Thursday, October 08, 2009

Will the UN teach the Holocaust to Gaza's children?

An interesting conflict is shaping up in Gaza between Hamas and the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

A few months after originally floating the idea - and having his own staff shoot it down - John Ging, UNRWA director of operations, told The Independent that he was "confident and determined" that the Holocaust would be featured in a new curriculum being drafter for the UNWRA schools. The Agency runs about 200 of the 600 local schools.

What exactly does "Holocaust education" mean in this context? Certainly nothing resembling what we are familiar with from Jewish, Israeli or Western schools; I daresay there will be no trips to Auschwitz. In a population which has been systematically educated to deny the Holocaust, it will be taught carefully (and, I am guessing, in no more than a lesson or two), as part of a string of other massacres and inustices such as (the distinctly different issue of) apartheid:

Mr Ging said the new curriculum would also include "tangible examples"
of other "blights and stains in human history". He added: "We want to
succeed with the active support of the civilian population who want
their children to be part of the civilised world and who have no
interest in challenging globally accepted facts; no more than ... they
start challenging whether the earth goes round the sun, or Hiroshima or
Nagasaki, or the killing fields of Cambodia, or the ethnic cleansing of
the Balkans, or the genocide in Rwanda, or apartheid in South Africa;
or, for that matter, the Nakba."

As one commentator to the Jerusalem Post story on the interview says, when it gets to the section on the Holocaust, it might be hard to stop the students applauding.

But Mr Ging cannot be criticised for not going far enough; this is a small step for UNRWA, a giant leap for the population of Gaza, and he has to operate realistically. I give him full credit for trying to broaden the Gazan horizons, although - let's be clear - he is no friend of Israel, wholly accepting the Nakba narrative and advancing Palestinian claims against Israel on the world stage.

The problem is, it is still unlikely that even this modest proposal will ever come to fruition in Gaza.

UNRWA is widely perceived as a Palestinian/Hamas tool - more than 95 per cent of its staff are Palestinians and in elections earlier this year to the UNRWA trade union in Gaza, Hamas swept the board.

In reality, there have been increasing clashes between UNRWA, under Ging's leadership, and Hamas, which has noticed the UNRWA does not always toe the party line - and sees it as a rival to its own power base.

There were particular objections over the past year to Mr Ging's attempts to promote mixed-gender education, particularly in summer camps, and rows over the distribution of aid during and after Operation Cast Lead; he has also threatened to fire employees with open affiliation to Fatah or Hamas. In an editorial in April in Gazan paper Filastin called him an American and Israeli puppet with an agenda "opposed to that of the resistance".

Mr Ging seemed to have survived all that. But it seems extraordinary that he will stake so much of his reputation on teaching of the Holocaust, an issue which to Hamas is a real red line. I am willing to bet that either Holocaust education will go, or he will. Either way, don't expect to see Anne Frank's diary on the literature curriculum in Gaza any time soon.

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