As they grow up and as their values and identities are beginning to form, children look up to the leaders in their lives for guidance. Since children are so impressionable, adults, namely parents and teachers, must model proper behavior for children. Regrettably, something quite contrary is being taught to many Palestinian children in some UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) schools, in their government, and in some cases, in their own homes. Many Palestinian leaders instill in children ideals of violent resistance against occupation including denying the existence of the state of Israel, the propagation of the “right of return” and even glorifying the pursuit of young martyrdom by way of suicide bombing. These values do not delineate proper leadership. As former American politician Bill Bradley put it, “Leadership is unlocking people’s potential to be better”. It is the obligation of leaders to put their grievances aside and to set a positive example for children to follow.
UNRWA is an organization that was created in 1949 to help Palestinian refugees that were displaced after the 1948 war. Though UNRWA does provide services like healthcare and counseling to the refugees, the efforts to better their lives are in vain if they employ radical elementary school teachers preach hatred of Zionists and Jews. Dr. Arnon Gross is a Jerusalem researcher and reports of UNRWA schools that, “The mission of Palestinian education is that there is denial of legitimacy (of Israel), demonization, and no peace with the other is advocated”. He even goes as far as to say that the PA and UNRWA have created a “curriculum for war”.
Palestinian political leaders often associate acts of terror with heroism: The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank pays salaries to terrorists and honors suicide bombers by naming streets after them. Similarly, Hamas, the terrorist organization that governs in Gaza declares that anyone who is not trying to kill a Zionist does not belong to Palestine. Though there is incitement all around, one place it should not be found is in a child’s classroom.
Khaled Sweaty is an UNRWA teacher and admits, “If students are taught by religious teachers, the children will be taught that Israel must be wiped out”. Even the books used in UNRWA schools do not include Israel on their maps. Establishing the violent goal for children to wipe out the state of Israel is both damaging to the psyche of the child and a concern for Israelis as UNRWA schools have graduated at least 46 suicide bombers and have encroached on the minds of many more.
UNRWA teacher union leader, Suhail al-Hindi, is in favor of children aspiring to violence, bringing in speakers who preach that, “The road to Palestine runs through the blood of our martyrs”. Awad al-Keek, the UNRWA school headmaster who led the Islamic Jihad engineering unit that built bombs and qassam rockets, was eulogized by his students as a “great educator” and a “great warrior”. With role models like these, children are eager to pursue violence for the cause.
Brief interviews with UNRWA children show why leaders ought to think twice before incentivizing terrorism and teaching kids to hate. Mohammed Kazza is an UNRWA student in Gaza who says of Jews, “They (the Jews) are our enemies. They were our cousins in the old days, but they fought against Allah and became the enemy of Allah. We must kill all of them and Allah will punish them.”
Another student, Salah, associates the defense of her home with the murder of Jews saying, “We will kill the Jews and defend our homeland”.
When asked what does the “right of return” mean, Omar a very young UNRWA student said, “It means throw stones at Jews and also slaughter the Jews”.
Ali Shtewi is an UNRWA student who says of his teachers, “They teach us that Jaffa is our land and it is forbidden to give it up because it belongs to our fathers”. Not only are children taught that they have a right to property in Israel that was left behind by their grandparents, they are convinced that it is their responsibility to use violence to procure it. These UNRWA teachers guide children perniciously and effectively to view themselves as victims, the Jews as monsters and the Jewish homeland as illegitimate.
Many parents are also guilty of encouraging their children to commit acts of terror. A mother in Gaza proclaims that she raised her children to become martyrs and proudly endorses her son’s murder-suicide. She and her martyred son have become celebrities for their commitment toward violent resistance.
When praise and validation come from following in the footsteps of terrorists and martyrs, children will aspire to that type of violence. Attempts by radicals to recruit children to join the forces of violence are an egregious injustice that must be reformed. Teachers, government leaders and especially parents must understand that they are allowing their own grievances and bitterness ruin the lives of the next generation.
Contributed by Hunter College CAMERA Fellow Rebecca Fliegelman