30 years after the Massacre at Sabra-Shatila""".
Why did Palestinian refugees come to Lebanon? Don't ask. Lebanese schools won't tell!
Shatila Camp, Beirut
During a workshop at the American University of Beirut last year on the subject of the right to work and to purchase a home for Palestinian refugees, a young business major from the Christian village of Bikerki posed a question that surprised some in the audience: "Why if Palestinian don't like it in Lebanon do they not go home? Why did they even bother coming here in the first place?"
"Caroline" was not being antagonistic. Many of the younger Lebanese population are taught in private and religious schools by the various sects using a curriculum including subjects that are heavily politicized and skewed, none more than modern Lebanese history.
Talking with Caroline during a tea break, she explained that she feels very politically oriented, but admitted that she really doesn't know much about Lebanese history and only vaguely why there are Palestinians in Lebanon. What she does know, she explained, came from her parents and family members and not from schools in her Christian hamlet which happens to be the seat of Lebanon's Maronite Patriarch, for whom she is apart time volunteer working with orphaned children.
In most private and public schools in Lebanon, sensitive political subjects have long been culled from textbooks by polarized confessional watchdog committees seeking a proper education for their children. Even UNWRA schools are forbidden to teach Palestinian history in Lebanon or even their history in Palestine lest the Zionist controlled US Congress cut UNWRA funding.
This has prevented the development of a unified history curriculum. Most history lessons end in 1946, three years after Lebanon's independence from French colonial rule. Many schools avoid teaching Lebanese history in order to prevent sectarian and political fervor.
According to Ohaness Goktchian, professor of political science at the American University in Beirut, "We are raising another generation of children who identify themselves only with their communities and not their nation" history is what unities people. Without history we can't have unity."
Sari Hanafi, a Palestinian professor of sociology at the American University of Beirut, says a unified history curriculum is necessary. "I think in terms of social identity it's important for the Lebanese to have a shared narrative which also highlights their differences. We hold absolutely different visions of Lebanon. We should admit this, and admit our own limitations." Hanafi continues, "There should be no vote (the content of history textbooks) by the council of ministers or the parliament... It should be defined and approved by a committee of historians and that's it."
All sects, get involved is checking what is being taught. One of the Hezbollah officials this observer most admires is MP Mohammad Fneish, former Labor Minister and currently Minister of Agriculture. Fneish raised an issue with the Ministry of Education last week concerning the use of an American text book called Modern World History that is used at Beirut's International College (IC), a popular private school. What the Hezbollah MP and others found disturbing was that the US book states that "Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are terrorist organizations."
A solution was quickly agreed upon by the Ministry of Education, the International College administration and Hezbollah. The offending passage was simply covered over in each of the books with a sticker and everyone seems more or less satisfied for now.