Last week the United States announced an initial contribution of $40 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN agency dedicated to providing food, jobs and education in the Palestinian territories. According to a U.S. State Department press release, the money will "provide critical health, education, and humanitarian services to 4.7 million Palestinians across the region."
This United Nations agency, which receives the largest share of its funding from the U.S. taxpayer, has in recent years come under fire due to at least one of its employees' admission that it employs members of Hamas.
Last month, due to concerns Hamas had infiltrated UNRWA, the Canadian government quietly decided to redirect funding away from the agency; instead, the $300 million in aid Canada has pledged to the Palestinians for the next five years will go to food aid and the support of the Palestinian justice system in an effort to help the Palestinians build a civil society.
Perhaps the U.S. should follow Canada's lead.
In recent years, watchdog organizations have shined a light on the content of books in schools in the Palestinian territories - and what they illuminated was a consistent pattern of propaganda denying Israel's right to exist, dehumanizing Israelis and Jews, and lacking any concrete perspective that would point towards a nonviolent resolution of the conflict, such as a two-state solution. UNRWA schools use the same text books as those that are used in Palestinian schools run by the Palestinian Authority - and by Hamas.
In 2007, Senator Hillary Clinton joined Itamar Marcus, director of Palestinian Media Watch, an organization that translates and publishes online the contents of Palestinian media, in presenting a report to Congress analyzing eight textbooks used in Palestinian schools.
In a press conference on Capitol Hill, then-Senator Clinton said, "These school books together with the media are profoundly poisoning the minds of these children."
(Clinton also convened a Senate subcommittee hearing on the subject at which Marcus testified in 2003).
In the aftermath of last week's State Department announcement of its plan to give UNRWA $40 million, I spoke with Marcus and asked whether text books in UNRWA schools continue to incite intolerance and hatred.
He said that, the wake of consciousness-raising including Hillary Clinton's stand, the Palestinian Authority had removed overt anti-Semitism from a new crop of text books. But the new books do not acknowledge Israel's right to exist and, perhaps even more chilling, are laden with content that romanticizes suicide martyrdom to children.
He shared with me some examples: In a textbook used in United Nations' UNRWA schools called Our Beautiful Language used for sixth and seventh graders, this verse appears:
"I see my death but I hasten my steps toward it."
In a textbook for eighth grade students called Reading and Text Part II--Grade 8:
"O heroes, Allah has promised you victory... Don't talk yourselves into flight... Your enemies seek life while you seek death ... Death is not bitter in the mouths of the believers."
In addition to glorifying jihad martyrdom, the new textbooks make intolerance politically correct by avoiding direct mention of violence toward Jews--and instead de-legitimize Israel and Zionism, according to Marcus.
"The new approach is to demonize Zionists and Israel,'" he said. "All of Israel is defined as Islamic land, and they say this is part of their historical narrative... the new schoolbooks call the war against Israel a religious war."
(Marcus noted that while the UNRWA schools only go up to grade 8 they use the same elementary- and middle-school texts as schools run by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas for students of those ages).
Asked if he feels UNRWA is contributing to this problem of incitement, including incitement of children to suicide martyrdom, Marcus spoke of what he believes is passivity on the part of UNRWA in the face of child exploitation.
"Regarding the incitement of Palestinian children to martyrdom, [UNRWA] does not do anything to put pressure on Palestinian leadership to stop that practice [of encouraging children to become suicide martyrs]--nothing to make it better," Marcus said. "U.N. workers [in the Palestinian territories] for the most part are local Palestinians and for them the issue of hatred is not seen as a problem."
Last week I contacted UNRWA's office in New York and spoke with Andrew Whitley, its director.
Citing Peter Hansen's October, 2004 statement that there were members of Hamas on the payroll, I asked Whitley if it remained the case that UNRWA does not vet potential employees to ensure they are not members of Hamas. Whitley responded that, while the agency has rules about its employees not bringing politics in to work and not engaging in certain "after-hours behavior," UNRWA does not vet its employees based on whether they belong to Hamas "in the same way, [interviewing for a U.N. job] people don't ask if you're a Democrat or a Republican."
Regarding the contents of textbooks used by UNRWA, the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas, Whitley acknowledged that all three bodies use the same text books in their schools, saying that is because "all Palestinians take the same matriculation exams" but said the books "have been found to be clear of anti-Semitic content."
Whitley said that in recent years the Palestinian Authority has made changes to their textbooks "of their own volition" and disputed that there was a cause and effect relationship between the congressional subcommittee hearings chaired by then-Senator Clinton and the content of Palestinian textbooks. "A few years ago ... [there was] a great deal of pandering to the usual lobbyists," Whitley said. "In the past, elements which could have been considered anti-Semitic [have been removed] ... my understanding is changes were made seven or eight years ago so contents are ones that could be considered appropriate for children of these ages."
In response to an e-mail including excerpts of the verses Marcus quoted to me and asking why the U.N. is using books that extol jihad martyrdom to children, Whitley responded that he would have to "check with our education colleagues to see if those quotes are accurate."
He added, "The second one [from Reading and Text Part II--Grade 8] sounds like it could be Koranic. The point comes back to, what is the context and what is it used for?"
(The rest of the passage is as follows: "O heroes, Allah has promised you victory... Don't talk yourselves into flight... Your enemies seek life while you seek death. They seek spoils to fill their empty stomachs while you seek a Paradise as wide as are the heavens and the earth... Death is not bitter in the mouth of the believers. These drops of blood that gush from your bodies will be transformed tomorrow into blazing red meteors that will fall down upon the heads of your enemies.")
[Reading and Texts Part II, Grade 8, p. 16]
Whitley added, "I don't think it's an absolutist issue. Are there problems with Israeli textbooks that deny the green line? Textbooks with people in a state of conflict are often [politically incorrect]. I'm from the U.K. and some of the textbooks we had [in earlier eras] would be completely obnoxious [by today's standards]. We need to look not from a moralistic point of view but look at the actual circumstances under which people are living."
Whitley went on to say that UNRWA has a compulsory program in its schools in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories "to inculcate tolerance and respect for human rights," and he suggested I report on a project UNRWA recently organized that brought Palestinian teens to the U.S. to talk about human rights.
I replied that that does sound like a worthy story. But I also thought privately that once a child's mind is poisoned early on by hatred and fanaticism, I question to what extent later efforts, however well-intentioned, can undo it.
As Hillary Clinton said, "These textbooks don't give Palestinian children an education, they give them an indoctrination."
Between what is appearing on Palestinian television, what is being preached in the mosques, and what is taught in Palestinian schools, Palestinian leadership is doing its best to ensure there will be no peace in the middle east in this generation.
As long as the U.S. and others continue subsidizing that indoctrination, how can the world expect peace in the Middle East?