Report finds incitement, antisemitism still prevalent in UNRWA classrooms

UN body responsible for Palestinian refugees reportedly continues to employ staff and maintain curriculum that encourage martyrdom and glorify terrorism

Two Palestinian students take a final exam on the last day of the school year, at the UNRWA Hebron Boys School in the West Bank city of Hebron, May 26, 2019. (AP/Nasser Nasser)
Two Palestinian students take a final exam on the last day of the school year, at the UNRWA Hebron Boys School in the West Bank city of Hebron, May 26, 2019. (AP/Nasser Nasser)

A report by an Israeli nonprofit has found that UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, failed to remove hateful content glorifying terrorism and demonizing Israel from its school curriculum.

The report, released on Tuesday by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se), written jointly with the UN Watch NGO, found 47 new instances of alleged incitement by UNRWA teachers and staff, despite the agency having previously pledged to remove such content and adopt a zero-tolerance policy for employees who incite to racism or murder.

The agency’s staff and schools, which teach Palestinian children throughout the West Bank, Gaza Strip and elsewhere, “regularly call for the murder of Jews, and create teaching materials that glorify terrorism, encourage martyrdom, demonize Israelis, and incite antisemitism,” according to a statement by IMPACT-se.

In one incident detailed in the report, an UNRWA math teacher in Syria, posting on Facebook, glorified a terrorist who carried out a shooting attack in March 2022 in the city of Bnei Brak, killing four civilians and a policeman. The teacher called the terrorist, Diaa Hamarsheh, a “martyr” whose name should “forever remain in letters of fire, might, and magnificence.”

In a separate social media incident, another UNRWA teacher, this time in Lebanon, described senior Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade fighter Ibrahim al-Nabulsi as “the noblest of souls.” Al-Nabulsi was killed during an Israeli operation in August 2022.

The teacher also shared video from al-Nabulsi’s funeral, where calls for others to follow in the “martyr’s” path could be heard.

A Syrian UNRWA employee posted a photo of a sleeping Adolf Hitler, calling on the Nazi dictator to wake up because “there are still some people you need to burn.” The post was apparently liked by other UNRWA employees.

A Palestinian woman attends a demonstration outside UNRWA’s headquarters in Gaza City, August 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

The report said it “captured evidence taken from inside UNRWA classrooms, showing the teaching of these materials, and revealing how UNRWA’s own content directs students to study specific hateful passages in Palestinian textbooks — which the organization claims teachers are told to skip.”

In one Gazan classroom, middle school boys were encouraged to pursue martyrdom. In December 2022, the class was given a reading comprehension exercise that celebrated a Palestinian firebombing attack on an Israeli bus as a “barbecue party.”

In another example, a map was displayed branded with the name Palestine in an UNRWA school, but the map included undisputed Israeli cities such as Tel Aviv, Beersheba and Haifa as Palestinian cities.

The report said there were 133 UNRWA educators and staff found to have promoted hate and violence on social media, adding that an additional 82 UNRWA teachers and other staff affiliated with 30 schools run by the organization were involved in “drafting, supervising, approving, printing, and distributing hateful content to students.”

UN Watch Director Hillel Neuer said that “around the world, educators who incite hate and violence are removed” from their positions.

“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,” he said.

Neuer called on UNRWA to fulfill its stated zero-tolerance policy and terminate any employees found to have incited racism or murder. He also called for the establishment of an independent investigation into “systemic incitement to antisemitism and terrorism” from UNRWA staff.

Michael Bachner contributed to this report. 

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