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ISGAP Flashpoint

Should funding to UNRWA be made conditional upon ending incitement?

By Rachel Avraham | November 15, 2017 | Flashpoint 47

A new comprehensive study by the Center for Near East Policy Research and the Israel Resource News Agency, commissioned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, highlights that there is an unprecedented level of incitement to terror in new Palestinian Authority school books used in UNRWA schools. How should the sixty-eight UNRWA donors react?

About the Author
Rachel Avraham

Rachel Avraham is a senior media research analyst at the Center for Near East Policy Research and a correspondent for the Israel Resource News Agency.  She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab media,” published by the Gefen Publishing House. She received her BA degree at the University of Maryland at College Parkand, where she majored in Government and Politics, and her MA degree from Ben Gurion University of the Negev, where she majored in Middle Eastern Studies.

The Center for Near East Policy Research and the Israel Resource News Agency published a comprehensive study, commissioned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, that provides numerous examples of how new Palestinian Authority textbooks, which are being used in UNRWA schools, incite terrorism against the Jewish people and State of Israel. What differentiates this study from previous studies of PA school textbooks — from the time that the PA began introducing its own schoolbooks into UNRWA schools in 2000 — is that this is the first time that all PA school books were examined in a comprehensive manner. The study argues that despite statements made to the contrary by the US State Department and others, incitement to terrorism remains a pivotal part of the Palestinian school curriculum.

For example, the textbooks describe Palestinian female terrorist Dalal Mughrabi, who murdered thirty-eight Israeli civilians in the Coastal Road Massacre, as a “martyr of Islamic and Arab history” who “commanded the Fidai ‘Deir Yassin’ operation on the Palestinian coast in 1978 in which over thirty soldiers were killed.”[1] A terror attack targeting the Jewish community of Psagot is portrayed as a “barbecue party [haflat shiwa’] [] with Molotov cocktails on one of the buses of the Psagot colony [musta’marah – Jewish settlement].”[2] A seventh grade textbook describes the State of Israel as the “devils aides,”[3] while a third grade textbook teaches a poem that calls to “remove the usurper [ghaseb – code name for Israel] from my country and [] exterminate [ubid] the foreigners’ scattered remnants [fulul al-ghuraba’].” The poem continues to state: “O land of Al-Aqsa [Mosque] and the sacred place [haram], O cradle of pride and nobility. Patience, patience, for victory is ours!”[4]

Moreover, throughout the 2016-2017 textbooks, the name “Israel” was replaced by the phrase “Zionist occupation” and the Arab-Israeli conflict was referred to as “the Zionist-Arab conflict.” The maps in the Palestinian textbooks do not show Israel on the map. Even major Israeli cities, such as Tel Aviv, do not appear on the maps in the Palestinian textbooks, as they were built by Jews. Instead, the textbooks call for the descendants of the Palestinian refugees to return to their former homes via armed struggle. A fifth grade textbook declares, “We are returning/ Returning to the homes, to the valleys, to the mountains/ Under the flag of glory, Jihad and struggle/ With blood, sacrifice, fraternity and loyalty/ We are returning.”[5] Even the math textbooks include questions that prompt students to support “Palestinian shahids.” The question remains: should funding to UNRWA be made conditional upon reforms in the UNRWA educational system?

Chris Gunness, spokesman for UNRWA, issued a statement saying that the UN agency is mandated to teach the national curriculum of the host country’s government, which, in this case, refers to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. Gunness claimed: “We have reviewed them rigorously in line with our curriculum framework, which aims to ensure that our curriculum is in line with UN values. In the small number of instances where issues of concern were found, we have created enriched complementary materials for use in our classrooms and we will be rolling out training on this to our teachers in the coming months. UNRWA’s condemnation of all forms of racism is a matter of public record.”[6]

A spokesman for the Swiss Embassy concurred: “UNRWA’s condemnation of all forms of racism and its efforts to prevent them are well documented. As evidenced by Switzerland’s regular dialogue with UNRWA, the Agency investigates founded issues with due diligence. In this regard, UNWA has one of the strictest control mechanisms in the UN system. Switzerland has no evidence of institutionalized hate speech or institutionalized anti-Semitism on the part of UNRWA.”[7]

Dr. Arnon Groiss, the study’s author, disagrees, stressing that documentation provided by the Center for Near East Policy Research shows that some UNRWA staff members have openly supported terrorism against Israel, as well as online antisemitic hate speech. In fact, some UNRWA teachers have even moonlighted as terrorists. For example, UNRWA’s workers union publicized a poster featuring the map of “Palestine” (Israel is wiped off the map) accompanied with the following caption: “Oh UNRWA, we have a cause and our fight, jihad, resistance and struggle against those who usurped our land do not need neutrality.”[8] The UNRWA workers’ union has been controlled by Hamas for many years. Some former UNRWA employees, including Suheil Al-Hindi, were actively part of Hamas while working for UNRWA. It took a very long time for UNRWA to get rid of Hindi.[9]

Om Alaa, who identifies herself as an UNRWA teacher on her Facebook profile, published on social media a picture of Adolf Hitler and his “top” ten quotes. Eman Shammala, who identifies herself as an UNRWA teacher on her Facebook profile, published a photo on Facebook of a keffiyeh-clad Palestinian playing a knife like a violin, using a Palestinian “key of return” as a bow.[10] At the Al Fakhoura Middle School (UNRWA), the Islamic Bloc organized an event honoring thirteen years since the martyrdom of senior level Hamas terrorist Sheikh Yassin. A sign featuring Sheikh Yassin and the Hamas flag waved outside of the school.[11]

These are but a few examples that highlight how UNRWA has been exploited by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah terrorists. However, there are still those in the international community who refuse to acknowledge this reality. Therefore, Sander Gerber, a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, added: “The PA indoctrination of its population is well known but its pervasiveness and impact hasn’t been fully appreciated. The Center for Near East Policy Research study identifies UNRWA education as one epicenter for this institutionalized hatred, which blocks any hope for peace.”[12]

Rabbi Elie Abadie of the Sephardic Academy in New York emphasized: “I think the US and also the UN need to review that entire budget to UNRWA and to make it conditional on them maintaining their neutrality, removing any inciteful material and removing any employee that is connected to terror organizations. Many of the UNRWA employees are sympathizers of terror organizations. Some of those schools are used to store weapons, keytoushas and rockets. That entire charter of UNRWA has to be checked and revised. I think it should have been done long ago.”[13]

Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely concurred: “A fundamental examination and serious revision of UNRWA is required. It is crucial that the UNRWA curriculum be revised to educate for peace instead of continuing to incite a new generation towards hate and violence. We need to see a reform in UNRWA. There needs to be increased supervision and accountability of relief funds to ensure they are going to help needy people and not to support terror and the destruction of Israel.”[14]

MK Dr. Anat Berko added: “The issue of UNRWA should be investigated. It definitely should not stay as it is today. Yes to humanitarian aid. No to ‘refugee forever.’”[15]

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado) took it a step further: “All funding for UNRWA should be cut until reform conditions are met. Textbooks that delegitimize Israel, denigrate the Jewish people, promote the ‘right of return’ through violent struggle, and glorify martyrdom must be banned.”[16]

Dr. Yitzchak Ben Gad, Former Israeli Consul General to Miami, Former Israeli Consul General to Chicago and Former Deputy Mayor of Netanya, maintained: “I think UNRWA is a source of trouble. Its mandate was to help the Palestinians to stand on their own two feet and to be a constructive element in Palestinian society and to support themselves and their families. Instead, they are doing the opposite. They teach children to hate Jews and Israelis. They even quote the Quran that says that the most terrible enemy of the Muslims is the Jews. Enough is enough. Time for a change.”[17]

Prominent Middle East expert Dr. Mordechai Kedar stressed: “UNRWA lost its raison d’etre years ago and all of the other issues are secondary.”[18]

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, declared: “Since the 1990s, the ADL has been a strong voice calling for peace education for all. We have long expressed outrage that textbooks in the Palestinian Authority have not prepared these students for peace, and instead have instilled deep hostility towards Israel and Jews and support for terrorism and armed conflict. Over the years, much attention has been paid to this issue, and the Palestinian Authority, UNWRA and others have pledged to remove antisemitism, the celebration of terrorism and incitement from these educational materials. To a degree, they have done so. We are therefore alarmed that new textbooks for Palestinian students appear to still venerate terrorists and promote martyrdom and do little to promote the idea of Israel as a reality and a partner for peace.”[19]

Rabbi Donniel Hartman, head of the Shalom Hartman Institute, believes that there are deeper issues with which the international community must grapple: “In contemporary moral discourse, the powerless are always moral. The powerless aren’t challenged for their moral failures. Power equals immoral colonialism. We allow the powerless to maintain mediocre moral standards as if we are somehow being considerate when we are condemning their society to the mediocre. We are not doing the powerless any favors by providing excuses. Moral expectations are healthy for everyone. When you don’t treat someone as an adult, it is paternalist. It is not just UNRWA. It is a universal discourse.”

“In the Jewish tradition, we are taught that we have sinned,” Hartman added. “Every society has to ask themselves what they have done wrong, not what someone else did as an excuse for my wrongdoings…Today, you win when you are considered the victim. The issue is how we live together, not counting the chips of victimhood. Under the assumption that the textbooks are morally flawed, anybody who pushes for more improvement is helping. Whether the best way is sanctions or not is a separate issue. The Palestinians have to be held responsible for what they teach their children and until they do, any aspirations for peace and a better Middle East won’t come to fruition.”[20]

All of the documentation provided by the Center for Near East Policy Research and the Israel Resource News Agency demonstrates that the there is, in fact, an unprecedented level of incitement to terror in PA textbooks being used in UNRWA schools.

Yet, the question remains: How should the international community respond to this incitement? Disbanding UNRWA is not an option, as it can only be disbanded by the United Nations General Assembly.

Therefore, the only possible way to bring about change in UNRWA education is for donor states in the West to use their financial influence to insist that UNRWA’s curriculum excludes the promotion of hate and violence and that its materials reflect the reality of a neighboring Jewish state. In addition, the new UN Secretary General and all nations committed to peace in the Middle East must demand that UNRWA end all incitement in their schools. Furthermore, all staff members—especially teachers—who are members of terror organizations and/or make statements in support of terrorism and/or demonstrate hate speech be immediately fired.

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[1] Arabic Language, Grade 5, Part 1 (2017) p. 14; Social Studies, Grade 9, Part 1 (2017) p. 74.
[2] Arabic Language, Grade 9, Part 1 (2017) p. 61.
[3] Arabic Language, Grade 7, Part 1 (2017) p. 66.
[4] Our Beautiful Language, Grade 3, Part 2 (2016) p. 64.
[5] Our Beautiful Language, Grade 5, Part 1 (2015) p. 50.
[6] United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, “Textbooks Used in UNRWA Schools in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” October 6, 2017.
[7] From an exclusive interview with the author or this article.
[8] The Center for Near East Policy Research, “Hamas continues to operate freely in UNRWA schools in Gaza,” September 2017.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] From an exclusive interview with the author of this article.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Ibid.


Rachel Avraham is a senior media research analyst at the Center for Near East Policy Research and a correspondent for the Israel Resource News Agency.  She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab media,” published by the Gefen Publishing House. She received her BA degree at the University of Maryland at College Parkand, where she majored in Government and Politics, and her MA degree from Ben Gurion University of the Negev, where she majored in Middle Eastern Studies.

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