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October 12, 2011 Special Dispatch No. 4203

In Jordan and Gaza, Opposition to Teaching of Holocaust Studies at UNRWA Schools

October 12, 2011
Palestine, Jordan | Special Dispatch No. 4203

Recent years have seen a fiery debate – chiefly in Gaza, but in Jordan as well – over the introduction of Holocaust studies at UNRWA schools. The UNRWA workers and teachers unions have adamantly opposed directives they have received on the matter, and the debate between the unions and the UNRWA administration has resurfaced at every dispute between the two.

Following is an overview of the debate:

In August 2009, the "Popular Committees for Refugees of the Gaza Strip" sent a letter to UNRWA protesting the teaching of Holocaust studies at the organization's schools, claiming these studies were "a lie fabricated by the Zionists." The organization replied that it had no intention of teaching the Holocaust at its schools, but some two months later, in October 2009, then local UNRWA chief John Ging clarified that students at UNRWA schools would be taught Holocaust studies alongside studies about the Palestinian Nakba. In response, Younis Al-Astal, a member of the Hamas faction in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), said that teaching the Holocaust was a "war crime," while Mustafa Al-Sawwaf, columnist at the Hamas-affiliated daily Falastin, asked: "Does UNRWA seek to brainwash the Gaza youth and to embellish the image of the Jewish murderers and criminals in Gaza?"[1]

A year and a half later, in April 2011, during a UNRWA workers union strike in Gaza over the organization's dismissal of a number of its employees, the union demanded that Holocaust studies, which had been introduced at UNRWA schools as part of Human Rights studies, be dropped from the curriculum, as they "distort the thinking of Palestinian students, who must be taught about the massacres carried out against them."[2]

In early October 2011, protest against Holocaust studies was renewed on the backdrop of the three-month suspension of Suheil Al-Hindi, head of the UNRWA workers union in Gaza, for allegedly contravening the laws of the organization. The protest included a mass demonstration of teachers from UNRWA schools held October 5.[3]

Palestinian human rights activist Mustafa Ibrahim wrote an article in which he said that some in Gaza believed John Ging had "framed" Al-Hindi prior to the latter's suspension by claiming that Al-Hindi's opposition to the teaching of Holocaust studies proved he belonged to Hamas. Ibrahim said that recent steps by UNRWA, including a cutback in services and interference in its schools' curricula, were part of an Israeli plan, backed by the U.S. Congress and some UNRWA senior officials, aimed at disbanding the organization completely.[4]

Al-Hindi himself accused UNRWA's management of harming refugees and wasting its funds, and even threatened to expose corruption within its ranks. He condemned the "deterioration in the level of studies over recent years, due to the philosophy of UNRWA's management, which subjugates the values and principles of the Palestinian people to Western rules, chiefly [through] the attempt to authorize Holocaust studies."[5]

Hamas Prime Minister Isma'il Haniya defended the UNRWA workers, stating that his government would not sit idly by while UNRWA's management refused to meet the protestors' demands.

Mustafa Sawwaf wrote: "The actions of [the UNRWA management] – which were carried out with the help of mercenaries, whose goal is to uproot from the organization's workers their nationalism and sense of belonging to Palestine – are egregious and fateful." He said that UNRWA's management had deviated from its course and was harming the rights of the Palestinian people, operating according to "an American-Israeli agenda far removed from the interests of the Palestinian people."[6]

In early 2011, UNRWA announced plans to add Holocaust studies to the curriculum of its schools in Jordan, as well, but in light of opposition from teachers there and their threats to step up the protest against it, the organization backed down. Director of Jordan Operations at UNRWA Sandra Mitchell even announced that the organization was wholly committed to the curricula of the host countries where its schools were located, and that no additional material would be adopted without coordination with Jordan's Education Ministry.[7]

Endnotes:

[1] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No.2560, "Opposition to Incorporating Holocaust Studies in the UNRWA Curriculum," September 24, 2009, Opposition to Incorporating Holocaust Studies in the UNRWA Curriculum.

[2] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority); Al-Quds (Jerusalem), April 14, 2011.

[3] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority), October 6, 2011.

[4] Pulpit.alwatanvoice.com, October 4, 2011.

[5] Palestine-info.info, October 5, 2011.

[6] Felesteen.ps, October 4, 2011.

[7] Al-Ghad (Jordan), March 18, 2011; Jordantimes.com, March 17, 2011.

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