The US Administration’s announcement that it intends to cut US support for UNRWA, the UN Palestinian refugee agency, has much to be said for it. The agency is profligate, spending far more per refugee than UNHCR, the agency dealing with all other refugees, and has repeatedly been incriminated in support for Hamas and other terrorist groups, with missiles and terror tunnels being discovered within and around UNRWA schools and medical facilities.
So the both funders of the UN and Israel have good reason to support a defunding of the agency. But what about Palestinians? Ambassador Daniel Taub, veteran Israeli diplomat and peace negotiator, argues that the prime victims of UNRWA’s political agenda are the Palestinians themselves.
Taub headed the Israeli side of the Culture of Peace negotiations with the Palestinians in the Annapolis peace process and was also a member of the Anti-Incitement Committee set up under the Wye River Memorandum. As such he has followed the issue of Palestinian text books and educational curricula closely for many years.
“A recurrent theme, and a tragic one”, says Taub, “is the willingness of Palestinian educators to sacrifice their children’s education for a political agenda. When you knowingly rewrite historical facts, educationally that’s a betrayal of your children.”
The new political narrative often flies in the face of previous Palestinian teachings, notes Taub. “Palestinian text books were actually rewritten to rename the Tomb of Rachel the Mosque of a Moslem prophet. This was in direct contradiction to the Guide to the Temple Mount published by the Supreme Moslem Council in the 1920’s said that its identity as the site of Solomon’s Temple was “beyond dispute”.”
The lack of concern about providing a genuine education based on the facts sends a troubling message about the readiness of the Palestinian leadership to build a functioning society. In Taub’s words” “I often think that the truest test of a society’s intentions is what it teaches its children. Currently the curriculum gives us serious cause for concern.”
“I served as the head of the Israeli side of the Culture of Peace track of negotiations with the Palestinians during this Orwellian rewriting of history” Ambassador Taub recalls. “Our negotiation team was charged, among other things, with examining the role played by schoolbooks and education systems in perpetuating the conflict. In examining textbooks, we chose to place particular emphasis on deliberate distortions of history for political ends”.
Taub notes that he traveled to Northern Ireland with his Palestinian counterpart, Sufian Abu Zaida, where they learned that both sides of the Irish conflict insisted that history be taught honestly to school children.
Returning from their trip, they developed a program for school textbooks to be reviewed by an independent committee of experts, but the program was rejected by the Palestinian leadership when it became public knowledge.
Considering this missed opportunity, Ambassador Taub quotes Senator Daniel Moynihan: “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”