The international community has still not caught up with, or refuses to acknowledge, Israel’s commitment to countering each purported victory for the Palestinians with yet more violations. These countermeasures implemented by Israel, notably to prevent the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) from fulfilling its mandate, are now concentrated upon disrupting education for Palestinian students.
Six UNRWA schools in Jerusalem are facing possible closure and being replaced by institutions managed by Israel’s Ministry of Education. It is, without a doubt, an affront to UNRWA and the international community, but it is the Palestinians who will pay the price of such a political move, namely the dissolution of the connection between the people, their history and their memory.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation’s Executive Committee member Dr Hanan Ashrawi described the consequences of altering Palestinian education succinctly; Israel’s efforts, she said, are “illegal actions aimed at altering the historic, cultural and demographic composition of occupied Jerusalem.” Yet, in terms of Israel’s contempt for the international community, Ashrawi’s statement eliminates the fact that there is unchallenged cohesion between Israel’s colonial project and the UN.
Closing down UNRWA schools and thus ending the possibility of Palestinian children being taught in an environment that prioritises the need to retain knowledge about Palestine’s history should be juxtaposed against the UN’s intention to allow Israel to colonise Palestinian land. All measures taken after Israel’s establishment, purportedly interim measures until a resolution is achieved, have extended into unmanageable catastrophes. Palestinian education is a case in point. Coercing Palestinian students into following a syllabus determined by Israel is another step in the colonial-settler state’s plan to marginalise the Palestinian refugee narrative.
UNRWA commands attention due to its humanitarian mission, which is guided by the impediments to engage politically in terms of Palestinians’ political rights. On the other hand, Israel faces no international opposition to its plan for eliminating the definition of “Palestinian refugee”. The UN is only concerned with the survival of its Agency. Palestinian officials must recognise this discrepancy and refrain from merely echoing UN statements that do nothing other than point out the obvious Israeli violations. For months, the discussion about UNRWA funding took precedence over Palestinian rights. In the haste to make the case for UNRWA’s mandate and existence, Palestinians were ostracised from their own story, because the narrative to save the organisation was determined by international diplomats. An opportunity for Palestinians to make their demands regarding UNRWA was lost in order to maintain the refugees as mere voiceless receivers of humanitarian aid.
As Israel’s renewed campaign against UNRWA moves on to Palestinian children being taught the colonial narrative, Palestinian leaders must make clear that this is yet another form of displacement meted out by Israel complementing the historical dispossession of the Palestinian population. The collapse of a segment of Palestinian education, in particular when it comes to refugees, will have a permanent impact on Palestinian society in terms of the preservation of memory. Replacing UNRWA schools and forcing the Israeli curriculum upon Palestinian education institutions should be a reminder of how necessary it is to prioritise the refugee narrative, not in terms of the UN’s mismanaged planning for humanitarian aid, but as the source from which Palestinian education and liberation has to be organised.