Statement by Global Palestinian Refugee Network (GPRN)
On 14 July 2021, the United States of America resumed its support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), after withholding funding from it during the era of former US President Donald Trump. The US support for UNRWA comes within a framework agreement in cooperation with the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration which includes political conditions that would undermine UNRWA's humanitarian role in providing services to Palestinian refugees, and targeting national rights and Palestinian identity.
Under the guise of fighting terrorism, the framework agreement requires UNRWA to implement security and control measures for its employees and beneficiaries of its services through the so-called examination and audit procedures, and a commitment not to provide services to refugees and institutions classified as terrorist according to US law. Doing so, leads to the exclusion of a large number of refugees, especially those who engaged in the Palestinian resistance and struggle. Further, the framework agreement requires UNRWA to censor the Palestinian curriculum in its schools, and take measures to nullify any content that highlights ongoing Israeli violations.
Despite the fact that these political conditions contradict UNRWA’s mandate as an international humanitarian agency and violate the humanitarian principles of independence and impartiality, the Agency signed the framework agreement and began to implement the conditions it imposed. By doing so, UNRWA has effectively transformed itself from a humanitarian agency that provides assistance and relief to Palestinian refugees, to a security agency furthering the security and political agenda of the US, and ultimately Israel.
In response to the Israeli-endorsed American conditions, UNRWA distributed a guide to UNRWA school staff, with the aim of neutralizing or stripping the curriculum of any national and Palestinian content, but also encouraging and adopting the Zionist narrative. The guide requires teachers not to address any content that is inconsistent with the Israeli narrative, such as referring to the historical map of Palestine, the Palestinian cities occupied and colonized in 1948, the resistance of the Palestinian people, the suffering of prisoners, the wall, Israeli violations, and other issues that affect the national identity of the Palestinian people.
Within this context, UNRWA suspended a group of teachers in UNRWA schools because of their association with political parties, or their posts on social media in accordance with the conditions set in the framework agreement. These measures – imposed by the US, accepted by UNRWA - disempower and censor the Palestinian teacher, negates their true purpose and relegates him/her to an implementer of the funding conditions.
These American-Israeli endeavors aimed at emptying the curriculum of its national and Palestinian content, come in accordance with the conditions of the European Union, and aim to erase the Palestinian national identity, alienate the Palestinians, strip them of their Palestinian name, and engineer the “good Palestinian” who accepts the colonial system and his/her place in it. These conditions seek not only to undermine the rights, identity, and existence of the Palestinian people, but also to form a new consciousness aimed at the ‘Israelization’ of Palestinian society as a whole. Perhaps what is happening today calls for the saying of the South African freedom fighter, Steve Biko: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
In recent years, Zionist-Israeli campaigns targeting the Palestinian narrative and identity have escalated. In parallel, funding restrictions have escalated, which include conditions aimed at changing the Palestinian curriculum, and preventing civil society organizations from working in certain areas or using terms such as the Nakba, colonialism, and others. This escalation cannot be separated from the policies and attitudes aimed at terminating the rights of the Palestinian people, especially in light of the continuation of Israel's colonial and apartheid policies of confiscation, annexation, forced displacement, oppression and abuse, and the segregation, fragmentation and isolation of the Palestinian people.
Accordingly, the Global Palestinian Refugee Network calls for:
- UNRWA to abide by the principle of neutrality and non-interference in the curricula of the countries hosting Palestinian refugees, and to abide by its UN mandate as an international humanitarian organization.
- The Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority to fulfill their responsibilities and not yield to European and American pressures to change the Palestinian curriculum.
- The Palestine Liberation Organization to mobilize the General Assembly of the United Nations to convert the contributions of countries from voluntary to mandatory contributions to UNRWA’s budget, in a way that ensures that UNRWA is not exposed to political blackmail.
- The UNRWA Employees Union rejects the conditions imposed on its members that target the Palestinian identity, and not allow the UNRWA administration to single out employees.
- The Palestinian people, wherever they reside, to challenge the policies and practices that aim to diminish and the Palestinian national identity and narrative.
As determined in our meeting on 21 September 2021 in Bethlehem, Palestinian political parties, the Global Palestinian Refugee Network, and national organizations and movements affirm that we will take action to challenge these conditions, to oppose the targeting of Palestinian people’s identity and existence, and to strengthen the national identity in the Palestinian curriculum.