In July 1949, upon the complete destruction of Palestine and the expulsion of its people, David Ben Gurion addressed his officers, who were not sure that the emptiness of Palestine was permanent. He quipped, “the old will die and the young will forget”. He failed for most of 75 years to achieve his wish about the young. Now the time seems to be right. In a twist of history, UNRWA Western donors are doing the job for him.
Well, the young did not forget or tried to. They became the leaders of the resistance movement which created the Palestine National Council and PLO. After the fiasco of Oslo, Palestine nominal leaders failed to follow the national path. Western colonial powers jumped on the only remaining vehicle of resolution 194, calling for the return of the refugees to their homes, namely the UNRWA. As it is answerable only to the General Assembly, the Achilles heal was the funding of UNRWA, mostly by the Western powers that paid funds to shield Israel from Nakba consequences. To undermine UNRWA is to undermine its main function: education for 500,000 Palestinian children.
Western funders carried out the old Ben Gurion dictum: the children will forget Palestine, or else there will no funding for UNRWA. At the behest of Israeli outfits, Impact SE and UN Watch which spews forth defamatory reports about UNRWA function, a trick was hatched to give this defamatory campaign an acceptable cover. The cover for this Zionist plan is the principle of “Neutrality”, a thinly disguised Ben Gurion plan to erase Palestine from memory. It has no parallel with any UN agency and has no legal foundation.
Here below is a heart wrenching account of a Palestinian teacher about the practice imposed on UNRWA under the Neutrality agreement, blackmailing UNRWA to submission or face Western defunding.
Essay by an UNRWA teacher
I write these few lines as you asked me about my experience.
I grew up in UNRWA schools and I felt grateful to this institution that provided me with education and that it would protect me and stand by me until I return to my hometown from which the Zionists expelled my ancestors.
In UNRWA schools, we have always received a strong education that everyone attests to. UNRWA schools were distinguished from public and private schools, providing us with curricula with enriching and supportive material that support and expand what we learn and support our cause and we, as refugee students with high determination, study diligently, because our goal is one: Changing our refugee situation and returning to the lives of our uprooted family and restoring our property that was stolen from us.
In UNRWA schools, we learned the map of Palestine and its borders, and we learned that our presence in this city is temporary until we return to our country from which we were expelled. As students, we knew that only refugees entered these schools. We knew that all of us in the school shared one concern, “displacement” and our one goal, “return.” And so did UNRWA, or I thought in my mind as a young student that UNRWA did, as its Mandate dictates.
In high school, we entered public schools, because UNRWA schools were restricted to the ninth grade, and we are still – as refugee students – distinguished among them, not in terms of educational level, but rather in social status. But our cause is different from theirs. Our cause is the issue of return and retrieval of usurped rights. This is how we learned in UNRWA schools, taught us the truth: The fact that I own land and have a home, but it is stolen, and I – UNRWA – are here by your side until you return to your homes and end your calamity.
I grew up and my only goal was to work in this institution. At that time, I saw it as a sublime institution whose goal and my goal was the same: “The Land and Return”. Where did we come from and why we are here? How is the way to escape from this catastrophe?… It was what I wanted.
I worked hard and studied a lot until I became a teacher in these schools that never failed to serve us. As soon as I entered her schools, I was surprised that the teacher who taught me to draw the letters of Palestine, the teacher who taught me to draw the map, and the teacher who asked us to write an expression of the homeland and who used to write examples of the grammar lesson on freedom, the homeland and the struggle, became a teacher threatened with suspension from his/her work under the pretext of “violating neutrality”. That was the sword hanging on our necks, blowing up all the edifice of our being and who we are.
The teacher has become a teacher walking between the corridors, looking on the walls for a picture of Jerusalem or a picture of a symbol of the struggle that UNRWA used to portray us as a brave hero that we must follow in his path. The same teacher who used to ask me to write an overview of my hometown and always ask me about it became reluctant to mention the name of Palestine. I began to hear “an inspection team will come to the school for the sake of Neutrality”, this new monster came to haunt us. A picture of the Dome of the Rock in the teacher’s office became a liability. I was amazed at the time to hear these words in an institution in which I only heard echoes of words about love for the homeland and the necessity of defending it and returning to it, and many, many other words that we keep in our hearts as refugees.
The principle of “Neutrality” raised many questions in my mind. Strange it would be in an institution that was praising the performance of a teacher who linked his/her lesson to the reality of our life. For example, if a mathematics teacher linked the arithmetic issue to the number of prisoners, he/she would be the best teacher to understand. The good teacher conducted a short test as a prelude to the lesson: “What It is your hometown?” and concludes with the question: Do you dream of returning?
At that time when we were proud of our original town and asked each other about its places on the map and whether it was close to each other so that we could visit each other after liberation. we only now learned that in UNRWA schools it is forbidden to mention the word Palestine. The administration records the names of teachers under the pretext of breaching Neutrality. I began to see the name of Palestine marked in red in a report published to the public as a violation of Neutrality.
The teacher who hung this map to inform the refugees is punished by UNRWA which existed to support his right to speak on Palestine. If the teacher is not punished by dismissal, then by suspension from work until the end of the investigation. This is enough humiliation for the teacher. This is one of many examples around me.
I do not judge those teachers who changed their moral compass according to the institution in which he works. Their justification is to feed their children and families who support them in these difficult circumstances. I condemn those who threaten us, indeed blackmail us saying: you have to choose: a loaf of bread or your right to your home. I am very sorry, indeed angry, that our teachers have ever felt threatened in their very livelihood.
I have always been publishing news about Palestine, sharing my countrymen’s issues, posting pictures of the martyrs on social media, and writing comments praying for mercy for the martyrs, healing for the wounded, and freedom for the stolen homeland. I write it freely without censorship. I used to share the stories of the martyrs and how they were martyred. Little did I know that the day would come when I would remove these photos and news from my accounts on social media, and that I would hide the map of Palestine, hung in my neck, when an UNRWA inspection team (their sight reminds me of the horror stories of WWII) visits the school where I work, so as not to be punished.
I cannot understand “Neutrality”; Neutrality about what!. How can equate the criminal with his victim. How can you silence the victim from speaking about what happened to him. By whom he is silenced? By the criminal and his friends. I cannot see the link between “UNRWA,” an institution established for the relief and employment of refugees and the concept of “Neutrality” which considers the word Palestine forbidden.
As a Palestinian refugee, I feel deeply distressed and sorry about this issue, and I am curious about the person who came up with this principle and how it came to his mind and its palatability. It is a principle far from logical at all.
I regret to say that UNRWA, with its law, has violated not only my right to express my opinion, but also my humanity and dignity. I feel that I am a person without value or identity, an empty person who does not know who he is, who does not have the right to say that I am a Palestinian refugee who has the rights of an occupied land that was usurped by Israeli Jews.
Perhaps the greatest calamity will not appear in my generation, but rather in the present generation, which will find no one to teach it who it is, where it is from, and why it is here. In the first days, I was shocked that the students did not know what their hometown was. Their minds were a blank page with nothing but their four names and the name of Gaza or Khan Yunis, as a result of the repeated restrictions on the teachers and what they taught.
I began to question the intention and existence of UNRWA, with my recognition at the beginning of its beauty and its favor to me. I no longer know whether it is an institution that was established to protect and support me, or to silence me, end my case, cancel me, and cancel my identity?! But it seems that the subject is greater than my comprehension, and perhaps the days will teach me, if there are things in the background that I do not see.
I am always between two fires: Do I remain silent about this crime and acquiesce? Or do I take a stand and follow my principles, not only as a refugee but as a human being? What we see is nothing but a crime against a human being. Everyone seeks to abolish our being and identity. They want an empty, dumb, obedient human being.
The truth is that I faced this conflict with my desire to remain a teacher with them, because the other solution is to quit my job, and that will not change anything except that our children will not find anyone who tells them, for example, that Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine. I chose to stay and teach the children what I could because they need me. I will stay with my application of my boss’s advice: “Say what you want, but don’t leave behind evidence.”
I am a language teacher, but I allocate minutes of my class time to chat with my students about our homeland and the town or village of origin, why they are here and whether they want to stay or return. We even ask each other: Where are you from? Is it far to visit after return?
We will return. We will return. Nothing will stop us.
I do not hide that while I am writing these words, I am not immune from the threat posed to those accused of what is called “violating the principle of Neutrality”.
But I will not change a word I have written.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.