(October 3, 2022 / JNS) The Australian government has recently announced that it will double to its aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). This agency was created in 1949 following Israel’s War of Independence and was intended to serve as a temporary entity that would render aid to the approximately half-a-million Palestinian Arabs displaced as a result of the hostilities.
Seventy-three years later, in texts taught in UNRWA schools, Israel does not exist and is replaced by an entity known as “Palestine.”
In its defense, UNRWA claims that it has a robust system in place to ensure that the education it delivers in its classrooms, including through the use of textbooks, is in line with U.N. values and principles.
As a journalist who has commissioned experts to examine 1,000 textbooks used in UNRWA schools in the West Bank and Gaza since 2000, I beg to differ.
UNRWA “education” is actually based on:
- Delegitimization of both the existence of the State of Israel and the Jews’ very presence in the land. Israel does not appear on any map and is replaced by a non-existent “Palestine.” The Jews are presented as colonialist settlers and their cities, including Tel Aviv, do not appear on the map either. Jewish holy places in the country—such as the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem—are not recognized as such. Instead, they are presented as Muslim holy places usurped by Jews.
- Demonization of both Israel and Jews, with the latter being presented as enemies of Muslims ever since the founding of Islam. Israel is depicted as an evil entity with exclusive responsibility for the conflict, while the Palestinians are portrayed as the ultimate victims. No objective information is given by UNRWA about Israel and Jews that would balance this picture even slightly. Nor is there any reference in the textbooks to Jewish or Israeli individuals as ordinary human beings. Rather, they are dealt with as a group, alienating Palestinians from the Jews’ humanity and portraying Jews as a monolithic existential threat.
- Absence of education for peace and coexistence with Israel. Instead, the textbooks repeatedly endorse a violent struggle for “the liberation of Palestine.”
All of this forces us to ask: Will UNRWA continue to confine millions of descendants of the original 1948 refugees to the indignity of life in 59 “temporary” refugee facilities for yet another 70 years?
While UNRWA acts under the aegis of the U.N. General Assembly, which will never allow a change in the UNRWA mandate to maintain the refugees as refugees in perpetuity, nothing prevents UNRWA donors such as the U.S. from adopting policies that would end the refugees’ plight. The U.S. could persuade the 67 UNRWA donor countries to place the following reasonable conditions on aid to UNRWA:
- Cancel the new UNRWA educational curriculum, which is based on jihad, martyrdom and the “right of return by force of arms.” Such incitement has no place in U.N. education, whose theme is “Peace Begins Here.” UNRWA has an exclusive contract with the Palestinian Authority to use P.A. schoolbooks in Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem and Gaza. The P.A., however, runs its schools based on the ideology of the Palestine Liberation Organization, whose goal is the conquest of Palestine by force of arms. The time has come for UNRWA donor nations, beginning with the U.S., to demand the cancellation of the UNRWA-P.A. contract.
- Cease paramilitary training in all UNRWA schools. Such training is an absurdity that our news agency and think tank have filmed and documented. This evidence has been shared with all UNRWA donor nations.
- Insist that UNRWA dismiss employees affiliated with Hamas, in accordance with the laws of many Western nations that forbid aid to any agency that employs members of a terrorist organization.
- Demand that UNRWA advance resettlement of fourth- and fifth-generation refugees from the 1948 war.
- Facilitate an audit of the $1.5 billion in donor funds, much of it in cash, which has been transferred to UNRWA. Misuse of these funds has resulted in wasted resources, duplication of services and an undesired flow of cash to UNRWA-based terror groups that have dominated the agency’s operations for years.
David Bedein is the director of the Nahum Bedein Center for Near East Policy Research.
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