Change the PA textbooks used in UNRWA schools!

UNWRA's CEO has been fired due to alleged misconduct, its audit, among other problems, showed a $105 m. surplus while pleading poverty - making this is the time to effect changes, starting with its textbooks.

David Bedein, | updated: 08:59

OpEds UNWRA flour
UNWRA flour
credit David Michael Cohen

Below is a list of basic changes that must be made in the UNWRA textbooks used in the Palestinian Authority. 

1. Avoid De-legitimization of the State of Israel and of the Jewish Presence in the Country

  • Every map that shows today’s political boundaries in the region should mark Israel’s pre-1967 territory by the name “Israel”. Such a territory must not be left un-named and certainly should not be named “Palestine”, as that constitutes a distortion of the present situation on the ground.
  • Israel should be presented as an ordinary sovereign state in every text mentioning the region’s states currently.
  • Every reference to a region, settlement or site within Israel’s pre-1967 borders must not describe such a region, settlement or site as Palestinian-under-occupation.
  • Every discussion within the books of the holy places in the country should refer to the Jewish holy places alongside the Muslim and Christian ones. Any reference to a place which happens to be sacred to Jews (such as the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem) should state that fact.
  • Any discussion of subjects related to population and demography issues in the country should include the number of Jews living there (close to 7 million in 2019). Any map that shows cities in the country should include the important Jewish cities as well – under their Hebrew names (such as Tel Aviv, Eilat, Ashdod, etc.).
  • The books should not describe Israel’s pre-1967 territory falsely as “occupied Palestine” (there was no Arab country named Palestine), nor use circumlocutions such as “the lands of 48”, “the Interior” or “the Green Line” in reference to this territory instead of the phrase “Israeli territory”.
  • Historical documents should not be falsified, as has been done with British Mandate coins and stamps reproduced in PA schoolbooks with the Hebrew inscription erased.

2. Avoid Demonization of Israel and Jews

  • Schoolbooks should not include pieces which virulently demonize Israel/Jews, or de-humanize them, or any description that goes beyond the presentation of Israel and/or the Jews as an ordinary adversary with its own rights, interests and positions. Jews should not be presented as enemies of Islam, as has been often done.
  • It is desirable to add to the books the still non-existent material that deals with Israel and the Jews objectively (for example, pieces that talk about the Israeli government structure, economy, science and technology, the Hebrew culture, Jewish history, etc.), which might balance the enormous anti-Israeli critical material in the books.
  • It is crucially important to stress in the books that, in spite of the conflict, the Jewish/Israeli individual is also a human being, apart from being an adversary, and should be treated accordingly.
  • While dealing with the conflict, the PA schoolbooks studied at UNRWA schools should include also self-criticism (i.e., the rejection of proposals for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, massacre of unarmed Jewish neighbors, etc.)

3. Advocate a Peaceful Solution instead of Violent Struggle, Jihad and Martyrdom 

  • The books taught in UNRWA schools should emphasize, when dealing with the solution to the conflict, that peace and coexistence with the State of Israel is a strategic choice and that negotiations are the only way to achieving a solution to the conflict.
  • The books should refrain from any presentation of an armed or violent struggle as a means for solving the conflict.
  • The traditional Islamic ideals of Jihad and martyrdom should be mentioned in historical contexts only and not as part of a future endeavor within the conflict.
  • The territorial struggle against Israel should be restricted to the areas of the 'West Bank' and the Gaza Strip alone and not include Israel’s pre-1967 territories.
  • Any discussion of what is termed “Nakbah” should stress the fact that the Nakbah was a direct result of a war initiated by the Palestinian Arab side itself and not of a Jewish aggression, contrary to what is said today in the books.
  • Within this context, Palestinian Arab children should be taught to recognize their own party’s shared responsibility for past events and not restrict that to the adversary alone. An example: the so-called “Separation Wall” which was built for defending the Israeli population against suicide bombing attacks by Palestinian Arabs.
  • The so-called “Right of Return” should be presented as a demand representing the Palestinian Arab party’s position regarding the solution of what is termed “the Refugee Problem”, while the solution itself will be achieved in the framework of the negotiations between the two parties and on the basis of mutual agreement only.

The UNWRA Audit

The Report of the Board of Auditors to the President of the UN General Assembly dated July 24, 2019 disclosed an UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) budget surplus of a whopping $105.01 million, with the program budget alone–which finances the core activities of the Agency—recording a surplus of $100.38 million.

The report noted that the surplus was ‘due to efforts made by the Agency to mobilize resources from various donors’, as well as a reduction in ‘non-core operations’ costs.

Other Key Audit Findings:

  • Treasury and Cash Management: Among the issues that the auditors identified were differences between the amount of the trial balance as of December 31, 2018, and the cash count conducted by the Board of Auditors.
  • Asset Management: The Board performed an assessment of inventory at the Jordan field office warehouse and observed that the information recorded in the UNRWA system did not represent the physical stock of inventory in the The finding reflected a weakness in the integrity and accuracy of economic events, contrary to the stipulations of the Conceptual Framework for General Purpose Financial Reporting by Public Sector Entities.
  • Human Resources Management: Attendance forms that staff members were supposed to use to record their daily attendance were not available in all UNRWA departments. Furthermore, the Department of Human Resources at UN headquarters informed the Board of Auditors that recording attendance at the Agency was ‘not mandatory’. In addition, while the Lebanon field office had a register of its staff’s monthly attendance prepared by a senior officer, that was not the case for the Jordan and' West Bank' field offices, which only kept signed spreadsheets ‘as a backup’ for staff attendance. The 'West Bank' field office, for example, stated that each of its departments determined its own method for recording attendance— if it had one!

This situation was found to be contrary to the stipulations of the UN personnel directive (No. A/1/Rev.1/Amend.1), which establishes the way in which attendance is to be recorded. The Board of Auditors considered that the ‘lack of a reliable and consistent control mechanism’ that enables the verification of compliance with established working hours, may hinder the completion of the work hours established under the area staff rule. Conversely, having a mechanism that objectively registers daily attendance makes it possible to verify compliance with working hours and schedules and to keep a record of absences.

  • Procurement and Contract Management: After checking the list of vendors identified as being ineligible for participation in the United Nations Global Marketplace and the list of vendors identified as having been removed from the UNRWA vendor roster on the basis of “poor performance”, and comparing those lists with the list of suppliers that were awarded contracts by UNRWA between January and October 2018, it was observed that an ineligible vendor, “United Electronic ”, had been selected by the Agency in contravention of its procurement manual. The vendor had been declared ineligible by the United Nations Global Marketplace since 20 May 2008, and its status under “vendor’s master data” in the REACH system had been listed as “blocked” since 30 October 2017. The basis for the block was due to its being included on the sanctions list issued in September 2017. Nevertheless, UNRWA created a new ‘micropurchase order’ for the vendor on May 28, 2018.

Audit Recommendations

The Board of Auditors included a list of recommendations with their ‘Financial Report and Audited Financial Statements’, but also noted that ‘of the 54 outstanding recommendations from the previous year’s audit, only 32 were ever fully implemented’ by UNRWA.




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