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Watchdog: Dozens of UNRWA teachers condone violence, spread antisemitism online

UN Watch urges donor countries to defund UN agency for Palestinians, says it made no effort to address past complaints

Palestinian schoolchildren studying at an UNRWA school in Gaza City. (IRIN/Creative Commons via JTA)
Palestinian schoolchildren studying at an UNRWA school in Gaza City. (IRIN/Creative Commons via JTA)

Dozens of teachers and other workers employed by the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees have incited violence, shared photos praising Adolf Hitler, and spread antisemitic conspiracy theories on social media, according to a report compiled by a watchdog released early Monday.

The UN Watch report identified 22 UNRWA teachers in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan who posted incendiary content against Jews or Israel on their Facebook profiles. It has identified over 100 incidents since 2015.

The organization urged UNRWA’s donors, including the United States and the European Union, to withdraw funding in light of the findings and maintained the UN agency has failed to take action against the offending workers since it began to bring the information to its attention six years ago.

The report features dozens of examples and screenshots, all drawn from publicly viewable Facebook profiles belonging to people who identify themselves online as UNRWA workers.

They include math teacher Nahed Sharawi of Gaza, who shared a video of Hitler, underlining the Nazi leader’s inspirational quotes to “enrich and enlighten your thoughts and minds.”

Mohammed M. Alhourani, head of a health center at UNRWA in Jordan, promoted a theory that wealthy Jews created the coronavirus. He also shared an image of Israeli soldiers arresting Palestinians, with the caption: “The day will come when [they] will urinate on their [the Jews’] heads to purify them of their filth,” adding “they will return to you as slaves, as they once were.”

Refugee school girls watch as UNRWA’s commissioner-general, Pierre Krahenbuhl, gives a press conference to launch a global campaign to support UNRWA, at the UNRWA Rimal Girls Preparatory School in Gaza City, Janurary 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Saeed Khalaf Abu Freh, an UNRWA math teacher in Jordan, and Maya Mahahi, an English teacher in Syria, praised a Palestinian teenager who killed Israeli soldier Gal Keidan and Rabbi Achiad Ettinger, a father of 12, in a 2019 terror attack in the West Bank.

Other UNRWA teachers glorified the 1929 massacres of Jews in Hebron and the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre of Israeli athletes, and praised other convicted terrorists.

Others posted photos of themselves with weapons or images of Palestinian children brandishing rifles, alongside endorsements of violence.

Husni Masri, an UNRWA teacher in the West Bank, shared a conspiracy theory that Israel created COVID-19 to obstruct Muslim worship. Fahed Momo, an UNRWA administrative assistant, also quoted Hitler.

Rabbi Achiad Ettinger, who was shot March 17 at the Ariel junction and succumbed to his injuries the following day (Nadav Goldstein/TPS)

Numerous other educators were quoted denying Israel’s right to exist.

“Around the world, educators who incite hate and violence are routinely removed from the classroom for life, yet UNRWA, despite proclaiming zero tolerance for incitement, knowingly and systematically employs purveyors of terror and anti-Jewish hate,” said UN Watch director Hillel Neuer in a statement.

“We call on the governments that fund UNWRA to take action to stop the vicious cycle of generations being taught to hate and violently attack Jews. We demand that UNRWA address the core problem, and demonstrate its genuine commitment to basic norms of education in its schools, by publicly condemning UNWRA employees who incite terrorism and antisemitism, removing them from their positions, and creating an independent and impartial investigation of all of its staff,” he said.

A spokesperson for UNWRA said the agency takes allegations of hate and incitement seriously.

“UNRWA has zero tolerance for incitement and hatred and takes very seriously allegations that may implicate its staff on issues of neutrality and/or bias. Every UNRWA staff member is trained in upholding the principles of neutrality and non-discrimination and is held accountable and disciplined if found in breach of them,” said UNWRA spokesperson Sami Mshasha.

Under the administration of previous US president Donald Trump, Washington largely ended funding for the Palestinian Authority and for UNRWA, which runs a network of educational and medical programs for Palestinian refugees around the Middle East.

But the Biden administration has resumed funding the agency, adding $150 million in economic aid.

Israel has long pushed for UNRWA’s closure, arguing that 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.

Pro-Israel advocates have also long criticized UNRWA for its textbooks, which they say promote incitement. Israeli monitoring groups have charged that UNRWA curricula promote violence and deny Israel’s right to exist.

Trump’s secretary of state Mike Pompeo and UN ambassador Nikki Haley had also championed the cessation of funding for the relief agency, arguing it was responsible for perpetuating Palestinian poverty and questioning whether all of the millions of people it serves are actually refugees.

UNRWA, whose 28,000 employees are mostly descendants of refugees, provides services such as education and healthcare to roughly 5.7 million Palestinians in camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon the West Bank and Gaza.

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