Palestinian School Textbooks: EU Review — [Dame Angela Eagle in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall on 30th June 2021.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey 9:25 am, 30th June 2021

I remind hon. Members that there have been changes to the normal practice in order to support the new hybrid arrangements. Timings of debates have been amended to allow technical arrangements to be made for the next debate. There will be suspensions between debates.

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Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne 9:26 am, 30th June 2021

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the EU Review into Palestinian school textbooks.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Angela. It is a privilege to speak in this place, and I do so today with a keen sense of responsibility. Very recently, yet more Palestinian and Israeli lives were lost to conflict and citizens left traumatised. The ceasefire has held, mercifully, but in the words of Mahatma Gandhi,

“If we wish to create a lasting peace, we must begin with the children.”

Children’s education is a long-term, strategic first frontline for all parties and all agendas. As far back as Aristotle, that has been understood. He said:

“Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.”

In the context of this debate, my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers first raised the alarm about radicalisation in the Palestinian curriculum in the European Parliament, 20 years ago. Last year, a debate in this House on the same subject highlighted shocking examples in the educational materials in use by British-funded teachers in Palestinian Authority schools. The answer to this, we were told then, would be found in the EU review—the long-awaited work of the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research. Ministers publicly vowed to take action if the report found evidence of material that incites violence. The report on that review has just been published, and it does.

In opening the debate, I want to bring into the light examples of the troubling findings cited in the report, share wider analysis and critique of the review itself, which casts a yet longer shadow, and demonstrate that we are not alone in our challenge to the Palestinian Authority. On a personal level, I should note that I am a teacher by profession, and for many years before coming to this place I worked as a school inspector, scrutinising the curriculum and evaluating learning. I should also note that I visited the region a number of years ago with the Conservative Friends of Israel and had the opportunity to speak with both Israelis and Palestinians.

The EU review rests on an analysis of a sample of 156 textbooks and teacher guides published between 2017 and 2019 by the Palestinian Ministry of Education and, later, a further 18 that were released online in 2020. The review seeks to establish whether textbooks meet international UNESCO standards, UNESCO’s mission being

“to contribute to the building of a culture of peace”.

The EU report clearly identifies evidence of anti-Jewish racism within the curriculum. It says of a chapter in one textbook that it

“sends the message that the Jews as a collective are dangerous and deceptive, and demonises them. It generates feelings of hatred towards Jews and…must be characterised as anti-Semitic.”

Of that particular reference, the report’s authors note that a 2019 revision—the exchange of a photo—certainly does not de-escalate the messaging.

The report identifies examples of terrorists glorified as role models, most notably Dalal Mughrabi, who was responsible for the murder of 38 Israelis in one of the country’s worst ever terror attacks. The report highlights maps of a territorially whole Palestine as an imagined homeland that negates the existence of the state of Israel—a denial of reality. The report finds that one history textbook features a doctored copy of a landmark letter sent by Yasser Arafat to his Israeli counterpart during the Oslo peace process, with Arafat’s commitment to peaceful co-existence free from violence and all other acts that endanger peace and stability removed.

All subjects in the curriculum at all levels lend themselves and pivot to the conflict, whether it is around the environment and pollution, prepositions, illiteracy, or graphical visualisations or pie charts in maths. At first glance, there appears to be positive change and an increased focus on human rights coverage. There is a recognition that human rights are a universal notion, but there is no carry-through or discussion of the rights of Israelis. It is used only as a prism for understanding violations and where most examples are carried out by Israeli protagonists.

The report states that what is problematic is the phrasing,

“which implies systematic violations of children‘s rights reaching all the way to torture and murder, and this has the potential to dehumanise the (Israeli) ‘other’.”

It goes on:

“Above all, the textbooks fail to engage with the question of whether violence carried out by Palestinian actors might equally constitute a violation of human rights.”

Textbooks call for tolerance, mercy, forgiveness and justice, but they are not applied to Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The position of the international community is considered unfair because it sides with the “Zionist occupier” by keeping quiet about its crimes. At the end of a lesson on children’s rights, pupils are asked in an exercise to monitor and list Zionist violations against children in Palestine by following news pages or social media, and then read them to classmates.

Observations noted in the report indicate that the peace process has in fact gone backwards or been downgraded since 2014. The report states:

“In the entire body of textbooks examined for this Report…the depiction of peaceful attempts to resolve the conflict is limited to a few pages”.

The unilateral disengagement of the occupation of Gaza in 2015 is pitched as a positive development, but, critically, without mentioning Israel.

The report’s findings on material are deeply problematic, but there are also problems with the report itself. Glaring omissions, phantom changes, the scale of the review and the seeming mismatch between the review’s conclusions and the evidence on which it rests are all in the frame.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

The hon. Lady is right to highlight the deficiencies of the material, which are outlined comprehensively and in a very balanced way in the Georg Eckert report, but does she accept that the overall conclusion of the report is that,

“the textbooks adhere to UNESCO standards and adopt criteria that are prominent in international education discourse, including a strong focus on human rights”?

If she is inviting the House to accept the material that she quotes, should she not also invite the House to accept the conclusions of the authors of the report?

Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question, which strikes at the heart of the point I was making: although there is increased coverage and focus on human rights, that does not extend to the Israelis. Actually, the very point that I rested on was that the conclusion rests on a report that offers up, in its body, example after example that contradict those UNESCO values. We need to understand that and challenge it.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

My hon. Friend is making a really important point. To underline it, is it not the case that when we read the report—the executive summary, the main body of the report and the conclusions—it appears that there is a disconnect between what the executive summary says and the conclusions and the real evidence, which is contained deep in the body of the report? That is the concern and that is what we should be discussing today.

Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne

I concur entirely. What is required is a full reading of the body of evidence, because the executive summary does not seem to reflect that evidence. In fact, it must be contested that the textbooks adhere to the UNESCO standards when they simultaneously espouse a narrative of resistance to Israel and display antagonism towards it. How can the report’s conclusion be reconciled with the extensive evidence within the body of the report?

There are other issues with the report. A wider analysis highlights glaring omissions—or apparent omissions. The justification of the Munich Olympics terrorist attack as an attack on Zionist interests abroad is not covered. On the 2020 claims, the report suggests positive editing and improvement in the most recently published textbooks, but are these criticisms put forward? Are these phantom changes? Are they based on books that reportedly are not in the curriculum, or on books that do not appear on the Palestinian Authority’s official Education Ministry online portal? Is the scale and scope of the review sufficiently robust? For example, 15% relates to the coverage of the 2020-21 textbooks.

Notwithstanding the discordant finding of the report, as mentioned by Mr Carmichael, last week, following the completion of the EU review, the Foreign Office issued a statement acknowledging that anti-Israel content remains. The UK is not alone in reaching that conclusion. Norway has already cut its funding and the Biden Administration are now making aid conditional on the removal of incitement of antisemitism from educational materials.

Photo of Christian Wakeford Christian Wakeford Conservative, Bury South

My hon. Friend makes a particular point about Norway reducing its funding and the US completely removing its funding, but does she agree that removing our funding is probably not the right way to go and that we should instead ask for the reforms that we really need to see, to make sure that every child in the Palestinian Authority area gets a meaningful education?

Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne

I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent question, and I concur. Education is absolutely at the heart of this process; it is mission-critical to establishing a peaceful resolution in the region. Change is possible where there is political will and leadership. From Tunisia and Egypt through to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, there is a clear trend across the region for improving curricula through the removal of anti-Israel and racist narratives, and instead promoting peace and co-existence. There is a better way.

Positive change could also be inspired through engagement with the International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. This project, which has widespread cross-party support here and in the US, is exactly the sort of programme that the UK could also support if it wished to deliver on its goal of a lasting and meaningful peaceful two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. I have seen at first hand the value of peaceful co-existence projects; the day-to-day interactions that they afford Israelis and Palestinians are invaluable. Projects such as Seeds of Hope, Hands of Peace and Hand In Hand are all remarkable projects that work through education to change lives and create positive interactions.

I look forward to the rest of the debate and to hearing from the Minister, for whom I have some specific questions. What assessment has the Department made of the review? Does he recognise or share the concerns expressed over its shortcomings? Does he believe that the Palestinian Authority’s curriculum, as presented, supports or harms the UK’s long-standing goal of securing lasting peace? Given the promise of action, what new and different steps are being considered? Thus far, raising concerns has failed to elicit the change we need. Nothing perpetuates conflict as much as seeding it in generation after generation of children and young people.

The report as a whole is clear: the Palestinian curriculum remains deeply problematic. It is my sincere hope that the UK Government and their international partners will use the review as the catalyst for change. As things stand, British taxpayers have been directly funding the teaching of a curriculum that actively undermines the peaceful two-state solution that the Government strive to support. Surely, in the light of the violence of recent months, there must be renewed urgency in our resolve to promote peaceful co-existence, and that must focus on the curriculum and textbooks. As the report authors state, textbooks are particularly relevant in conflict

“where discourses have considerable potential to contribute to violent escalation or conflict transformation”.

As John F. Kennedy said:

“Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.”

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

In order to get everybody in, I am not going to impose a time limit at the moment, but I will call the Front Benchers from 10.23 am. If colleagues bear in mind that allows four to five minutes each and try to keep to that, I will be most grateful.

Photo of Julie Elliott Julie Elliott Labour, Sunderland Central 9:41 am, 30th June 2021

Thank you, Dame Angela. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I thank Caroline Ansell for bringing this debate on the important topic of Palestinian textbooks. Let me start by saying that I condemn any incitement to violence, whether of Palestinian children, Israeli children, or any children in the world. I condemn antisemitism and anti-Arab Palestinian hate speech.

The research for the review started in September 2019, and the textbooks were published between 2017 and 2019, so the report it is looking at a picture of several years ago, and the picture it paints is complex. I agree with the hon. Lady that there is conflicting evidence in the report, but its conclusion is that the Palestinian Authority have shown a commitment to improving the quality of textbooks, and notes that in recent textbooks things have improved. That needs to be placed on the record.

There has been much discussion of this issue, including in debates in the Chamber. In that context, use was made of a report by IMPACT-se—the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education—but that is a completely discredited organisation. Former UK Minister Alistair Burt said in a written answer on 12 September 2018:

“Our assessment is that the IMPACT-se report was not objective in its findings and lacked methodological rigour. For example, some claims were made on the basis of partial or subjective reading of the text, some findings are presented out of context.”

Overall, IMPACT-se’s report is noted as generalising and exaggerating.

There is no doubt that there is room for improvement, but there is also room for improvement in Israeli schools. That is the nub of the problem. I recently saw footage on social media from a religious school in Israel where children taking part in a question and answer session were caught saying that in 10 years’ time, the al-Aqsa mosque would not be there, a temple would be built on the site, and the only Arabs surviving would be slaves. We have to look at this picture in the round and from both sides of the argument. It is fair to say there is room for improvement in the education of children, within both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

I feel strongly that our country and Government must do everything we can to try to stop the incitement of violence among children and to head towards a two-state solution, as the hon. Lady said in her opening statement, but I firmly believe that, rather than textbooks, taken out of context, the biggest issue is the reality of Palestinian children’s daily lives.

This year, up to 66 Palestinian children have been killed in Gaza, with 600 wounded. Palestinian children have been beaten up and arrested in the west bank, and they still endure midnight raids, interrogation, detention and military trial. They go to school under threat from Israeli settlers, and 53 Palestinian schools in the west bank are subject to threats of demolition. As the hon. Lady said, those measures are also funded by the British Government through EU funds. I believe they have far more impact on the reality of inciting violence among Palestinian children. They need to be addressed urgently by our Government in their conversations and in the pressure they bring to bear to end the 54-year occupation. That is what will bring peace in the region, and that is what will bring peace for Palestinian children and Israeli children.

Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle 9:46 am, 30th June 2021

I thank my hon. Friend Caroline Ansell for securing this important debate. Like her, I visited Israel with the Conservative Friends of Israel and spoke to Israelis and Palestinians on this and many other issues.

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians last month demonstrated just how important it is that we promote de-escalation, reject violence and inflammatory rhetoric, and encourage moderate leaders who are willing to be credible partners for peace in the region. Although the recent EU report on Palestinian textbooks recognises that some improvements have been made, it shows that the Palestinian Authority still has some way to go to live up to those goals. Both the 2019-20 curriculum and the textbooks of the most recent school year are riddled with antisemitism, glorification of terrorism as heroic struggle, and negation of the state of Israel, including in maps that erase Israel’s presence; references to the Oslo accords have been removed.

This is not the first investigation into Palestinian textbooks, and the report serves only to confirm what we have known for some time about the Palestinian curriculum. The contention by the authors of the EU report that the curriculum meets UNESCO standards and that improvements were seen in the 2020 editions is false; close reading of the main body of the report proves as much. When arguing that the textbooks have improved, the EU report cites a particularly egregious example of incitement that has been removed, in which fourth-grade pupils are asked to calculate the numbers of martyrs, including suicide bombers, from the first and second intifadas. On the face of it, that would be a welcome change, but the reviewers show that it has been replaced by a maths question about Israel stealing land from Palestinians. That is not an improvement, and the reviewers concede that they were unable to verify that it is even in circulation in hard-copy textbooks. It turns out that the maths question about terrorists is still in use, as confirmed by the PA’s official Ministry of Education portal online. Such content is indefensible, and I struggle to see how it benefits the Palestinian population, including its children.

Photo of Chris Green Chris Green Conservative, Bolton West

We could understand it if, in the history curriculum or other elements of the curriculum, contentious issues were presented in a way that was unfavourable to Israel. That would be understandable, albeit unwelcome. But to get such things into the maths curriculum indicates a conscious will and effort to do so. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle

I do agree. We must remember that young minds are very absorbent and they tend to take on board and trust what they are taught in school.

Members who have asked questions over the past four years have been told to wait for the publication of this report and assured that this is an important issue, which is why we are having this debate. I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that, with the release of the report, the Government’s long-standing stance on this issue may require some reassessment.

I am, however, grateful and thankful that the report has provoked an international discussion about linking aid to the PA and UNRWA—which runs a number of schools in the west bank and Gaza and uses the same curriculum as the PA—to the removal of antisemitic incitement from the Palestinian curriculum. It is important to highlight that linkage. The United States has said that it will do this for its aid to UNRWA—it will delink—and the European Commissioner responsible for aid to the PA and UNRWA has said that the EU should look at doing so for its funding to the PA. In the light of this report, it may be time for this country to look again at our aid to the PA, ensure that we do not fund the curriculum that is in place while also encouraging the PA to reform their curriculum in a more positive and constructive manner.

The events of the past month have underscored how far we will have to go to heal the divisions in the region and put a permanent stop to the death and destruction. The need to tackle Hamas in particular is as clear as ever, but a lasting peace depends on a Palestinian Authority who take seriously their commitment to co-existing alongside Israel. We have to encourage the PA to demonstrate that this is taking place not just with words but at all levels of society, including education. I therefore hope that Ministers will take this report and build on its efforts to promote moderate, pragmatic Palestinian leadership, working with the PA to improve their textbooks and curriculum. However, they must also ensure that our aid money is not funding an existing curriculum that is morally objectionable and runs against our and all peace-loving people’s aspirations for the region.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 9:51 am, 30th June 2021

As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Angela. I also congratulate Caroline Ansell on having secured this debate. I think that she, like I—and, I suspect and hope, everybody in this debate—holds the view that we would ultimately wish to see a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine. I gently suggest to her and others that if we are ever to achieve that, the role of this country has to be limited. For us simply to take one side or another in that debate just serves to make things worse: it does not help us move towards that two-state solution.

I say that because I am slightly concerned that the hon. Lady seemed quite happy to take various examples from the Georg Eckert Institute report that it had concluded were problematic and wrong. The report also found instances of antisemitism—that has been acknowledged—but found that others had, in fact, been removed, which represents the progress to which Mary Robinson referred. However, I say to the hon. Member for Eastbourne and others that if we accept the report and the bona fides and independence of the Georg Eckert Institute, we do not do great service by picking and choosing those parts of the report that we like. The report’s overall conclusion, having examined extensively the material that was made available to the institute, was that the materials of the Palestinian Authority did conform to UNESCO standards. That is important. I would hope that nobody who has read that report would say that the materials were beyond reproach, but the conclusion reached by the institute through its independent analysis should not be dismissed so lightly.

One of my great frustrations about this debate, as with others about Israel-Palestine, is what I generally call what-aboutery: when someone says, “Here’s something bad that was done by one side,” and somebody else pops up and says, “Well, what about the other side?” I am going to resist the temptation to indulge in what-aboutery, but I want to put on the record my concern that there are instances of that, and there has not been the same rigorous analysis of educational standards within Israel. It is often said, and other analyses have highlighted, that maps often include the lands of the west bank as part of Israel as a whole, rather than the 1967 borders, which are generally regarded internationally as the ones to adhere to.

If we are to make a difference in this debate, it has to be out of a genuine concern for the education of young people and children in Palestine today. It is a sobering fact that a 15-year-old in Gaza will have endured five major wars, as well as several others, in their lifetime. Civil society groups have to run training programmes for Palestinian children on explosive remnants of war. Just think of that: if hon. Members sent their children to school in Gaza, part of what they would be taught, regardless of what is in the curriculum, is how to deal with exploded and unexploded ordinances. That is the day-to-day lived experience of children in Gaza.

Just this week, the Save the Children Fund issued its report on the impact of home demolition on Palestinian children, titled “Hope under the rubble”. I hope that the Minister has a copy of it, and that if he has not read it yet, he soon will. As the hon. Member for Cheadle rightly said, young children absorb their lived experience, and their education goes well beyond what they see in the classroom.

Let me give a few key findings from that report. Some 80% of children feel abandoned by the world and have lost faith in the ability of anyone, from their parents to authorities and the international community, to protect them and their rights. Some 78% of older children said they feel hopeless when they think about the future. Some younger children told the Save the Children Fund that they often take their toys to school out of fear that they might lose them in the rubble during the day. Some 70% of children reported feeling socially isolated, with no connection with their communities and land after losing their home. Some 60% of children reported that their education had been jeopardised or interrupted following the demolition.

If we really are concerned about the impact on young Palestinians, I say to the hon. Member for Eastbourne, and in particular to the Minister, that we should be considering that many Palestinian children may soon be fortunate to have any schools at all in which to have textbooks, because the hard fact is that no fewer than 53 Palestinian schools are slated for demolition by the Israeli Government. If there are no schools, frankly the content of textbooks becomes pretty academic.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

I am sorry to say that I am introducing a time limit of three minutes so that we can get everybody into the debate and leave time for the Front-Bench speeches.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 9:58 pm, 30th June 2021

Thank you, Dame Angela, for your permission to leave this debate early to attend another meeting. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Angela.

The teaching of Palestinian children to hate Israel and Jews and the incitement of violence within the Palestinian Authority’s official curriculum are unacceptable and are having and will have extraordinary real-life consequences on Palestinians and Israelis today and in the future. At least 31 Palestinian schools are named after terrorists, and three after Nazi collaborators. They teach young Palestinian children that such actions are honourable and will be rewarded with respect and glory. In addition, children are taught about Newton’s second law through textbook images of a boy aiming a slingshot at an Israeli soldier.

The EU report contends that the presence of national resistance fighters masked by a traditional keffiyeh scarf

“suggests that the liberation of Palestine might be achievable through violent resistance.”

It concedes that these images present “highly escalatory potential”. Addressing concerns about the prevalence of references to jihad across the curriculum, the EU report also finds:

“One in eight references to jihād in Social Studies…relates to the ongoing conflict in the Middle East: ‘the Palestinian freedom struggle as jihād’.”

Another textbook, “Islamic Education”,

“contains a whole lesson on jihād in the context of military fighting.”

Those alarming examples have a tangible effect on Palestinian children. Students at UNRWA schools have been quoted as saying things such as:

“I am ready to stab a Jew and drive over them”, and:

“I am prepared to be a suicide bomber”.

They have also said that everyone needs to attack the Jews until there will not be one left in the land, and called the Jews liars and dogs.

The words in these textbooks must have no place in an UNRWA school, nor in a peaceful future for the middle east. Sadly we have seen, all too painfully, how this belligerent rhetoric has even led children to commit acts of violence and terror. In the last five years, Palestinian minors have been involved in as many as 116 terror attacks, which killed five Israelis and injured dozens. Stone and Molotov cocktails, stabbings and shooting attacks on Israeli citizens have been undertaken by Palestinians as young as 11. Along with his 14-year-old cousin, a young boy from East Jerusalem’s Shuafat neighbourhood stabbed a light-rail security guard in November 2015. Once detained, he recounted how he wanted to “die as a martyr”, while his cousin said:

“I wanted to kill the Jews who are torturing us.”

We are united in this place in our shared search for peace in this troubled region, and halting the indoctrination of Palestinian children from these deplorable textbooks must be a central pillar of that process.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith 10:01 am, 30th June 2021

It is a pleasure to be under your chairship, Dame Angela. As Mr Carmichael says, I am sure that everybody here wishes to see a two-state solution. We may have different routes to that. I would like to see immediate recognition of the Palestinian state, adherence to international law by all parties—Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority—and, above all, the end to the occupation.

The textbooks have an important role to play in that. They are part of educating the next generation. The report generally comes to positive conclusions, saying that

“the textbooks adhere to UNESCO standards and adopt criteria that are prominent in international education discourse, including a strong focus on human rights…they express a narrative of resistance within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and…they display an antagonism towards Israel.”

It adds:

“The Israeli opponent is portrayed as aggressive and hostile. The language is however, for the most part, objective in tone and avoids inflammatory expressions.”

There are regrettable passages. The report notes that one textbook has antisemitic motifs, but that is one out of 156 examined and it has been addressed by the 2020 analysis. The Palestinian Minister for Education has said that any recommendations in the report will be implemented.

What I see here is that yes, there are problems and issues, but there is a willingness to address them and it would be wrong and counterproductive to exaggerate them. We should be building bridges. There are faults on both sides. The issue of maps has been mentioned. In the same way as it is clearly wrong not to include Israel on maps in Palestinian textbooks, it is wrong for many in Israel to show the non-existence of the Palestinian state. Senior members of the Government, including the Prime Minister of Israel, do not appear to believe in that and view the west bank as Judea and Samaria. We do not know about Israeli textbooks, but we do know that textbooks in East Jerusalem have been doctored by the Israelis, including the removal of entire chapters on regional and Palestinian history, because they have control there.

Above all, there is an inequality of arms. What the Israelis have been able to do to the Palestinians over 53 years of military occupation, with 650,000 Israelis in illegal settlements, and many other things during this crisis, needs to be addressed. That is the real root of the problem that has to be dealt with. Yes, of course we need to see children in Israel and Palestine being educated so that they are brought together and not set apart, but let us not cherry-pick support. Let us take the best out of this and go forward.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee 10:04 am, 30th June 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Angela. I congratulate my hon. Friend Caroline Ansell on securing this important and timely debate.

For years, Members from both sides of the House have raised concerns about problematic examples of what is being taught in Palestinian schools and how that fosters a culture of hate and violence and works against the aims of many Governments around the world who support a viable two-state solution in the middle east. I remember a debate early last year when my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers referred to the fact that she had first started raising concerns about the Palestinian curriculum when she was a Member of the European Parliament 20 years ago. It is not only British parliamentarians; parliamentarians all across Europe, including in Sweden and Germany, and the United States have raised similar concerns. There are serious and real issues to address.

I have sat down with different Ministers and officials over the years to talk about these issues, and at different times the responses have ranged from trying to downplay the seriousness of some of the examples that we raised, to suggesting that the problem was historical and had been fixed, or was in the process of being fixed, to suggesting that, because the UK Government do not fund educational materials directly—we only fund the salaries of Palestinian teachers—it is somehow less of a problem for us to be concerned about. Each time, it felt like we were being put on the back foot.

The review we are debating was supposed to be the critical moment when an objective look could be taken and the UK Government, in partnership with other Governments around the world, could take a strong and unified approach. The contents of the report are problematic, as has been said, and I am pleased that Members with different viewpoints on this subject agree that there are problematic examples.

The Minister is very experienced and knowledgeable and is deeply committed, as I hope we all are, to humanitarian support around the world. I want to hear from him a clear message about what the Government intend to do now. For years, when Palestinian Authority Ministers have reassured us and suggested that we should move along and that there is nothing to see, we have wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt. The truth is that there is something to see, and we need a clear and well-defined position from the Government about what we intend to say and do with our friends in the Palestinian Authority.

I support a strong aid budget. Now is not the moment to open up the 0.7% issue. However, I put on the record that, at a time when we are making deep cuts to important humanitarian programmes overseas, we are protecting funding for the Palestinian public sector. If we are going to do that, surely we should demand the highest possible standards, to really foster that culture of tolerance and respect and to work against hate and violence, which risks dragging that region back into old cycles.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 10:07 am, 30th June 2021

I thank Caroline Ansell for setting the scene so well. I am going to speak exactly to the title of the debate, and will do so at some length. I am unashamedly a member of Friends of Israel. I have been a member during my time here at Westminster but also in my former role in the Assembly back home. I strongly support them and will speak from their point of view.

As many Members have stated, the findings of the GEI review on Palestinian textbooks are damaging. The analysis of 156 textbooks and 16 teacher guides published between 2017 and 2019 by the Palestinian Ministry of Education is thorough and detailed. The information is there—the secret is in the title—and the evidential base is quite clear. Eight out 10 sections of the executive summary—from “Compliance with the principles of global citizenship education”, to “Representations of violence differ according to subjects”—offer an authoritative assessment of Palestinian education.

While the report informs, it does not come as any surprise to me. On countless occasions, these issues have been raised here and in the main Chamber, and Ministers have consistently refuted any suggestion that UK aid funds have been used to support incitement and violence. Most of those assertions offered by former Ministers did not convince then; they certainly do not convince me now. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has also left itself wide open to question through implication.

On countless occasions, the link between generous UK aid funds and payments to terrorists has been denied. Even when the FCDO claimed it was paying the salaries of some 85,000 named Palestinian civil servants listed through the EU’s PEGASE system, with no evidence that such a list existed, it has yet to justify such claims as to why UK aid directed funds elsewhere without being sanctioned.

We have a bilateral aid program to the Palestinian Authority—I understand that—and a team of highly paid former civil servants. However, education for children is critical, and there are books that denigrate Israel, acknowledging human rights for others, but seemingly not for Israel. While some have withdrawn funding, I believe that funding should be conditional on the change that should be brought about. As Iran, Hezbollah in Palestine and other terrorist groups try to achieve their annihilation of Israel, I instead stand with Israel against that terrorism—against the evil targeting of Israel. Palestinian textbooks are part of that evil and must be addressed today.

I ask the Minister these questions very quickly. What does it say about the ability of this institution to hold the Government to account? What does it say about the Ministers who have steadfastly stood in Westminster Hall and the main Chamber denying that such links existed? Was it through mere incompetence on the part of civil servants who passed what we now know were misleading answers to various Ministers at the Dispatch Box? Why was there an inability to spot and call out the incitement, antisemitism and hatred of the Palestinian curriculum between 2017 and 2019?

The motive appears to be ensuring a continual flow of money, even with the knowledge that the way in which the payment of UK aid was being carried out breached the rules contained within the memorandum of understanding between the Palestinian Authority and the UK Government. I certainly look forward to the Minister’s response. I hope that he can answer the questions.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 10:11 am, 30th June 2021

I congratulate my hon. Friend Caroline Ansell on securing the debate, and draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, particularly as chair of the all-party Britain-Israel parliamentary group and as an officer of Conservative Friends of Israel.

I have been raising these issues in relation to Palestinian textbooks on behalf of my constituents for many years. It has become abundantly clear that the children of the Palestinian territories have been cruelly let down by those who have responsibility for their education. As we have heard, there are extensive examples within the EU report that the Palestinian curriculum is deeply flawed and, sadly, rife with material that passes hatred and prejudice on to the new generation of young people. That just exacerbates the conflict and must not continue.

The curriculum is deeply problematic. It is exacerbated by the fact that the educational resources are essentially the same as those used by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Last year, we gave around £20 million to fund Palestinian teachers’ salaries, and £63.6 million to UNRWA to support the education of 320,000 children in 370 schools. In January this year, it was discovered that the additional educational material produced and published by UNRWA for schools in the west bank and Gaza, and distributed to the Palestinian children to aid home learning during covid, glorified terrorism and incited violence against Israel. Those supplementary resources—three in Gaza and one in the west bank—were even more extreme than the official PA curriculum, and again in breach of the UN values.

UNRWA has tried to defend the existence of that so-called “inappropriate” material, saying that it was “mistakenly” distributed to students at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. It has been widely available now for more than eight months. The UK was joined by Germany and Norway in expressing concerns, while our allies Australia and Canada launched investigations. Subsequently, the US Secretary of State has confirmed that the Biden Administration’s renewal of funding for UNRWA is conditional on its making “very necessary reforms”.

Despite that, further accusations have been made about the material that has been available. In one exercise, pupils in the ninth grade were taught to condemn Arab-Israeli peace and normalisation initiatives and to claim that they serve only to weaken the resolve of Palestinians. It goes without saying that that is in direct contravention of the UN values. In the light of that, I ask our Minister what the Government will do to pressurise UNRWA into pursuing those very necessary reforms. Does he agree that UNRWA has a responsibility to nurture young Palestinian minds, rather than feed them with the poison of hatred and violent ideology?

Photo of Christian Wakeford Christian Wakeford Conservative, Bury South 10:14 am, 30th June 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Angela. I congratulate my hon. Friend Caroline Ansell on securing this important debate and on her excellent opening speech. Like her, I am a strong supporter of a two-state solution, which is exactly why I believe that we must take urgent action now to address the issue of extremism in the Palestinian school curriculum that the EU review so damningly documents.

I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as I visited Israel and the west bank just over a year ago. I was struck by the work being done on the ground to make peace a reality. I was fortunate enough to visit the brilliant MATI, which provides life-changing support to Palestinian entrepreneurs in East Jerusalem and exemplifies exactly what we should be doing to support Israelis and Palestinians by working together to create positive social change in the middle east. It is absolutely contemptible that such vital work is undermined by the Palestinian school curriculum, which has such a prolific acceptance of and support for violence, antisemitism and the rejection of peace.

The report concludes shockingly that textbooks refer to violence against Israelis, including civilians, and acts of heroic struggle, as part of a narrative of resistance. One textbook for year 8 pupils presents the wounding, or even killing, of the opponent in a positive light. It is striking to observe that the state of Israel is rarely mentioned by name. The EU report actually outlines how Israelis are consistently referred to in a pejorative way. Elsewhere, it details one antisemitic exercise in which students learn that “the Jews” desecrated the tombs of Muslims. That was altered for the 2020 edition. The report fails to mention, however, that the words “the Jews” was replaced with the equally offensive and inflammatory “the Zionist occupation”.

This Government have a proud record of taking decisive action to tackle antisemitism wherever and whenever it occurs. The UK’s recent decision not to attend the notorious Durban conference is a welcome and important announcement. The Government also deserve praise for their untiring efforts to promote the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism across the UK. There appears to be a blind spot, however. The Palestinian Authority’s promotion of antisemitic ideas, which I have identified, goes largely unchecked—that is indefensible. If we know one thing about fighting prejudice, it is that it must be stamped out everywhere and immediately, no ifs, no buts. Will the Minister explain why his Department has failed to take action on the curriculum for two full decades? How does he plan to tackle that issue? Will he commit to supporting the International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, to ensure that projects such as the one I described can continue to expand and deliver real-life change?

Let us not lose sight of a two-state solution. It is essential that we do not lose another generation to conflict. If it is right that we are stamping out antisemitism in the UK, how can we fund it abroad?

Photo of Chris Green Chris Green Conservative, Bolton West 10:17 am, 30th June 2021

I congratulate my hon. Friend Caroline Ansell on securing this important debate. It is a particular pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Christian Wakeford, who captured so many of the important issues, including a particularly important reference to rejecting the Durban conference and its agenda.

A quote from the beginning of the Georg Eckert Institute’s report captures the importance of the issue:

“School textbooks play a crucial role as transmitters and indicators of the hegemonic knowledge that a society deems appropriate for teaching to the next generation, particularly when it comes to topics relating to peace and conflict…‘for millions of people they are the first, and often the only, books that they read’.”

If the material is a source of information that people will take with them through the rest of their lives, it is so important to get it right from the beginning, so that those problems, failings and introduced concerns are not there. The evidence in the report is clear that in the textbooks, as well as in the teaching guides, those materials should be characterised as antisemitic. They delegitimise and deny the state of Israel. As my hon. Friend John Howell highlighted, room can be found in the mathematics curriculum to promote or highlight the use of slingshots—that is absolutely extraordinary, and it is not by accident, but by design. It is toxic and runs through so many of the materials.

That division cuts through generations: as one generation learns, so will the next. We have to find ways and mechanisms to cut that out immediately. We have influence and the ability to apply pressure on the Palestinians. My right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb really captured what we can do and how this debate can and should have an impact.

We used to talk about being an aid superpower. Aid ought to bring influence. It ought to help to persuade and be a mechanism for trying to convince our friends around the world, but other players too, that receiving it is contingent upon the correction of these materials, because they are wrong. Indeed, I think everyone speaking today has said that they are wrong and need changing, so I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to make a clear statement about how he will use aid to correct these failings.

Photo of Miriam Cates Miriam Cates Conservative, Penistone and Stocksbridge 10:20 am, 30th June 2021

I congratulate my hon. Friend Caroline Ansell on securing today’s important debate and refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Two years ago, I had the privilege of visiting Israel and the west bank, and I can honestly say it was one of the most inspirational weeks of my life. The character of the people and the richness of the culture left a deep and positive impression on me. But despite all that is truly wonderful about both Israelis and Palestinians, one cannot escape the reality of the tensions and conflicts that are ongoing. During the recent escalation of violence in the region, we even saw the consequences of inflammatory rhetoric on the streets of the UK, as the Jewish community faced a deplorable rise in antisemitic attacks as a result of events occurring thousands of miles away in another country.

We must look at what is fuelling the hatred and division between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. Why has this conflict continued for so long, throughout the generations? One does not have to take a particular side in the conflict to see that there are some fairly considerable barriers to a peace settlement, but it need not remain like that if the next generation of children and young people, both Palestinian and Israeli, grow up to believe that peace is possible and desirable. For that shift to happen, it is vital that children in the region are taught about their history and heritage in a way that is truthful and neutral, and does not stoke hatred of the other side.

Yet sadly, we see that the opposite is happening. The findings of the EU review point to what is being taught in schools as a major contributing factor to the ongoing conflict. There cannot possibly be progress when young minds in the Palestinian territories are being infected by poisonous ideology and children are being taught to hate their Israeli neighbours. The review indisputably substantiates the level of extremist ideas in the Palestinian Authority school curriculum, with abhorrent glorification of terrorists and violence.

It does not have to be that way. An independent textbook monitoring organisation has found that textbooks elsewhere in the region have been changing in a positive direction. There has been a move across the middle east and north Africa towards a more progressive, peace-driven narrative, details of which I would set out if I had time. These changes are not perfect, but they are a clear step in the right direction. So why are young Palestinian minds continuing to being poisoned with the rhetoric of violence, division and hatred? This situation is prolonged as long as Governments around the world continue to tolerate it by failing to hold the Palestinian Authority to account. In the UK, it is time to fully recognise this issue and say enough is enough. Wounds do not heal if they are constantly reopened. We must give children the chance of peace.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 10:23 am, 30th June 2021

It is pleasure to see you in the Chair for this morning’s debate, Dame Angela.

As many hon. Members have said, this is not the first time that this issue has been discussed in the House. In the past 20 years, there have been accusations of widespread antisemitism and incitement to violence and hatred contained in Palestinian school textbooks. They have been repeatedly raised by pressure groups and politicians, so it was right that the European Union, being understandably vigilant, should ask the independent Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research to carry out a study of the issue.

Despite highlighting some legitimate areas of concern, the Eckert report says that, while still not perfect, the changes recently made to the curriculum show that the Palestinian Authority are heading in the right direction, and the report significantly tempers some of the wilder accusations and allegations that we have heard from certain quarters about the PA routinely using the curriculum to incite violence and hatred or promote antisemitism. Indeed, as Mr Carmichael said, the Eckert report concludes that

“the textbooks adhere to UNESCO standards and adopt criteria that are prominent in international education discourse, including a strong focus on human rights”.

In terms of antisemitism, the report specifically mentions two examples, both of which were deemed to be and were rightly condemned as antisemitic. They should never have been there, and it is absolutely right that both have now been positively altered as the report says, or removed completely from the latest editions of the books—a fact recognised by the Georg Eckert Institute.

Let me be clear: we in the SNP believe that wherever antisemitism is found, it must be called out and condemned absolutely and unequivocally. There must be zero tolerance of antisemitism and we must all be vigilant in guarding against it. Although not complacent in any way, I am reassured that in the context of Palestinian school textbooks, the Eckert report says that, while there is recognition of the long-standing political and military conflict, antisemitism does not seem to be as widespread as was first feared, there are signs of improvement and it does not appear to be the endemic problem that some would have us believe.

As I said, the Eckert report does identify other areas of concern, but when addressing whether the textbooks are guilty of promoting or glorifying violence, it says that although there are “escalatory” examples in the textbooks, it did not find that, in the context of a region where, for the best part of a century, there has been active armed conflict, the depiction of the “other side” in the school textbooks as an aggressor or as violent necessarily equated to that igniting hatred. Indeed, the report goes on to say that it is important to acknowledge that such indicators are generally very rare and that there are also numerous instances of the school textbooks calling for tolerance, mercy, forgiveness and justice.

As we have heard, one of the main sources of the allegations is the Israeli organisation IMPACT-se, the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, a self-described

“research, policy and advocacy organization”, whose main aim appears to be to lobby parliamentarians and media outlets across Europe and the United States to, I would argue, exaggerate and amplify these claims in order to get them on to the political agenda—rather successfully, it would appear. Let us be in no doubt about IMPACT-se. On page 15 of the Eckert report, it says that IMPACT-se research is

“marked by generalising and exaggerated conclusions based on methodological shortcomings.”

It recommends that any future IMPACT-se investigation be based on a

“comprehensive examination of the textbooks, contextualising the specific passages” that it uses, as well as recognising those elements within the textbooks that

“promote tolerance and peaceful coexistence.”

Of course, as we have heard, IMPACT-se has form. The shortcomings of its methodology and its lack of objectivity have been commented on before in this House. As recently as September 2017 in a written answer, the ever honest and hugely respected former Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said that the Government were sufficiently concerned at what an earlier IMPACT-se report had alleged about Palestinian textbooks to decide to meet with it to discuss its findings. However, the UK Government in 2017 concluded that the IMPACT-se report was not objective in its findings and its methodology lacked rigour, before observing that

“some claims were made on the basis of a partial or subjective reading of the text” and

“some findings are presented out of context”.

Yet, immediately on publication of the Georg Eckert Institute’s lengthy and nuanced report last week, IMPACT-se was straight out of the blocks, telling anyone who would listen that the report supported its claim that

“the Palestinian Authority systematically incites…a million children to antisemitism, hate and violence every school day.”

It is a ridiculous analysis of a serious report and one that probably tells us more about IMPACT-se and how it operates than anything else. Although it is perfectly legitimate to disagree with the findings of the Eckert report—I am sure that all sides will find plenty to argue about—what is not acceptable is to deliberately distort and twist what the report says. I find it deeply concerning that such a brazenly partisan group is still being listened to and is still able to find such an unquestioning audience.

I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate, he will reassure the House that the UK Government still consider IMPACT-se not to be a trusted source of reliable information and, its having been so discredited for the inaccuracies and inadequacies in its research, no UK Government funding will go towards that group.

We have heard many times this morning that anti-Palestinian groups have been raising in the contents of these books for years. As the Eckert report makes clear, there are areas of legitimate concern and some important changes are needed. However, attempts to portray Palestinians as somehow uniquely hateful and violent are utterly nonsensical. Ironically, those making them have been engaging in exactly the same sort of demonisation and distortion that they allege of the Palestinian textbooks.

We could go through the Eckert report line by line, arguing over every last dot and comma but, as other Members have said this morning, there is a much bigger picture here: the continued illegal occupation of Palestine, which is now in its sixth decade. I just wish that those parliamentarians most vocal about the content of Palestinian children’s school textbooks were as vocal about the destruction of Palestinian children’s schools.

I have seen the ruins of a Palestinian school. I have walked among the rubble of the demolished school buildings of the Bedouin village of Abu Nuwar. I have seen the pain, the fear, and the devastation that the demolition of a school causes for an already weak, poor and defenceless community. I cannot help but wonder where the outrage on the Benches opposite is when Palestinian schools are demolished by the Israeli army in order to make way for more illegal settlements? Why are they so silent when Palestinian children are being killed, beaten, arrested and detained without trial? Often their homes are being bulldozed. Where is the condemnation and outrage about the 66 Palestinian children who were killed, or the 600 who were injured during the bombardment of Gaza? Where are the debates and demands for action about the 141 schools in Gaza that were damaged, or the 53 schools in the west bank that have been earmarked for demolition?

Perhaps we would pay greater heed to the howls of protest from the Benches opposite about the content of Palestinian children’s schoolbooks if they were equally vociferous in calling out the outrageous human rights abuses that those same Palestinian schoolchildren face every single day of their young lives.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 10:32 am, 30th June 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Dame Angela. I, too, am pleased that today’s debate has been secured and congratulate Caroline Ansell on doing so.

Even though this is a European Union review, Members across the House have been asking questions for some time about what was happening with it and why it was delayed for so long. Indeed, I have asked parliamentary questions myself. It is right that questions have been asked, because the UK Government fund much of the Palestinian National Authority’s educational work. That funding might not pay for the textbooks themselves, but it pays the salaries of up to 39,000 civil servants on the west bank, including 33,000 Ministry of Education and Higher Education civil servants and teachers.

It is also right that we are concerned about the content of educational material. I speak as a former teacher and educationalist myself when I say that education is vital in helping to inculcate understanding in children of the world in which they live, the values that should define their future lives, and their participation in society. It is important to realise, however, that formal educational textbooks are only one of the influences on children in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

To truly understand what Palestinian children are subjected to, one must understand the repressive and unfair nature of the Israeli military occupation and the impact of the Israeli military detention system on young Palestinian people. I strongly urge Members to read the excellent report by Save the Children, and also the report to which Mr Carmichael for Orkney and Shetland referred, which clearly shows the impact that demolitions and evictions have on Palestinian children.

Today, however, we are discussing the EU report. It is a detailed report, and I believe it is objective in its approach. That is what I would expect from an expert, specialist institution such as the Eckert Institute. The report is nearly 200 pages long, and it paints a complex picture of the content of educational material. However, the report’s executive summary indicates that it is possible to define and identify three overarching features. The first is that

“the textbooks adhere to UNESCO standards and adopt criteria that are prominent in international educational discourse, including a strong focus on human rights.”

Secondly, the report says the textbooks

“express a narrative of resistance within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

Thirdly, the examples that the report has analysed

“display an antagonism towards Israel”.

Those are the essential conclusions of the report.

In its examination of the textbooks and other educational material, the institute found that there was extensive coverage of global citizenship education. Throughout the textbooks, calls for tolerance, mercy, forgiveness and justice are to be found. There are positive examples of progressive representations of various social, cultural and religious groups living together. These include a diversity of skin colour, gender and physical abilities. The report says that the textbooks

“affirm the importance of human rights in general”, but that the universal idea of human rights is

“not carried through to a discussion of the rights of Israelis”.

The textbooks rightly support international conventions with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but in many cases they unfortunately adopt what can only be described as a one-sided representation of Israel. In fact, the term “Israel” is seldom used. We see more regularly the use of the terms “Zionist” and “Zionist occupation”, which are frequently found in the textbooks examined. What is also worrying is the unsatisfactory way in which Israel, and the renunciation of terror, is dealt with.

The report says there was a good discussion of the peace process in the middle east in a textbook for year 10. It traced a number of statements and declarations since 1977 that indicated the steps taken towards the recognition of Israel and the renunciation of violence and terrorism by the Palestine Liberation Organisation. The recognition of Israel’s right to exist in peace and security is documented clearly in the letters from Yasser Arafat to Yitzhak Rabin, to which the textbooks refer. Although that is a good example, it stands in contrast to the questioning of the legitimacy of the state of Israel, which is expressed in other passages and textbooks.

Although there are accurate and positive references to Jewish people historically and contemporaneously, there are also disturbing references that can only be described as antisemitic. The report also found disturbing references to the concept of jihad. The report noted that the term is rarely connected to the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but that there were instances where the term was used, which can lead only to a potential escalation.

The report also found that references to violence were treated differently, depending on who or what was being described. In the report’s words, textbooks in the Arabic language

“contain emotionally leading depictions of Israeli violence that tend to dehumanise the Israeli adversary”.

Not only is this approach dominant when it comes to covering conflict; it is also the case when discussing the British mandate. Throughout the textbook for history, geography and social studies, the Israeli opponent is portrayed as aggressive and hostile. That is surely wrong, if we are concerned about movements towards peace and realising our long-standing commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.

I have to say that I am mildly encouraged by the paragraph in the report that states that, after initial completion, an overview was conducted comparing 18 more recent textbooks, which showed real measures of improvement. In the newer textbooks, there was an increase in the representation of women and Christians and a reduction of the text and images that had the ability to cause escalatory potential, including the removal of antisemitic content in several points of the narrative. The report also refers to other improvements and modifications.

Despite those changes, there is still cause for concern. The question is: how do the Government respond? The UK Government have a memorandum of understanding with the Palestinian Authority that says that the PA must adhere to the principles of non-violence and respect for human rights. Under the MOU, the Department for International Development—now the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office—is required to take action when the PA is not adhering to those principles. In December 2018, DFID stated that it expects textbooks

“to be academically rigorous and they must not incite racial hatred or violence under any circumstances.”

I know the Government have a regular dialogue with the Palestinian Authority, but I ask the Minister to make it abundantly clear that the significant issues that this report has highlighted must be addressed quickly. Furthermore, will he indicate whether he will initiate an ongoing review so that the content of textbooks is monitored and evaluated regularly?

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 10:41 am, 30th June 2021

It is great to be back in Westminster Hall. I am grateful to my hon. Friend Caroline Ansell for securing this debate, for her work in support of peace and stability in the region, and for the knowledge that she brings as a teacher, a school inspector and an excellent parliamentarian. She teed up an excellent debate.

Mr Carmichael asked for a balanced debate. I did think that a debate with the words “EU” and “Palestine” in the title was unlikely to be balanced, and was much more likely to be polarising, but I have been pleasantly surprised by the speeches that were balanced, and those that were not were balanced out by one another.

There have been a number of contributions, and, like my hon. Friend Miriam Cates, who spoke virtually, most if not all Members have been to the region. I visited it as part of the International Development Committee, as the junior Member of the Conservative MPs on that Committee. Unfortunately, one of those Members had to leave—he was offered a job by the Labour party and went to the Lords—and the other has recently left the Conservative party, joined the Labour party and hopes to go to the Lords, so I seem to be the last man standing from that little delegation.

The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, my right hon. Friend James Cleverly, would have loved to be here to take part in this debate. He apologises that he cannot do that as he is elsewhere on ministerial duties. It is a pleasure for me to respond. I will discuss all the issues with him when he returns to the Department, and with officials.

The Government welcome the publication of this report, which has taken some time. My right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb says that I may downplay this issue—well, I will not. He says that I may say that the issue is fixed—I will not. He says that I will pray in aid the fact that we fund the teachers, not the books, and I will do that. I will come to the issues that he and others raised about conditionality later in my speech.

We urged our European partners to publish these findings, and I am happy that they have done so. It has been a long time coming. I suspect there will be more debates on this subject. There have been many before. Hon. Members referred to my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers. Sorry—I was going to say Chipping Norton; I have spent far too much time there, as other colleagues have recently. This debate is part of the process, not the end of it. I will not be able to say definitively to colleagues, “This is something that happened in the past, and these are the 10 things we’re going to do that solve the problem,” but I will hopefully give an indication of some of the changes.

Photo of Christian Wakeford Christian Wakeford Conservative, Bury South

I recognise that changes to the curriculum will be immensely difficult, but what hope does the Minister have that we will see changes when the Palestinian Prime Minister has vowed to continue the printing of the textbooks, and to pay for them with water, telephone and electricity bills if that is what it takes?

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I am not sighted on that statement, but I am naturally an optimist. The report talks of the progress made as well as some of the very real and unacceptable problems that remain.

Reflecting on the report, the Georg Eckert Institute is a specialist organisation that looks at textbook analysis. It was instructed to undertake a robust and impartial review of the contents of those textbooks. Hon. Members have talked of the period being 2017 to 2019. My hon. Friend Christian Wakeford said that there was nothing more up to date. Some bits were more up to date. A smaller sample of textbooks from the most recent academic year was included, but they were principally from 2017 to 2019.

The aim was to provide a comprehensive and objective basis for the dialogue with the Palestinian Authority and to promote quality education, addressing the issues of incitement. There has generally been an acceptance of the value of education—we heard historic quotes from a number of Members—and of the power of getting it right, but part of that is getting the textbooks right. It is positive that the textbooks analysed were found to adhere to UNESCO guidelines on human rights and generally to promote political pluralism and cultural, social and religious values that support co-existence. However, it is very clear from the examples used today that there are concerns. My hon. Friends the Members for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) and for Henley (John Howell) voiced concerns specifically about maths textbooks and the issue of the use of maps, which I am sure the Minister for the Middle East will want to review in more detail and perhaps discuss with colleagues.

There is an acceptance that the report found that there continues to be anti-Israel, antisemitic comment in those textbooks. That clearly is not acceptable to the House or to the Government. The UK Government continue to have zero tolerance for incitement to hatred and antisemitism in all forms. I thank hon. Members who referred to the Durban conference as an example of that.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I hesitate only because I have not gone through the conclusions forensically, but we agree with the broad thrust of the report that there has been progress and there are still areas where progress needs to be made. If the right hon. Gentleman has a concern over any particular conclusions, on which he particularly wants to press the Minister, I urge him to speak to the Minister for the Middle East directly, or to raise it by way of secondary intervention.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

Overall, yes, but there were examples where they did not. We agree with the thrust absolutely.

Wayne David, who is very experienced in these matters as a former Minister and MEP, asked us to continue the regular dialogue and raise this issue specifically. The Minister for the Middle East raised it with the Palestinian Education Minister, to whom Andy Slaughter referred, on 5 May. The Foreign Secretary also raised it with the Palestinian Foreign Minister on 26 May. Hopefully that gives an indication of how active the Government are. It is particularly important as part of our commitment to education overall.

I put on the record, as others have done, that the Government do not—I repeat, do not—fund textbooks in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but, as hon. Members have referred to, we do provide money for teachers.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I was wondering about the issue of monitoring the textbooks. We are discussing a European Union report. I imagine such reports will not be as accessible by us in the future. Are the Government going to carry out any monitoring of Palestinian textbooks?

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I shall not bite at the EU point, but on the broader and serious point, there clearly needs to be ongoing work—this is not the end of the process, with some clear conclusions that are going to put an end to the matter. That may be through our EU partners. We work with other international partners. We work with the UN, the Americans and we will continue to work with the EU.

I reassure the House that teachers are carefully vetted. Our money to support education and health went into a specially dedicated bank account. It is only paid to individuals who have gone through the vetting process through the EU mechanism. I note the point of the hon. Member for Caerphilly about the future, but we are still contributing to the EU budget as part of the transition, so can quite reasonably expect to participate as a more direct and historic partner, as well as a partner in the broadest sense.

Each payment is independently audited to make sure it goes to the intended recipients. Although I do not want to negate the points made about textbooks, it is the teachers who are absolutely crucial.

We remain committed to a two-state solution. Making sure that children are educated in the best way is very much part of that. The contrary is also the case. There is a real risk, if children are not educated in an inclusive way, that it will make life worse.

Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne 10:52 am, 30th June 2021

This has been an interesting debate. Many perspectives have been brought forward and there has been challenge. I thank the Minister for affirming that the UK taxpayer funds teachers, but teachers are delivering lessons and exercises based on the very textbooks that are of concern. To separate teachers from their teaching materials is to try to separate bone from marrow. The textbooks underpin the curriculum. They reflect its aims and objectives. They are more far-reaching than a mere teaching aid or prop. They are incredibly important.

I am pleased that there was not a formal acceptance as such of the conclusion of the report, because while the report finds “generally” or “overall”, if we are to maintain a position of zero tolerance, we cannot tolerate the evidence brought forward by this esteemed institute—evidence that reflects antisemitism and hatred of Jews and does not provide the understanding or the opportunity to reflect and learn to the youngest generation in Palestine.

This youngest generation are the leaders of tomorrow. They are the teachers of tomorrow. They are the peacemakers we need to look to. My hon. Friend Miriam Cates made an excellent point. She said it is vital that peace is seen not just as possible, but as desirable. Currently, it is not seen at all. Unless and until that is part of the education experience of Palestinian children, there will be a ghost train.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith

I am slightly confused about what the hon. Lady is saying now and what she said in her opening speech. She relies on evidence within the report, but she seems to find the report on the whole unsatisfactory. Which is it? Does she accept the report or not?

Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne

I find the report conflicting. I find it difficult to reconcile. In the body of the report, and in the words of the esteemed institute, there is example after example of inciting hatred, as recognised by Members. It talks about how

“Jews as a collective are dangerous and deceptive”.

How can that be reconciled with a conclusion that says the curriculum meets standards? It clearly does not. Zero tolerance is the position of the Government, and that must be our aspiration for the Palestinian curriculum.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the EU Review into Palestinian school textbooks.

Sitting suspended.