Hesder quiz: where's Israel?
A recent survey of Israel's religious schools came up with some surprising, and shocking, results, writes Mahmoud El-Yousseph*
Here's something you're not likely to see on evening newscasts or in your home town newspapers: a 28 July 2010 survey of Israeli religious school teachers, designed to gauge their level of education and conducted by Yediot Aharonot, Israel's largest newspaper, came up with some shocking conclusions.
One young teacher described the Jewish religious school, called a hesder, where he works one hour per week and earns $300 monthly as follows: "We do not teach mathematics, science, English, history or literature. After morning prayer, we teach the Torah only."
Israel spends $7 million annually on these schools, and the government often receives fake and fraudulent progress reports in return.
The newspaper's quiz included the following questions: What continent is Israel in?; Who was Napoleon Bonaparte? Was he a Russian emperor? A French military leader? Or the Chief of Staff?; What is the square root of 81?; Finish the National Anthem; What is the meaning of the English word "Saturday"? -- Is it the religious Shabat? Is it the name for a month of the year? Or is it a name for meal?
Many of those participating in the quiz could not finish Israel's national anthem, having been given the opening lines. Some commented, "I do not know and do not wish to know."
Others asked if the national anthem was a verse in the Talmud.
In response to the question on Napoleon, some said he was a Russian emperor, while others claimed he was the chief of staff.
In response to the question about Saturday, 65 per cent did not know the correct answer.
Finally, here is my favourite one. In response to the question, "where is Israel located," many respondents answered "in Europe". That really blew me away.
After having read about the survey, I posed the same five questions to my 17-year-old son, Adam. Adam zoomed through them all, though he did not get the one about the national anthem.
You may have heard the term madrasa used to refer to Islamic schools in Pakistan. This is actually the Arabic word for any kind of school, and such schools have been bombed by the US and then the Pakistani military many times over. Many men, women and children have lost their lives during these raids.
Madrasas are depicted by the US government and media alike as "terrorist training camps". However, on the basis of the recent survey reported above, it looks as if the Israeli hesder schools are getting a pass, if not immunity, from media criticism.
Remember Yigal Amir? He was a former hesder student. Amir was the religious Zionist who assassinated Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995 at the end of a peace rally in Tel Aviv and was an adamant critic of Rabin's moves towards a peace treaty and the signing of the Oslo Accords.
Israeli religious settlers of the Amir type are responsible for terrorising Palestinian farmers daily in the West Bank. They are the ones who uproot olive trees, destroy crops, poison wells and routinely assault international peace activists.
They are also among the soldiers who man the 520 checkpoints, block roads in the occupied Palestinian territories and several crossing points around the Gaza Strip, and enjoy humiliating Palestinians on a daily basis.
Like it or not, the hesder schools in Israel are funded by US tax dollars, as part of the US government's $3 billion annual aid package to Israel. One of the schools' major sponsors in the US are right-wing Christian Zionists. Why does the expression, "birds of a feather flock together" spring to mind? This is the same group that was recently described in an article by British journalist Lauren Booth as "the people who could not find their cities on the map of their state."
Booth happens to be the sister-in-law of former British prime minister Tony Blair.
The next time someone asks you the question, "where is Israel?" the accurate answer would be: It is located in the heart of the Arab world. It was built illegally in 1948 on stolen Palestinian land and on the ruins of hundreds of towns and villages that have been erased from the face of the earth so the native inhabitants will never have a chance to return home to what is rightfully theirs.
* The writer is a retired US Air Force veteran.