The Lethal Indoctrination of Children in Palestinian Education

How UNRWA-run schools incubate anti-Semitism and terror.

Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of the forthcoming The Slow Death of the University: How Radicalism, Israel Hatred, and Race Obsession are Destroying Academia.

Signaling yet another unfortunate reversal of Trump-era policies, President Biden was in Bethlehem in the West Bank on July 15th to affirm U.S. support for the long-aggrieved Palestinians.

During that meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Biden suggested that “Palestinian refugees deserve to live in dignity, to see their basic needs addressed, and to have hope for the future,” and one remedy for their condition, of course, is U.S. aid, namely, “an additional $201 million for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) to continue delivering critical services to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.”

UNRWA, the UN’s division dedicated solely to the Palestinian refugees, has been the subject of much scrutiny and criticism, which is why in 2018 the Trump administration eliminated further funding for the controversial agency. That approach was a good step, since UNRWA, established when some 400,000-700,000 Palestinians were made refugees with the founding of Israel, has perversely served as a political and diplomatic tactic by which the hapless Palestinians have languished stateless, as if in amber, used as a hammer with which to bludgeon Israel by blaming the Jewish state for the condition in which these refugees, including millions of the descendants of the original refugees, now find themselves. The slavish attention paid to this particular group of refugees suggests that their importance is based on the symbolic import of their existence as Israel’s victims, thus the budgetary and organizational commitment to UNRWA’s operations.

Specifically, UNRWA employs some 30,000 people to tend to the needs of only 5.7 million people identified as Palestinian refugees (or 190 refugees for every employee) while The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the division responsible for every other refugee in the world, some 59 million people, has only 18,000 employees (3277 refugees for every employee).

Maintaining the Palestinian refugee problem as a scab on the Middle East’s body politic is UNRWA’s principal role, but its influence on Palestinian culture and society is also profound, particularly since some 58% of its $1 billion annual budget is allocated to education programs. While its education mission statement purports to offer children a “quality education for Palestine refugees . . . for the teaching and learning of human rights, conflict resolution and tolerance,” UNRWA’s schools have been shown to be incubators of hatred where Palestinian children are taught to loathe Zionism, Israelis, and Jews, to question the very existence and legitimacy of the Jewish state, to justify jihad and terror against Israel, to strive for martyrdom in the name of jihad, and to commit to a life of resistance, aggression, and terror against the alleged criminal Zionist regime.

This indoctrination, marinating Palestinian children in hatred from kindergarten through high school, has had obvious and tragic long-term effects on Palestinian culture and society. Children inculcated with hatred of Jews, Zionism, and Israel unsurprisingly develop into adults fully committed to jihad to avenge alleged wrongs against Palestine and Islam, explaining why, for example, in 2019 the Palestinians spent $343 million of the foreign aid showered upon them to pay terrorists who had murdered Jews and their the families gruesome bounties in a “pay to slay” program to effect the “liberation” of Palestine. It may also help explain why, as a survey by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) revealed, over 90% of Palestinians harbor anti-Semitic beliefs and the Middle East at large is the most anti-Semitic region in the world.

How UNRWA’s schools are used in the indoctrination process of Palestinian children is revealed quite clearly in a study just released in July by IMPACT-se, “Review of 2022 UNRWA-Produced Study Materials in the Palestinian Territories: Selected Examples.”  The report audited textbooks used in UNRWA schools and found that children are being taught a false narrative that makes them the perennial victim of a usurping colonial occupier, the defiling Jew, and that liberation can only be obtained through a prolonged struggle and “resistance” to occupation—in fact, to the very existence of a Jewish sovereignty in a sea of Muslim territory—is mandatory for all Muslims and that terror, and martyrdom, are an integral and noble part of the effort.

A text for grade 5, “Hurray for Heroes,” the report notes as one example, “praises Palestinian militant figures such as Izz al-Din al-Qassam and Dalal Mughrabi, known for leading violent operations against Jewish civilians; both are presented as positive role models. The UNRWA material requires students to read the text and identify the Palestinian ‘heroes,’ while suggesting: ‘we all hope to be like those heroes.’”

A UNRWA booklet designed to teach numbers to grade 3 students directs “them to a specific exercise in a PA math textbook which asks students to choose the correct number of martyrs in the First Intifada from a list of suggested numbers,” martyrdom, of course, considered to be a noble aspiration. Eighth-grade study cards reinforce this same perverse aspiration, “featuring themes of jihad, martyrdom, prison, and conflict. Such examples include phrases like ‘Jihad is one of the doors to Paradise’; ‘The Palestinians have become an example of sacrifice’; ‘The soil of Jerusalem began asking my nation: why does its flag not fly over her’; ‘The Palestinians are lions in fighting the enemies.’”

A grade 6 study card, the report found, “utilizes militaristic, nationalistic and violent imagery to teach Arabic grammar principles which encourage jihad and martyrdom. Such examples include phrases like ‘We shall defend the motherland with blood’; ‘The Palestinian died as a martyr . . .  to defend his motherland’; ‘The resistance fighter attacked the Enemy’s position.’”

The IMPACT-se report mirrors the revelations of the toxicity of UNRWA teaching materials found in a 2020 study by Dr. Arnon Groiss of The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, “Israel, Jews and Peace in Palestinian Authority Schoolbooks and Teachers’ Guides,” which examined some 400 textbooks and more than 100 teachers’ guides published by the Palestinian Education Ministry from 2013 and 2020.

The report points to a three-prong process used to teach children about the perfidy of Israel, including a “Delegitimization of the State of Israel and the very presence of Jews in the Land of Israel, including the denial of the existence of Jewish holy places;” the “Demonization of Israel and the Jews;” and an “Encouragement of ‘violent struggle’ for the ‘liberation’ of the Land of Israel, with no mention of peace and coexistence.”

While the familiar narrative among diplomats and the public face of the Arab street has long voiced support for the notion of “two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace,” the reality is that maps in textbooks used by Arab children do not even show Israel; in other words, it does not exist as either a geographic or political entity. So, the idea that children or their parents have been raised to think that reconciliation is possible between both peoples is a fantasy, something that apologists for the Palestinians blindly, and regularly, ignore.

“In none of the P.A.’s schoolbooks has any call for the resolution of the conflict peacefully, or any mentioning of co-existence with Israel been found,” Groiss wrote. “The ‘Zionist enemy,’ according to the description appearing in the schoolbooks, is wholly evil and constitutes an existential threat to the Palestinians who are depicted as the ultimate victim, with no shared responsibility for the conflict.”

“Moreover,” the report noted, “Israel itself is taught to be completely illegal and illegitimate,” and “The name ‘Israel’ has been replaced most of the times by the epithet ‘the  Zionist occupation’ so that children are taught that “the struggle against the State of Israel has thus become a struggle against Zionism that is perceived as a mythical and a wholly evil entity, which  creates feelings of fear and hatred.”

When in 2007 then-Senator Hillary Clinton reviewed some of the teaching materials used in Palestinian schools, she saw their use as being tantamount to child abuse, observing that “Children were encouraged to see martyrdom and armed struggle and the murder of innocent people as ideals to strive for.” 

And the Groiss report affirmed that assumption, suggesting that the lessons in the texts encourage and perpetuate both a justification for terror and the likelihood that it will continue to be used. “Reference to terror is more explicit in the newer schoolbooks,” the report noted. “Terrorist operations perpetrated throughout the years of conflict with Israel are presented [in words echoing the ghoulish sentiment of the NEA resolution] as heroic actions in the framework of the ‘revolution,’ ‘resistance’ and ‘self-sacrifice’” [emphasis added].

The report made it clear that unless incitement and the teaching of hate, both in classrooms and on the Arab street, are curbed, and educators make authentic attempts to improve the educational quality and the lives of Arab children — not just by denouncing the existence and behavior of Israel but through substantive, real change in what is taught and what the social, cultural, and moral messages are in that teaching — the Palestinian cause will be eternally hobbled by its own blind loathing of the Jewish state.

For Groiss, if teaching materials are not changed dramatically, children will continue to be marinated in hatred and no peace and Palestinian statehood will ever evolve. “The schoolbooks issued by the Palestinian Authority indicate, then, the essence of the narrative as far as the conflict with Israel is concerned,” the report noted. “It is learned from the PA schoolbooks and teachers’ guides that the education of the younger Palestinian generation prepares it consciously for a continuous and long-range confrontation against the State of Israel in order to achieve the final goal, which is the establishment of the State of Palestine that will stretch on the entire territory of the Land of Israel.”

As long as Palestinian children cling to that impossible fantasy, they have condemned themselves to further generations of disappointment, disillusionment, and a tragedy of their own making. And as long as UNRWA and the PA use its schools as incubators for hatred and indoctrination, Palestinian intransigence and hostility toward the Jewish state are bound to never disappear.

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