British taxpayers are continuing to pay for a Palestinian education system in which school pupils are routinely taught incitement, hatred of Israel and glorification of terrorism. Many of the textbooks are written by vetted officials, whose salaries are paid by the UK.
Despite numerous assurances from the Palestinian education minister, detailed reports from the Israel-based Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) show that as recently as September last year, Palestinian school students were still learning maths by adding up the number of ‘martyrs’, including those who have led suicide bombings on buses and shopping centres. The curriculum is taught in Palestinian Authority and UNRWA schools in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem.
Not only does Britain continue to pay – in the past five years it has spent an estimated £105 million on Palestinian education professionals, including on the salaries of teachers who write the textbooks – but it appears to have a blind spot when it comes to challenging the Palestinians on the content of those books.
The UK and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have a Memorandum of Understanding, or MoU, which supposedly commits the Palestinians not only to “uphold the principle of non-violence”, but to take action against “incitement to violence, including addressing allegations of incitement in the educational curriculum”.
Money paid by Britain to the Palestinian partner is supposedly contingent on the PA’s performance on “curriculum reform”.
However, the UK’s criteria for judging the PA’s performance appear narrow. It deemed an internal government target in the 2017-18 MoU for the PA to carry out “curriculum reform” was met, but then admitted it did not include the actual contents of the curriculum.
In a letter written shortly before his resignation in March 2019, Alistair Burt, then Middle East Minister, said: “DfiD [Department for International Development] assessed that the PA did meet this KPI [key performance indicator] as the Grades 5-10 pilot textbooks were rolled out by the agreed deadline.”
But he added: “The content of the textbooks was not covered by a KPI, and DfID was not involved in the selection of material.”
Ministers have refused requests to publish the government’s annual internal reviews of the PA’s compliance with the MoU. However, they have repeatedly stated that, as Middle East Minister James Cleverly told Labour Friends of Israel chair Steve McCabe last November: “We continue to judge that the PA is demonstrating a credible commitment to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s partnership principles.”
It is not the first time Cleverly or his predecessor, Burt, has responded in this way. LFI MPs Ian Austin and Joan Ryan, both of whom have now left Parliament, asked on four occasions what Britain was doing. Each time, the government said it judged the PA to be in compliance.
The Deformative years – five years of failure and delay over Palestinian aid:
Britain insists that “UK aid does not pay for textbooks in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”, a line critics call “civil service speak”. An official spokesman for the FCDO told Jewish News: “The UK government strongly condemns all forms of violence. We have repeatedly raised concerns regarding allegations of incitement to violence in the Palestinian Authority’s curriculum at the highest levels, and successfully lobbied our European partners to commission an independent review into these textbooks.”
Behind the scenes, however, there was obviously concern about the content of Palestinian textbooks, hard copies of which were handed
to Burt at a Westminster Hall debate in July 2018 (a second debate was held last March).
We have repeatedly raised concerns regarding allegations of incitement to violence in the Palestinian Authority’s curriculum at the highest levels, and successfully lobbied our European partners to commission an independent review into these textbooks
Accordingly, Britain said it would commission a review of the textbooks, to be undertaken by a specialist educational body, the Georg Eckert Institute in Germany.
Burt held a meeting with then Palestinian Education Minister Sabri Saidam in January 2019 and reported: “The PA minister confirmed he was willing to take into account the findings of an expert textbook review.” At this point, he was agreeing to a non-existent review as the Institute was commissioned that March.
Weeks after his meeting with Burt, the PA put out a press release deploring what it called “attacks and slander of the Palestinian curriculum”, adding: “The ministry will remain invincible against these attempts, calling [on] the civil society institutions and the Palestinian people to defend the national curriculum with all their might.”
IMPACT-se has made detailed studies of the contents of Palestinian textbooks over the past five years. In its analysis of the most recent books, researchers found that “no changes, in relation to hate and incitement, have been made to 82 percent of the Palestinian Authority’s 2020-21 school textbooks made available this month by the Palestinian Ministry of Education for the 2020-21 academic year”.
The research identified 152 modifications in the remaining 40 newly-revised textbooks. “Almost 90 percent reflect adjustments that keep problematic material intact or made it worse.”
Maths, says the report, “is still taught by adding numbers of ‘martyrs’ who died in each intifada. However, after what appears to be a recount, the number was corrected from 2,026 to 1,392 martyrs. This number includes the bombers of buses and shopping malls.”
In another modification, in a reading comprehension, Dalal Mughrabi, who led the Coastal Road Massacre in 1978 that killed 38 Israelis including 13 children, has been replaced by Khalil al-Sakakini, a notorious antisemite and Nazi sympathiser. Mughrabi has been moved to another section of the textbook and is referred to as the “crown of the nation’’.
IMPACT-se says that in the entire curriculum “there are a handful of examples of peace advocacy as a universal ideal; but there is no mention of the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict. On the contrary, in one example, when students are asked to read and discuss the motives of war, the ‘Zionist colonial settlement in Palestine’ is blamed for ‘the implementation of colonial projects to control the land and the population’ ”.
Maths is still taught by adding numbers of ‘martyrs’ who died in each intifada. However, after what appears to be a recount, the number was corrected from 2,026 to 1,392 martyrs. This number includes the bombers of buses and shopping malls
The research adds: “Jews and Israel are vilified to a greater extent than in previous curricula and antisemitism is more prevalent throughout. The state of Israel is mostly described as the ‘Zionist Occupation’ throughout the entire corpus of the new curriculum.
“The curriculum teaches antisemitic canards such as that Jews are corrupt and control finance, the media and politics. Images include an arm with a Star of David holding a globe.
“Khalil al-Sakakini, well known as an antisemite and Nazi supporter who applauded terror attacks against Jewish civilians, is described as a Palestinian hero and role model whose footsteps should be followed. Sakakini stated Jews control the media and that Hitler opened the world’s eyes to the myth of Jewish power”. Nine-year-olds are taught to recite a violent poem calling for “sacrificing blood” to remove the enemy [Israel] from the land by “eliminating the usurper” and to “annihilate the remnants of the foreigners”.
Other modifications in the 2020 textbooks include making neutral material worse. A passage mentioning the Jezreel Valley (Marj Ibn Amir in Arabic), located in Israel proper, which was previously referred to as a geographical example of plains, is now taught as located specifically in Palestine. A sentence in an Arabic language textbook used to teach the past tense, which previously read “they tore my toy to pieces” now reads “the soldiers tore my toy to pieces”, in a gratuitous reference to the conflict.
The review mistake
Britain aimed to publish results of the Georg Eckert Institute’s review in September 2019 but months went by with no sign of publication. In the meantime, European politicians also decided to ask the Institute to carry out a review into the textbooks on its behalf.
…when students are asked to read and discuss the motives of war, the ‘Zionist colonial settlement in Palestine’ is blamed for ‘the implementation of colonial projects to control the land and the population’
By last August, there was a shocking finding: the researchers had been looking at the wrong textbooks. They had been analysing the content of schoolbooks used in east Jerusalem – where teaching takes place under Israeli education auspices. So the researchers praised the content of these books, and said the Palestinians were doing everything possible to prepare their children for peace.
The Eckert reviewers did assess some Palestinian textbooks. They described acts of terrorism as “resistance” and said the glorification of Mughrabi was “a positive example of women empowerment in an attempt to imply gender equality”.
It took until last October for the Eckert Institute to admit to a German newspaper that Israeli textbooks had been “mistakenly” included in the research. But the error meant more delay to the publication of its report.
Britain says the EU “is now moving towards the final reporting stage of the study. To ensure that the final report is thorough, the study has been extended to include a sample of textbooks introduced for school year 2020-21. We will carefully study its findings before we decide on next steps.”
In the wake of the Eckert admission, anger about apparent Palestinian refusal to comply with European guidelines on its education provision bubbled over. In October last year, 21 MEPs from 15 countries called for the cutting of ties with the Eckert Institute and for the review to be moved to another body – but this did not happen. The MEPs also requested partial funding be cut to PA education until positive changes made to the textbooks. Last May, the European Parliament voted, with a majority of 60 percent, for resolutions condemning the Palestinian failure to stop hate in textbooks. The aim was to prevent abuse of EU aid used to pay the salaries of Palestinian educators who teach hate and incitement.
In the past five years, there has been a demonstrable shift in attitudes in Arab countries, with a meaningful effort to change the curriculum. Such a move began in 2016 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which overhauled its textbooks to send out a strong, peace-related message. It meant that only two weeks after the announcement last September of the Abraham Accords – the peace agreements between the UAE and Israel and Bahrain and Israel – the UAE textbooks were referring in positive terms to the Accords.
Last December, a new IMPACT-se report looked at curriculum changes in Saudi Arabia. It found that while there was no new “tolerant” material in the Saudi textbooks, nevertheless “a substantial amount of offensive material has been removed”. This year’s textbooks no longer include a religious prediction of a war in which Muslims would kill all the Jews – and the classic antisemitic trope that Jews, identified as ‘Zionist forces’, use villainous methods, including money, women and drugs to control the world – has been dropped.
Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) Parliamentary chairman in the House of Commons, Stephen Crabb MP said: “It is of grave concern that incitement to violence and demonisation of Israel has become endemic in Palestinian society, from Palestinian Authority-run schools named after terrorists to a curriculum filled with hatred. The rot has truly now set in, with UNRWA recently being caught distributing its own educational material to children glorifying Palestinian terrorism. As the government reviews its overseas aid commitments, I hope ministers will take this opportunity to fundamentally question how aid is being used in the Palestinian Territories”.
CFI vice-chairman Theresa Villiers MP said: “I first raised the issue of incitement in Palestinian textbooks in the European Parliament nearly 20 years ago. The UK government has made repeated efforts to try to tackle this, but the Palestinian Authority has failed to make the necessary changes, despite repeated assurances. The UK government must take urgent action to ensure our aid promotes peace, not violence.”
Conservative MP Jon Gullis said: “UK taxpayers rightly expect their hard-earned money to be used to support prospects for peace, yet this expectation is not being met. I wrote to Minister Cleverly in October raising concerns over this issue as continued inaction has resulted in another year of Palestinian children being indoctrinated under our watch – we must act now.”
A FCO spokesperson said: “UK aid does not pay for textbooks in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” but did not address the claim by IMPACT-se that the textbooks are often written by Palestinian teachers, whose salaries are paid through UK aid. They added: “The UK government strongly condemns all forms of violence. We have repeatedly raised concerns regarding allegations of incitement to violence in the PA’s curriculum at the highest levels and lobbied European partners to commission an independent review.”
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