Palestinian children are being taught that Israelis are pigs and snakes.

So said Arnon Groiss, senior journalist for the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Arabic Radio, during a congressional briefing last week.

The schools these young refugees attend are funded by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which receives 20 percent of its funding from the United States, according to testimony organized by The Center for Near East Policy and Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.).

On the cover of a UNRWA-funded textbook, the image of a Palestinian stamp has a blank space on the bottom left where a Hebrew inscription belongs. It was one of numerous examples speaker Arnon Groiss used in a congressional briefing to show the anti-Israel rhetoric young Palestinians are being taught.
Photo by Suzanne Pollak

However, Matthew Reynolds, UNRWA’s Washington representative, called the Jan. 27 testimony “pretty much a farce” and urged officials to check their facts on which schools and camps are run by UNRWA and which are run by the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. He also urged everyone to appreciate that “there have been great problems with the textbooks, but it’s improving.”

UNRWA provides assistance for about 5 million Palestinian refugees in the Middle East. It has roughly a $1.2 billion budget of which the United States contributes $247 million, according to David Bedein, bureau chief of the Israel Resources News Agency, who also spoke at the briefing.

Groiss spent 10 years conducting research on school textbooks for many Middle Eastern nations. He noted that UNRWA is obligated “to refrain from propaganda and hate.” 

However, he said he is aware of many instances where textbooks deal with “the armed struggle” against Israel, deny the legitimacy of the country and “openly call for the elimination of Jews, all Jews.”

Arnon Groiss, right, argues with Matthew Reynolds, UNRWA’s Washington representative, during a congressional briefing last week on Palestinian textbooks. Photo by Suzanne Pollak

Groiss said that in UNRWA schools in Saudi Arabia, the curriculum “professes the hope for the elimination of all Jews.” In Egypt, there is material “which expresses hatred towards Jews.”

In a fourth-grade textbook where the students are taught about charts, they are shown numbers of inhabitants in the West Bank and Gaza with no listing at all of Israelis.

“They try not to say the word Israel. The 5.5 million Jews that live in Israel are missing,” he said. When Israelis are mentioned at all, they are “mostly presented as a threatening group, rather than individuals, like soldiers. They are never portrayed as ordinary human beings.”

In another textbook, the exercise asks the students to “color the Negev Desert on the map of Palestine,” Groiss said.

Bedein showed two movies on young Palestinians attending refugee camps, learning that Israel is their country, and they should do everything they can to make sure they gain the right to live there.

Reynolds strongly disputed the material shown in the films, noting, “They are P.A. schools. There are no UNRWA camps.” He said UNRWA schools do not have field trips, so “how could they be going on a hike?” Also, he said, “Our maps do say Israel.”

He said the films were like having a problem with Toyota cars but always showing photos of Hondas.

“Is everything that UNRWA has done perfect? Absolutely not. It’s a tough neighborhood,” he said, noting that “books alone are not education.”

UNRWA was established by United Nations General Assembly resolution in 1949 to carry out direct relief and works programs for Palestine refugees. The General Assembly has repeatedly renewed UNRWA’s mandate, most recently extending it until June 30, 2014. It works with refugees in Lebanon, Gaza Strip, Syrian Arab Republic, West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Groiss said that as of 2009, roughly 20 percent of the Palestinian education is delivered by UNRWA.

In many of those schools, the students learn language through poetry. He cited some lines from various poems including “How come the snakes invade us?” and “Oh brother, the oppressors have exceeded all bounds.”

These schools teach that “Israel itself is the source of all evil,” Groiss said. They learn that Israel is responsible for such atrocities as drug addiction, violence and their bad economy. It steals water and land and pollutes the environment, Grossi said.

Bedein called on Congress to stop funding UNRWA “without conditions.”

Rep. Smith promised to continue his efforts to “expunge” anti-Israeli and anti-American teachings and quoted a song from the musical South Pacific that notes, “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear.”

“In America, we love the pep rally,” he said, but it’s quite different when witnessing pep rallies “for suicide bombers.”

The United States is the “largest funder, bar anyone else in the world” of UNRWA, Smith said, adding, “We do care about refugees, but you cannot use them as a pretext to teach hate.”

“We need to re-energize the effort for zero tolerance,” Smith said, noting, “It doesn’t take much to poison a young mind.”

During the briefing and afterwards, Reynolds confronted Bedein and Groiss and urged them to stop using “knowingly false” information.”

When Groiss admitted he had never been in an UNRWA school, Reynolds declared, “I have.”

Groiss then said, “Why don’t you complain? Why don’t you change your policies?” to which Reynolds replied, “We have issues with books as well, and the United States government should personally address this.”