Dear Ms. Yousafzai.
Warm wishes and congratulations on your receipt of the World’s Children’s Prize. You deserve extraordinary commendation for being the youngest-ever Nobel Prize recipient to date and for further demonstrating your generosity of spirit by donating your prize money in an attempt to further better children’s lives in Gaza, by rebuilding one of the UNRWA schools damaged in the latest round of hostilities, there.
As you noted in your recent address in Stockholm, “the children deserve quality education, hope and real opportunities to build a future”. Indeed, as you observed: “We must all work to ensure that Palestinian boys and girls, and all children everywhere, receive a quality education in a safe environment. Because without education, there will never be peace.”
Your insight, courage and dynamism would lead me to believe you understand well that money is only a force multiplier– its effect depends wholly upon who actually controls its deployment. Donations must often be shepherded to be effective. I write this letter because I am concerned that without your active shepherding, your particular donation might well be subverted to achieve much less wholesome ends than the cause for which you have intended it – quality education in the service of peace.
My concern stems from the following:
As you noted in your remarks, Gaza is an especially “difficult” place. It is difficult mostly because it is ruled by Hamas, an organization that is quite similar in ideology and practice to the Taliban, which you have spent the better part of your life resisting. By 2010, Francesca Giovannini had already highlighted the open denunciation by a growing number of analysts of the “systematic, massive and explicit efforts” at Talibanization led by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Hamas continues to: repress civil society, deny freedom of the press, impose oppressive rules on women and on non-Muslim minorities and deploy religious police to enforce sharia law.
UNRWA operates in the shadow of Hamas, which has threatened UN staff in Gaza, firebombed mixed-gender summer camps hosted by UNRWA for Palestinian children and attempted to assassinate the former UNRWA chief in Gaza, John Ging, twice.
Gaza’s education system is essentially controlled by Hamas, which has dominated UNRWA’s workers’ union for years. In the last union elections on September 2012, the “Professional List,” led by Hamas operative Suhail al-Hindi, won all 11 of the seats that were allocated to the teachers’ sector.
You are probably aware that Article 43 Hamas’ Education Law, passed in April of 2013, spells out Hamas’s educational philosophy – which specifically prohibits private schools and internationally run ones (such as those under UNRWA) from “receiving donations or aid aimed at normalization with the Zionist occupation or propagating any Zionist activity.” This prohibition precludes any curriculum containing Holocaust Studies or educating Palestinian students about peaceful coexistence with Israeli Jews or mention of the many productive collaborations that already exist between Israelis and Palestinians in environmental and other areas.
Hamas has not only subverted any hope instituting a peaceful curriculum in Gaza schools; it has systematically commandeered UNRWA school facilities and turned many into military installations – and targets.
During Operation Cast Lead, Hamas converted at least three UNRWA schools to missile depots. Hamas also initiated violent attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians from other UNWRA schools– using one near the Gaza- Israel border as cover for the mortar attack that killed four-year-old Daniel Tragerman in his home in kibbutz Nahal Oz. Hamas knowingly turned school facilities into IDF targets. Hamas’ own misfires also directly damaged UNRWA schools – Although Hamas blamed the destruction on Israel.
Under existing conditions, with Hamas’ stranglehold over educational facilities, staffing and curriculum in Gaza there can be no real hope of meaningful education – and therefore prospects for peace are correspondingly dim. In short, your charitable investment – despite your stellar intentions– appears at serious risk of going to waste, or being subverted to nefarious purposes unless and until you can drastically alter the current state of affairs.
King David, who ruled Jerusalem, wrote the following in the biblical book of Psalms: (41:2): “Ashrei maskil el dal” – “Fortunate is he who is thoughtful of the wretched.” This has been sometimes interpreted to mean “Fortunate is one who is genuinely thoughtful about – or wise to- the real requirements of those in need” – and knows how to provide for those needs. Often, charity is mis-spent because the donor’s intentions and resources are mis-matched with the actual needs at hand.
I hope that you can find some way to ensure that your donation will actually foster quality, durable education toward peace – for only then can it possibly it do more good than harm.
Elihu D. Stone