There is a maxim, often attributed to St. Francis Xavier, one of the founders of the Jesuit order, that reads: “Give me the children until they are seven and anyone may have them afterwards.”
In recent years, authors writing about the Arab-Israeli conflict have set their sights on children both younger and older than seven. Like the Jesuits, their aim is to shape the minds of the young. If the Jesuits’ goal was to turn children’s minds towards heaven, theirs is to turn young readers against something more earthly – Israel.
One publisher to push an anti-Israel message is Crocodile Books, an imprint of Interlink Publishing, owned by a Palestinian-American family. Their book, Amazing Women of the Middle East, published in 2022, sparked controversy when its map of the Middle East replaced Israel, a real country, with “Palestine,” and when it excluded Jewish women from its survey of accomplished Middle Eastern women. Another Crocodile title, Ida in the Middle (2022), pretended that, until the founding of Israel, Jews and Arabs lived in harmony in the Middle East. It denies the legitimacy of multiple perspectives on the Middle East conflict and presents Israeli security practices as deliberate persecution, unrelated to Palestinian terrorism, by erasing the reason for these policies: Palestinian terrorism. Palestinians alone are victims, Israelis alone are victimizers. The book’s author, Nora Lester Murad, recently filmed herself tearing down posters of hostages. Hannah Moushabeck, at one time Crocodile’s acquisitions editor, posted on Instagram an appeal to “reframe” what happened on October 7th in order to “understand why people would retaliate, why people would resist.” Her picture book evocation of her father’s childhood in Jerusalem, Homeland: My Father Dreams of Palestine, published by Chronicle Books in 2023, erases the Jewish presence from the Old City.
An Interlink title that has made its appearance on several lists of recommended books for young readers (here and here) is Young Palestinians Speak: Living Under Occupation, designed to engage young adult readers in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The book is designed to engage young adult readers in the Arab-Israeli conflict through a mixture of simplified, purportedly factual background readings on Middle Eastern history and edited interviews with children in Gaza, East Jerusalem, Hebron, and other West Bank communities. The goal is to convey information (much of it misinformation) to young readers’ minds while simultaneously using the words of the readers’ contemporaries to touch their hearts – a formula for successful propaganda.
The authors’ bad faith is clear from the start. Enjoining readers not to “think of the Palestinians as victims,” They quote Palestinian lawyer Raja Shehadeh: “Palestinians don’t need to be viewed as unfortunates who deserve assistance and relief.” An admirable sentiment, so it’s a pity the authors weren’t guided by it, as the book is an unremitting litany of complaints from Palestinian youth and their mentors about living conditions, checkpoints, mobility restrictions, and persecution by soldiers and settlers. It’s hard to come away from Young Palestinians Speak with a perception that young Palestinians have any agency at all.
The book opens with an oversimplified definition of the word “occupation,” the term they apply to Israel’s role in the West Bank and Gaza
What does occupation mean?
Occupation is the settlement or taking and controlling of an area by military force. It is an act of possession against the wishes of the people who live there (p. 10).
To call Israel’s conquest of the West Bank “taking” or an “act of possession” gives the impression that Israel set out, in 1967, to “take possession” of the territories, which is not what happened. The Six-Day War was a defensive war against four Arab states determined to destroy the country. Conquering and “possessing” the territories was not Israel’s goal.
The Hague Regulations of 1899 and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which outline the legal protocols for “belligerent occupation,” define “occupation” narrowly, restricting the term to a belligerent situation in which one sovereign state occupies another. This does not apply to the relationship between Israel and the territories on the West Bank, since the territories were not a sovereign state when Israel acquired them in 1967.[i]
As for Gaza, the situation there is even clearer. As legal scholar Avinoam Sharon explains:
The withdrawal of all Israeli military personnel and any Israeli civilian presence in the Gaza Strip, and the subsequent ouster of the Palestinian Authority and the takeover of the area by a Hamas government, surely would constitute a clear end of the Israeli occupation of Gaza. Nevertheless, even though Gaza is no longer under the authority of a hostile army, […] it is nevertheless argued that Israel remains the occupying power in Gaza. [ii]
It’s obvious from this book’s title that the authors view Gaza as still occupied, though Israel pulled all settlers out in 2005. This must be because Israel controls land and sea borders and aerial space. This is also misinformation, because, as the Kohelet Forum explains, “ Israel controls only its own border with Gaza and not the border Gaza shares with Egypt. Every state controls its border with other states. Spain does not occupy Portugal because it controls its only land border. The international community does not recognize any other territory as occupied territory on similar grounds” (p. 18).
The Map That Lies
Like other anti-Israel books for young people, Young Palestinians Speak presents “the map that lies,” a series of four maps that purport to show how the Israelis have progressively stolen more and more Palestinian land since 1946. Using two colors, in this case green for “Palestinian land” and white for Jewish, they pretend to show the shrinkage of “Palestinian land” from almost the entirety of today’s Israel to a few speckles on the West Bank.
But the maps lie.
The first, labeled “1946, British Mandatory Palestine,” incorrectly shows the land of “Palestine” all in green, with a few white specks for land purchased by Jews. This deems all land not purchased by Jews, by default, as “Palestinian.” But, as explained by Shany Mor in “The Mendacious Maps of Palestinian ‘Loss,’”
none of pre-1948 Palestine was under the political authority of Arabs or Jews. It was ruled by the British Mandatory government, established by the League of Nations for the express purpose of creating a ‘Jewish National Home’ […] It was also – contrary to the claims of innumerable pro-Palestinian activists—the first time a discrete political entity called ‘Palestine’ existed in modern history.
Thus, it is dishonest to label “every single patch of land not owned by the JNF as Arab or Palestinian […] anyone’s map of private property in Mandatory Palestine from this period would be mostly empty—half the country is, after all, desert. It would show small patches of private Jewish land – as this map does– alongside small patches of private Arab land, as this map shamelessly does not.”
The second map, labeled 1947, shows the partition plan that was rejected by the Arabs, so never implemented. Still, it works well as propaganda, as the areas shown in green appear to be reduced from the large area in green in Map 1.
The third, labelled 1949-1967, presents the West Bank area bounded by the green line as the border between “Palestinian Land” and Israel. This so-called “border,” however, was simply the 1949 armistice lines. The green patch was not “Palestinian”; it was under Jordanian control and Gaza was under Egyptian control until the ’67 war.
The fourth map, labeled 2014, paints the West Bank areas and Gaza in the same green color, though they are under different governments, and fails to reflect the complex division of territorial control established under the Oslo accords.
For the naïve, ill-informed young reader, these lying maps tell a simple story: Starting in 1947, Israel (or the Jews) grabbed more and more “Palestinian land” until there’s almost nothing left in Palestinian hands today. That is exactly the message the authors of Young Palestinians Speak want young readers to come away with.
Life in Two Communities
We now know much more about Hamas than in 2017, the book’s date of publication, but the picture it paints of Gaza reveals a lot about what anti-Israel propagandists choose to reveal, and what they prefer to hide. Though it paints a picture of the hardships of growing up in Gaza, it conceals what is responsible for these difficulties.
The text does not deny that Gaza is governed by Hamas, or that its military wing is listed as a terrorist entity by the United States, the EU and others. It even admits that rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel have provoked retaliation. That Hamas came to power in elections in 2006 is mentioned, leaving readers with the impression that there is something democratic about the government. The 2006 civil war that drove out Fatah is omitted. Israel’s blockade is mentioned, but not Egypt’s.
The most consequential omission is Hamas’s 1988 covenant, which unambiguously declares the group’s determination to exterminate Israel and the Jews:
The hour of judgment shall not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them, so that the Jews hide behind trees and stones, and each tree and stone will say: “Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him,” except for the Gharqad tree, for it is the tree of the Jews (Article 7, Hamas Covenant).
Robinson and Young give a nod to Hamas corruption (one student complains, “[o]ur government here is not good too. They do nothing for us. Just talk.” (p. 64). Still, while the young people interviewed voice repeated complaints about crowded housing, travel restrictions, and an absence of hope for the future, the authors fail to indict Hamas for appropriating international aid money intended for infrastructure to building the tunnels from which terrorists launch rockets into Israel.
One of the cities focused on is Hebron (Al-Khalil in Arabic), whose past and present the authors distort.
Intent on labeling the small group of Jewish residents in this divided city as nasty, ill-meaning “settlers,” the authors subtly erase Hebron’s Jewish past. Yes, they admit, Hebron is “a holy city for both Jews and Muslims because of its association with Abraham, and the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque in the Old City is an important site for both religions.” But the map on page 84 labels the site only as the “Ibrahimi Mosque”; its importance to Jews as the Cave of Machpelah is never recognized.
Jewish memory is long and tenacious, and the story of Hebron goes back all the way to Genesis 23:17-20, when, after the death of Sarah, Abraham purchases a burial site for his wife Sarah:
So, Ephron’s land in Machpelah, near Mamre—the field with its cave and all the trees anywhere within the confines of that field—passed to Abraham as his possession […] Then Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave of the field of Machpelah, facing Mamre—now Hebron—in the land of Canaan. Thus the field with its cave passed from the Hittites to Abraham, as a burial site (Gen. 23:17-20. My italics.).
Machpelah would become the Cave of the Patriarchs, where Abraham and Sarah, then Isaac and Rebekah and Jacob and Leah would be buried.
Jews have cleaved to that spot for 3700 years, returning to live whenever the political situation permitted. King David, when he fled Saul, settled in Hebron. When Herod became king of Roman Judea in 37 CE, he built an enclosure for the tombs at Machpelah that still stands. During the Roman Wars, Hebron’s Jews were slaughtered, enslaved, or exiled. During the Christian Byzantine, Arab, Mameluke, Ottoman, and British Mandate periods, Jews came and sometimes stayed.
In 1929, under the British, an Arab mob, incited to violence by Haj Al-Amin al-Husseini, went on a rampage that resembles nothing so much as the October 7th massacres. Women were raped and people decapitated.
In his book, The Case for Israel, Alan Dershowitz cites the account by the British police chief of Hebron:
On hearing screams in a room, I went up a short tunnel passage and saw an Arab in the act of cutting off a child’s head with a sword […] Behind him was a Jewish woman smothered in blood with a man I recognized as a[n Arab] police constable named Issa Sheril from Jaffa […] He was standing over the woman with a dagger in his hand (p. 43).
Some Arabs protected their Jewish neighbors, and historian Jerrold Auerbach even cites one Arab leader, president of the Hebron Chamber of Commerce, saying, “The Jews have a claim to be natives of this city no less than we do” (Auerbach, Hebron Jews, p. 75). But in all, 67 Jewish men, women and children were killed and 60 wounded; homes and synagogues were ransacked. Two years later, 35 families returned, but at the onset of the Arab Revolt in 1936, the British ordered the remaining Jews to leave Hebron.[iii]
Given the hold Hebron has on Jewish memory, is it surprising that, after Israel’s spectacular victory in 1967, religious Jews thought it only natural to return to a place their people had never relinquished?
Young Palestinians Speak leaves the reader uninformed about this history. Instead, the book offers a barrage of uncontextualized complaints against Israeli soldiers and Israeli courts, like these:
Abdallah: They say someone in the area threw stones at them. So they search everybody. They smell all the children’s hands to see if they’ve held stones (p. 92).
Shada, a 16-year-old girl: One day last summer the army kicked on all the doors in our neighborhood. Then they shouted through a loudspeaker for us all to leave our houses. They ordered us to stand by the barrier with our hands up, even pregnant women and children (p. 92).
Qamar: Our neighbor […] went to university to study chemistry. He was charged with the intention to make bombs—just because of the subject he was studying. He got a twenty-five-year sentence […] just for studying (p. 95).
There is, in fact, a very real need for security measure like these in Hebron because, as Honest Reporting explains, the city is “the Hamas stronghold in Judea.” Many of the suicide bombers in the Second Intifada came from there, and “11 suspects arrested in February 2015 were planning suicide bombings and shootings.” But you wouldn’t know any of this from Young Palestinians Speak, which paints Hebron’s young people as innocent victims.
Human Rights Violations
The book presents young readers with an assortment of purported violations of human rights violations or abuse, like this one, from a soldier who did duty in Hebron:
My main difficulty was the Jewish community. The feeling was that we were protecting the Arabs from the Jews […] One day I was standing guard duty and I see a six-year-old Palestinian girl and her whole head was an open wound. This Jewish child, who often visited us, decided that he didn’t like Palestinians walking right under his home, so he took a brick and threw it at the girl’s head. Kids do whatever they please there. No one does anything. No one cares. Afterwards, his parents only praised him. The parents there encourage their children to behave this way, I had many such cases. 11-12-year-old Jewish children beat up Palestinians and their parents come to help them along, set their dogs on them [the Palestinians], a thousand and one stories (p. 87).
The authors took this account from a report by Breaking the Silence, a controversial anti-Israel NGO that draws on anonymous testimony by IDF soldiers about deeds they’ve committed or observed while on duty. Breaking the Silence has been criticized (here and here) because anonymous informers cannot be interrogated and the organization’s European funders selectively target Israel for criticism.
Of course, it would be naïve to doubt that there are some Hebron parents who encourage contempt for Palestinians, just as Arab parents likely encourage contempt for Jews. The question is, how representative is the behaviour this soldier describes? What is an “open wound?” How reliable is the soldier’s claim of “a thousand and one stories?” Why are there no examples of Palestinian children who bully Jewish kids?
In a section called “How Does Occupation Affect Human Rights?” the book asserts that “the rights to free speech […] are severely restricted.” This would imply that these restrictions would not prevail under Palestinian governance. But we know that the Palestinian Authority restricts free speech—witness the recent torture of government critic Nizar Banat, who died under custody.
The book also accuses the IDF of arresting children. This is a complicated issue, analyzed by NGO Monitor, who noted that “older minors are often involved in the most serious and heinous offenses,” among them the “brutal 2011 murder of five members of the Fogel family, including killing a baby in her crib” by Hakim Awad, age 17. Accusations about arrests of children also ignore the reality that “Palestinian minors commit violent crimes due to incitement by the Palestinian Authority,” and that the PA provides a “monthly salary” to the families of detained minors.
Another accusation, breathtaking in either its naïveté or its willful blindness, is that “Palestinians in the West Bank cannot vote for the Israeli government, even though it controls their lives” (p. 64). Are the authors unaware that most Palestinians live under the governance of the PA, whose president, Mahmoud Abbas, was elected in 2005 and has not held an election since?
Robinson and Young prove, on page after page of Young Palestinians Speak, that they will say pretty much anything to besmirch Israel for their vulnerable audience of naïve, ill-informed young readers, and will ignore facts and reality to do this.
[i] Avinoam Sharon, “Why Is Israel’s Presence in the Territories Still Called ‘Occupation’? Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2009.
[ii] Ibid., p. 3.
[iii] Amb. Alan Baker, “New Palestinian Attempt at UNESCO to Claim Hebron and the Patriarch’s Tomb as a Palestinian Site,” JCPA, June 19, 2017. See https://jcpa.org/article/new-palestinian-attempt-unesco-claim-hebron-patriarchs-tomb-palestinian-site/