Palestinian schoolchildren in UN-run schools may soon learn about the Holocaust as part of a new curriculum on human rights that is being developed by a UN relief agency.
Despite strong opposition from Palestinians, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees is pushing forward with the new curriculum, currently in its draft stages, which will be circulated among parents, educators and human rights experts in the coming weeks.
"The issue is not whether UNRWA's Human Rights Education will include the important education on the Holocaust or not. It will," a spokesman for UNRWA in Gaza told The Jerusalem Post. "But this is not the only subject."
Rumors about the proposed curriculum erupted in controversy last month, when Palestinians protested plans to teach students about the Holocaust. At the time, UN officials said the curriculum would not be introduced this year, but they stuck by the concept. Since then, UN officials have said the Holocaust will be taught within the context of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Currently, the Holocaust is not taught in UN-run schools in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, or in Palestinian schools in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, where officials said teaching Palestinian children about the Holocaust would first require peace with Israel. UN schools in Gaza are bound by Palestinian curriculum, but they may make changes. Since 2002, the schools have incorporated lessons on human rights.
John Ging, UNRWA's director of operations in the Strip, said any human rights course would be incomplete without a discussion of the Holocaust.
"No human-rights curriculum is complete without the inclusion of the facts of the Holocaust, and its lessons," Ging told Britain's The Independent. He said he was "confident and determined" the Holocaust would be included in the new curriculum. But it will only be a part of the lessons, which will touch on genocide in Rwanda, the apartheid regime in South Africa, ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and the "Nakba," or Palestinian "day of catastrophe."
"This is also part of the frustration here. There are so many global tragedies and travesties that are learned worldwide. Who learns about the Nakba?" Ging asked.
The proposed Holocaust curriculum will "inculcate the values" of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to Ging. He said that in 2005, the General Assembly urged "all countries to teach the lessons of the Holocaust to children so that we learn from history, so that we don't repeat history."
Ging criticized Israeli policies in Gaza, which he said amount to a "seemingly endless list of travesty and injustice."
But "we can't wait for those to be righted before we also do more to counter the effect of all that," he said, citing restrictions on fishing and travel and public health concerns such as a lack of clean water.
Still, controversy surrounding the curriculum has made UNRWA, which runs 221 out of 600 primary and secondary schools in Gaza, vulnerable to criticism.
Indeed, last month, Yunis al-Astal, a Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said it would be "marketing a lie" and a "war crime" to include the Holocaust in any part of the curriculum, according to The Independent.
But critics of the United Nations said the Holocaust must be part of a human rights curriculum. Disconnecting the Holocaust from human rights highlights the anti-Semitic bias in the UN, charged Jewish officials and others, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican congresswoman from Florida.
Earlier this year, New Jersey Rep. Steve Rothman, a Democrat, introduced a resolution calling on UNRWA to improve its transparency by publishing educational materials and publicizing a list of its employees.
"I'm encouraged that UNRWA is taking this step and is incorporating the Holocaust into its school curriculum, but we'll reserve judgment until we see what the actual textbooks say," Rothman said in a statement on Monday. "The lack of transparency has been an issue in the past and there's no way of knowing what the textbooks actually say."
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.