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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:57 pm on 10th March 2020.

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Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 3:57 pm, 10th March 2020

Thank you, Sir Charles; colleagues will be glad to know that I will come nowhere near 10 minutes. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in my first Westminster Hall debate.

I congratulate Jonathan Gullis on having brought this important subject before the House. As Members may be aware, before my election to this place I was for 15 years a Member of the European Parliament, where I served on the Committee on Foreign Affairs and took a particular interest in the middle east, which is where I grew up. I have a personal connection to the region, and in the middle east, everything is connected to everything else. If anybody who is engaging with the middle east thinks that there are simple answers to black-and-white problems, they really need to pay attention to the wider context.

It goes without saying, but is worth saying none the less, that my party deplores antisemitism in the same way as we deplore Islamophobia and any bigotry, however it is directed. We take a position of principled neutrality on the middle east conflict, but we are in favour of a two-state solution. It is important to have a balanced debate and discussion on these matters. If Members will forgive me, I am not sure that we have entirely achieved balance in our discussion thus far.

There is a problem with Palestinian textbooks. This is a well trodden path that the European Parliament has examined a number of times, and as we have already heard, the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgets has called for the suspension of funding to the Palestinian Authority pending resolution of these problems. A live investigation of these matters is under way, and the Georg Eckert Institute is conducting an impartial assessment for the European Union. It is my understanding that that report will be made public, as such reports tend to be, but I join colleagues in calling for it to be made public, because I think the best solution to this issue is ventilation and transparency about what the issues are.

None the less, we should be proud of the fact that we fund teachers, fund UNRWA, and fund the education of some of the most desperate youth in the world. The radicalisation of Palestinian children is of course a problem and something we should be concerned about, but if anybody thinks textbooks are the primary reason why Palestinian children are being radicalised, they are not paying attention to the wider context. We can agree, however, that there is an issue that needs to be looked at and ventilated, as the European Union is doing. I am proud that the United Kingdom Government are funding UNRWA’s humanitarian and educational efforts, which are important in a pretty hopeless part of the world. If we want to see where radicalisation is coming from, it is to be found in the hopeless situation that Palestinian youth and the Palestinian people find themselves in.

The Balfour declaration has long roots; we in this House and in these islands are bound to the people of the region. Whatever the constitutional future of the region, we want to see an educated populace, we want to see peace, and we want to see an end to that radicalisation. I agree that textbook content needs to be addressed, and it is being addressed by the European Union in an impartial report. I suggest that we pay close attention to that and reconvene when we have its findings. That will be a better discussion than the ideological discussion that we have heard today.