(Editor’s note: Clarifies UNRWA quote)
(CNSNews.com) – The United Nations’ refugee agency for Palestinians does not intend to include the Holocaust in the curriculum at schools it runs in the Gaza Strip, a U.N. spokesman said following criticism by Hamas about the purported plan.
While Hamas’ objections to including information on the Holocaust in school lesson plans was not particularly surprising, some Jewish organizations have taken issue with the U.N. for apparently backtracking in the face of the criticism from the terrorist group that rules Gaza.
The U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), operates more than 600 schools in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, with around 200,000 children enrolled in Gaza.
Early this week, a Hamas refugee committee wrote to the agency, complaining about what it said were plans to teach children in Gaza about the Holocaust.
“[We] refuse to let our children be taught this lie created by the Jews and intensified by their media,” the letter read, according to the Palestinian news agency, Ma’an.
“First of all, [the Holocaust] is not a fact, and secondly, those who added it to the curriculum intended to mess with our children’s emotions.”
But a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Farhan Haq, told a briefing in New York Tuesday that, according to UNRWA, “the Holocaust is not included in the curriculum in Gaza.”
“In Gaza, as in all fields where UNRWA works, UNRWA utilizes the curriculum of the host countries as its core curriculum,” Haq said.
He said that, since 2002, the agency had included a “human rights component” which it would continue to teach “within the constructive, positive and apolitical environment it promotes in its schools.”
“The focus of the human rights curriculum is the Universal Declaration on Human Rights,” Haq added, referring to the key human rights document adopted in 1948.
Also on Tuesday, UNRWA commissioner Karen Abu Zayd told reporters in Gaza City that the Holocaust was not being taught.
Ma’an quoted her saying she could refute allegations that the curriculum “includes anything about the Holocaust. Anyone can have a look at the school books. Really we focus on human rights in [the] curriculum.”
Despite her comments and those of Haq, however, a document (pdf) posted on the UNRWA Web site says that the human rights curriculum for Gaza, taught for one school period each week, includes “the historical context that gave rise to the Universal Declaration (WWII and the Holocaust).”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC), a Jewish human rights group, called Wednesday for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to fire both Abu Zayd and another UNRWA representative, Gaza director John Ging, and to ensure that UNRWA schools teach pupils about the Holocaust.
“The role of UNRWA must be to help set the stage for peace and reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis, not as agents for the agenda of terrorist groups,” founder and dean Rabbi Marvin Hier and associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said in a statement.
They urged supporters to write to Ban, and also to demand that the U.S. and Canadian governments suspend funding for UNRWA in Gaza until the situation is rectified.
The Jewish community organization B’nai B’rith International criticized Hamas’ stance, calling it “further proof that the main obstacle for the peace that has eluded the region for far too long lies on the Palestinian side.”
It urged the U.N. to teach the Holocaust. “Only after the next generations are taught, and take the lessons of the Holocaust to heart, can we have any hope for true and lasting peace in the region.”
J Street, a liberal U.S. Jewish organization, called on “leaders and political movements throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds to cease using Holocaust denial as a political tool.”
“Hamas’ continued use of such incendiary rhetoric – not to mention its ongoing use of terror and violence – undercuts efforts to find a path to its inclusion in a political two-state resolution to the conflict,” said the organization’s executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami.
Hamas is not alone among Palestinian groups to deny the Holocaust. Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas called the Holocaust into question in his 1982 Ph.D. thesis at a Moscow college, and in a subsequent book, subtitled The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism, he referred to “the Zionist fantasy, the fantastic lie that six million Jews were killed” during World War II.
In a University of Haifa poll of Israeli Arabs – as opposed to Palestinians – conducted last May 40 percent of respondents said they did not believe the Holocaust occurred – an increase from 28 percent in 2006.
Hamas affiliates dominate UNRWA teachers’ union
Established after the 1948 Israeli-Arab war, the UNRWA is the only U.N. agency to deal exclusively with one group of refugees – the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees works with refugees from all other parts of the world.
With headquarters in Gaza and Amman, Jordan, the agency employs almost 30,000 staff, the vast majority of them locally-hired Palestinians. Education is its biggest function, with almost 17,000 staffers running schools and training centers.
UNRWA has long been controversial, but in recent years links allegations have grown about associations with Hamas.
Through its affiliate known as the Islamic Bloc, Hamas has dominated the UNRWA schools’ teachers union in Gaza for more than 15 years, Arlene Kushner, senior analyst at the Jerusalem-based Center for Near East Policy Research, noted in a report published last month.
In elections for UNRWA unions last March, Hamas-affiliated candidates won all 11 seats in the division for teachers, “guaranteeing Hamas control of UNRWA schools in Gaza,” Kushner wrote in the report, which was commissioned by the Hudson Institute.
“The Islamic Bloc maintains broad programs in these UNRWA schools, beginning as early as junior high school, which promote radical incitement for jihad and opposition to Israel,” she said. “Its goal is winning the hearts and minds of students so they can be recruited into the Hamas military wing during high school or after graduation.”