AMMAN – Riyadh’s thunderous voice silenced some 45 noisy students in Bakaa
elementary school for Palestinian refugees before he started his history class.
The students listened to a lecture about the Roman Empire and conquest of North
From behind his thick glasses, the long-bearded, 37-year-old
teacher vehemently rejects the idea of teaching the Holocaust to his class of
Palestinian refugees, all hailing from towns that are now part of Israel since
their parents or grandparents fled after the 1948 war.
that I would teach my students about the so-called Holocaust. UNRWA is
planning to impose this on us, but we refuse to teach the history of our eternal
enemies,” he insisted to The Media Line.
Earlier this month, officials in
UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees in
the Middle East, said Holocaust studies would be part of the school syllabus
given to students in elementary classes.
But the idea has met with fierce
criticism from teachers in Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan and across the
“The students need to know about their own history, how
their parents were driven from their homes at gunpoint by Israeli gangs and
militias, not how the Jews are victims,” said Riyadh.
UNRWA teachers say
the UN body is planning to include the topic under the pretext of talking about
“The UN should show some respect for our tragedy. I would
prefer to resign from my job than teach my students to sympathize with the same
people who took our land,” Riyadh said.
He declined to give his last name
because he faced expulsion from his job for talking to
Earlier this month, the Executive Committee of UNRWA
Teachers in Jordan, a body representing some 4,000 teachers in UNRWA schools
around the country, announced it would not allow its members to teach Holocaust
studies, following news that the topic would be included in this year’s
In a nearby elementary school for girls, Huda teaches
religious studies to students aged 12 to 15. She said the issue of the Holocaust
was very controversial as long as peace with Israel was not achieved, and she
called for a final and fair solution to the 60- year-old conflict.
between Arabs and Israelis must come first. There is the so-called peace process
between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, but that process has been going
backward rather than forward,” she said.
The head of the Jordanian UNRWA
teachers’ committee, Shaker Resheq, issued a statement expressing refusal to
teach Holocaust studies.
“We express our strong disapproval [of teaching
about the Holocaust] under any name or pretext. At the same time, the UN General
Assembly stresses that it respects human rights of all nations, starting with
the Palestinian people and their tragic history over the years,” the statement
UNRWA officials were not available for comment, but a source in the
organization said the plan to teach the Holocaust had been put in place as part
of modern history studies. He said the idea had been introduced in 2011 but been
shelved following protests from Palestinian communities in Jordan, the West
Bank, Gaza, Lebanon and Syria.
“The Holocaust is included in topics that
discuss tolerance, conflict resolution, coexistence and other modern history
issues,” said the source, who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of
Jordanian Education Ministry officials said it was up to
UNRWA whether to include the topic in its textbooks. An official source in the
ministry said the Jordanian government, which has made peace with Israel, was
also contemplating incorporating the Holocaust into its history books. He
admitted that the political atmosphere in the region, including the Arab Spring,
had discouraged plans to implement the project.
UNRWA runs nearly 700
schools, providing education to nearly half a million refugee students in
Jordan, the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. For over 60 years, it has been
the main provider of free-of-charge basic education to what is now nearly five
million Palestinian refugees.
In Jordan, the agency operates in 10
officially registered camps and runs 172 schools with 117,274 pupils, while in
Lebanon there are 12 camps hosting 68 schools with 32,213 pupils. In Syria there
are nine camps with 118 schools providing education to 66,586 pupils, the West
Bank has 19 camps with 98 schools providing education to 52,633 pupils, and
Gaza, which is home to eight refugee camps with 243 schools, has 218,048
Jordan has nearly 1.6 million students studying in around 4,000
public and private schools across the kingdom, most of which follow the
Education Ministry curriculum.
UNRWA says its schoolchildren follow the
host authorities’ curricula and textbooks, and that it supplements these with
its own materials on human rights in a project launched in 2000, and adopts a
variety of theoretical and hands-on techniques to promote non-violence, healthy
communication skills, conflict resolution and human rights. UNRWA also
emphasizes the importance of tolerance and good citizenship.
narrow streets of the Bakaa camp, the largest camp hosting Palestinian refugees
in the region, residents have shown their support for the teachers’ position and
called for adding the Arab Spring to the history curriculum.
al-Weheidi, a tribal leader whose family hails from Beir al-Saba, says he does
not recognize the Holocaust.
“I don’t think UNRWA teachers will ever
accept it. If they do, they will have no honor, nor respect for the tragedy of
their people,” he told the Media Line.
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