An UNRWA school in
the Gaza Strip. The U.S. fears that UNRW
is not taking steps to keep
the curriculum neutral
potential hot potato known as the "UNRWA file" has been on a back
burner in Washington for months, unreported. UNRWA – the U.N. Relief and
Works Agency for Palestine Refugees – is being investigated by the U.S.
government. The reasons for the investigation are suspicions backed by a
wealth of documentation about the growing overlap between the
organization and the existence and goals of the PLO, to the point of
accepting content of violence, terrorism and incitement.
The U.S. government announcement that it
intends to reduce funding to UNRWA in light of the "Palestinian
Authority's retreat from the peace process" – which the Palestinians
have called a line in the sand in terms of its relations with the U.S.
administration – is linked to this investigation no less than to the
Here are the full details: In January 2017,
immediately after U.S. President Donald Trump entered the White House, a
team from the U.S. Attorney General's office launched a probe, on
behalf of Congress, into whether the textbooks used in UNRWA schools in
Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip included anti-Semitic content and
encouraged terrorism. The team is also investigating whether and to what
extent UNRWA is linked to terrorist entities, particularly in Gaza.
The team's report is expected to come out
in February or March. The investigation is being handled by
professionals, not politicians. Head of the Government Accountability
Office Eugene Louis Dodaro, an appointee of previous U.S. President
Barack Obama, is the one who decided to launch the investigation in
response to a request by Republican Sen. James Risch.
The investigation Risch set in motion is
the result of significant information submitted to him by the Center for
Near East Policy Research, which is chaired by David Bedein. Bedein and
his staff supplied Rich with dozens of research papers, recordings,
videos, photographs and in particular Palestinian textbooks, all of
which he handed on to the government investigators. They amassed
additional material and started to get the picture. UNRWA was asked to
respond. As of now, nothing has been leaked. However, the material from
the Center for Policy Study in the Middle East and Israel are available
They were collected over many years by
Badin and by former IDF Intelligence official, Lt. Col. (res.) Yoni
Dahuh-Halevy; Middle East researcher Dr. Arnon Gross, who has spent
years studying Arab and Palestinian textbooks and their content; and
recently Dr. Ronni Shaked, coordinator of the Middle East Unit at the
Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, located
next to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The results are not
flattering to UNRWA, to put it mildly. Over the past few weeks, the
organization has been trading accusations with the center's researchers.
One of the subtitles in the latest report
from the center, which is hard to argue with – if only because UNRWA
doesn't make any attempt to hide anything – has to do with UNRWA's links
to famous Palestinian singer Mohammad Assaf, who rose to fame in 2013
after he won first place in the "Arab Idol" competition, a sort of
Palestinian "American Idol," thus becoming a Palestinian national
The story about Assaf and UNRWA is more
than gossip because it is symptomatic of UNRWA's identification with the
Palestinian narrative, as well as the fact that the organization has
accepted many expressions of incitement to terrorism and violence, both
in the forms of the textbooks used in its schools and in its ongoing
ties to Hamas members in Gaza.
For years, the Israeli defense
establishment has been warning about the dangerous give-and-take between
Hamas and UNRWA, which for years has shaken off these accusations. But
James G. Lindsay, a former legal advisor to UNRWA, confirmed in one of
his reports that "UNRWA did not take steps to identify terrorists or
push them out of its upper echelon or decision-making positions."
In the case of Assaf, whose songs glorify
holy death and jihad, UNRWA not only is not distancing itself from him
but has also made Assaf its official youth ambassador. Assaf was
supposedly chosen to promote peace, but in his songs, he repeatedly
praises sacrifice and violence and encourages a martyr's death and
He also sings about the vision of a
Palestinian state that will stand on the entirety of the territory of
Israel. His music videos are broadcast on PA and Hamas television, with
background images of Palestinians fighting IDF soldiers and funerals of
"martyrs," whose bodies are wrapped in Palestinian flags and carried on
supporters' shoulders and passed from hand to hand by the throngs.
Assaf sings about his country, which
stretches from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. "Take my
blood, and bring freedom," he trills. "Victory or a martyrs' death, said
In one song, "Oh, Flying Bird," many places
in Israel – Safed, Tiberias, Acre, Haifa, Beit Shean and Nazareth – are
presented as some of the locations to which Palestinians will return.
Many Palestinians doubtlessly identify with what he is saying. What is
unclear is why UNRWA opted to be identified with a singer who holds
views like these?
Tel Aviv – not what you thought
For years, UNRWA has been stringently
criticized for using Palestinian schoolbooks written in this spirit and
even more for not doing anything to change. The latest report from Gross
and Shaked, published a few months ago, focuses on the Palestinian
books used in UNRWA schools.
The report is some 200 pages long. It has
been presented in the Knesset and forwarded to monitors in Washington.
Some of the books for early childhood education covered in the report
ignore the existence of Israel. In one of them (a 2016 edition), Tel
Aviv is renamed "Tel al-Rabia."
"Apparently, this is a new development in
the Palestinian narrative in which Tel Aviv is presented as a modern
Jewish city that was built on the ruins of an ancient Arab town," Gross
In another book published in 2015, Hebrew
writing is deleted from a picture of a stamp. A fourth-grade textbook
from 2014 explains that "Acre is a Palestinian city founded by the Arabs
and Canaanites in 1000 B.C.E.," and that it is destined to return to
its rightful owners [the Palestinians]. Another Palestinian publication
shows a girl floating above the security fence who aspires to reach "the
lost parts of the country" of Palestine.
Elsewhere, the pupils are asked to repeat:
"Let us sing and learn by heart: the ground of the noble – I have sworn.
I will sacrifice my blood to saturate the ground and the noble will
cast the thief out of my country and destroy what remains of the
foreigners. O, the land of Al-Aqsa and the forbidden holy place; O, the
cradle of pride and nobility. Patience. Patience, as our victory will be
the sun rising out of the darkness."
The books used in UNRWA schools eradicate
almost any mention of Israel, and when they do refer to it, it is in the
context of "occupation" or the perpetrator of the "Nakba."
'A very harsh picture'
Gross and Shaked checked the books used up to ninth grade in UNRWA schools and discovered a "very harsh picture."
"The schoolbooks published by the Hamas
government in Gaza, which include blatant anti-Semitic expressions and
open incitement to an armed struggle to wipe out Israel, are taught as
part of the UNRWA curriculum there, in which some quarter of a million
students were enrolled in the 2015/16 school year," they said.
"UNRWA is an international organization
that is not supposed to take a side in the … conflict, but rather adhere
to the principles of the U.N. on a solution for peace. Therefore, it
cannot be that this organization's schools are teaching material that
calls for a violent struggle against Israel and for jihad, especially
when the struggle is not limited to the areas that might be considered,
by the world at large, occupied – but covers the entire area of the
sovereign state of Israel as it is recognized in international circles,"
The two researchers also attempt to refresh
what is obvious: "UNRWA, as a U.N. organization, is obligated to
prevent any situation in which a U.N. member state – Israel – is
portrayed as illegitimate to students at schools it operates, both in
the texts [used] and on maps. A textbook in which Israel does not appear
on the map should not be used at all in an UNRWA school.
"We must not forget UNRWA's historical
responsibility for the future of the children and youths it educates.
Allowing the Palestinian Authority to insert into UNRWA textbooks
content that teaches them about a future war against Israel is a
betrayal of UNRWA's obligation to protect Palestinian children from such
a future," they say.
UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness calls
the information from Gross and Shaked "inaccurate and misleading."
Gunness claims that 178 of the 201 books checked by the duo are not in
use in UNRWA schools and have gradually been phased out, while the other
23 were in use, but have been "thoroughly checked" by UNRWA and paired
with complementary supplemental material. According to Gunness, the PA
textbooks were found to be "free of incitement to terrorism." Gunness
says that the UNRWA curriculum seeks to meet the values of the U.N.
Gross, who has been researching Palestinian
textbooks since 2000, is doubtful about the UNRWA claim that 178 of the
books he and Shaked reviewed have been phased out. He mentions that his
latest report covers a three- to four-year period.
"The books used by UNRWA do not call for
Jews to be killed. They 'only' say that Dalal Mughrabi, who led a
terrorist attack on an Israeli bus in 1978 that killed 30 men, women,
and children, was a hero and a martyr," Gross responds.
"They 'only' describe a Molotov cocktail
attack on an Israeli bus in the West Bank as a 'barbecue.' These are two
examples taken from books printed in 2017 for grades six to nine, which
the UNRWA spokesman says in his statement are being taught in his
Gross explains that the textbooks in use in
UNRWA schools "do not call for the destruction of Israel. They 'only'
erase Israel from maps and replace it with 'Palestine.' The new books
from 2017 even managed to erase the name Israel from their many
demonizing sections and replace it with the expression 'the Zionist
The Center for Near East Policy Research
continues to inspect Palestinian textbooks. Gross is now reviewing the
books published in December 2017. He is getting the impression that the
"demonization [of Israel] is on the rise. One ninth-grade book, for
example, tells students that the Zionists built their entity on
terrorism, destruction and colonialism."
Two other books published that same month
portray the terrorist Mughrabi in an admiring manner. One book, intended
for use by fifth-graders, writes: "Our Palestinian history is full of
many names of martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the homeland. These
include the martyr Dalal Mughrabi, who in her battle wrote one of the
banner chapters of resistance, challenge, and heroism."
Gross is convinced that UNRWA "must
re-examine the material is has been teaching to over 2 million
Palestinian children and youth for over 70 years in the areas in which
it is active. Their bending to ideas of jihad, martyrdom, victory, and
return [of the Palestinians] are dangerous to both peoples, and
certainly do not fall in line with the principles of the U.N. The future
of the young generation of Palestinians, which is in its hands, must be
a main consideration for UNRWA, otherwise it will betray its mission,"