Monitoring group: UNRWA textbooks glorify terror, deny Israel’s existence

Watchdog says educational materials distributed for distance learning during pandemic are ‘rife with hate’; UNWRA chief says content was distributed in error

Illustrative: In this May 26, 2019 photo, a teacher supervises while Palestinian schoolchildren take a final exam during the last day of the school year, at the UNRWA Hebron Boys School, in the West Bank city of Hebron. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
Illustrative: In this May 26, 2019 photo, a teacher supervises while Palestinian schoolchildren take a final exam during the last day of the school year, at the UNRWA Hebron Boys School, in the West Bank city of Hebron. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

An Israeli watchdog found that a new series of educational textbooks produced by a United Nations agency supporting Palestinian refugees contains incitement to violence and hatred, and glorifies terrorism.

The new textbooks were produced by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), a branch of the international body that runs schools, health clinics and other social services for millions of Palestinian refugees around the Middle East.

The books were part of a new curriculum issued by the agency during the coronavirus pandemic to facilitate distance learning.

The review conducted by The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se), an Israeli watchdog that analyzes Palestinian textbooks, found UNRWA-produced material “to be rife with problematic content that contradicts stated UN values.”

Palestinian students affiliated with the United Nations “UNRWA” wear face masks amid the coronavirus pandemic, in Rafah, south of the Gaza Strip, on November 25, 2020. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90

According to IMPACT-se’s report, the materials included incitement to violence. The watchdog found that children were asked to do mathematics problems using martyrs from the First Intifada to calculate equations, told students to “defend the motherland with blood,” and pushed the claim that Israel deliberately dumps radioactive and toxic waste in the West Bank.

“UNRWA is complicit in radicalizing schoolchildren through the glorification of terrorists, encouragement to violence and teaching of blood libels to Palestinian schoolchildren,” said IMPACT-se director Marcus Sheff.

Palestinian Authority textbooks have come under fire in the past for what critics have deemed to be hateful, anti-Semitic content. However, IMPACT-se said that the “UNRWA-created material is, in places, more extremist than PA material it complements.”

IMPACT-se also said that Israel is omitted from maps in the UNRWA-produced materials, with the entire territory being labeled as a modern-day Palestine with no demarcation lines. When it is mentioned, Israel is referred to mostly as “The Enemy” or the “Zionist Occupation.”

Images from the January, 2021 IMPACT-se report on UNRWA Palestinian school textbooks. (Screenshot)

The organization’s findings also showed that the materials characterized Dalal Mughrabi, who took part in the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre, as a role model, contrary to the UN’s position that she was a terrorist. Mughrabi and several other Fatah terrorists hijacked a bus and killed 38 civilians, 13 of them children, and wounded over 70.

The European Parliament passed a resolution last year condemning the Palestinian Authority for continuing to include hate speech and violent material in school materials, stating it “is concerned that problematic material” in Palestinian school textbooks had not been removed.

“UNRWA has for years refused point-blank to make public its ‘Curriculum Framework’ that it claims combats incitement in the Palestinian textbooks. Now we know why: some of its own content is even worse than that of the Palestinian Authority,” said IMPACT-se’s Sheff.

In a statement released following the publication of the report, UNWRA vowed again to crack down on incitement.

“UNRWA has a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination and for incitement to hatred and violence in its schools and in all of its operations. Any breach reported is dealt with firmly. The Agency adheres, in its education program, to the highest standards of neutrality, humanity and tolerance,” the UN body said in a statement.

Responding to the criticisms, UNWRA chief Phillipe Lazzarini said in a tweet that “there was no place [for] incitement to hatred/violence in UNWRA schools.” He asserted that the inciteful material had been published by accident.

UNRWA’s Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini, speaks during a press conference at the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City, Nov. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

“Local reference to inappropriate pages from textbooks that were mistakenly distributed during #COVID19 lockdown were quickly replaced with content that adheres to UN values,” Lazzarini said on Thursday.

Israel has long pushed for UNRWA’s closure, arguing it helps perpetuate the conflict with the Palestinians, since it confers refugee status upon descendants of those originally displaced around the time of Israel’s War of Independence.

US President Donald Trump’s administration supported Israel’s stance by cutting aid in 2018. Washington had been providing UNRWA $300 million a year, roughly a third of its core annual budget.

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