UNRWA: Stop Teaching Hate

The Path to Peace Begins in the Classroombut not in these classrooms… explains Dr. Joan Lurie, Founder and Co-Chair of “UNRWA: Stop Teaching Hate“.

The education of Palestinian school children in refugee camps all over the Middle East has been provided for 70 years by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The current materials used to educate over half a million Palestinian children are a major obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It is also true that the latest editions of these books take an even more intractable position. For example, in the older (pre-2017) books Israel was vilified by name. Now, in the new books, there is no mention of the word Israel and it does not appear on any map nor does any city built by the Jews.

Their curriculum must change drastically if there is ever to be a lasting negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Why? Because these schools have been inciting three generations of young Palestinians to hate and kill Jews, to revere martyrs and aspire to jihad. Parents of current students have been educated in the same schools, as have many of the 30,000 teachers employed by UNRWA.  Perhaps most importantly, the education curriculum teaches that the so-called Palestinian Right of Return is to be achieved by war. 

The Right of Return

UNRWA educates Palestinian students to seek the Right of Return. This is the political position or principle that Palestinian refugees, both first-generation refugees and their descendants, have a right to return, and a right to the property they themselves or their forebears left behind or were forced to leave in what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories, a result of the 1948 War of Independence and due to the 1967 Six-Day War. The PA and UNRWA want to apply the Right of Return to all 5.5 million refugees.

The schools and summer camps teach:

  • All can return to their ancestors’ towns and villages.
  • This will be achieved by war; Palestinians will conquer all the land from  the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.
  • The remnants of the Zionist entity will be murdered.

It is hard to believe than any nation would negotiate away its very existence so, while the Right of Return is on the table, it is not likely that there will be successful negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. This is relevant to our work because of the connection between education and indoctrination about the Right of Return. Refugees are kept in perpetual poverty and misery by a UN agency and by the PA. Resettlement is unthinkable and negotiation is impossible. This must change!

Palestinian Text Books

Israel is an internationally recognized sovereign state, and a full member of the UN. In the books taught in UNRWA schools, however, it does not exist and is replaced by an entity called “Palestine”. The names of all Jewish cities are removed from maps.  The words “Israel” and “Israeli” are absent; the “Zionist Entity” is the (illegal) occupier of the land. The only means of conflict resolution that these students have been exposed to is one of violence.

For the last 20 years books have been provided to all 700 UNRWA schools (serving over 500,000 children) by the Ministry of Education of the Palestinian Authority. Prior to that UNRWA schools used books of the country in which refugee camps were located. UNRWA claims that it vets the books to ensure that they adhere to UNESCO standards for education, but this has not been happening.  The education has been awful for 70 years, but in the last 20 years it has gotten far worse.  One of the Israeli scholars who has been translating and analyzing the contents of the books notes that the most recent (2019-2020) edition of the books is the most radical.

In a textbook teaching Arabic reading comprehension to girls, an entire chapter is dedicated to praising the martyr Dalal al-Mughrabi (shown on the left), who led a team of terrorists in the massacre of 38 Israelis, including 13 children, in 1978. She is glamorized and draped in the Palestinian flag.

We are grateful to David Bedein and Arnon Groiss for sharing their extensive research into UNRWA education, which has been ongoing for 20 years.

UNRWA: Stop Teaching Hate

Several years ago, after learning more about the role of UNRWA, the Caucus of JNGOs at the UN in New York decided to take on the challenge of spreading awareness and knowledge about this education.  ICJW has been a leader on this team since the beginning and, as Co-Chair of the group, Joan Lurie is grateful for the support of the ICJW Executive Committee. 

Our mission statement is: “To ensure that the UNRWA/Palestinian Authority curricula conform to standards of peace and tolerance required by United Nations principles and documents. It is immoral to use textbooks which teach Palestinian children to hate and kill Jews, to glorify martyrdom, to vilify and deny the existence of Israel and to use maps on which Israel (a UN member state) does not appear. Through advocacy and communication with the US Congress, UN member states, NGOs, wider civil society and individuals we aim to end the use of American and UN aid dollars and personnel to teach violence and terrorism in the schools. The ultimate goals of UNRWA: Stop Teaching Hate are reformed textbooks and teachers committed to tolerance and peace.”

As we studied these issues and began communicating with other groups working to improve the curriculum, we learned that the summer camps were, in some ways worse than the schools.  Here child soldiers are trained; a violation of International law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  This is child abuse!  As Jewish women, this abuse motivated us even more strongly.

A scene from a summer camp play

The education of Palestinian school children must change drastically if there is ever to be a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Generations of Palestinian children have been taught about the Right of Return, the glory of martyrdom, and to hate and kill Jews. Much of this is child abuse and should be changed for that reason alone!

ICJW’s Support for this Project

The ICJW Executive Committee meetings, both live and online, have supported the project.  The Friends of ICJW Foundation has given a grant to UNRWA: Stop Teaching Hate, which is enabling us to improve and maintain our web site www.reformUNRWA.com.

During the COVID pandemic we have organized Zoom presentations to members of ICJW on three continents, and to several NCJW sections and other community groups.  Before the pandemic, we spoke at a synagogue and an NCJW section.  We also gave less formal reports at numerous meetings.

We have formed alliances with several other organizations addressing this issue and have discussed education and alternate curricula with Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum of Jerusalem. Click here to read about our meeting with Fleur.

2020: Change is coming to the desert…

The UAE, Bahrain and Yemen have signed normalization agreements with Israel, signaling real changes in the region.  Not only were these Abraham Accords achieved, but when the Palestinians came to the Arab League for help in denouncing the agreement, the Arab League voted against supporting them.  The ties between these countries and Israel will encourage economic growth and closer people-to-people relations in the region.

As a group of JNGOs, concerned with the education that is currently in place, we welcome this agreement, particularly because the UAE already has an educational curriculum which teaches reconciliation and peace. Indeed, in just a few weeks, the curriculum was updated to include the normalization agreement in the education of UAE children. We have begun a dialogue with Her Excellency, Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh, permanent representative of the UAE at the UN, and hope she will agree to meet online with our Caucus and friends.