Foundation defends award to Palestinian teacher

AP News
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Posted: Mar 31, 2016 12:53 PM
Foundation defends award to Palestinian teacher

JERUSALEM (AP) — The U.K.-based foundation that awarded a Palestinian schoolteacher a $1 million prize for preaching nonviolence is sticking by its choice following revelations that the woman's husband participated in an attack that killed at least six Israelis three decades ago.

Earlier this month, the Varkey Foundation awarded Hanan al-Hroub its Global Teacher Prize. In its selection, it cited her slogan "No to Violence" and her efforts in protecting Palestinian schoolchildren from the effects of living in a conflict zone. She had developed a book called "We Play and Learn" focusing on the importance of playing, trust, respect, honesty and literacy.

However, her husband, Omar, served time in Israeli prison, convicted as an accomplice in a bombing attack that killed six Israelis as they were walking home from sabbath prayers in the West Bank city of Hebron in 1980. According to an Associated Press account at the time, Omar al-Hroub was a chemist who provided chemicals needed for making the bombs.

The Varkey Foundation was founded by Sunny Varkey, who established the for-profit GEMS Education company. When it granted al-Hroub the award on March 14, it made no mention of her husband's past.

An article in the Qatari newspaper al-Araby al-Jadid, and translated into English by the U.S.-based Palestine Chronicle, drew attention to him by praising him as a "freedom fighter ... who took part in one of the most daring guerrilla operations in the occupied territories."

In a statement, the Varkey Foundation said it does not look into the conduct of candidates' relatives and that the teacher was committed to nonviolence.

"As a point of principle, we only look at the qualities, achievements and conduct of the candidates themselves," it said.

"As Hanan al-Hroub has said herself, she has spent her whole life dealing with the effects of violence on children at close hand and every day she works toward a world where children, wherever they come from, can grow up peacefully," it added. "She has spent her entire career teaching the principle of nonviolence. She believes in nonviolence in all its forms and in all circumstances."

Meir Indor, chairman of the Almagor Terror Victims Association, an Israeli advocacy group, said he didn't blame the teacher for her husband's actions, but that she nonetheless should not have received the prize. It made "a mockery of those murdered by her husband," Indor said.

Both of the al-Hroubs declined comment.

Qadura Faris, the director of the Palestinian prisoners' association, said that after serving a 10-year sentence, Omar al-Hroub accepted the 1993 Oslo interim peace accord with Israel, served as a deputy Cabinet minister in the Palestinian Authority and supports a two-state solution with Israel.

He said al-Hroub remains a senior Palestinian official who is close to President Mahmoud Abbas and "believes in his peaceful approach."

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, said it was unfair to hold Mrs. al-Hroub responsible for her husband's actions, and the award was a source of Palestinian pride.

She said the Oslo agreement was meant to turn a "whole new page," and that leaders on both sides of the conflict have been involved in bloodshed. She said it was unfair to blame only the Palestinians for the violence — especially after nearly 50 years of Israeli military rule.

"We cannot be held responsible for the behavior of every individual when pushed beyond endurance by a ruthless occupation," she said.