Palestinian School Curriculum: Radicalisation — [Mark Pritchard in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:59 pm on 10th March 2020.

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Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee 2:59 pm, 10th March 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis, who did a very good job of outlining this concerning and difficult set of issues. It is a pleasure to follow Steve McCabe. I wish him all the best in taking over Labour Friends of Israel. I declare my interest as the House of Commons chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel.

I will be brief. I do not want to repeat anything that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North spoke about. I strongly support a two-state solution. I am a friend of Israel, but I do not believe that being a friend of Israel prevents one from being a friend of Palestinians, too. I am proud that I was part of the Government that increased their aid spending to reach the 0.7% target. I am a strong believer in the power and effectiveness of UK aid when it is spent well. Being a friend and supporter of UK aid does not prevent me from raising concerns and criticisms, where they are fair.

The concerns and criticisms raised this afternoon are entirely fair. We have previously debated these issues, in this Chamber and in during Question Time in the main Chamber. Having participated in this debate for the past five years, I sometimes feel that when we raise issues with the Minister, he wants to say, “Please move along; there is nothing to see here.” Actually, there is something really concerning to see here, and more examples have been raised this afternoon.

A number of hon. Members present were also at a meeting with the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, who recently visited the UK Parliament to alert us to some of these fresh issues. I want to put on the record my tribute to Fleur Hassan-Nahoum for her work on this matter and more broadly in that difficult but wonderful city of Jerusalem, across its divisions. A few weeks ago, I was with her, with other members of my party. As well as talking about this issue, Fleur introduced us to some inspiring Palestinian Arab women in Jerusalem who are setting up their own businesses.

There are reasons to be hopeful when visiting the region. I go there most years wearing my CFI hat. I am always looking for those green shoots of hope. There are reasons to be hopeful, but confronting an issue such as this can make us feel incredibly depressed. Those young minds are being poisoned. When I meet Palestinians in the West Bank, one of the big barriers to any serious talk of a two-state solution and a peace deal that I become conscious of is a pervasive cultural acceptance of and support for violence. That starts at a really young age, with young minds in school.

As a Government that take pride in the aid that we give, it is right that we support humanitarian assistance to Palestinians—I believe in that—but it is also right that we ask difficult questions about how that money is spent. It is not good enough to be told that we are not funding these textbooks directly. The fact is that we are funding education in the Palestinian Territories. That is a good thing, if it is done well. We should own this issue and be more challenging of our friends in the Palestinian Authority, who, for whatever reason, try to make us believe there is not a serious issue here, when there is.

I say to the Minister that this issue goes beyond the Palestinian Territories. Different organisations, including Christian Solidarity Worldwide, recently raised with me examples of extremism and discriminatory language in textbooks used in Pakistani schools. Pakistan is one of the largest recipients of UK aid. There is a broader issue here about how we are spending aid. As a friend and supporter of the UK aid budget, I want to see aid spent well.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North for raising this difficult subject. I look forward to the Minister’s response.