Malaysia slams students, teachers carrying toy guns in schools in solidarity with Palestine
Online images showing children and teachers in Malaysia bearing mock firearms in local schools as part of government-endorsed nationwide Palestine solidarity programmes have raised concern among locals.
The Education Ministry also criticised the extremist elements in those activities.
One video shared on social media on Friday showed teachers parading before assembled students at an unidentified school, carrying toy guns while wearing black-and-white chequered Palestinian keffiyeh, or scarves.
Students at other schools were also seen in photos sporting green bandanas printed with the words “Save Palestine” while also carrying make-believe weapons.
Some of the photos were first shared on WhatsApp by a teacher praising her students, with some captioned “PPKI”, a reference to Malaysia’s Integrated Special Education Programme.
Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim called for better control of the solidarity programme.
“We discussed this in the Cabinet meeting. We encourage schools to do this (show solidarity) but we do not force them,” he said on Friday. “We have to control it, so it won’t become a problem.”
Malaysia’s Education Ministry on Friday condemned the use of the toy guns in the solidarity programmes and said it prohibited the use of replica weapons, icons and symbols in a “provocative and confrontational manner”.
“This programme falls outside the period set for the Palestine Solidarity Week and does not adhere to the guidelines set by the ministry,” it said in a statement, adding there will be no room for activities with extremist elements.
“All institutions under the purview of the ministry must adhere to the established guidelines.”
A Palestine Solidarity Week in local schools will be held from Oct 29 to Nov 3, Malaysia’s Education Ministry had told administrators of public institutions, including vocational and matriculation colleges, in a circular dated Oct 21.
Some suggested activities include an official launch of the solidarity week during schools’ morning assemblies, fund-raisers for the people of Palestine and the playing of songs and videos that “tied in with humanitarian issues” in the war-stricken area.
The educational programmes have raised concerns online among Malaysians.
“What about rights for other refugees? What about doing the same for those slaughtered in Myanmar, for example? Championing issues shouldn’t be based on religion but human rights principles,” wrote Malaysian activist and film-maker Mahi Ramakrishnan on X, formerly Twitter, on Tuesday.
Others disagreed with bringing the support for the Palestinian cause into local schools.
“If a student does not intend to participate or donate, would they be labelled as Zionist or anti-Palestinian?” wrote another X user. “If politics can be used to exploit this matter and incite racial sentiments, what more students who are not mature enough to understand this complex issue?”
Multiple civil society groups also raised objection to the solidarity week. The Kuala Lumpur-based Global Human Rights Federation released a joint statement representing 17 non-governmental organisations to state the proposed programme was “not adequately considered for its long-term impact”, and decided without Parliament discussions or consultations with parents.
Some states are looking to break away from the ministry-issued directive.
Schools in the eastern state of Sarawak would not be obligated to organise the solidarity week programme, said Mr Chong Chieng Jen, MP for the state’s Stampin constituency, adding that he had obtained confirmation from federal Deputy Education Minister Lim Hui Ying.
“The Ministry of Education should not involve school students in the international political conflict of Palestine and Israel, as the conflict is a very emotive and complicated issue. Anger and hatred are normally associated with such issue,” Mr Chong said on Thursday.
“These are not what we want our young children to get involved in during their childhood in schools.”
Sabah schools will also not be required to hold Palestine solidarity programmes, said the state’s Industrial Development Minister Phoong Jin Zhe on Friday.
The Israel-Hamas war has seen multiple rallies held in Malaysia and attended by leaders across the political divide to express its support for the Palestinian community in the Gaza Strip, where more than 7,300 people, mostly civilians, have died, according to Gaza health officials.
Datuk Seri Anwar joined more than 16,000 supporters in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday in one of the largest gatherings to date in Malaysia expressing solidarity with Palestine.
“It’s a level of insanity to allow people to be butchered, babies to be killed, hospitals to be bombed, and schools to be destroyed... It’s the height of barbarism in this world,” he said at the Axiata Arena.
Mr Anwar also revealed he had been threatened by European politicians for speaking up for Palestinian human rights, prompting the national police chief to reveal that the prime minister’s security detail would be beefed up.
Israel has vowed to annihilate Palestinian militant group Hamas after a surprise Oct 7 attack in southern Israel killed around 1,400 people, with more than 200 others taken hostage.
In addition to the school programmes, young people in Malaysia have also been showing their support for Palestinians by starting virtual peace rallies on gaming platform Roblox.
On Roblox, the players’ virtual avatars can be seen carrying flags in the Palestinian colours while marching with other players towards a virtual parade square in the game.