A Derbyshire School, which proudly boasted on its Facebook page about the signatures obtained by its students for an Amnesty International anti-Israel campaign, will now be distancing itself from these views.
Earlier this summer, Littleover Community School posted on its Facebook page a story about a group of its students who had formed an Amnesty International Group, and got over 500 people to sign a petition to send to Airbnb. The school has 1500 pupils aged from 11 to 18.
A photograph on the Facebook pages shows that the students are displaying an Amnesty produced set of “disappearing Palestine” maps, which are not just inaccurate and distorted, but carry highly racist messaging.
They petitioned Airbnb to: “to remove all properties that are within Occupied Palestinian Territory” and stated: “ We believe…That Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is unlawful under United Nations law, specifically the 1949 Armistice Agreement.” They said: “AirBnb continues to advertise properties in occupied territory despite the area illegally being claimed by Israel’s government. Airbnb have previously agreed to withdraw these properties in Nov 2018 however backtracked on this agreement in April 2019. We ask that Airbnb revert to their original plan and remove all references to properties in Occupied Palestinian Territory from their platform.”
UKLFI wrote to Littleover School, pointing out that in accordance with section 407 of the Education Act 1996 it had a duty to secure balanced treatment of political issues.
The claims put forward in the letter that Amnesty International and the students at Littleover School encouraged the pupils to sign were completely erroneous.
Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is lawful in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 242 and the Oslo Accords pending the settlement of its status by negotiations. There are rival claims to the land which must be resolved by negotiation, so it is wrong to suggest that the land belongs to Palestinians.
The 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan is irrelevant, especially as Jordan has disclaimed any entitlement to the West Bank and Israel acquired the territory following Jordan’s flagrant violation of the Armistice Agreement in 1967.
Properties owned by both Arabs and Jews in the West Bank are listed by Airbnb, so the removal of all West Bank listings requested by the letter would harm Arabs as well as Jews.
UKLFI advised the school that it had a legal and moral obligation to rectify this misinformation and indoctrination by a balanced explanation of the position in accordance with section 407 of the Education Act 1996.
Mr A Venkat, Headteacher of Littleover responded to UKLFI as follows:
“We have a group of Sixth Form students (all over 16) who have formed an Amnesty International group, meeting in their spare time. A teacher does facilitate and advise them on their activities, offering arm’s length supervision, but the group is certainly student led and managed.
During Summer 2019, the group, having considered various Amnesty campaigns, decided to support the AirBnB petition. They did their own research into the situation, and were motivated by a desire to apply pressure to AirBnB to restore their original decision not to advertise properties in the occupied territories. There was no wider agenda concerning the Israel/Palestine situation, and their campaign was clearly focused on the specific issue concerned.
….. Given the age and education level of the students, I am convinced that they considered the complexity of the issue adequately, and they certainly were not indoctrinated or pushed into support for this campaign by any school staff. Their campaign materials reflected their own research, and they were well aware of the difference between criticism of the Israeli government and criticism of Jewish people.
“The students involved are aware of the alternative viewpoint set out in your letter. Indeed, the controversy over the issue has been a valuable learning experience for them in itself. I can assure you that in any future engagement with these issues, curricular or extracurricular, the school will continue to take reasonable steps to ensure that the full complexity of the situation is considered, and that we strive to remain unbiased and open-minded.
The Governing Body of the School have reflected on the points raised in your correspondence and will take steps to include a statement on the schools webpage which makes it clear that from time to time students will campaign for issues that matter to them and by allowing this and the publication thereof should not be taken as views expressed by the school or the governing body.”