About a year ago, when I started digging into more material covering the Arab-Israeli conflict, I was introduced for the first time to the term ‘UNRWA’ – The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. It has been the first time that I’ve been exposed to the UN’s work in the territories and neighboring Arab countries, which aims (on paper) to assist the Palestinian refugees in their daily hardships and provide them with humanitarian aid. Sounds moral and awesome.
Yet I very quickly realized that my hopes for the organization were in vain. I’ve watched a 20-minute movie called ‘Camp Jihad’ (produced by The Center For Near East Policy Research), which I include with this article, that follows one of UNRWA’s summer camps for kids. The video has interviews of teachers and students from the camp and exposes the viewers to the camp’s disturbing educational material. I was in shock to see that this governmental organization, which serves as an agency for the UN and funded consistently by the world community, most notably by the US and the EU, with a $1 billion USD budget, would actually be funded at all. Why you ask? Because the educational material of the camp includes a systematic brainwash of kids. It teaches the myth of the ‘Right of return’, contains demonizations of Jews (Jews are wolves, Jews are terrorists, Jews are infidels etc.’) and glorifications of Jihad. Don’t believe me? See for yourself – Camp Jihad
And then, after being struck by what I’ve seen, and after writing a few lines about it on Facebook (as I always tend to do), I somewhat accepted the unfortunate reality and moved on. Fast forward a year later and I find my country in the midst of a military operation, “Protective Edge” that is, and all of a sudden I see all over the news that they’ve found rockets placed in an UNRWA school. And then they’ve found rockets placed in another UNRWA school. And then they’ve found some more rockets in yet another UNRWA school. And if that wasn’t enough, two soldiers were killed as a result of a bomb that was put underneath an UNRWA medical clinic. It got me thinking, that maybe, just maybe, there’s more to UNRWA’s problems than what I originally thought (not that it wasn’t worse as it seemed). I’ve turned to literature that could help me get to the bottom of this. I found what I was afraid to find. I’ve taken the time to read about UNRWA from the year of its inception until present day, and let me just say, that even though I know a thing or two about these issues from the advocacy field, I was very surprised by what I learned.
Allow me to present you my Top 9 UNRWA facts:
1. Just in case you aren’t familiar with UNRWA’s basic concepts, it’s very important to understand that UNRWA’s definition of a Palestinian refugee is significantly different than any other refugee’s definition, as ALL other refugees are being addressed by another UN agency, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). No other refugee, but a Palestinian, has his refugee status passed on to his kids, their kids and so on. There’s no other refugee but a Palestinian that, in case of receiving citizenship in any country, his refugee status will not be revoked. No other refugee but a Palestinian has a so called “Right of return” – given that the UN’s stance towards any other refugees but Palestinians is to actually help them recover, and not, in practice, perpetuate their refugee status in order to push them back to places they have left many, many years ago.
2. As of today, 99% of the 29,000 workers of UNRWA are Palestinians, the vast majority of which are defined as refugees themselves. The UNHCR, by the way, which takes care of all other refugees in the world, as I mentioned, only has 7,200 workers.
3. The budget allocated for Palestinian refugees is more than a third of the UN’s budget for the entire refugee population in the entire world, despite the fact that Palestinian refugees make up only 17% of the refugee population.
4. In contradiction to what one might expect, there are no intentions whatsoever to get the Palestinian refugees out of UNRWA’s refugee camps, unless it’s, of course, to lands in sovereign Israel. The Israeli expectation in the Oslo Accords was that when the PA will have administrative control over the territories (that is, the West Bank and Gaza), it would work to finally facilitate the Palestinians living in refugee camps, but it was not to be. As of right now, there are more than half a million Palestinians living in squalid refugee camps in areas under the PA’s control. In fact, there’s a new Palestinian city being built these days near Ramallah called Rawabi, which is intended to have between 30,000-40,000 inhabitants. But guess what – no Palestinians living in UNRWA’s refugee camps, including the ones that are across the street from the new city, would be allowed to live there (or, “would not be welcome”, as stated by Rawabi managing director, Bashar Al-Masri).
5. Schoolbooks used in UNRWA’s schools (from first grade to high school), both in the West Bank (PA approved) and Gaza (Hamas approved) are full of demonizations of Jews, glorifications in writing and poetry of the “Right of return” myth, and of course, they are promoting and glorifying the ways of Jihad and martyrdom. Yeah, the same stuff that was taught in those summer camps I mentioned earlier.
6. It was already from the early 2000’s that UNRWA workers were found taking part in or assisting terrorist actions. For example, in 2002 Nidal Abad al-Fattah Abdallah, Hamas leader from Kalkilya, who also served as an UNRWA ambulance driver, was arrested. The same year, Nahd Rashid Ahmad Atallah, a senior official of UNRWA in Gaza, who was responsible for allocation of financial aid to refugees, was arrested and admitted that a decade earlier, he handed some of those resources to associates of wanted terrorists. Another example would be Awad al-Qiq, who served as an UNRWA school headmaster and was a science teacher in Gaza. In the evenings, the same guy was a militant who built rockets for the Islamic Jihad and was a senior commander at its “Engineering unit”. If all of the above did not yet prove the point, UNRWA currently employs Suhail al-Hindi, a senior Hamas official who advocates Jihad and suicide bombings by Hamas against Israel, as the head of UNRWA’s teaching sector until this present day. He has worked for UNRWA for 9 years now.
7. In Gaza, the ties between Hamas and the UNRWA schools are strong. The terrorist organization has control over the schools’ educational materials, there are students inside the schools who serve as recruiters for the organization, and there are different ceremonies and competitions hosted by Hamas in schools of UNRWA, or participated by the UNRWA schools’ students. The vast majority of teachers are appointed by Hamas. The Islamic Jihad, through its representatives in the Staff Union and its students’ organization, is also heavily involved.
8. UNRWA does not do, by principal, comprehensive security checks for the workers they employ to investigate whether they have any links to terrorist organizations. A demand by the western countries to do frequent checkups to UNRWA’s workers was answered by a partial checkup that did not include Hamas or Hezbollah, among others.
9. And last but not least, UNRWA doesn’t bother checking in any way or form if the people they provide services to have any links to terrorist organizations or terrorist personnel.
The conclusion that is derived from the above is clear: UNRWA is rotten and corrupted inside out, and it will not come to terms without coercion to reform. It is the donor states’ responsibility to stop donations to this disgraceful organization altogether until it provides the very basic function it was intended to supply in the first place – facilitation of Palestinian refugees, helping them move on with their lives – not poisoning their thoughts with ideas of Jihad and keeping them intentionally in a deteriorating shape, to justify their unrealistic return to sovereign Israel, a place they do not belong to.
* Most information presented in this article is based on David Bedein’s book, “Roadblock To Peace: How the UN Perpetuates the Arab-Israeli Conflict: UNRWA Policies Reconsidered”. I highly recommend it for those who want to learn more about UNRWA’s policies and history.