from Pressure Points

Reforms Should Come Before New Funding for UNRWA

The Biden administration restores funding of texts that glorify violence

On April 7, the State Department announced a resumption of aid the UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency dealing with Palestinians. Here is part of the statement:

The United States is resuming support for UNRWA’s  services, including  education for over 500,000  Palestinian  boys and girls, thereby  providing  hope and stability in  UNRWA’s five fields of operation in  Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza Strip.   Funding  to UNRWA  also provides  critical COVID-19  assistance, including  healthcare, medicine,  and medical supplies, as well as cash and food assistance to  families  severely impacted by COVID-19.  The United States is deeply committed to ensuring that our partnership with UNRWA promotes neutrality, accountability, and transparency.  As with all of our engagements with UN institutions, the United States needs to be at the table to ensure that the reforms advance efficiencies and are in accord with our interests and values.

In view of what we know about UNWRA, this is a terrible abdication of the responsibility to assure that UNRWA stops teaching hate. As recently as January, 2021 “The head of the U.N. agency tasked with providing support to Palestinians acknowledged on Thursday that learning materials widely distributed in Gaza and West Bank schools contained ‘inappropriate’ content glorifying Palestinian militants and encouraging violence.” Moreover, UNRWA has suffered from a long history of mismanagement and corruption, sufficient to lead its top official to resign in 2019 after an ethics report that led Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland to suspend their UNRWA contributions temporarily in protest.

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What is the problem with what UNRWA is teaching Palestinian children? The answer is laid out in a report issued in January, 2021 by IMPACT-se, (Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education). The report notes that part of the problem is with UNRWA’s uncritical use of Palestinian Authority textbooks that glorify violence and teach hate. But UNRWA adds its own contributions to teaching hate:

UNRWA, as a UN organization, knowingly teaches material that is inconsistent with UN values in its Gaza Strip and West Bank schools…. while most of the problematic material is also found—and indeed, inherited from the PA curriculum—in a not-insignificant number of instances, we found the introduction of UNRWA-produced problematic content.

UNRWA-produced material frequently references, and sometimes directly reproduces, texts and phrases from the PA textbooks that glorify violence and sacrificing one’s life and blood to defend the “motherland.” Such examples include Arabic grammar exercises that use the language of jihad and sacrifice…and passages that celebrate known terrorists such as Dalal Mughrabi. In past statements, UNRWA officials have explicitly denied teaching students the sections of the PA curriculum that discuss Dalal Mughrabi, making the inclusion of these passages even more surprising and concerning. We were unable to find any direct condemnation of violence….We were not able to find in the UNRWA-produced material any treatment of peace….

The report contains numerous examples. Here are a few:

UNRWA-produced material references Israel and Zionism entirely in a negative context, perpetuating hostility and myths that provoke hatred and demonize Israelis. Examples of this included accusing Israel of causing the 1969 Al-Aqsa Mosque fire; of deliberately dumping radioactive and toxic waste in the West Bank; and of systematically stealing Palestinian antiquities. These discredited conspiracy theories continue to reinforce fear and hatred of Israel.

UNRWA-produced material almost never refers to Israel by name, but rather as “the Occupation,” “the Zionist Occupation,” “the Zionists,” or simply “the Enemy”; on occasion “the Israeli Occupation” was also used.

A consistent issue in the UNRWA-produced materials is their failure to acknowledge the existence of the State of Israel, a UN member state.

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Most egregious is perhaps this:

The UNRWA material makes direct references to a text entitled “Hurray for Heroes,” that originally appears in a PA textbook (Arabic Language, Grade 5, Vol. 1, 2019, p. 15) and praises Palestinian militant figures such as Izz al-Din al-Qassam and Dalal Mughrabi, known for leading violent operations against Jewish civilians; both are presented as positive role models. The UNRWA material requires students to read the text and identify the Palestinian “heroes,” while suggesting: “we all hope to be like those heroes.”

Who was Dalal Mughrabi? A terrorist who led the 1978 “Coastal Road Massacre” that seized a bus near Tel Aviv and murdered 38 passengers—including 12 children.

So let’s say it as clearly as possible: UNRWA schools teach Palestinian children to admire and “be like those heroes” who murdered Israeli children. And the Biden administration has just restored funding for these UNRWA educational programs without demanding any reforms whatsoever and without a single word of criticism of UNRWA.

Why does UNRWA continue with such practices? It seems pretty simple to me: because they get away with it. When there are objections and aid is suspended temporarily, UNRWA promises reforms, and aid is resumed—but the reforms are minor or non-existent. This is not a new pattern. What is new, and inexcusable, is that the Biden administration has just announced its willingness to send UNRWA American taxpayers’ money to keep it up.

It seems that any solution will have to be found in Congress. The State Department said “The United States is resuming support for UNRWA’s  services, including  education for over 500,000  Palestinian  boys and girls,  thereby  providing  hope and stability….” Teaching children to admire terrorists who killed children cannot provide a basis for hope or stability.