Sarawak mission schools sit out Palestine Solidarity Week

Desmond Davidson

Catholic Bishops Conference of Malaysia president Simon Poh says it is disturbing that students are brandishing toy guns and stomping on an Israeli flag to supposedly show solidarity with Palestine. – Screenshot, October 29, 2023.

SARAWAK mission schools, run by Anglican and Catholic churches, have chosen to sit out the Education Ministry’s (MOE) Palestine Solidarity Week.

Those who manage the schools have been concerned by videos and photos shared on social media showing teachers and children dressed as militants and carrying toy guns, and students stepping on the Israeli flag.

There are 127 mission schools in Sarawak.

President of Anglican mission schools in Sarawak, Danald Jute, told The Malaysian Insight it was “not necessary” to hold the event as it was not compulsory.

Jute, who earlier said it was inappropriate to involve schools in international conflicts they have no understanding of, had said he would not bar schools under them to hold the programme.

However, he said the church would vet activities and materials that would be organised or shared with students during the event.

Those that were considered biased with “unsubstantiated story lines” would be binned, he said.

Archbishop Simon Poh, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Malaysia, also told The Malaysian Insight that schools run by the church would not join the Palestine Solidarity Week, which starts tomorrow.

“We will take the direction set by Sarawak not to hold (the event), but will pray for peace in Palestine,” Poh said.

He applauded the Sarawak government’s prudence in not following the MOE directive “so as not to stir up anything about this issue”.

He said the church was “greatly disturbed” by the MOE’s October 21 circular directing all schools, including vocational and matriculation colleges and teacher training institutes under ministry, to hold a solidarity week, Poh said students, as minors, must not be dragged into such polemics.

“In our case, when students are asked to lend support to Palestinians against Israel, this can give rise to anti-Jewish sentiment,” he said, referring to viral videos showing schoolchildren stepping on the Israeli flag and brandishing toy guns.

“I find such expressions of solidarity very disturbing.”

Sarawak mission schools will not hold the Palestine Solidarity Week event launched by the Education Ministry. – Screenshot, October 29, 2023.

Prioritising education

Poh said since the formation of Malaysia in 1963, schools have taught children to respect the differences in each other’s faiths and cultures.

“It is always inappropriate to encourage children to use violence or vent their anger against people adults label the enemy.

“What is even more terrifying is that while world rulers are trying to resolve the conflict, such violence is brought into classrooms and impressed upon innocent children.

“Guns and schools should never mix.”

Poh said Malaysians must remember schools were set up for education, not for learning hate.

“Let our energy be focused on economic recovery, creating jobs for our people, and working towards fostering harmony nationwide.”

The Dayak National Congress, which said it was dedicated to promoting racial unity, said the participation of students in such protests could have negative consequences on their wellbeing and academic progress.

The group, which was strongly opposed to Palestine Solidarity Week, said the event could expose children to potentially volatile situations.

It said the Israel-Hamas conflict was a multifaceted issue requiring a nuanced understanding of history, international law, and geopolitical dynamics. – October 29, 2023.

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