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December 18, 2019 5:06 pm

Bipartisan Bill to Monitor Violence in Palestinian Textbooks Moves Forward in US Congress

avatar by Shiri Moshe

A view of the Dheisheh Girls School in Bethlehem, Aug. 30, 2018. Photo: Miriam Alster / Flash90.

A bill that would commit the US State Department to annually review educational materials used by the Palestinian Authority for encouraging violence or intolerance was marked up on Wednesday by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, putting it on track for a vote by the House of Representatives.

The bipartisan “Peace and Tolerance in Palestinian Education Act” was introduced with support from Reps. Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY), as well as Reps. David Trone (D-MD), Brian Mast (R-FL), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Randy Weber (R-TX).

It was first referred to the committee in April, and moved forward with revisions offered by Rep. Sherman, which included more specific examples of problematic content in the textbooks — such as “a specific math problem using the number of Palestinian casualties in the First and Second Intifadas,” and “references to Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.”

Rep. Sherman’s amendment also tweaked language in the draft bill that directed the blame for objectionable content at both the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), focusing instead on the former while noting that “UNRWA schools use the textbooks of the host government.”

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UNRWA is the main UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and their five million descendants, and operates more than 700 schools in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

The bill would require the secretary of state to issue several reports to Congress confirming whether the Palestinian curriculum included “content or passages encouraging violence or intolerance toward other countries or ethnic groups,” and assessing what steps the Palestinian Authority had taken to reform the curriculum in line with United Nations standards.

The reports would also confirm whether US funding was being used to “directly or indirectly” fund the dissemination of the curriculum, how US assistance was being used to address problematic content, and what US diplomatic efforts were undertaken in the preceding five years to foster themes of peace and tolerance in Palestinian education.

The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) — a Jerusalem-based watchdog that backs reforms for the Palestinian curriculum, and which has supported the US legislation — said the bill “passed a crucial threshold” following months of work.

“The US Congress has joined the United Nations, the European Union and leading European nations that fund the Palestinian Ministry of Education in stating that teaching antisemitism, hate and purposefully removing peacemaking from the textbooks will no longer be tolerated,” said IMPACT-se CEO Marcus Sheff in a statement on Wednesday.

The Palestinian Authority has faced continued criticism over its educational curriculum, with a 2018 report by IMPACT-se noting that grade 1-12 textbooks routinely describe Israel as the “Zionist Occupation,” refer to United Nations-recognized Israeli territory as Palestinian, and in some cases praise acts of Palestinian violence against civilians.

A September review by the watchdog group of new educational materials used in the 2019–20 academic year found “a systematic insertion of violence, martyrdom and jihad across all grades and subjects.”

Earlier this month, the Norwegian parliament called on the Palestinian Authority to remove violent, racist and antisemitic materials from its school curriculum, or else face a drop or cessation in funding.

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