After multiple delays and much foot-dragging, the European Union has finally published the investigation into the Palestinian Authority curriculum it commissioned two years ago.
The review confirms what LFI has been telling the British government since 2017: that the PA’s lessons in hatred promote antisemitism and incitement to violence, celebrate terrorism and jihad, and reject peacemaking and reconciliation with Israel.
These findings make all the more shocking the fact that Britain has pumped £105m into the PA over the past five years to pay the salaries of teachers and civil servants in the PA Ministry of Education – those, in other words, who are directly responsible for devising and delivering the curriculum.
I support UK aid to the PA, but that aid must underpin the promotion of a two-state solution. This curriculum clearly doesn’t meet that criteria.
But beneath these headline findings, the report by the Georg Eckert Institute contains a number of worrying omissions and confusing conclusions which, it appears from today’s debate in parliament, the government intends to seize upon in order to justify its continuing inaction.
First, the report concludes that the textbooks align with UNESCO standards while presenting an array of evidence that they in fact do not. Dalal Mughrabi – who led the infamous 1978 Coastal Road Massacre, in which 38 civilians, including 13 children, were murdered – is celebrated in a 10-page Arabic reading exercise which refers to her “heroism” and labels the massacre itself “immortal”. Another Arabic language exercise promotes suicide bombings in a gruesome reading comprehension which talks about wild animals and birds of prey feasting on the bodies of murdered Israeli soldiers. The 1972 Munich Olympic terror attack – in which Israeli athletes were brutally tortured and murdered – is justified as “striking at Zionist interests abroad”.
Second, the report makes a number of sweeping generalisations about alleged improvements in the curriculum in 2020-21 textbooks.
This claim appears, however, to be based on a review of only 15% of the currently taught 2020-21 textbooks. These textbooks, moreover, peddle antisemitic tropes about Jews controlling the media, finance and politics.
Furthermore, in its small print, the review admits it drew conclusions based on some textbooks that may actually never have been taught to Palestinian students. LFI’s chair, Steve McCabe, wrote to the Foreign Secretary last week asking for an assurance that all textbooks on which the findings are based were on the PA’s Ministry of Education portal when the report was written, and that print versions were indeed in circulation.
We must not forget that the GEI report itself is the culmination of a prolonged and much-delayed process.
LFI first raised the issue of the PA curriculum with ministers in September 2017 – concerns which the government initially simply brushed aside, despite the fact that they were based on research by the highly respected Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se).
Six months later, following negative media stories, the government pledged it would “take action” if a planned “thorough assessment” of the Palestinian curriculum found evidence of incitement to violence.
Despite its flaws, the resultant GEI study – which was originally supposed to conclude in September 2019 – has now found that evidence.
So the question remains: what concrete action do ministers plan to take to ensure that the PA finally takes action against incitement in the curriculum – action which it has committed to take each year since 2016 under the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding it has signed with Britain which governs the use of UK aid.
In today’s Westminster Hall debate, Foreign and Development Office ministers avoided making any concrete commitments to take action and instead appeared to place their faith in private, behind-the-scenes dialogue with PA ministers. But, as ministers must by now be aware, these discussions have had no impact and appear to be principally used by the government as a façade to avoid tough choices.
Indeed, just six months ago the Palestinian Prime Minister himself vowed at a Cabinet meeting that “the curriculum will not be surrendered”.
If the government were truly serious about forcing the PA to root out incitement and antisemitism in the curriculum it would follow the example of Norway and immediately suspend aid to the PA that directly or indirectly finances the implementation of the curriculum, pending a commitment to substantive and meaningful changes to the curriculum.
Palestinian children and young people should not pay the price for their government’s failings, so, during any suspension, UK aid should be redirected to Palestinian education NGOs with a proven track record of promoting the values of peace and coexistence.
Finally, the government should take forward the private member’s bill introduced in 2019 by former LFI chair Louise Ellman. It would prohibit UK international development assistance to schools operated by the PA that do not promote values endorsed by UNESCO, and commit the government to publish an annual report on the extent to which such development assistance for schools operated by the PA support the promotion of those values.
The time for talking has passed. Now it is high time for the government to take action.