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Palestinian Education System

Volume 644: debated on Wednesday 4 July 2018

[Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered incitement in the Palestinian education system.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher.

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians provokes strong passions and much disagreement on all sides of the debate. Wherever we stand, I hope we can all agree that to bring that tragic conflict to a close, it is vital that old hatreds and prejudices are not passed on to new generations of children and young people. That is why I requested this debate.

I unreservedly support a two-state solution and I believe that a strong and competent Palestinian Authority have an important part to play in achieving that goal.

I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Lady just after she has started, but she made an excellent point. Has she noticed, as I have, that textbooks for Palestinian children contain the phrase that cities in Israel such as Tel Aviv are in occupied Palestine? That goes completely against the two-state solution.

I cannot but agree with the hon. Gentleman. There are some terrible examples of what appears in the textbooks, which I will come to shortly.

Given Britain’s long-standing advocacy of the two-state solution, I believe it is appropriate for us to provide aid to the Palestinian Authority, but as is recognised in the memorandum of understanding between the Department for International Development and the PA, and the partnership principles that underpin it, British aid is not a blank cheque. Crucially, it demands that the PA adhere to the principles of non-violence and respect for human rights, and requires DFID to take action when they do not.

Is my right hon. Friend concerned that the textbooks she talks about call on children to

“annihilate the remnants of the foreigners”,

as well as talking about sacrificing blood? They call on young children to believe that “death is a privilege”. Does she believe that that kind of teaching to very young children is compatible with seeking co-existence?

I do not believe it is compatible with seeking co-existence; to warp the minds of young children is a serious form of child abuse.

We find extremists and people who foster hatred in all communities on all sides of all conflicts. What worries me about this is that some of the material is in books that are officially sanctioned by the Palestinian Authority. Is the answer not to use more of Britain’s aid budget to promote projects that bring young people together, such as the Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow project that I have visited in Jerusalem, where young Israelis and young Palestinians work together, co-operate and discuss the issues? Is that not a building block for the peace process that we all want to see?

My hon. Friend is right. There is no question that co-existence projects work. They are crucial in building that constituency for peace and in demonstrating that Palestinians and Israelis can live alongside each other.

I will give way one more time, to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). That is going to be it.

I congratulate the right hon. Lady on bringing this debate forward. Does she agree that texts for a science class phrased as has been described can do nothing other than teach hatred? Does she agree that we should use all the diplomatic pressure available to press for textbooks that teach facts and methods, not hatred and rage?

Absolutely. It is completely indefensible that officially sanctioned textbooks used in school and sanctioned by the Palestinian Authority contain material that is really harmful to children. It certainly does not bode well for building peace.

I will make a little bit of progress and will come back to my hon. Friend—I do not want to leave out the last person who wants to intervene.

There are many instances where the PA have clearly and repeatedly flouted the principles I referred to. Perhaps most egregious is its payment of salaries to those who commit terrorist attacks—a truly grotesque policy that further incentivises violence by rewarding those who are serving the longest sentences, and thus have committed the most heinous acts, with the highest payments. The official PA media are also saturated with vile anti-Semitism and the glorification of those who commit acts of violence against Jews.

I fail, for instance, to see how children’s television programmes in which poems are recited that refer to Jews as “barbaric monkeys”, “wretched pigs” and the “most evil among creations” do anything to advance the cause of peace, reconciliation and co-existence. Neither do I view the naming of summer camps and sports tournaments after so-called martyrs who murder Israeli schoolchildren as in any way conducive to furthering a two-state solution.

I confine my remarks today, however, to the question of incitement in the Palestinian education system in general and the new PA school curriculum in particular. In 2016 and 2017, the PA published a reformed curriculum covering both primary and secondary school students. It represented the most substantial revision of the curriculum since the establishment of the PA in the wake of the Oslo accords. As the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education outlined in a series of reports, the new curriculum represents a significant step backwards. Based on standards for peace and tolerance derived from UNESCO and UN declarations, it found that the new curriculum

“exerts pressure over young Palestinians to acts of violence in a more extensive and sophisticated manner”

and has expanded its focus

“from demonization of Israel to providing a rationale for war.”

It is

“more radical than ever, purposefully and strategically encouraging Palestinian children to sacrifice themselves to martyrdom.”

The incitement is pernicious and pervades subjects across the curriculum and across every age group. Children of 13 are taught Newton’s second law through the image of a boy with a slingshot targeting soldiers. For the avoidance of any doubt, I have here the textbook and can show hon. Members the relevant photograph. The evidence is not difficult to come across. Children of 10 are asked to calculate the number of martyrs in Palestinian uprisings in a maths textbook, and I have that here too.

Order. I would advise the right hon. Lady that it is not possible to use exhibits. Apart from anything else, how is that to be recorded in Hansard? The right hon. Lady should use her expertise and education to describe in words, rather than use exhibits.

Thank you for your guidance, Sir Christopher. I shall abide by it.

Children of 11 are told that martyrdom and jihad are the

“most important meanings of life”.

They are taught that

“drinking the cup of bitterness with glory is much sweeter than a pleasant long life accompanied by humiliation”.

To ram home that terrible lesson, martyrs such as Dalal Mughrabi—who led the infamous 1978 coastal road massacre in which 38 Israelis, including 13 children, were brutally murdered—are held up as role models. Let us be absolutely clear. This is, as Hillary Clinton once suggested, a form of child abuse: teaching children to hate, to kill and to sacrifice their own lives. Palestinian children deserve so much better than to be taught that the best they can aspire to in life is death.

Those are just a few of the dozens and dozens of examples of incitement that litter Palestinian schoolbooks. Less obvious, but no less malign, is the fact that the curriculum continues to suggest that Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque is under threat. That false and incendiary claim has frequently triggered violence. The curriculum offers no education for peacemaking with Israel or any suggestion that the path of peace is preferred to the path of violence. It implicitly argues that Palestinians will return to a pre-1967 Israel through violence. For instance, it teaches nine-year-olds the necessity of “sacrificing blood”, “eliminating the usurper” and annihilating the “remnants of the foreigners”.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her generosity in giving way once again.

“Building a house is like killing 100 Arabs. Building a whole settlement is like killing 10,000 non-Jews.”

Those are the words of settler leader Moshe Zar, not at an unofficial gathering but at an official Israeli Ministry of Education event, and reported in Ynetnews. Does that not indicate that incitement exists on both sides and has to be tackled on both sides? Was not the suggestion made in 2014 of a tripartite committee to look at all incitement, involving the PA and the Israeli Government and chaired by the Americans, a useful way forward? Why did the Israeli Government reject it?

I am not making an argument for the Israeli Government. I have stood on a platform with Benjamin Netanyahu and said to his face—I think my hon. Friend knows this, because I have said it before—that I do not agree with settlement building and that I think there should be a settlement freeze. I think it is a barrier to peace. I do not think it is the only barrier and I do not think it is insurmountable, but I do not agree with it. Israeli textbooks see peace as the ultimate goal and depict it as highly desirable and achievable, while war is a negative, although sometimes necessary, occurrence.

This is not some unfortunate tale about events in the middle east, for which Britain has no responsibility. British aid to the PA helps fund the salaries of 33,000 teachers and Ministry of Education and Higher Education civil servants. As the Minister clearly stated in answers to parliamentary questions I tabled in March:

“According to the Palestinian Authority…Ministry of Education and Higher Education, all of their schools in the West Bank are using the revised 2017 PA curriculum.”

UK-funded public servants and teachers under the Ministry of Education and Higher Education are therefore involved in the implementation process. Moreover, as the former Secretary of State for International Development, the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel), stated in correspondence with me last year:

“The MOU...includes a commitment from the PA to take action against incitement to violence, including addressing allegations of incitement in the education curriculum.”

I first brought the new curriculum to Ministers’ attention last September. With my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), who is here today, and my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), I wrote to the International Development Secretary and the Prime Minister, whose intolerance of extremism does not appear to extend to her own Government’s expenditure. Since then, the Government have blustered, prevaricated and delayed. They first dismissed the objectivity of the IMPACT-se report. They then claimed that IMPACT-se was, in part, basing its view of the curriculum on a report published three years before the new curriculum was introduced. Seven months on, they announced that they would conduct their own independent assessment of the Palestinian curriculum. The net result is that Palestinian children have been served up this diet of hate for another year.

Given that a new set of school textbooks will be distributed in September, the Government’s review risks being out of date by the time it is completed. The big reforms introduced last year mean that those books are likely to contain very few changes. However, that will still allow the PA to argue that there are new books— a tactic they have successfully deployed with international donors in the past. I simply cannot understand why Ministers have been so slow and reluctant to confront the Palestinian Authority. We could and should have prevented this by saying, “No,” and stopping the cheques. It really was not a hard call.

In the time the Government have been stalling, the European Union has passed legislation requiring that all teaching and training programmes financed through EU funds, such as PEGASE, must reflect common values such as peace, freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination within education. The legislation

“asks the Commission to ensure that European funds are spent in line with Unesco-derived standards of peace and tolerance in education”.

Once again, I urge the Government to take action. First, they should suspend all aid to the PA that directly or indirectly finances those teaching and implementing this curriculum until the PA commit to wholesale and urgent revisions of it. Secondly, I have suggested previously that Britain cut its aid to the PA by 14%—double the percentage of the PA budget that is used to pay terrorist salaries—and invest that money in a Palestinian peace fund aimed at young people. It would support education projects in Palestine not tarnished by the PA’s anti-Semitism. While money that would have paid the salaries of teachers and Education Ministry public servants remains suspended, it can be redirected into that fund. I am suggesting not a cut in the funding but a change in where it goes. Palestinian children and young people must not suffer due to the acts of their leaders.

Finally, given that the UK is so heavily invested in education, we must ensure that we monitor far more closely what is going on in Palestinian classrooms. I urge that, in keeping with new legislation being considered by the United States, the Secretary of State for International Development be required to issue a written statement to the International Development Committee each year to confirm that she is satisfied that the content in the PA curriculum does not encourage or incite violence, that it conforms with standards for peace and tolerance derived from the UNESCO declarations, and that no UK aid is being used directly or indirectly to fund educational materials that do not meet those standards.

I recognise that the Government have decided to conduct their own review, so I request that the Minister addresses the following questions in his response. In their correspondence with me, the Minister and the Prime Minister have emphasised that the Government regularly engage with the PA on issues of incitement. First, will the Minister give us two or three concrete examples of action taken by the PA, as a result of that engagement, to curb incitement? Secondly, will he tell us when the DFID review will be completed? Will he agree to place a copy of it in the Library of the House?

Thirdly, will the Minister confirm that, as IMPACT-se did, the DFID review will examine every page of every PA textbook through the prism of defined methodologies? I have a list of 133 textbooks, which I am happy to furnish him with. When the review is completed, will he place in the Library a list of all the textbooks that DFID officials examined? Fourthly, will he confirm that the DFID review is being given access to the full curriculum?

Fifthly, I know the Minister will wish to ensure that the DFID review is stringent, robust and evidence-based. Will he therefore confirm that DFID’s methodologies, like those deployed by IMPACT-se, make reference to or are in accordance with articles 1, 4.2 and 5 of the declaration of the principles on tolerance proclaimed and signed by the member states of UNESCO on 16 November 1995; principles 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the UN declaration on the promotion among youth of the ideals of peace, mutual respect and understanding between peoples, signed in 1965; and articles 9 and 18 of the integrated framework for action on education for peace, human rights and democracy, approved by the general conference of UNESCO at its 28th session in Paris in November 1995? Finally, will the Minister undertake to place in the Library of the House a copy of the research methodologies that DFID’s review is utilising?

It is highly regrettable that the Government have effectively made British taxpayers complicit in the delivery of this curriculum of hate. We must stop funding this incitement to violence and terror; we must cease subsidising this abuse of Palestinian children and young people; and we must do so before young minds are poisoned, thus perpetuating a tragic conflict that has gone on for far too long.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher, as always.

I thank the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) for securing the debate. I shall not be able to answer all her questions this afternoon. The time I had available to prepare was cut short because earlier in the main Chamber I had to deal with an urgent question about the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar. Some Members present were there for that, but not everyone. I am afraid that it ate into my time, so I have not been able to do as much preparation as I would have liked. None the less, I am grateful to her for raising a subject that is, across the House, of considerable interest and concern, which is shared by me and all Ministers.

The UK strongly condemns all forms of violence and incitement on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We continue to urge the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships to avoid engaging in or encouraging any type of action and language that makes a culture of peaceful co-existence and a negotiated solution to the conflict more difficult to achieve. Nowhere are the values of peace and tolerance more important than in education.

It was perfectly right and proper for the right hon. Lady to cite a series of examples. None of them was justifiable, and the United Kingdom would not seek to justify them in any way, but we have discussed such matters too many times in this place, and too many attitudes are born out of the conflict’s history and context, making them difficult to escape. None the less, if a future generation is to have the opportunities that we want for it, that will have to start in schools—all the schools, and all the teaching of those who go to school. As I mentioned earlier, one of my concerns is that over time the distance between young people and others, between Israelis and Palestinians, becomes greater, because of the length of time the conflict has gone on and because of a hardening of attitudes on all sides. We have to start with that, but we have to see what we can do about such an important issue.

In May, in Ramallah, I raised incitement with the Palestinian Education Minister in a meeting about the UK’s future support to the Palestinian Authority. To give the right hon. Lady the concrete example she is looking for, I sat across a desk from the Education Minister and asked him about incitement in textbooks. We talked about what to do and he answered me. It is that direct—straightforwardly, with a colleague. I shall move on to what we will do in a moment, but British officials hold similar conversations with other Palestinian counterparts, so it is done and it is done directly. The Education Minister welcomed the prospect of an independent international review of Palestinian textbooks and assured me that the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education would take seriously the findings of any such review. I shall move on to that in more detail in a moment.

The UK is a long-term supporter of Palestinian education. Last year UK aid helped up to 24,000 Palestinian children in the west bank go to school. I saw for myself the positive impact of our money on the lives of just a few of those boys and girls during my recent visit. The children I met at an elementary school in Ramallah showed me with pride their school garden and artwork, and told me about their hopes and aspirations for the future—to be doctors, engineers and teachers. They need our help to have a fair chance of making those dreams a reality. They are the peace-builders of tomorrow, and that is why it is vital that the UK and other international partners support them.

Our continued support will come with a continued strong challenge to the Palestinian Authority on education sector incitement. Let me be very clear: education has no place for materials or practices that incite young minds towards violence. I have seen the reports expressing concern about the content of new Palestinian textbooks, and I take the findings of those reports seriously. Our response must be rigorous, evidence-based and made in the company of other international supporters of the Palestinian education system, in order to ensure that the Palestinian Authority hear a strong, credible and unified voice about what must be done so that their textbooks support peace and do not incite violence.

That is why we are in the final stages of discussions to establish an independent textbook review jointly with other donors. The plan at the moment is for the review to be completed by September 2019. Department for International Development officials have begun preparation for that independent review. It will be evidence-based and rigorous, to ensure that the Palestinian Authority hear that strong, credible voice. In the interim, we shall continue to express concern about incitement with the PA.

A specific concern was the new pilot textbooks, which is why they are the most appropriate focus for analysis and our immediate work with the PA. Separately, we are interested in the role that education can play in promoting tolerance and inclusion. We shall, accordingly, look at other aspects of the education system, including the broader curriculum.

Why are we seeking a joint review instead of doing it ourselves? We think that joining up with other donors will provide a rigorous analysis of Palestinian textbooks and a unified voice from the international community about what the PA need to do. That will also deliver value for money and avoid the risk of two different analyses from competing authorities.

I did have one concern when the right hon. Lady mentioned the review. She suggested that in some quarters the review of the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education was disregarded, but I too was concerned at some of the findings. The Department has met IMPACT-se to investigate further, but we thought that an objective review was also necessary. It is right to have done that.

In answer to the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) on co-existence, as I think the House knows, I value such projects very much. Some are proceeding at the moment with £3 million in support, but we might well have more in future. I have listened to the right hon. Lady, the hon. Gentleman and indeed the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) on that, because if such co-existence projects are to work, they must come with support from all sides. There is more that we can do, and that is important.

Our ambition for inclusive education must be much greater than simply to ensure that textbooks do not incite violence. To contribute towards a just and lasting peace, we must promote positive portrayals of others to instil the values of peace and tolerance in the minds of young people. That is why the UK will continue to seek ways of ensuring that our current and future support for education brings young people together to build confidence, trust and understanding across communities.

To conclude, I reiterate that the UK condemns incitement in all its forms. I shall continue to raise the issue directly with the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, both during and upon conclusion of the textbook review. I shall also continue to encourage positive portrayals of others on both sides of the conflict, because that is vital to deliver a two-state solution that will lead to a just and lasting peace.

To repeat one or two of the things that I said in the earlier debate, a lasting and just peace is based not only on words but on actions. Actions that are detrimental to a two-state solution and look likely to make it more difficult will be condemned by the United Kingdom Government—we do make such condemnations, such as that of the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, which started earlier today. On both sides of the conflict, things are done that make peace more difficult. Incitement is wrong and should not be any part of the situation. Each party to the conflict, whether Hamas pushing people towards the fence to be killed or those involved in actions likely to make a two-state solution more difficult, bears responsibility for the peace we need in the future.

This House is clear in its determination that a two-state solution is the only viable future. We have to continue to be clear and determined about that. We have to ensure that those we talk to know that we mean it seriously. Removing incitement will play a key part, and it cannot be ignored by those who may think that the experience of occupation is so severe that in some places it can be condoned. No, incitement cannot and will not be condoned. We will be clear about speaking out on everything that gives rise to the perpetuation of a conflict that, as the right hon. Lady concluded, has gone on for far too long.

Question put and agreed to.