The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) announced recently that it does not intend to change the curricula of its schools in the West Bank and Gaza. This announcement comes in the wake of reports, which were extensively covered in a MEMRI document, about an UNRWA plan to make curricular changes in various subjects aimed at removing political and gender bias.
The reform sought to remove elements UNRWA considered incompatible with its declared neutrality on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The changes included removing maps showing Palestine from the river to the sea and removing references to politically-sensitive subjects in lessons on unrelated subjects. Other changes were aimed at improving gender-diversity by replacing pictures of boys and men with pictures of girls or women or pictures showing members of both sexes together.
MEMRI's report reviewed the sweeping opposition to the plan in the PA and Hamas, on the grounds that they distort Palestinian identity and serve the interests of Israel. Speakers emphasized the importance of leaving the curricula as they are, and the PA Education Minister said: "We want education that will create liberation [from occupation]."
Rami Al-Hamdallah with Pierre Krähenbühl (image: alwatanvoice.com, February 5, 2017)
PA Education Ministry: "Any Change To The Palestinian Curriculum Is Tantamount To A Flagrant Violation The Host Country's Laws"
Following the reports on the curricular changes planned by UNRWA, PA officials stepped up their opposition to this plan. On April 16, 2017 the PA's Ministry of Education and Higher Education announced the suspension of contacts with UNRWA over the planned curricular reform. An announcement on the Education Ministry's website stated that "any change to the Palestinian curriculum is tantamount to a flagrant violation of the host country's laws" and that "changing even a single letter in the curriculum in order to appease some element or other is tantamount to betraying the Palestinian narrative and the right of the occupied Palestinian people to maintain its identity and its struggle."
UNRWA: We Teach Host-Country Curricula In Our Schools
Two days after the Education Ministry's threat to suspend contacts with UNRWA, the organization announced that it did not intend to change the curricula in the schools it operates. After meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Al-Hamdallah, UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl clarified that "in conformity with its practice since the 1950s based on an agreement with UNESCO, UNRWA teaches host-country curricula in its schools."
PA Education Minister Sabri Saidam also met with Krähenbühl that day, and later said that UNRWA had underscored its full commitment to teaching the Palestinian curricula. He clarified that there was no crisis between the ministry and UNRWA, stressing the "strong" and "historic" ties between them and their desire to strengthen these ties for the sake of improving the education of the Palestinian refugees and its achievements. He added that it was agreed to hold ongoing meetings to promote the goal of ensuring good education for Palestinian children everywhere. He emphasized the need to respect the national curricula and prevent any attempt to undermine them and their content.
The reports on the planned curricular reform may have been motivated by UNRWA's financial difficulties and meant to aid its fundraising efforts.
It should be mentioned that in August 2009, there were reports that UNRWA was planning to include a section on the Jewish Holocaust in its curriculum, but UNRWA later withdrew this plan (see MEMRI report on this). UNRWA operations director John Ging said on September 2, 2019: "It is inconceivable that the Palestinian students should learn about the Holocaust while Israel has eliminating everything related to Palestine from the curricula of all schools within the 1948 territory... [UNRWA] has no intention of incorporating [in its curriculum any] materials or subjects against the wishes of Palestinian society."
 Al-Ayyam (PA), March 23, 2017.
 Paltimes.net, April 18, 2017.
 Moehe.gov.ps, April 13, 2017.
 Unrwa.org, April 17, 2017.
 Paltoday.ps, April 19, 2017.
 In an report presented on April 7, 2017, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged all UN member states to support UNRWA and help make its funding "sustainable, predictable and sufficient". See unispal.un.org, April 7, 2017. See also Aljazeera.net, January 9, 2017.