her uncle Meena from California. For much of his stay he is depressed because he cannot walk around the center of Ramallah because of an Israeli action there. Finally, he tells his mother that he is in love with a Native American girl, and the religious Muslim mother accepts it without any qualms. 

The only slight hint that there might be two sides of the conflict is when the girl narrator mentions that the Israeli actions are after "an explosion in Jerusalem." Not the slightest indication of who might have caused this explosion or if there were any casualties. 

At one point, Uncle Meena sees kids playing "Jews and Arabs," and he explains that it is just like American kids playing "Cowboys and Indians," but the Palestinians are the Native Americans and the Israelis are the colonialist cowboys who have taken over the land. He tells his niece that there are Native American reservations in America, just like refugee camps in the West Bank, and his niece notes that she was shocked, because she thought that everyone in the world was free except Palestinians. 

Young readers are being left with the impression that Israelis are forcing Palestinians to live in refugee camps, when Israelis have tried to dismantle them and Palestinian leaders are the ones who insist on keeping the camps after seven decades.

The story, published in 2009, clearly takes place during the second intifada, when there were daily terror attacks against Jews. The story doesn't even hint at that. The only good Jews are the ones who hate Israel, as Uncle Meena says he has "friends of many faiths: Muslims, Christians, Hindus, pagans, and also some Jews who care about Palestinians and want the occupation to end." Schoolchildren are being taught that they can be friends with anyone whose opinions they disagree with - except for Zionist Jews, whose opinions are beyond the pale.

As one-sided as the story is, it is more insidious when placed into context of the book it was published in.. 

"Uncle Meena" was commissioned by Amnesty International to be part of an anthology of stories for school-age children where each story teaches a lesson about a different area addressed by the Declaration of Human Rights. The anthology, called "Free?" was published in 2010, and has apparently been used to brainwash children in schools for over ten years now.

The part of the Declaration of Human Rights that this story is meant to illustrate is Article 18, freedom of religion. Religion is only glancingly mentioned in  the story, though: one example is where Noora asks hr uncle "How come there are many religions that fight each other, destroying what God creates - like people and olive trees? It takes years for a person or a tree to grow up, and then someone with a gun kills them in a second." The other is where Noora's grandmother is upset over not being able to visit Al Aqsa mosque because of Israeli restrictions. (The story broadly implies that Uncle Meena is now agnostic, and his religious Muslim mother not only accepts that, but approves his wanting to marry his pagan Native American girlfriend without a single word of disapproval.)

Barakat, and Amnesty, are saying that this is a religious conflict, that Jews are killing Muslims because of their religion, and that they stop Muslims from worshipping in their holy place because they are Muslims.

This is slander and very close to antisemitism. Israel doesn't target anyone because they are Muslim, and Israel allows tens of thousands of Muslims to visit the holiest Jewish place every day of the week - while Jews themselves were not allowed to pray there by law, and certainly would have been dragged away and arrested at the time of the story if they tried. 

The only religious discrimination happening in the region is the story of how nearly all Christians have been forced to leave by Muslim intolerance - just as virtually all Jews have already been ethnically cleansed by the Muslims decades ago.  Muslims who become atheists or convert to Christianity are persecuted. There is no shortage of examples of religious intolerance in the Middle East and worldwide.

Yet Amnesty asked a Palestinian writer to teach the concept of freedom of religion, specifically to paint the most religiously tolerant people in the Middle East as the most intolerant.

Given that the book is written for tweens and early teens, the stories - while well written - generally have no nuance; there are good people and bad people with no shades of grey. One story is about how a clique of boys are led by a sadistic bully and it takes an East German immigrant to stand up to him; another is about a boy who discovers a child labor slavery factory in his town. Another is a science fiction story about a future where microchips are implanted in children's brains so their thoughts can be monitored, ostensibly for national security reasons. 

Within the book, the only bad people mentioned who have any national or religious identity are Israeli Jews.

Amnesty is proud that they have an entire program of teaching children about human rights concepts through fiction. They write, "Many children’s novels and even picture books possess great power to open up new worlds and inspire a capacity for empathy. Being able to empathize makes it easier to be kind, tolerant, and willing to consider other points of view." But there is no empathy in this book towards Jews or Israelis - they are only framed as oppressors who are taking away freedoms. 

A book meant to teach empathy succeeds in subtly but unmistakably teaching hate.

Astoundingly, two of the fourteen stories in a book about worldwide human rights are centered on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The other story, "No Trumpets Needed," is more balanced than "Uncle Meena"- a hopeful if extraordinarily naive tale of how a Palestinian kid who is struck mute when his (obviously innocent) brother was killed by Israelis still works to send a message of peace across the security barrier with kites, and the Israeli settlers respond back in kind. (In fact, grassroots peace initiatives are virtually all initiated by the Israeli side; the Palestinians regard them as "normalization" and actively work against them.) This story does mention Palestinian terror in passing but it doesn't say the real reason why the barrier exists. The author blithely and falsely says that it is to "separate Arab from Jew" but not to protect Israelis from being blown up. The only link to the Biblical past of the region is ascribed to the mute Palestinian child, who is a shepherd.  Even in this far less offensive story, the only people who are humanized are the Palestinians; the Jews remain an abstraction. 

When viewed as a whole, this book by Amnesty promotes the lies that Jews have no rights to the land, Jews have no history in the land, Jews are anti-Muslim, Jews kill Palestinians for no apparent reason beyond hating Muslims, Palestinians have no freedom because of Israel, and Palestinians are saintly victims. 

The very Universal Declaration of Human Rights that forms the theme of the book was written specifically in response to the Holocaust, and now is being used as a tool to teach children to hate anyone who supports a tiny place on Earth where Jews can live fully as Jews in their own ancestral land.

Children who read this book are not sophisticated enough to understand how they are being manipulated. I can easily imagine that rabid anti-Israel Jews in college today first learned about the conflict from this book. 

Giving children anti-Israel propaganda in their school reading is immoral, and Amnesty should be taken to task for inciting kids into hating Israel.









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