UNRWA has got to go

Since its creation, the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) has been a detrimental force to Palestinian Society standing as a major roadblock towards any peace agreement between Palestinians and Israeli. It has, from the very beginning, been an organization that has had an interest in managing the problem of the Palestinian refugees rather than solving it. It is a case study in bureaucratic inertia and mission creep with an ever expanding bureaucracy attached to an issue that has attracted billions in foreign aid over its lifetime.

UNRWA was created in 1948 by the UN with a three year mandate to aid the Palestinian refugees after the Israeli War of Independence. It has since grown well beyond its original mandate to become the largest organization of the UN employing over 2,400 staffers tasked with handling approximately 6 million refugees. In contrast, the UN Refugee Agency, which deals with all refugees worldwide totaling approximately eleven million, employs sixty three hundred staffers. UNRWA has overseen the expansion of the Palestinian refugee problem from under a million refugees when it was formed as a result of allowing refugee status to be passed down from one generation to another.

The recent wave of violence has revealed a disturbing trend of calls to incitement of violence on social media. individuals identifying themselves as UNRWA employees in their profiles and even teachers at UNRWA schools have shared and posted images calling for violence against Jews and praising the stabbing attacks that had already taken place;

UNRWA has made no effort to curb these incidents and, as far as anyone can tell, makes no effort to investigate or fire such employees. How can UNRWA make the claim that it has a vested interest in helping to solve the issue of Palestinian refugees when its employees are teaching views in the classroom wholly incompatible with peace? In the Western countries teachers are routinely fired for engaging in behavior outside of the classroom that is not considered to be representative of the institution at which they teach so why not Palestinian teachers as well?

These kinds of things should come as no surprise really; UNRWA has made no effort ensure that it does not employ members of the many terror groups that operate within the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Refugee camps. We don’t need to look further than last summer during Operation Protective Edge where UNRWA schools were offended found to be booby-trapped or storage sites for Hamas ordnance. In one shocking case, UNRWA officials claimed that they had turned over missiles found in one of their schools to “the local authorities” as per routine UN practice in these situations. Presumably that means Hamas, who, to the knowledge of counter terrorism experts and Western intelligence agencies, does not maintain an explosive ordnance disposal unit.

The governments that fund the UNRWA through the UN have started to take note of this disturbing relationship for example: In a recent report, the US Congress expressed concern that given the atmosphere that UNRWA was operating in, it was not taking enough care to ensure that people in its employ are not currently nor were they previously linked to a terrorist group. In testimony before congress in 2006 the commissioner general of UNRWA, Karen Koning AbuZayd, when asked if and how they ensure that relief recipients do not have known connections to terror groups, she answered that it was too difficult for UNRWA to run checks against terrorist watch lists because Arabic last names sound so familiar. An altogether strange statement considering that Mrs. Abuzayd holds a degree in Islamic Studies, and has worked for UNRWA in Gaza since 2000.

Since then, in 2006, UNRWA has stated that it checks all potential recipients of foreign aid against a UN list named after counter terrorism resolution 1267. This sounds like something until your read the title of the list generated by resolution 1267: “The List established and maintained by the Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee with respect to individuals, groups, undertakings and other entities associated with Al-Qaida. Indeed resolutions 1267 was concerning Al-Qaeda and its activities in Afghanistan and the resolution itself makes no actual mention of Hamas, Hezbollah or any of the other terror organizations that operate within the areas that UNRWA does its work. The end result is that known members of a terrorist organizations that are recognized by the US government are receiving US Tax dollars  via their employment through the UN agency where they are allowed to continue spreading their ideology of hatred and violence against Jews and Israel.

If only we could prescribe to the issues associated with running a large organization; after all, how is UNRWA supposed to keep track of a few nasty teachers? This is not the case unfortunately. A disdain for Israel exists at the highest levels of UNRWA. Last summer during Protective Edge Israeli ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor called for actions to be taken against UNRWA spokesperson Chris gunness after he interviewed Dr. Mads Gillbert, and advocated for Palestinian Terrorism against Israel. In a letter to UNRWA’s Commissioner general Ambassador Prosor wrote: “Gunness, yet again abused his position by calling on reporters to interview Dr. Mads Gilbert, an outspoken proponent of terrorist attacks against civilians. In September 2001, Dr. Gilbert explicitly supported the ‘moral right’ of Al-Qaeda to perpetrate the 9/11 terrorist attacks against thousands of American civilians.”

The original sin of the Palestinian refugee problem was the creation of their special status. The United Nations High Commissioner on Human rights states that the three primary solutions to refugee problems are “Voluntary repatriation, local integration, resettlement” these solutions only apply to original refugees; would that the Palestinians had not been allowed their special status of being able to pass down their status as refugees to their children than estimates put original Palestinian refugees today at anywhere between thirty and fifty thousand people, a much more manageable number which could have easily been granted the right of return in a peace agreement. Instead, we have a number that has ballooned into the millions and which would be impossible for Israel to absorb. UNRWA and the special status of Palestinians as refugees in perpetuity at the moment pose an insurmountable roadblock to peace efforts. How can anyone really expect UNRWA to take an active and productive role in any peace initiative when said peace initiatives would mean its end? UNRWA needs to go. Plain and simple.

About the Author
Ari is an under appreciated, over caffeinated oleh chadash, reservist, and MA graduate from the Government program at IDC Herziliya with a focus on Homeland Security and Counter Terrorism
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