Photo Credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90
Gazan Arabs mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha with the UN flag at half-mast at an UNRWA school in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, July 31, 2020.

The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE), this month issued its “Review of UNRWA-Produced Study Materials in the Palestinian Territories,” revealing that they “contain material which does not comply with UN values.”

This inappropriate material is present “across nearly all sets, subjects and grades, although some appear more frequently in certain subjects than others,” according to the report. Here are a few examples:


Encouragement of violence, jihad, terrorism, and martyrdom

UNRWA-produced material frequently references, and sometimes directly reproduces, texts and phrases from the PA textbooks that glorify violence and sacrificing one’s life and blood to defend the “motherland.” Such examples include Arabic grammar exercises that use the language of jihad and sacrifice and passages that celebrate known terrorists such as Dalal Mughrabi. In past statements, UNRWA officials have explicitly denied teaching students the sections of the PA curriculum that discuss Dalal Mughrabi, making the inclusion of these passages even more surprising and concerning.

The study authors noted: “We were unable to find any direct condemnation of violence or approach to resolve conflict within the UNRWA-produced material.”

Erasure of Israel

A consistent issue in the UNRWA-produced materials is their failure to acknowledge the existence of the State of Israel, a UN member state. This issue was particularly present in Social Studies booklets. UNRWA-produced material consistently refers to the entire territory of British Mandatory Palestine (1922–48; not including what is present-day Jordan) as Palestinian and labeling maps of the region as “Palestine.” No attempt was made to differentiate between the UN’s stated view of the Palestinian Territories as occupied and the Palestinian nationalist position, which views all of Israel as occupied Palestinian territory. Thus, UNRWA-produced material is not only biased, but it also perpetuates the denial of Israel as a legitimate state, invalidating Israel’s status and rights as a sovereign nation, while actively nurturing an attitude of disrespect and hatred for Israel and Israelis.

Erasure of Jews

UNRWA-produced materials were also found to consistently ignore Jewish history, despite Jews being one of the major ethnic groups of the region. The historical Jewish presence in the region is not discussed and no substantial information was provided about Jewish culture or religion which would have been well within UNRWA’s mandate to “enrich the curriculum.” The majority of references with regard to this issue included allegations that Israel is striving to systematically “Judaize” Jerusalem. Jews are rarely mentioned in non-negative or neutral contexts.

Rejection of peace

The study authors state they were not able to find in the UNRWA-produced material any treatment of peace or peacemaking. This included both PA-derived material as well as original UNRWA-produced content. Peace was generally not mentioned, neither as an ideal nor as a concrete goal, and was not presented as an option in examples that discussed Israel (or “the Enemy”). Values relating to peace, such as compromise, forgiveness, and open dialogue were also not found.

Intolerance, disrespect, and demonization

UNRWA-produced material offers no examples of the individualized Other and fails to provide alternative non-Palestinian narratives regarding historical events. For instance, one example states that the goal of Zionism was to take Palestinian land for its strategic value, while another references the Crusades as a war by “Europe,” waged arbitrarily against Muslim lands. The Jewish-Israeli Other is portrayed solely in a negative manner; no objective information is provided about Israel or Jews which would serve to counterbalance such portrayals. By denying “Other” narratives and failing to humanize them through individualized accounts, UNRWA-produced material effectively obstructs attitudes of tolerance, respect, and understanding.

Libel and conspiracy

UNRWA-produced material references Israel and Zionism entirely in a negative context, perpetuating hostility and myths that provoke hatred and demonize Israelis. Examples of this included accusing Israel of causing the 1969 Al-Aqsa Mosque fire; of deliberately dumping radioactive and toxic waste in the PA; and of systematically stealing Palestinian antiquities. These discredited conspiracy theories continue to reinforce fear and hatred of Israel.

Conflict-oriented discourse

UNRWA-produced material discusses the national Palestinian conflict as a central theme throughout its content and makes frequent references to violence and war. These include comparisons between the Spanish Inquisition and Israeli prisons and math exercises that ask students to tally the number of dead “martyrs” in the First Intifada (1987–93). UNRWA-produced material presents Israel as “the Enemy,” creating an “us versus them” dichotomy. This violates the UN principle of peacemaking and the peaceful resolution of conflicts.

Bias and lack of neutrality

On the whole, UNRWA-produced material unquestioningly accepted the Palestinian and Pan-Arab narrative found in the PA curriculum. This included terminology such as “the Arab Homeland,” implying that Arab countries form a singular geographical entity divided into “artificial” states by colonial powers; “the Racist Expansion and Annexation Fence,” referring to the Israeli Security Barrier; and “Zionist aggressions” to characterize military engagements between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip. UNRWA-produced material almost never refers to Israel by name, but rather as “the Occupation,” “the Zionist Occupation,” “the Zionists,” or simply “the Enemy”; on occasion “the Israeli Occupation” was also used. There are multiple references to Jerusalem as “the eternal capital of Palestine” which contradicts the longstanding UN position on the city. This politicized language within UNRWA’s own material is a direct violation of UNRWA’s principle of neutral information.

In conclusion, IMPACT-se’s review of UNRWA-produced material found it to be rife with problematic content that contradicts stated UN values. The material is characterized by an unambiguous adoption of the Palestinian and the Pan-Arab nationalist narrative, completely abandoning any façade of UN-mandated neutrality; an unapologetic attempt to erase and delegitimize Israel, a UN member state, and to a large extent the Jewish people as well; multiple occurrences of unfounded, incendiary conspiracy theories that stoke hostility; and the encouragement of violent conflict resolution, with no equivalent encouragement of peacemaking.

Somebody tell the Biden administration before they renew US aid to UNRWA. Check out those textbooks.


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