By Bradley Alis, Alexis David and Sierra DeCrosta.
After the 1948 War of Independence, approximately 550,000 Arab refugees were left without homes, consequently leaving the burden of responsibility on UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) to create a temporary solution. The UN refugee camps were presented as short-term facilities while a political solution could be formed. However, it has become evident that whilst refugees live in these temporary camps, instead of moving into permanent homes, peace will never be achieved. Today UNRWA provides assistance to over 5 million registered Palestinian refugees. What was meant to be a temporary relief agency has become a quasi-governmental entity nearly seven decades later. Being a UN agency, UNRWA is supposed to espouse values of peace, yet after thorough examination of the curriculum being taught in UNRWA schools – in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon and East Jerusalem – it has been found to be anything but peaceful. Israel continues to turn a blind eye, while its aid and money is helping to create its enemies of tomorrow.
In Gaza, the UNRWA Staff Union is comprised of only eleven Hamas members. UNRWA is no longer in control as more radical forces usurp their authority. In East Jerusalem, the more ‘moderate’ Palestinian Authority (PA) provides the textbooks. Yet there is no differentiation between the content of the curriculum taught to the next generation of potential Palestinian leaders as the curriculum in UNRWA schools preach martyrdom, Jihad, the ‘Right of Return’, the delegitimization and demonization of Israel. Change is needed and is possible as UNRWA receives over $1bn in funding per year, the majority coming from Western nations that denounce these teachings of hatred. Israel, as the main facilitator of goods and services into the Palestinian territories and to UNRWA schools, must lead the advocacy of reform of the curriculum, to ensure that if peace cannot be made today, that it has a higher chance of being made tomorrow. Members of Knesset Ksenia Svetlova, Aliza Lavie and Merav Ben Ari were asked for their insight into this topic.
MK Ksenia Svetlova of the Zionist Union Party was interviewed on the human aspects of the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. MK Svetlova, a specialist on Arab Affairs, was able to give a unique insight into the many reasons why the peace process is currently at a stand still. When asked about the anti-Israel, “Right of Return” curriculum being taught, she acknowledged that education is possibly one of the most severe problems within the UNRWA structure. UNRWA faces a fundamental problem in reforming itself because it is beholden to terror groups who don’t allow progressive change. Students are taught the names of villages that their grandparents lived in before 1948, cementing a sense of belonging to places that no longer exist. After school programs teach males as young as 8 years old about the importance of Jihad, Martyrdom, and the liberation of Palestine through armed struggle. Svetlova admits, “UNWRA is part of the problem, not part of the solution, unfortunately”.
The question is: Why does Israel facilitate UNRWA’s day-to day activities when it knows what goes on within its schools? Should Israel demand reform of UNRWA’s education system as a prerequisite for the renewal of aid transfers? MK Svetlova has read the schoolbooks in detail. The problem is, from her perspective, that Israel is a democratic country, and with that title comes certain obligations. If aid was to be cut off, the heads of UNRWA would not suffer, the heads of Hamas would not suffer; the people who need the aid most would suffer. “We cannot deny people basic needs. There are human beings there…”. Additionally, the international community would be in an uproar. There is currently a great deal of anti-Israel rhetoric within the UN, and she maintains that such a move would be disastrous for Israel’s diplomatic future.
The United States, The EU, Israel, and the UN have listed Hamas as a terrorist group. Israel and the US do not have any relations with Hamas, yet they continue to fund and facilitate an UN-run establishment whose teachers are all known Hamas members. Al-Kutla “after school programs”, are openly teaching Jihad, weapons training and combat in UNRWA schools, taught by Hamas teachers. Many students who participate in these programs go on to join Hamas. Svetlova recounts that Israel has appealed to the UN Secretary General on several occasions about the involvement of Hamas in UNRWA schools, but it has fallen on deaf ears. Israel can demand changes but it cannot halt the transfer of goods and services in the meantime. She feels that though this is a huge, on-going issue, the Israeli government is unfortunately not in a position to enforce real change at this time. Just as Israel cannot control the school curriculum in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, which are also openly slanted against it, there is no possibility of controlling the school curriculum in the Palestinian territories.
MK Svetlova openly advocates a two-state solution with a separate Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, governed by the Palestinian Authority, with Israel controlling Jerusalem. Israel’s security is of paramount importance, yet she feels that the Israeli government lacks a clear vision over the future of the two-state solution. This process must begin with the disarmament of Gaza. “Unfortunately, there will be bloodshed, as no group has ever given up arms voluntarily. Nonetheless, it must be done”, she notes. Secondly, the PA must want to go back to Gaza. There must be assurances such as financial and security incentives, as well as a Palestinian state to preside over. This process could take dozens of years to realize, but if we (Israel, the US and the UN) wait, the situation will get worse. “Gaza is now Hamas land. Soon, it could become ISIS land”. The situation in Gaza needs to be stabilized after last summer’s war. Economic and social conditions need to dramatically improve for its inhabitants, so that an even more extreme group like ISIS does not become a desirable solution to the issues of those who live there. Once the situation becomes more stable years down the road, then perhaps we can talk about changing the UNRWA curriculum.
Having understood that the curriculum in UNRWA schools teaches such extreme concepts from as young as the age of 8, MK Aliza Lavie was asked for her perspective on whether Israel is pushing for reform in the UNRWA school’s curriculum in return for aid.
MK Lavie, of Yesh Atid, acknowledged that this is a major concern to the security of Israel, yet she also understands that Israel is not in a position to enforce the change in their curriculum; Miss Lavie carried on explaining that the books offered to children in certain cheap accutane online schools of East Jerusalem also preach concepts of and martyrdom, whereby “our [Israel’s] Ministry of Education finances this system [in East Jerusalem]” and Israel cannot control this curriculum.
Furthermore if Israel does not have the power to reform the curriculum taught in schools within the state of Israel, how can they be expected to reform UNRWA schools outside of the state?
MK Lavie answered our question on the intentions of Israel to reform the UNRWA curriculum by stating: “You’re asking me if we want to change [create reform]? We have to change. But not just as Israel, this is a world issue. And we need the United Nations to help us.” Furthermore Miss Lavie stressed the importance of the international community engaging with such topics in order to create a wider awareness.
As an alternate member of the Knesset Foreign and Defense Committee, MK Lavie expressed how important it is for Israel to be both humanitarian and protect its own interests at the same time; “we know how to behave, unfortunately our enemy do not”. “We pay with our soldiers, some of our soldiers died because of this combination […] our sons died because we are too humanitarian, even in the field of war”.
Moreover, she spoke of the demonization of Israel through the international lens, which can be related to the lack of awareness and understanding of what truly occurs in UNRWA schools. MK Lavie stated, “this is part of our work, as Israel” to bring about awareness to the international community on the topic. Additionally she stated “we are familiar with the knowledge they teach there [in the UNRWA schools], but we need to convince the media and the people out of Israel to help us, it’s not that simple, believe me, it’s not that simple”
Throughout the interview MK Lavie mentioned how being ‘against Israel’ has become ‘sexy’ in the international community, especially amongst the younger generations, as the access they have to news is mainly focused on social media, whereby Israel is mostly presented in a negative light; she expressed that “it is complicated, but we are trying to succeed in these fields [of demonstrating the truth in the media].
Miss Lavie stressed the importance of young adults like ourselves talking about the issue in our universities and social circles, in order to spread the truth and create awareness amongst the wider international community of what Israel is facing on a daily basis.
Israel facilitates 800 trucks travelling through the Kerem Shalom crossing daily. MK Ben Ari, of the Kulanu party, cited that “Israel is a humanitarian country” and therefore its continued provision of aid to a recognised UN agency is conceivable. Yet, with UNRWA’s teaching of Gaza’s next generation being aided by Westernized nations, the indoctrination of Gaza’s future occurs through the financing of countries they are educated to see as the enemy, and hence should be reviewed and conditioned.
MK Ben Ari stated that conditioning aid is unattainable as Israel does not rule in Gaza, and subsequently, Israel does not know “if the equipment is building houses, hospitals and schools, or tunnels”. On asked whether Israel could interfere in the education system of UNRWA schools, MK Ben Ari, in agreement with MK Lavie, continued that “Israel has problems interfering in certain education systems [Hasidic curriculum] of its own country, it cannot interfere with the education system of another place it has no control over”, yet continues to contribute to its operation. MK Ben Ari is correct in stating, “education in UNRWA schools is the least of Israel’s problems and that bigger problems do exist that threaten Israel’s existence”. Yet Israel must focus on the long-term as well as the short term, and if peace cannot be achieved with the current generation of Palestinians, with nor the current radical Hamas Government in Gaza or the more ‘moderate’ Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, then more focus must be attributed to the next generation, which must start with the conditioning of aid in return for an altered curriculum in UNRWA schools.
Furthermore, Israel’s money transfers to the Palestinian Authority must also be reviewed in light of the PA incentive fund for Palestinians that murder Jews. MK Ben Ari – although unaware of Ramallah’s funding of rewarding terrorists – indicated, “conditions should exist on Israel’s money to the PA”, but stated that “just like Gaza, Israel does not know where the money goes [in the PA]”. Although, Israel does occasionally freeze tax revenues that it collects on Ramallah’s behalf, the issue of the incentive fund has been overlooked, and therefore should be introduced as a factor in any future peace negotiation with the Palestinian Authority.
UNRWA was set up as a temporary solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, yet nearly 70 years after its establishment, it is actively perpetuating the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The international community must insist that no more funding will be given to UNRWA unless the terror groups it has come to be associated with are removed. The consensus is clear from right to left across the political spectrum; significant change is needed in the UNRWA curriculum. However, at present, due to Israel’s democratic values that it bases its domestic and foreign policy on, a clash of conflicts exists between Israel’s pursuit of humanitarianism and its right for national security. The greatest possibility for real reform to materialise in the UNRWA curriculum is if the international community, including Israel, acknowledge their indirect part in the problem, and that more transparency is demanded of UNRWA. Until this occurs, the next generation of ‘peace partners’ will only move further away from the negotiating table.
MK Ksenia Svetlova is a current member of the 20th Knesset and member of the Zionist Camp. An alternate member of the Foreign and Defense Committee and a member of various lobbies including the Lobby for the Unity of the Nation and the Lobby for the Struggle Against Racism. The 20th Knesset is MK Svetlova’s first term in the Knesset.
MK Aliza Lavie, a member of Yesh Atid, is currently in her second term of Knesset as she was a member of the 19th Knesset, and is now present in the 20th. A member of the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, an alternate member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and an ex Israeli TV presenter.
MK Merav Ben Ari is a current member of the 20th Knesset and member of the Kulanu party. A member of the Education, Culture and Sport Committee, State Control Committee, Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality and an alternate member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The 20th Knesset is MK Ben Ari’s first term in the Knesset.