Socialist Worker

British exam board brands PLO as ‘terrorists’

by Simon Assaf
Issue No. 2104

A proposed new history GCSE syllabus could force students to accept the government’s point of view on contentious issues such as terrorism and the Middle East conflict.

OCR, one of the leading examination boards in Britain, has published a draft version of the history GCSE syllabus that is due to be taught in schools next year.

The course brands the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Irish Republican Army (IRA) as “terrorist groups” of a similar nature to Al Qaida.

One history teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke to Socialist Worker about his concerns with OCR’s new history course.

“The specified content of the course rules out any critical approach to the questions,” he said.

“If teachers or students decided that the IRA and the PLO were not ‘terrorist groups’, then they would be in danger of failing the course.”

Part of the OCR course tests students on questions such as – “What is terrorism and why do people become terrorists?”, “How important are the leaders of terrorist groups?” and “How effective has terrorism been since 1969?”

They will have to examine these issues in reference to the IRA, PLO and Al Qaida – though it states that candidates “will not be required to have a detailed knowledge of the history of these three groups”.

Painting the PLO and IRA as “terrorist groups” obscures both their nature and motives. Both are classic national liberation movements that draw support from a broad social base. Al Qaida, in contrast, is an organisation that has no mass following and no national aims.

“I would struggle to find any critical way to teach this subject,” said the history teacher. “These questions are highly loaded in a way that simply isn’t true about the rest of the course.


“For instance, in the European section students are asked to consider ‘Soviet control over Eastern Europe’. They use the neutral term ‘control’ rather than ‘occupation’ or ‘dictatorship’ because those terms would rule out any basis for interpretation.

“That is how questions should be framed. But the sections on the Palestinians and Ireland demand that you accept them as ‘terrorists’.”

Under the OCR’s scheme the Palestinian struggle will only be studied from 1969 to 1993.

This excludes key dates in the history of the Middle East conflict, such as the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the Nakba of 1948 or Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967.

Also excluded are events after 1996 – which saw Israel launching a new wave of ethnic cleansing and land seizures against the Palestinians.

The same criteria applies to Northern Ireland. The IRA is studied only from when they became “terrorists” to when they stopped being “terrorists”.

OCR is not the only examination board to skew its syllabus in this fashion. The AQA examination board systematically uses pro-Israeli terminology to describe historical events in the Middle East crisis.

AQA will ask students in 2010 to study Israel’s “war of independence of 1948” – the preferred Zionist euphemism for the mass expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes.

They will also learn of the “Yom Kippur war” – again, the Israeli term for the conflict whose widely accepted neutral designation is the “1973 Arab-Israeli war”.

Meanwhile analysis of the Palestinian struggle focuses on “hijackings and kidnappings” rather than on the broad history of resistance, both armed and non-violent.

The teacher added, “The foundation of studying history is interpretation. As a history teacher I try to get students to understand how history is subject to different interpretation.

“But these new rules will lead to students sticking closely to the official interpretation of history for fear of failing. The way these subjects are framed rules out critical interpretation.”

This push towards teaching children that the Palestinian and Irish movements are “terrorist” coincides with a wider government propaganda drive in schools over the “war on terror”.

Under a programme unveiled by the Ministry of Defence, schools will be encouraged to promote the benefits of “wars of humanitarian intervention”. They will be told how British and US troops invaded Iraq to help “build schools and clinics”.

That scheme – which is being pushed by a private company specialising in marketing to children – will roll out in schools in the new year.

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Tue 3 Jun 2008, 18:18 BST
Issue No. 2104
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