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Switzerland to examine reports that Palestinian textbooks promote violence, racism

Images featured in Palestinian Authority textbooks reviewed by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se). Photo: IMPACT-se.

The Swiss government will review reports that the Palestinian curriculum promotes violence, antisemitism, and other themes that undermine a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel, the SonntagsZeitung newspaper reported on Saturday.

The decision came in the wake of research published last year into textbooks used by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), whose top donors include Switzerland.

Lessons encourage children to view the entirety of Israel as Arab territory, refer to Israelis and Jews interchangeably and with hostility, and “feature a radical Islamist, and occasionally, a Salafi worldview,” according to the Jerusalem-based Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se), which carried out the study. Some passages also hail those who carried out attacks against civilians, among them Dalal Mughrabi, a Palestinian nationalist who in 1978 helped massacre 38 people, including 13 children, near Tel Aviv.

“School materials that run contrary to the spirit of a two-state solution, which glorify violence, which fuel racism and anti-Semitism or trivialize violations of international law and human rights are not in compliance with the Swiss position on the Middle East,” a spokeswoman for the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (EDA) told SonntagsZeitung. “Switzerland will examine reports such as those by IMPACT-se and discuss them with other donor nations.”

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This funding makes the country “complicit in the radicalization of 450,000 Palestinian schoolchildren in UNRWA schools,” IMPACT-se CEO Marcus Sheff said in a statement, while welcoming the Swiss government’s decision to examine its report.

“It is hard to believe that after having read the material and seen the examples, the Swiss government will willfully continue to financially support the teaching of a curriculum that espouses antisemitism, hate and violence,” Sheff said.

Switzerland’s ties to UNRWA have previously been a matter of controversy, with the country’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ignazio Cassis saying in May that the organization helped “keep the conflict alive.”

In an interview following a trip to Jordan — where he said Palestinian refugees are “third-generation families who live not in actual camps but in cities,” most of whom have “a Jordanian passport” — Cassis pointed out that Palestinians who were displaced by the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and their descendants today total five million.

“It is unrealistic that [the dream to return to Palestine] will be fulfilled for all,” the foreign minister said. “But UNRWA maintains this hope.”

He said the organization “worked as a solution for a long time, but today it has become part of the problem. It provides the ammunition to continue the conflict.”

Cassis was summoned to speak with then-President of Switzerland Alain Berset following his comments. Berset subsequently clarified that there would be no change in Swiss policy toward UNRWA, which was already reeling from the loss of American funding.

A renewed focus on incitement in the Palestinian education sector has prompted some lawmakers in the European Union (EU) — a significant donor to the PA and UNRWA — to revisit their support.

The European Union, United Kingdom and Finland are each currently conducting investigations into Palestinian teaching materials, according to Sheff, while EU lawmakers approved amendments in April to prevent aid to the PA from financing educational materials considered discriminatory or intolerant.

In September, Belgium said it would sever ties with the PA’s Education Ministry and no longer fund the construction of its schools, following revelations that an institution built with its aid was named after Mughrabi.

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