The lethal indoctrination of children in Palestinian education

How UNRWA-run schools incubate anti-Semitism and terror.

Boys at an UNRWA school in the Gaza Strip, September 2011. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/U.N. Photo.
Boys at an UNRWA school in the Gaza Strip, September 2011. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/U.N. Photo.
Richard L. Cravatts
Richard L. Cravatts

Signaling yet another unfortunate reversal of Trump-era policies, President Joe Biden was in Bethlehem on July 15 to affirm U.S. support for the long-aggrieved Palestinians.

During his meeting with Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas, Biden said that “Palestinian refugees deserve to live in dignity, to see their basic needs addressed and to have hope for the future.” One remedy for their woes, he said, is U.S. aid, namely, “an additional $201 million for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) to continue delivering critical services to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.”

UNRWA, a U.N. organization dedicated solely to Palestinian refugees, has been the subject of much scrutiny and criticism, which is why in 2018 the Trump administration eliminated further funding for the controversial agency. That was a good move, since UNRWA, established when some 400,000-700,000 Palestinians became refugees in 1948, has perversely served as a political and diplomatic weapon that has kept the Palestinians stateless, as if preserved in amber, and is used as a hammer with which to bludgeon Israel. This is done by blaming the Jewish state for the conditions in which these refugees, as well as millions of their descendants, now find themselves.

Maintaining the Palestinian refugee problem as a scab on the Middle East body politic is UNRWA’s principal role. Its influence on Palestinian culture and society, however, is also profound, particularly since some 58% of its $1 billion annual budget is allocated to educational programs.

UNRWA’s mission statement purports to offer a “quality education for Palestine refugees … for the teaching and learning of human rights, conflict resolution and tolerance.” But UNRWA’s schools have been conclusively shown to be incubators of hatred in which Palestinian children are taught to loathe Zionism, Israelis and Jews; question the very existence and legitimacy of the Jewish state; justify jihad and terror against Israel; strive for martyrdom in the name of jihad; and commit to a life of resistance, aggression and terror against the allegedly criminal Zionist regime.

How UNRWA’s schools are used to indoctrinate Palestinian children is revealed quite clearly in a just-released study by the organization IMPACT-se, entitled, “Review of 2022 UNRWA-Produced Study Materials in the Palestinian Territories: Selected Examples.” The report audited textbooks used in UNRWA schools and found that children are being taught a false narrative that makes them the perennial victim of a usurping colonial occupier—the defiling Jew. Liberation, the narrative claims, can only be obtained through a prolonged struggle. “Resistance” to occupation, which is defined as the very existence of a Jewish state, is declared mandatory for all Muslims. Terror and martyrdom are portrayed as an integral and noble part of the effort.

The report notes, for example, a fifth-grade text called “Hurray for Heroes,” which “praises Palestinian militant figures such as Izz al-Din al-Qassam and Dalal Mughrabi, known for leading violent operations against Jewish civilians; both are presented as positive role models. The UNRWA material requires students to read the text and identify the Palestinian ‘heroes,’ while suggesting: ‘we all hope to be like those heroes.’”

An UNRWA booklet designed to teach numbers to third-grade students directs “them to a specific exercise in a P.A. math textbook which asks students to choose the correct number of martyrs in the First Intifada from a list of suggested numbers.” Martyrdom, of course, is portrayed as a noble aspiration. Eighth-grade study cards reinforce this same perverse aspiration, “featuring themes of jihad, martyrdom, prison and conflict.”

A sixth-grade study card, the report found, “utilizes militaristic, nationalistic and violent imagery to teach Arabic grammar principles which encourage jihad and martyrdom. Such examples include phrases like ‘We shall defend the motherland with blood’; ‘The Palestinian died as a martyr … to defend his motherland’; ‘The resistance fighter attacked the Enemy’s position.’”

The IMPACT-se report mirrors revelations of the toxicity of UNRWA teaching materials in a 2020 report by Dr. Arnon Groiss of the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, entitled, “Israel, Jews and Peace in Palestinian Authority Schoolbooks and Teachers’ Guides.” This report examined some 400 textbooks and more than 100 teachers’ guides published by the Palestinian Education Ministry from 2013 to 2020.

While the familiar narrative among diplomats and on the Arab “street” has long voiced support for the notion of “two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace,” the reality is that maps in textbooks used by Arab children do not even show Israel. In other words, the Jewish state does not exist as either a geographic or political entity. So, the idea that children or their parents have been raised to think that reconciliation is possible is a fantasy, something that apologists for the Palestinians regularly ignore.

“In none of the P.A.’s schoolbooks has any call for the resolution of the conflict peacefully, or any mentioning of coexistence with Israel, been found,” Groiss wrote. “The ‘Zionist enemy,’ according to the description appearing in the schoolbooks, is wholly evil and constitutes an existential threat to the Palestinians, who are depicted as the ultimate victim, with no shared responsibility for the conflict.”

“Moreover,” the report noted, “Israel itself is taught to be completely illegal and illegitimate.” It adds, “The name ‘Israel’ has been replaced most of the times by the epithet ‘the Zionist occupation.’”

“The struggle against the State of Israel has thus become a struggle against Zionism that is perceived as a mythical and a wholly evil entity, which creates feelings of fear and hatred,” the report states.

The Groiss report concludes that the lessons in the texts encourage and perpetuate both a justification for terror and the likelihood that it will continue to be used. “Reference to terror is more explicit in the newer schoolbooks,” the report noted. “Terrorist operations perpetrated throughout the years of conflict with Israel are presented as heroic actions in the framework of the ‘revolution,’ ‘resistance’ and ‘self-sacrifice’” (emphasis added).

The report made it clear that incitement and the teaching of hate, both in classrooms and on the Arab street, must be curbed. Educators must make authentic changes in the social, cultural and moral messages being taught to Arab children. If this does not happen, the Palestinian cause will be eternally hobbled by its blind loathing of the Jewish state.

As long as Palestinian children cling to the impossible fantasy of destroying Israel, they have condemned themselves to further generations of disappointment, disillusionment and tragedy. And as long as UNRWA and the P.A. use their schools as incubators for hatred and indoctrination, Palestinian intransigence and hostility toward the Jewish state will never disappear.

Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of the forthcoming book The Slow Death of the University: How Radicalism, Israel Hatred and Race Obsession are Destroying Academia.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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