I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit international development assistance to schools operated by the Palestinian National Authority that do not promote values endorsed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization;
to require the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on the extent to which such development assistance for schools operated by the Palestinian National Authority supported the promotion of those values;
and for connected purposes.
I know from the many speeches that I have delivered in this House on this topic that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians provokes strong passions. Tragically, the past five years have seen the total absence of a political process that brings both sides together to make painful but necessary compromises to resolve this conflict. There is still vital work that we can do to strengthen the civic society foundations on which any lasting settlement must be built. We must recognise the threat posed to these peace-building efforts by those who incite hatred, glorify violence and promote terror. The reality is that the Palestinian Authority is at the heart of this threat. We can no longer turn a blind eye to what British aid is helping to foster: not the infrastructure of a democratic, independent and peaceful Palestinian state, but a body promoting values that are inimical to the establishment of that state.
My right hon. Friend Joan Ryan suggested in her debate last July that
“it is vital that old hatreds and prejudices are not passed on to new generations of children and young people.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 644, c. 165WH.]
The Palestinian Authority is acting as a transmission belt for those very hatreds and prejudices.
The focus of my Bill is education, which is crucial in shaping young minds and it is the focus of the Department for International Development’s aid to the Palestinian Authority. The memorandum of understanding that governs this British aid is explicit: as a condition of funding, the PA must adhere to the principles of non-violence and respect for human rights. Ministers tell us repeatedly that their unpublished reviews suggest that the PA upholds those principles. The facts show otherwise.
For example, take the naming by the Palestinian Authority of schools, summer camps and sports tournaments after terrorist murderers and Nazi collaborators. At least 20 PA schools in the west bank and Gaza are named after terrorists, and three after Nazi collaborators. Those include Salah Khalaf, the head of Black September, a terror group whose name will forever be associated with the torture and murder of 11 Israeli athletes at Munich in 1972; Nash’at Abu Jabara, a member of Hamas, who built the suicide belts used by bombers in numerous terror attacks on Israeli civilians; and Amin Al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem during the British mandate, a Nazi collaborator who moved to Berlin during the second world war, was responsible for an SS division and fought against the release of 5,000 Jewish children who perished in the gas chambers. These are not choices made by obscure local officials. They are deliberate decisions taken by the Palestinian Authority at the highest levels.
Ministers in this country do not appear concerned. Last year, the Department for International Development claimed ignorance on whether any of the thousands of teachers and public servants whose salaries it pays work in schools named after these purveyors of hate, whose names should be consigned to the history books. Outside the classroom, too, children are subjected to a barrage of vicious antisemitic propaganda. Children’s programmes on official PA TV feature children reciting poems calling Jews “barbaric monkeys”, “the sons of pigs” and the “most evil among creations”.
According to the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, or IMPACT-se, the reformed school curriculum for primary and secondary schoolchildren introduced last September is
“more radical than ever, purposefully and strategically encouraging Palestinian children to sacrifice themselves to martyrdom”.
Five-year-olds are taught the word for “martyr” as part of their first lessons in Arabic, 11-year-olds are taught that martyrdom and jihad are
“the most important meanings of life”,
and teenagers are taught that those who sacrifice themselves will be rewarded with
“72 virgin brides in paradise”.
Arabic language books describe terrorists such as Dalal Mughrabi—who led the infamous coastal road massacre in which 38 Israelis, including 13 children, were massacred—as “heroes”.
These lessons in hate are all-pervasive, infesting every aspect of the curriculum, and this curriculum drips with vile antisemitic tropes—that Jews sexually harass Muslim women and that they attempted to kill the Prophet Mohammed. There is no suggestion that peace with Israel is desirable or possible. References to peace agreements, summits and proposals previously present in school books have been expunged. In their place are lies about the al-Aqsa mosque being under threat and calls to “eliminate the usurper”—to conquer Haifa and Jaffa.
Young Palestinian minds are being poisoned. The opportunity for Britain to help promote the values of peace, reconciliation and coexistence is being squandered. This is not about a peaceful future. It is a scandal.
DFID Ministers were warned 18 months ago about the content of the new curriculum. They dismissed those concerns. Promised reviews have never materialised. Last September, the Minister of State, Department for International Development, Alistair Burt, claimed that the PA had
“taken action to help address concerns raised”.
IMPACT-se research shows that there have been no major changes in the current school year. Indeed, the PA has deceived international donors for nearly 20 years with the suggestion that controversial schoolbooks are simply being “piloted”. Ministers have been repeatedly asked to suspend all aid to the PA that directly or indirectly finances those teaching and implementing this curriculum until fundamental changes are made. They have refused to do so. It is now time to require them to act.
My Bill calls for two actions: first, that teaching programmes in Palestinian Authority schools financed by the UK should promote common values such as peace, freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination; and secondly, that Ministers should conduct and publish an annual review to ensure that UK funds are spent in line with UNESCO-derived standards of peace and tolerance in education. British aid should support the goal, shared by Members across this House, of a two-state solution. It cannot and must not make that goal harder to achieve, but that is precisely what our support for these lessons in hatred is currently doing. It is time to stop this pernicious policy that works against a peaceful future for Palestinians and Israelis.
I rise to oppose this Bill and start by drawing the attention of the House to my chairmanship of the Conservative Middle East Council.
The British Government have already agreed to a proper review of the Palestinian curriculum that is due to report by September this year. Surely, it makes sense to wait for that investigation to run its course and only then to consider—when we have seen all the evidence—whether there is any need to legislate on this difficult matter.
It is worth reminding the House that, according to DFID,
“no UK taxpayers’
money to the Palestinian Authority goes to schools or to fund education materials that incite violence.”
I do not completely understand where Dame Louise Ellman is coming from—whether she wants to assess the overall curriculum and textbooks used by the Palestinian Authority, or whether she wants to assess each individual’s teaching and interpretation of the curriculum. In 2013, a team of American, Israeli, Palestinian and international education experts carried out a study funded by the US State Department, finding that dehumanising or demonising is rare in both Palestinian and Israeli textbooks.
With the United Nations Relief and Works Agency facing its greatest financial crisis ever and the PA nearing a financial breakdown, surely this is not the time to add pressure by making further cuts. Both the PA and UNRWA are in serious financial trouble after the completely misguided recent US termination of support for UNRWA and of its wider assistance to the Palestinians, as well as new Israeli legislation aiming to withhold Palestinian clearance revenues as of 2019.
According to DFID,
“UK financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority…has paid the salaries of up to 39,000 teachers, doctors, nurses, midwives and other health and education public servants” in the west bank and Ramallah in 2018. These staff have
“immunised up to 3,700 children and provided around 185,000 medical consultations annually;
and educated around 24,000 young Palestinians.”
If the Department for International Development—I would be very interested to hear the Minister’s answer to this point—were to withdraw funding for education, as is suggested, this would inevitably create a vacuum. Given the law of unintended consequences, I think that people need to be very aware of who might fill that vacuum. For example, countries such as Qatar could well exploit the vacuum created if DFID were to withdraw its funding, and we all know what the inevitable results of that could be.
No one in this House would doubt that education is a major tool for international development. Most Israelis I know pride education above almost everything else, not least because of its ability to transform lives, and many of the moderate Israelis I know would be appalled by the suggestion that this funding should be cut.
Once, when I was a Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, we took a group of former loyalist paramilitaries to Jerusalem to talk about reconciliation and people living together and alongside each other. I took time off and visited the Hand in Hand school—the Max Rayne-funded school in Jerusalem where Jews and Arabs are funded and educated alongside each other; they have a shared education. That, surely, is something we should be concentrating on, rather than penalising the Palestinians, who, after all, are penalised enough as it is at the moment.
For those of us who are genuinely committed to a two-state solution and genuinely concerned for the plight of the Palestinians, not least in Gaza—we will talk about that at some other point—this Bill would be a regressive step. We really do fundamentally believe that the best hope for the people of that region, and indeed for peace in the wider world, is a two-state solution. Those of us in this House who are genuinely committed to justice for the Palestinians alongside justice for the Israelis want some kind of solution rather than just subscribing to the vague concept of it by kicking the ball ever forwards to avoid having to address it. We should be looking towards better ways of supporting a stable Palestinian Authority that can act as a creative partner for peace with Israel in preparing the ground for a two-state solution before it is finally too late.
Question put (
Dame Louise Ellman accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday