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US org proposes UNRWA education alternative

“There needs to be international support, and particularly from within the Arab world, to really drive this initiative,” said the U.S. Israel Education Association's policy director.

Israelis protest against United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) at their offices in Jerusalem, Feb. 5, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Israelis protest against United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) at their offices in Jerusalem, Feb. 5, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

Many experts and analysts have pointed to the teaching of hatred to Palestinian children as a driver of Hamas’s Oct. 7 invasion of Israel and the widespread Palestinian support for the massacre.

“Looking at images from Oct. 7 of these hostages and dead bodies being brought back into Gaza, and seeing not just the terrorists themselves but children celebrating it, it shows you that there is something deeply wrong within that society,” E.J. Kimball, director of policy and strategic operations at the U.S. Israel Education Association (USIEA), told JNS. “That goes to the root of the education system.”

USIEA, which fosters initiatives to inform government leaders about the U.S.-Israel relationship, has worked for years to fight incitement in Palestinian schools, and has partnered with other entities in that mission.

In the wake of a suspension of American funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the Palestinian-only U.N. refugee agency which schools over 291,000 students in 183 facilities in the Gaza Strip, questions have arisen over which entity should assume responsibility for Gazan education, especially when Hamas’s rule is over.

In response, the USIEA issued a white paper this week laying out its proposed  Alternate Gazan Education System (AGES) Fund.

“This was sort of a natural place for us to work on a new fresh idea, specifically looking at Gaza,” said Kimball. “There is an opportunity to fix a major wrong that has bred this continued violence and conflict,” said Kimball.

“When the war broke out on Oct. 7, that sort of upended some of our plans and we had to rethink what’s relevant today—not to ignore what we have been working on but to make sure that we’re responding to what Congress needs to know,” he added.

“As discussions began to come out about the day after, while recognizing that we don’t know exactly when the day after will begin, planning for that day after is definitely important, and something that we felt we needed to have our voice included on,” he said.

That brought about the development of the AGES Fund, which, according to the white paper, “seeks to reform the Gazan education system through several key parameters including a strong coalition of international partners, curriculum in textbooks, and teachers. The goal should be ‘Teaching to Coexist’ instead of ‘Teaching to Hate.’” 

Those international partners include the United States, Germany, the European Union, Sweden, Norway, Japan, France and Switzerland, which are among the top donors to UNRWA. The Abraham Accords partner countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, would be brought on as an example of the ability of willing states to put aside years of animosity in favor of peace and economic prosperity. 

“There needs to be international support, and particularly from within the Arab world, to really drive this initiative,” stressed Kimball.

Israel would also be included under the AGES plan, though with a light touch, such as advising the coalition “about potential red flags and nuances in language, as it will have a unique perspective given security conditions on the ground.”

There is also an advisory role suggested for countries like Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, provided they are on a path to normalization with Israel.

“We have had some informal conversations with some of those countries,” said Kimball. “I don’t want to list them, per se, but we had some informal conversations and there was general receptiveness to a different educational system.”

Ultimately, the AGES Fund would be tasked with developing, with transparency and approval of the international coalition, a new Gazan curriculum and preparation of updated textbooks and the vetting of teachers and administrators in the Gazan school system under the initial guidance of foreign educators.

The AGES Fund plan calls for the U.S. Congress to start immediately placing funding for the initiative into an escrow account, potentially redirecting suspending UNRWA funding or monies allocated for the Middle East Partnership for Peace Act (MEPPA). 

​As of now, American funding for UNRWA has been suspended through March 2025. There is no telling yet if that money will be restored. Much of it will have to do with the political complexion of Congress and the White House next year. 

Kimball says that there is bipartisan agreement on Capitol Hill that there is great value in what UNRWA is supposed to be doing.

“The challenge today is the fact that they’ve been corrupted throughout Gaza by Hamas and that it’s just not viable to continue funding right now. So if Congress is looking for an UNRWA alternative, “the AGES Fund is a viable solution that brings in the international community and would also provide them an outlet for those funds to make sure that they are contributing towards peace and coexistence in the region, as opposed to funding that’s continuing to lead to conflict,” he said.

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