The battle for the character of education in the Gaza Strip

An UNRWA school in the Gaza Strip (electronicintifada, August 5, 2010)

An UNRWA school in the Gaza Strip (electronicintifada, August 5, 2010)

An UNRWA school in the Gaza Strip (electronicintifada, August 5, 2010)
An UNRWA school in the Gaza Strip (electronicintifada, August 5, 2010)

The Hamas administration’s announcement against Holocaust studies

1. On February 17, 2011, the Committee on Refugee Affairs of the Hamas administration released an announcement saying it would not allow UNRWA to teach about the Holocaust in its Palestinian schools in the Gaza Strip as supplementary material and part of its human rights curriculum. According to the announcement, UNRWA has surprised the Palestinians with a curriculum that is "shameful and unacceptable, one that is aimed at poisoning the minds of our children by employing means that only serve the occupation” (Safa, February 17, 2011).

2. The announcement goes on to say that the supplementary material taught by UNRWA discusses "the suffering, oppression, slaughter, and ethnic cleansing of the Jews, portraying them as being miserable, oppressed, and enslaved”. The Hamas administration takes the view that the study of the Holocaust in itself justifies "the massacres committed by the occupation and the barbaric measures used against the Palestinian people”.

3. In its announcement, the committee stressed that UNRWA must support the Palestinian people’s rights and put an emphasis on the suffering and tragedy of the Palestinian people since the nakba until now instead of teaching "this fabricated, twisted history”. According to the announcement, the Committee on Refugee Affairs of the Hamas administration already warned UNRWA before, saying that under no circumstances will UNRWA be allowed to "turn Palestinian schools in the Gaza Strip into platforms for the occupation… to camouflage its ugliness” (Safa, February 17, 2011).

4. The PIJ has also accused UNRWA of promoting "foreign” plans and agendas that go against its humanitarian roles and activities. As examples, the organization listed UNRWA’s intention of making the Holocaust (a subject "more akin to a fairy tale”) part of the curriculum, as well as the participation of UNRWA representatives in a conference held in Sderot.1 According to the PIJ, the budgets earmarked for these study programs leave UNRWA with fewer funds for humanitarian aid (Filastin al-Yoom, February 27, 2011).

Holocaust studies as part of a broader struggle on the character of the Gaza Strip education system

5. This is not the first time that the Hamas administration interferes with the curricula of UNRWA schools, and Holocaust studies in particular. For example:

a. In December 2010, the Committee on Refugee Affairs of the Hamas administration protested the fact that an UNRWA-sponsored delegation of 9th grade honor students to the U.S. and Europe had visited Holocaust museums. According to the committee, UNRWA does not have free rein to decide on its study subjects. Furthermore, being an agency for aiding Palestinian refugees, UNRWA should focus on the rights of Palestinian refugees and the suffering of the Palestinians. "We hope it will not happen again, and if it does, the Palestinian Authority must take measures to cease the ideological corruption of Palestinian youth” (Palestine-info in English, December 18, 2010).

b. In September 2009, the UNRWA education system came under criticism from the Hamas leadership over the issue of the Holocaust of the Jewish people. The affair began with reports that started circulating in the Gaza Strip about UNRWA’s plans to include basic Holocaust studies in its 8th grade human rights curriculum. Hamas spokesmen, in response to what they considered a dangerous precedent (the Holocaust is not taught in Palestinian Authority schools), strongly denounced UNRWA, calling the Holocaust "a lie made up by the Zionists,” and calling support for teaching Holocaust studies "a war crime” and "support and service for the Zionists.”2

6. The ongoing debate on Holocaust studies in UNRWA schools is part of a broader struggle on the character of the formal and informal (i.e., summer camps)3 education system in the Gaza Strip. Since taking over the Gaza Strip, Hamas has been seeking to achieve control over the education system to provide students with radical Islamic education (in accordance with its political doctrine), incorporating hatred against Israel and the West, Holocaust denial, and support for the continuation of the terrorist campaign against Israel ("resistance”).

7. In this context, UNRWA is perceived by Hamas as its main competition with regard to education and indoctrination of the next Palestinian generation. UNRWA, whose 221 schools in the Gaza Strip are attended by some 200,000 students aged 6-15, has some considerable relative advantages over Hamas, including access to greater financial and logistic resources and a more extensive network of teachers and schools

1 Gaza-Sderot Conference, a follow-up to the annual Sderot Conference for Society. Representatives from UNRWA were invited to take part in the conference, held in February 2011 in the Sapir College.

2 See our September 6, 2009 Information Bulletin: "The battle for hearts and minds in the Gaza Strip: Hamas attacks UNRWA for planning to teach the Holocaust in its schools. The attack reflects Hamas’ ambition for absolute control over education in the Gaza Strip and to inculcate students with its radical Islamic ideology, including hatred and terrorism against Israel”.

3 See our May 26, 2010 Information Bulletin: "Educating the younger generation in the Gaza Strip: summer camps organized by UNRWA in "competition” with Hamas, are a target for threats and assaults. Armed men recently torched an UNRWA summer camp. Hamas condemned the event but minimized its importance, advising UNRWA to change its ways”.