Who is really demystifying UNRWA’s approach to the curriculum?

Israel is an internationally recognized sovereign state, a full member of the UN. In the books taught in UNRWA schools, however, it does not exit and is replaced by an entity called “Palestine.”

Palestinian children pose in front of a map of Israel covered with the Palestinian flag, vowing to return to their families’ former homes (photo credit: DAVID BEDEIN)
Palestinian children pose in front of a map of Israel covered with the Palestinian flag, vowing to return to their families’ former homes
(photo credit: DAVID BEDEIN)
“Demystifying the UNRWA approach to curriculum”  is the title given by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for the refugees of the 1948 war in the Middle East (or, rather, their third and fourth-generation descendants) to a two-page statement on its educational system issued in January 2020, thus creating the impression among those who are unfamiliar with this UN agency that there are individuals, or organizations, trying to mystify UNRWA’s educational endeavor and present it not in its true colors.

This UNRWA policy statement declares that UNRWA provides educational services to more than 530,000 Palestinian children in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank (including east Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip, and that these students do much better than their peers in public schools.

The centerpiece of this quality education is: “The commitment of UNRWA to the delivery of an education in its schools that is consistent with the values and principles of the United Nations (UN) and promotes human rights, tolerance, equality and nondiscrimination of race, gender, language and religion.” The statement further says that “UNRWA uses the curriculum of the “host country.” This ensures Palestinian refugees can integrate into host secondary and tertiary educational systems and more broadly participate in the social and economic life of the host country. As an independent UN Agency providing humanitarian and development assistance, UNRWA has no mandate to alter any host government curriculum or textbooks which are a matter of national sovereignty.” As regards the situation in the West Bank and Gaza: “While UNRWA uses the Palestinian curriculum, it reiterates that it has a robust system in place to ensure that the education it delivers in its classroom, including through the use of textbooks, is in line with UN values and principles and addresses any bias.” UNRWA’s statement describes in detail the agency’s various supervision methods ensuring the Palestinian Authority’s schoolbooks used in UNRWA schools indeed meet UN standards. It also mentions a report by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) that “affirms the unwavering UNRWA commitment to UN values.” I cannot speak for the US GAO, but we have read the books used in UNRWA schools in the West Bank and Gaza since their first appearance in 2000, and I can say out loud that they certainly do not conform to UN standards.

For example, Israel is an internationally recognized sovereign state, a full member of the UN. In the books taught in UNRWA schools, however, it does not exit and is replaced by an entity called “Palestine.”

A social studies textbook for sixth grade shows a map of the Levant region in western Asia and the four states appearing there are Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. The map’s title says “States of the Levant [Bilad al-Sham in Arabic].” Israel is not mentioned by its name in most cases. It is referred to as a vague entity under the title “the Zionist occupation.” Its six million Jewish citizens are not regarded as legitimate inhabitants in the country and their cities – including Tel Aviv – do not appear on the map.

Their national language – Hebrew – is erased, literally, from a historical coin of British Mandatory time. Jerusalem, the Jews’ ancient and modern capital, is declared to have been established by Arabs and presented as a holy city to Muslims and Christians only. The Jews’ ties to this city are totally ignored: “Jerusalem is an Arab city built by our Arab ancestors thousands of years ago. Jerusalem is a holy city to Muslims and Christians.”

The Western Wall in Jerusalem, the Jews’ holiest place, is said to be exclusively Muslim and the picture showing it is cut in the middle so that the Jews praying there would not be seen. “Illumination: Al-Buraq Wall is thus named after Al-Buraq [the divine beast] that carried [according to Islamic belief] the Messenger [Muhammad] in the Isra’ and Mi’raj Journey [nocturnal journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, from which he ascended to Heaven having tied Al-Buraq to the Wailing Wall]. The Al-Buraq Wall is part of the western wall of Al-Aqsa Mosque and it is the exclusive right of the Muslims alone.” (Islamic Education, Grade 5, Part 1, 2019) The Jews are called “the Devil aids,” which is certainly not in line with UN principles: “Where are the horsemen [who would ride] to Al-Aqsa [Mosque] to liberate it from the grip of infidelity, from the Devil’s aides?”

Another important UN principle is the peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 are the UN chief expression of this principle. Yet, the books taught in UNRWA schools never advocate peace and co-existence with Israel. Rather, they call for a war of liberation, starting from Grade 1.

This is a total war with a view to eliminating the State of Israel, which has no place if Palestine is made free, as seen in a decorated product sold to tourists in Bethlehem and shown in a third grade textbook.

This war, which is given Islamic features such as Jihad, martyrdom and the emphasis on the liberation of Al-Aqsa Mosque, includes as well a notion that UNRWA school are especially tuned to, namely, the so-called “right of return” of the descendants of the Palestinian refugees of 1948. That return is violent and it constitutes part and parcel of the war, as the refugees are supposed to return to liberated Palestine: “We shall return; we shall return with the soaring eagles; we shall return with the wildly blowing wind; we shall return to the vineyards and the olive trees; we shall return in order to raise the flag of Palestine, alongside the anemone flower, on our green hills.” (Arabic Language, Grade 5, Part 1, 2019) Terror is also part and parcel of the war. Dalal al-Mughrabi, who commanded a terrorist attack against an Israeli civilian bus on Israel’s Coastal Highway in 1978, in which more than 30 people were killed, has become a role model in Palestinian schools, including those ones operated by UNRWA: “Our Palestinian history is full of many names of martyrs who gave their souls as a sacrifice for the homeland. Among them [was] the female martyr Dalal al-Mughrabi who painted with her struggle a picture of challenging and heroism which have made her memory eternal in our hearts and minds. The text in front of us talks about an aspect of her struggle path.” (Arabic Language, Grade 5, Part 2, 2019) The books taught in UNRWA schools assume, so it seems, that the liberation struggle will bear fruit, and the question arises, what should be done with the six million Jews living in the country. The answer – extermination – clearly does not follow the UN noble principles as stated by UNRWA: “We will sing and learn by heart: The Land of the Noble Ones

I swear! I shall sacrifice my blood

In order to water the land of the noble ones

And to remove the usurper [i.e., Israel] from my land

And to exterminate [ubid] the foreigners’ defeated remnants

O land of Al-Aqsa [Mosque] and the holy place

O cradle of pride and nobility

Patience, patience, for victory is ours

And dawn is peeping from the darkness.”

(Our Beautiful Language, Grade 3, Part 2, 2019)

THE VIOLENCE against Jews is not necessarily postponed to that date. The burning of Jews in a civilian bus by Molotov Cocktails near Ramallah is described in one of the stories as a “barbecue party.”

“The neighbor: ‘The curfew does not include us in al-Shurafah [neighborhood]. It is imposed on al-Natarish [neighborhood]. It seems that there is a barbecue party there with Molotov Cocktails on one of the buses of Psagot colony on Mount al-Tawil.” (Arabic language, Grade 9, Part 1, 2019.) This is what UNRWA teaches in its schools. It is hate education accompanied by war indoctrination against a member state of the UN. Such “education” contradicts all UN standards and should be stopped. If UNRWA cannot alter the Palestinian Authority’s books, as it says, and in light of the obvious failure of all its control methods, as we have just seen, then, UNRWA should quit the education field altogether. It might have graduated skilled Palestinian youngsters, but also contributed to the perpetuation of the conflict. That is certainly not “consistent with the values and principles of the UN.”
David Bedein is director of Israel Resource News Agency, Center for Near East Policy Research ([email protected]). The research for this article was conducted by Dr. Arnon Groiss