Despite repeated reports warning of the antisemitism in United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) schools, the UN agency continues to employ teachers who spread hate and teach hateful and inciting content to children, according to a new report by UN Watch and IMPACT-SE published on Tuesday.
The report included 100 pages of evidence showing examples of hate and incitement to violence spread by UNRWA teachers and schools.
The organizations compiled the evidence by searching through the Facebook profiles of confirmed UNRWA employees and collecting photos from inside UNRWA classrooms and UNRWA-created material distributed online.
The organizations noted that they only checked Facebook profiles that they could verify as being of UNRWA employees, meaning that the actual number of employees spreading hateful messages is likely higher. Additional verified employees also share the hateful content created by other employees.
"Were UNRWA itself to examine its employees, on and off Facebook and other social media platforms, it can reasonably be estimated that thousands of UNRWA employees would be implicated in supporting hate or violence," noted the organizations in the report.
UNRWA provides education to thousands of Palestinian children
UNRWA provides education to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. UNRWA does not produce its own educational material and instead teaches the curriculum and textbooks of the host country. In Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, UNRWA schools teach the Palestinian Authority curriculum, which has been shown to include many examples of hateful and antisemitic content.
While UNRWA insists that it “ensures that the way the host country curriculum is taught in its schools in all five fields of operation is in line with the Humanitarian Principles of humanity, neutrality, independence, and impartiality," UN Watch and IMPACT-SE say their new report shows this is not the case.
The report spotlighted 10 UNRWA employees who posted hateful content: Adnan Shteiwi, Mahmoud Khalil, Riad Nimer, Zaher Fanous, Arwa al-Najjar Umm Islam, Nizar Khalil Abu Shaheen, Ayman Dlash, Abu Firas Azab, Ahmad Dawoud and Labibeh Iskandarani.
Who are the 10 employees?
Shteiwi, a math teacher at UNRWA in Syria, praised the terrorist who carried out a shooting attack in Bnei Brak in March 2022 and terrorists who were part of the Lions' Den group who were killed in an Israeli raid in Nablus in October 2022.
Khalil, a teacher and translator at UNWRA in Syria, shared a tweet in May 2021 praising Hamas rocket attacks against Israelis and a post venerating Palestinian terrorist Udai Tamimi, who carried out the shooting attack in which IDF soldier Noa Lazar was murdered.
Nimer, a UNRWA teacher in Lebanon, also shared and wrote posts praising Palestinian terrorism, including one calling Palestinian terrorist Ibrahim al-Nabulsi the "noblest of heroes."
The report also included examples of educational content used in UNRWA schools that glorified terrorists or encouraged violence, encouraged martyrdom, demonized Israel, rejected Israel's right to exist or promoted antisemitism.
For example, photos from a 5th-grade classroom in the Al-Zaytun Elementary School in the Gaza Strip from March 2022 showed a large photograph of Dalal Mughrabi, a Fatah terrorist who took part in the 1978 Coastal Road massacre in which 38 Israeli civilians were murdered. Writing next to the photo venerated her and a Telegram message from a class group indicates that the photo and text were part of a lesson given to the class.
In November 2021, UNRWA spokesperson Tamara Alrifai told Foreign Policy magazine that UNRWA schools had stopped teaching about Mughrabi. In 2020, Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner-general of UNRWA, told The Jerusalem Post that "there is no glorification of martyrs being taught in UNRWA schools" and that the agency has given "clear instructions" to teachers not to teach about Mughrabi.
The photos collected by UN Watch and IMPACT-SE indicate such instructions are not being followed or have not been issued.
Another example found from the Al-Maghazi Middle School for Boys B is a reading comprehension exercise for a 9th-grade Arabic Language class includes a story about a Palestinian firebombing attack on a Jewish bus near Ramallah, celebrating the attack as a "barbecue party" (haflat shiwaa).
An additional example from the Asma Middle School for Girls B includes a lesson titled "Loving the Homeland" which encourages schoolgirls to sacrifice their lives, saying "the most precious thing" is for a person "to nourish the homeland with his blood." One grammar exercise in the lesson includes the example sentences "I will commit jihad to liberate the homeland. We Palestinians resisted the Occupation. I will not give up a centimeter of my land."
"Let us be clear: the problem is not the social media posts, but rather the employment of teachers who preach antisemitism and terrorism,”
UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer
A social studies exercise from the Tel al-Hawa Middle School asks 9th-grade students to prove that "the Zionist colonialism works to make the Palestinian people ignorant" and to verify that "The Zionist occupation conducts religious oppression against the Palestinians."
In light of the evidence compiled in the report, UN Watch and IMPACT-SE called on countries that donate hundreds of millions of dollars to UNRWA each year, including the US, EU, Germany, the UK, France and Canada, to demand accountability and transparency from the UN agency.
The two organizations called on the donor states to demand that UNRWA implement a "zero tolerance" policy for hate, to conduct an investigation into the hateful content and to demand that all hateful content be removed from educational material used in UNRWA schools.
“With a budget of $1.6 billion, nearly 60% of which goes to education, and a staff of 30,000, the UN agency might be the most heavily funded educational undertaking in the history of international aid. And yet our report today demonstrates how UNRWA has consistently breached its duty of care to the children attending its schools,” said Marcus Sheff, CEO of IMPACT-se. “UNRWA is obsessed by PR spin and fundraising, but disinterested in the extremism of its educational network. If it had wanted to stop the hate-teaching, UNRWA would have done so years ago.”
UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer stressed that because teachers who incited racism and violence were not fired and antisemitic content was not removed, "UNRWA should therefore be considered complicit in its staff members’ misconduct."
“Around the world, educators who incite hate and violence are removed. Yet UNRWA, despite proclaiming ‘zero tolerance’ for incitement, systematically employs preachers of anti-Jewish hate and terrorism. Let us be clear: the problem is not the social media posts, but rather the employment of teachers who preach antisemitism and terrorism,” said Neuer.
“A mere slap on the wrist to teachers of hate only sends the message that it’s business as usual. Instead, those who incite to racism or murder should be fired, under a zero-tolerance policy, just as the UK government banned a teacher from the classroom for life over an antisemitic Facebook post."