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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:17 pm on 10th March 2020.

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Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle 3:17 pm, 10th March 2020

It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I declare an interest as a parliamentary officer of the Conservative Friends of Israel, and I have visited Israel with them. I congratulate my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis on securing this debate.

Education is a social and cultural right for any child. It plays an important role in reducing poverty and promoting peace and tolerance, regardless of race, religion or gender. School education is one of the most powerful tools available for countering extremist influences. Parents and teachers know and appreciate that young children are extremely impressionable and easily influenced by people in positions of authority, and by the teaching and the books given to them. That underlines the importance of the quality and accuracy of what is taught to children, not only here at home but abroad.

The UK plays an important role in providing financial support to people in need in all corners of the world, and we should be proud of our nation’s contribution to the Palestinian people through UNRWA. UK financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority this year has paid the salaries of 39,000 teachers, doctors, nurses and midwives in the west bank, who have helped to immunise up to 3,700 children against prevalent diseases. The Palestinian Authority have overseen education provision since 1994, following the Oslo accords. It is unfortunate that since they took it on, they have issued the textbooks—they are used in schools in the west bank, the Gaza strip and most of the schools in East Jerusalem—that are the subject of this debate today.

Over the past five years, the Department for International Development has awarded £330 million to UNWRA. However, the agency insists that the schools must follow the curriculum set by the Palestinian Authority, which, as we have heard, glorifies martyrdom and rejects peaceful coexistence with Israel. Although the agency’s work includes healthcare, relief and social services, most of the funding that it receives—58%—goes towards education. It is a matter of concern that the textbooks that are used are educating young minds to accept prejudice and hatred, so that six-year-old Palestinian children are reading poems promoting violence, and science lessons depict a young boy with a slingshot targeting Israeli soldiers.

I know that the EU supported an independent review conducted by the Georg Eckert Institute, which is due to report its findings. Should it be the case that the curriculum and its textbooks are indeed warping young minds, rather than educating them, would the Minister agree that the UK should reconsider its funding and insist on a guarantee that schools funded through DFID will teach a non-discriminatory syllabus?