UNRWA schools funded by US and EU indoctrinate Palestinian children to antisemitism, hate and violence
WASHINGTON, March 14, 2023 — Teachers and schools at the UN agency that runs education and social services for Palestinians regularly call to murder Jews, and create teaching materials that glorify terrorism, encourage martyrdom, demonize Israelis and incite antisemitism, reveals a new report by two independent research and monitoring groups.
The joint report, to be presented today in a meeting at the U.S. Congress as it considers new legislation in the House and the Senate to cut funding for UNRWA, uncovers 47 new cases of incitement by UNRWA staff, in breach of the agency’s stated policies of zero tolerance for racism, discrimination or antisemitism in its schools and educational materials.
The report is a joint publication by United Nations Watch, an independent non-governmental human rights organization, and the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se), an international research and policy institute that analyzes school curricula through UNESCO-defined standards of peace and tolerance.
The institutional teaching materials created by UNRWA’s own education departments and staff include over 300 pages of content labeled for use between 2021-2023, obtained from at least five separate and freely available open-source platforms, spanning grades 5, 6, 7 and 9 across 10 verified UNRWA schools.
The material carries UNRWA’s logo and the names of its schools and lists contributing UNRWA staff. They include school principals, vice principals, educational experts and teachers, who are all signed off on the violent and antisemitic content.
These materials have been kept off UNRWA’s new Digital Learning Platform which UNRWA claims is the sole source of learning materials self-produced by UNRWA. Yet they were distributed to hundreds of students through various platforms and channels, and taught in classrooms.
The report captures evidence taken from inside UNRWA classrooms, showing the teaching of these materials, and revealing how UNRWA’s own content directs students to study specific hateful passages in Palestinian textbooks — which the organization claims teachers are told to skip.
The report identifies 133 UNRWA educators and staff who were found to promote hate and violence on social media, and an additional 82 UNRWA teachers and other staff affiliated with over 30 UNRWA schools involved in drafting, supervising, approving, printing, and distributing hateful content to students. The hatred is systemic at UNRWA, and its internal self-auditing mechanisms are not fit for purpose, alleges the report.
Last May IMPACT-se met with UNRWA’s Commissioner General Philip Lazzarini raising concerns over institutional hate materials produced by the UN agency’s education departments freely available online. UN Watch has previously reached out to UNRWA prior to publication of its reports to raise concerns over promotion of hate and violence by its teachers on social media but has yet to receive a response.
UNRWA promised in 2021 that all hate material produced by the organization had been removed and is no longer circulated, and that any reported breach is dealt with firmly. This followed the agency’s earlier admission, in response to prior reports by IMPACT-se, that its teachers had “mistakenly” produced and distributed “inappropriate material.”
The report’s findings also contradict statements and promises very recently made by UNRWA to donor nations that the agency uses maps that acknowledge the existence of Israel; that it doesn’t teach about the glorification of terrorist Dalal Mughrabi; that its employed “neutrality officers” ensure the prevention of teaching of hate; and that its own reviews of host country textbooks identify all pages of problematic content, flag them, and provide specific instructions to teachers to avoid them.
IMPACT-SE and UN Watch submitted the joint report today to U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, EU Commissioner Joseph Borell, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The US, EU, and Germany are among the top funders to UNRWA. The groups also submitted the report to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini.
UN Watch and IMPACT-se are calling on the agency’s major funders to ensure that taxpayer funds to UNRWA are not used to support teachers, schools and school districts that teach antisemitism and hate, and to hold the agency accountable, per its commitments.
“With a budget of $1.6 billion, nearly 60% of which goes to education, and a staff of 30,000, the UN agency might be the most heavily funded educational undertaking in the history of international aid. And yet our report today demonstrates how UNRWA has consistently breached its duty of care to the children attending its schools,” said Marcus Sheff, CEO of IMPACT-se. “UNRWA is obsessed by PR spin and fundraising, but disinterested in the extremism of its educational network. If it had wanted to stop the hate-teaching, UNRWA would have done so years ago.”
Findings in Social Media: UNRWA Staff Incite Hate and Terrorism
Among the UNRWA educators identified in the report as propagating hate on social media:
- UNRWA Syria math teacher Adnan Shteiwi glorified Diaa Hamarsheh, the perpetrator of the March 2022 Bnei Brak shooting attack which killed four Israeli civilians and one policeman as a “martyr” whose name should “forever remain in letters of fire, might, and magnificence.” UNRWA head math teacher Shteiwi’s Facebook post lionized Hamarsheh, a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, as “splendor” and called for “glory” to his “spirit.”
- UNRWA Lebanon teacher Riad Nimer venerated Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades Commander Ibrahim Nabulsi as a “martyr” and the “noblest of souls.” Nabulsi’s cell had been responsible for several attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians in the West Bank, including an attack on the Jewish holy site Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus. UNRWA teacher Nimer’s post also encouraged others to follow Nabulsi’s path by posting the video of his funeral procession which called for “peace unto…martyrs who have commanded us to follow the path they had taken.”
- UNRWA Syria Employee Labibeh Iskandarani celebrated Adolf Hitler when she shared a photograph of Hitler, calling on him to wake up because “there are still some people you need to burn.” Iskandarani also liked comments by other UNRWA employees endorsing the post.
Findings in Curricula: UNRWA Schools Glorify Violence and Antisemitism
“Today’s report provides detailed evidence on how UNRWA creates institutional educational content for Palestinian children that glorifies terrorism, incites to violence, demonizes Israel and spreads antisemitism,” said Sheff.
Examples cited in the report, based on UNRWA classroom photos and other material found in Telegram and Facebook groups and elsewhere online, include:
• UNRWA’s Al-Zaytun Elementary School (Gaza) glorified terrorists and encouraged martyrdom. In March 2022 and September 2021, fifth graders were taught to glorify Dalal Mughrabi, a terrorist who carried out the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre in which 38 Israeli civilians including 13 children were killed. Photos taken of a classroom blackboard show how she is presented as “the fighting leader” and a “hero” who is to be honored by naming children and streets after her.
Likewise, in September 2022, 5th-graders at the school were taught to admire as a “martyr” and “hero” Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassem, the namesake of Hamas’ military wing, who had preached the murder of Jews. On November 20, 2022, photos of a classroom blackboard from Social Studies class in the 5th grade Class 9 of the fifth grade show a map labeled Palestine. The map includes the State of Israel – a UN member state, and marks areas and cities in Israel such as Haifa, Jaffa, Acre, and Beersheba as part of Palestine.
• UNRWA’s Al-Maghazi Middle School for Boys B (Gaza) endorsed violence, demonized Israel, and encouraged martyrdom. In December 2022, an UNRWA-created Arabic reading comprehension exercise for 9th graders celebrated a Palestinian firebombing attack on a Jewish bus as a “barbecue party.”
Another UNRWA-created text, taught to 9th-graders at the school posted in December 2022, demonized Israelis as sadistic predators looking for prey by teaching reading comprehension using graphic descriptions of Israelis brutally murdering Palestinians in entirely fictional stories. A “Zionist officer” deliberately shoots to death a Palestinian fisherman in front of his son in Gaza for being late to shore. The graphic text describes a “fountain of blood bursting from his chest.” In addition, 5th-graders at the school learned that martyrdom and jihad are “the most important meanings of life” through an exercise practicing vocabulary and grammar in Arabic language Learning material posted in September 2022.
• UNRWA’s Tel Al-Hawa Middle School (Gaza) endorsed violence, demonized Israel, and promoted antisemitism. An UNRWA-created social studies lesson posted in September 2022 instilled in 9th-grade students the message that “armed struggle” against Israel is a “divine right.” Another September 2022 UNRWA-created 9th grade social studies text spreads antisemitic propaganda by teaching the libel that Israel infects Palestinians with cancer by dumping toxic waste in the West Bank and Gaza.
• UNRWA’s Asma Middle School for Girls B encouraged schoolgirls to liberate the homeland by sacrificing “their Blood” and pursuing jihad. UNRWA-created Arabic language material posted in September 2022 for the 6th grade includes an exercise promoting sacrificing one’s life—“the most precious thing” a person has—for the homeland as an obligation and to sacrifice “their blood.” A grammar exercise states that “I will commit jihad to liberate the homeland” and “I will not give up a centimeter of my land.” The last sentence further indicates students are taught to reject any territorial compromise with Israel.
Western Countries Fund UNRWA’s $1.6 Billion Budget
These teachers of hate are largely funded by Western countries who contribute the lion’s share of UNRWA’s $1.6 billion-dollar budget.
Amounts pledged for 2022 included $344 million from the United States, $122 million from Germany, $107 million from the European Commission, $61 million from Sweden, $17 million from the UK, $24 million from Switzerland, $32 million from Norway, $28 million from France, $24 million from Canada, and $15 million from the Netherlands.
UNRWA’s Response: Kill the Messenger
Despite numerous prior requests and detailed evidence, UNRWA has failed to fire teachers who incite to racism and terrorism and routinely continues to produce and distribute institutional teaching material containing violence, hatred and antisemitism.
“UNRWA should therefore be considered complicit in its staff members’ misconduct, says UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer.
“Around the world, educators who incite hate and violence are removed. Yet UNRWA, despite proclaiming ‘zero tolerance’ for incitement, systematically employs preachers of anti-Jewish hate and terrorism. Let us be clear: the problem is not the social media posts, but rather the employment of teachers who preach antisemitism and terrorism,” said Neuer.
UNRWA’s response to previous cases exposed in the past was to deny or downplay the problem, and to attack the messenger. Only when pressed by donors did UNRWA carry out a small number of investigations which led to a handful of temporary staff suspensions or admit that its teachers had “mistakenly” produced and distributed “inappropriate material.”
“A mere slap on the wrist to teachers of hate only sends the message that it’s business as usual. Instead, those who incite to racism or murder should be fired, under a zero-tolerance policy, just as the UK government banned a teacher from the classroom for life over an antisemitic Facebook post,” said Neuer.
Call to Action
The report calls on UNRWA’s donor states to:
- Demand that UNRWA implement its stated Zero Tolerance policy for employees who incite racism or murder, and immediately terminate them
- Establish an independent investigation into systemic incitement to antisemitism and terrorism among UNRWA teachers and other staff, and in UNRWA educational materials, and recommend remedial action.
- Determine and disclose which of the people identified as having posted terrorist and antisemitic incitement on social media or being involved in producing and distributing teaching materials that violate UN values and UNESCO standards of education is still employed by UNRWA.
- Instruct UNRWA to stop defaming UN Watch and IMPACT-se for exposing UNRWA’s neutrality violations.