Last week, the students of the Elementary School for Girls in Huwara, just south of Nablus, held an exhibition. As in so many schools worldwide, the students had made posters and collected objects to display, telling the story of the subject they were studying. In contrast to so many schools worldwide, however, this story had a dark side.
Photographs of the exhibition, posted to the Facebook page of Fatah’s Nablus branch, revealed that the poster taking pride of place featured a military rocket next to a map of Palestine.
The rocket had “Ayyash 250” written on it, in reference to one of the 4,300 rockets that Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorists fired indiscriminately at Israel’s population in May, while the map was painted in the colors of the Palestinian flag, stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, eradicating Israel.
A separate exhibit showed the same map with the word “Palestine” on it, alongside a key, some wooden camels and a model of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Text on a card next to the items reads: “The procession of freedom—My homeland is from the [Mediterranean] Sea to the [Jordan] River. Our return is near, and we have already begun to pack our belongings.”
Together, the exhibits represented three key elements of the Palestinian Authority’s indoctrination of Palestinians and their children: erasing Israel, glorifying violence and promising the right of return for Palestinian “refugees.” This, according to the P.A., is the Palestinian national story, and it is taught to Palestinian children from early age.
There is a further twist to this story. A plaque on the outside of the school reads: “Funded by ECHO/Humanitarian Aid Department of the European Commission/Community based activities/In Huwara Town.”
This raises serious problems for the European Commission.
In 2020, the European Union handed UNRWA some $157,059,235—that’s in addition to the $1.52 billion paid through the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI) channeled through the PEGASE Direct Financial Support, the main E.U. financing instrument for Palestine, between 2017-2020, plus various other funds.
In addition to that, last year, Germany donated $210,384,339 to UNRWA (which has oversight of schools in the Palestinian territories), the U.K. donated $64,129,434, Sweden donated $60,420,012, France donated $22,986,067, Italy donated $17,714,100 and the list goes on.
With such vast sums flowing from Europe to the Palestinians, the Commission is coming under mounting pressure to prove that its funding is, as claimed, laying the groundwork for creating a viable independent Palestinian state that serves Palestine’s citizens. Education has been of particular concern, thanks to persistent evidence that the school system is being used to indoctrinate children.
Years of complaints regarding the Palestinian curriculum last year led the E.C. to commission a report from the Georg Eckert Institute, which was asked to study the content of Palestinian textbooks. Allegations that the report was fatally flawed, and that the Eckert Institute was out of its depth, led to the report’s being delayed.
On June 10, tired of the obfuscating and following media reports on the findings based on a leaked copy, a group of 22 MEPs wrote to E.C. president Ursula von der Leyen demanding that the E.U. “apply the principle of conditionality and … withhold some funding,” pointing out that Norway has already done just that. They also demanded the “prompt official publication of the study,” noting that they were “troubled that the report hasn’t been published yet.”
Publication of the report duly followed last Thursday. According to The Jerusalem Post, “The report’s executive summary glosses over the many examples of anti-Semitism and incitement in the textbooks, claiming that they “adhere to UNESCO standards,” though they “express a narrative of resistance within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and they display an antagonism towards Israel.””
Then, on Monday, Oliver Varhelyi, the E.U. Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, tweeted his “Firm commitment to fight antisemitism & engage with Palestinian Authority + @UNRWA to promote quality education for Palestinian children & ensure full adherence to @UNESCO standards of peace, tolerance, co-existence, non-violence in Palestinian textbooks.”
Varhelyi added in a follow-up tweet: “The conditionality of our financial assistance in the educational sector needs to be duly considered.”
On the same day, in response to a question on the matter, E.C. spokesperson Ana Pisonero said that the report presented a “complex picture,” and that the “textbooks largely adhere to UNESCO standards and adopt criteria prominent in international education discourse, with a strong focus on human rights.”
But she added that the textbooks “express a narrative of resistance,” that the examples show that resistance is often violent in nature and that they “display an antagonism towards Israel.”
It seems, then, that the pressure on the E.U. at least may be having an impact, and that the commission may be forced to admit that it is inadvertently funding the indoctrination of Palestinian children. How, then, is that likely to translate into policy in Ramallah?
So far, Palestinian officials have shown no willingness to move on the issue—quite the opposite.
In December, speaking at the opening of the weekly Cabinet meeting held in Ramallah, P.A. Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh told his colleagues: “The Palestinian curriculum is the product of our history, culture, struggle, religion and contribution to civilization, which we held on to at the negotiating table and which we will not give up.”
He added, according to the Palestinian news agency WAFA: “Those who link their assistance to us to this, then we will finance our curriculum from our budget.”
Last year, following a vote by parliamentarians to withhold some funding if the curriculum wasn’t changed to become more inclusive, the P.A. made noises that it would instigate some changes. But when the education minister addressed his colleagues, he made it clear that the narrative of Palestinian armed resistance to Israel would be amplified, not reduced.
This means that education could well become the issue that breaks the Mephistophelian pact between the E.U. and the P.A.
It is clear to any sensible person that teaching Palestinian children to fear and hate Israelis, and to engage in the violent destruction of Israel, is no basis on which to build a two-state solution. Not only is it detrimental to Israel, but it is deeply wounding to the children themselves, who are given no hope of a bright future within their own state. The E.C., whose commitment to the Palestinian cause is ideological, has nowhere to hide on this issue.
Meanwhile, the P.A.—whose senior members have grown fabulously wealthy from all the funding poured into their coffers—is trapped between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, if they give in to demands to deliver a fit-for-purpose curriculum, the drive behind their Palestinian nationalist narrative will quickly falter, leading eventually to normalization with Israel and to their rule being toppled in favor of true moderate rule. On the other, if they brazen it out and have funding pulled, they risk an impoverished Palestinian population turning on them.
Either way, the true winners in both scenarios would be the children of Palestine, who might, at last, have a chance of receiving a reasonable education, setting them up for a prosperous life. Which is precisely why the pressure on the E.C. must not let up at any cost.
Donna Rachel Edmunds is the director of press and public affairs at Palestinian Media Watch.