The fact that UNRWA schools are caught in the crossfire of the Hamas war is hardly surprising.
Fifteen years ago, the Gaza-based employees of UNRWA held elections to determine its union leaders. Hamas took advantage of the campaign and took over the entire school system. By 2012, more the 90 percent of UNRWA employees had become Hamas supporters.
As a result of the takeover, Hamas created an entire apparatus whose mission was to maintain its grip on all the Gaza-based UNRWA schools. The organization, Al-Kutla Al-Islamiya (the Islamic Bloc), changed the school curriculum and introduced new textbooks. Anyone looking at the subject matter would see an organization that is bent on disseminating its ideology to young Gazans.
The takeover of UNRWA was an inside job, carried out by the Hamas representatives who were assigned to each school and whose job was to recruit students to the Islamic Bloc. This ensured the schools had programs that prepared the pupils for the armed struggle against Israel. This includes their grooming as “would-be shaheeds [martyrs]” and brainwashing them on the “right of return.” To get a an idea of the indoctrination that is taking place in Gaza, it would suffice to look at the Islamic Bloc’s YouTube clips, which allegedly feature UNRWA instructors doing Hamas’ bidding.
Our agency has also been documenting the UNRWA-administered summer camps for many years. We have been aided by a Palestinian news team.
The footage clearly shows that the campers are not introduced to the values of the U.N. but rather to the values of jihad, espousing the “liberation of Palestine” and the “right of return,” by means of an armed struggle.
Despite this being an open secret—all of UNRWA’s donors are in the know, including the United States and Israel—the organization is still considered a welfare and relief agency that could provide an “alternative to Hamas.” But if you ask Gazans what UNRWA has done for them, they would say “nothing,” (that is, except perpetuate their refugee status). Hamas knows the reason. It has a vested interest in ensuring that conditions remain unchanged and that the millions of greenbacks keep flowing in. This keeps the “right of return” relevant.
Donors use Israel to facilitate their transactions. It receives the money and hands it over to UNRWA officials who are affiliated with Hamas. Rockets and tunnels may be the most pressing concern right now, but over the long haul, it is the brainwashing and the stagnation among Gazan schoolchildren that should have us worried. It could lead to yet another unwanted conflagration.
All donor nations to UNRWA must insist on an international mechanism to follow the money, to ensure that the textbooks and teachers carry out the job they were hired to perform, which does not include the funding of Hamas-dominated UNRWA schools.
David Bedein is the director of the Center for Near East Policy Research. He has studied UNRWA’s policies for 26 years.
By David Bedein