UNRWA Report Finds anti-Israel Bias in 3 Percent of Palestinian Textbooks

The review did not find any cases of incitement, and majority of bias issues were related to maps and the status of Jerusalem

Girls sit inside a classroom at an UNRWA school during the first day of a new school year in Gaza City, August 29, 2018.
Felipe Dana,AP

 A State Department report on the UN agency that delivers relief and education to Palestinian refugees uncovered cases of anti-Israel and other bias in 3.1 percent of Palestinian textbooks.

Nevertheless, the April 2018 State Department report on UNRWA, covering the 2015-17 period, faults the agency and a previous State Department report for saying that UNRWA had successfully disseminated complementary materials and had completed teacher training.

The report was declassified this week at the request of two Republican congressmen, Repsresentatives Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Lee Zeldin of New York.

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It cites a review by the UN agency itself, identifying 203 issues covering a total of 229 pages out of 7,498 pages reviewed, or 3.1 percent. The issues are examples of material that did not comport with UN values of tolerance, neutrality, equality and nondiscrimination, and human rights relating to race, gender language and religion.

An annex detailing the problematic passages did not appear in the report posted by Zeldin and Perry, but the report said that “more than half of the neutrality/bias issues it found” were related to maps, the status of Jerusalem and other cities, “for example, regional maps that exclude Israel, and refer to Israeli cities as Palestinian.” Other neutrality issues had to do with gender.

The UNRWA review did not find any cases of incitement, the report said.

UNRWA, whose duties include running a school system, developed alternate materials and training to counter the biased material, but it was not extensively used, in part because of Palestinian objections to the UNRWA corrective measures.

Palestinian teachers also refused to attend training sessions during a strike because of teacher union reactions to the material and the Palestinian Authority suspending ties with UNRWA over its issuance of the complementary materials. The report did not say what the objections were by the Palestinian Authority and the teacher unions.

The 2018 report faulted a State Department report from a year earlier for saying that UNRWA had successfully disseminated the complementary materials and completed teacher training.

IMPACT-se, an Israeli NGO that monitors alleged radicalization in Palestinian education, found this the most significant aspect of the report.

“The release of this report puts to rest the myth that UNRWA is teaching an alternative, less radical curriculum to the children in its care,” IMPACT-se CEO Marcus Sheff said in a statement. “The report clearly states that while UNRWA may have created complementary materials in an attempt to cover up some of the hate in the PA curriculum, these materials never saw the light of day. They were not distributed, nor were teachers instructed in their use.”

The Trump administration last year ended U.S. assistance to UNRWA, saying the agency’s perpetuation of refugee status for Palestinians and their descendants was an obstacle to peace. The $364 million that the United States had contributed was nearly 30 percent of its overall budget, and UNRWA officials said the cuts could precipitate a crisis in the region.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backed the cessation of funding, although Israeli security officials are concerned that it could destabilize the West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority provides all but English textbooks to the UNRWA schools, part of its contribution to the agency. UNRWA spends less than 1 percent of its education expenditures on textbooks.