As thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in Gaza and the West Bank against US president Joe Biden’s visit to the Middle East in mid-July, the British Muslim human rights group CAGE released a report on bias in British education: Understanding Ukraine and Palestine solidarity in UK Schools.
In Bethlehem, Palestine, Palestinian journalists turned up to Biden’s press conference with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas wearing T-shirts featuring the face of Shireen Abu Aqleh, the New Arab reported.
Abu Aqleh, a Palestinian-American journalist, was shot dead on 11 May in Jenin, Palestine. She was in a group of journalists who were shot at with ‘several single, seemingly well-aimed bullets’ by ‘Israeli security forces’, the UN human rights office declared on 24 June, after an investigation. The UN also said there was no evidence of armed Palestinian activity in the area at the time.
After Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, the human rights group CAGE put out an online survey asking whether British schools had carried out any activities in relation to the war. CAGE had noticed how politicians and the media were treating Ukrainian armed resistance to Russian military action very differently to how they treat Palestinian armed resistance to Israeli military action.
Almost all the 462 responses CAGE received reported that schools had formally held some Ukraine-related activity, including fundraising (over half of them) or non-uniform days in support of Ukraine.
CAGE commented that this was sharply different from how schools reacted to acts of sympathy for Palestinians after the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2021: ‘pupils (and staff) were treated punitively for attempting to express solidarity’, including wearing the colours of the Palestine flag.
CAGE noted that schools were often hostile to fundraising for Palestinians: ‘This included cases where schoolteachers and management demanded that any fundraisers were split between “both sides” – Palestinians and Israelis.’ CAGE adds: ‘No such demands appear to have emerged with regard to school fundraisers for Ukraine.’
Schools and teachers said that many things could not be said or done (even holding a minute’s silence for Gaza) because they were ‘political’. In contrast, CAGE found, schools and teachers ‘felt far less inhibited’ in saying very ‘political’ things about Ukraine, including comparing Russian president Vladimir Putin to Hitler.