Irredeemable and Flawed
Jerusalem Institute of Justice, Rachel Rosen, October 5, 2019
“There is no doubt that we [UNRWA] have contributed to one of the most remarkable human development processes and significantly advanced several key sustainable development goals for Palestine refugees…”
The United Nations Relief Works Agency for Palestinians, or UNRWA, is a UN agency that purports to provide humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees. A simple click on their website will bring forth an array of quotes and pictures of children happily reaping the benefits of UNRWA services, such as engaging in art projects and sports competitions at UNRWA schools. According to UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl, “There is no doubt that we [UNRWA] have contributed to one of the most remarkable human development processes and significantly advanced several key sustainable development goals for Palestine refugees…” If UNRWA is in fact providing essential humanitarian aid to refugees however, then what are the issues with this agency that have caused the US to stop funding it?
Unlike the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), the UN program which gives aid to refugees from all over the world, UNRWA is dedicated to helping Palestinians alone. Even more striking is the fact that UNRWA created a new definition of refugees that applies only to Palestinians, including not only those who were displaced after the 1948 and 1967 wars, but also their descendants. While UNRWA is commonly depicted as a humanitarian agency that provides educational, health, and welfare services to displaced Palestinians across the Middle East, it is in fact stewing a false hope among Palestinians that they will return to an Arab State of Palestine, and thus erase the State of Israel.
What does UNRWA accomplish? What are the issues it causes?
UNRWA’s definition of refugee has exponentially increased the Palestinian refugee population. While it originally aided 750,000 people, today UNRWA serves 5 million people. Consequently, many Palestinians, have acquired citizenship in other states, in Jordan in particular. Only the return of refugees and their descendants to their homes could remove their refugee status. Several Arab states, such as Lebanon and Syria, do not want to fully integrate Palestinians in an effort to not deny them their right to return to modern-day Israel. According to Einat Wilf, UNRWA expert and former Member of Kennest, this has focused Palestinian national identity on the right of return and on eliminating the modern State of Israel.
The educational system funded by UNRWA is especially problematic. UNRWA schools indoctrinate students in the West Bank and Gaza with violent, hateful ideologies. Students are taught that Israel has no right to exist, that Palestine and Israel cannot coexist, and that the Land of Israel should only contain an Arab Palestinian state. The Center for Near East Policy Research found that textbooks in UNRWA schools were filled with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements. These instructional materials promote the deligitmization and demonization of Israel and Jews and advocate for a violent struggle for liberation of 1948 Palestinian borders.
The UNRWA definition of Palestinian refugee status and its support for a biased education system does not contribute to peace efforts between Palestinians and Israelis, but rather, perpetuates the conflict. Refugee status is passed on from generation to generation. This ensures that many Palestinian children attend UNRWA schools where they are indoctrinated with hateful, anti-Israel, anti-peace beliefs. Hamas leaders put these beliefs into practice in UNRWA facilities by training children to become terrorists and by using these spaces for terrorist operations- such as digging tunnels under schools or storing weapons in hospitals.
Why has the US stopped funding it?
The defunding of UNRWA is one out of several steps the Trump Administration is taking to strengthen Israel. The US was the largest single donor to UNRWA, giving more than $350 million in 2017. After, however, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to enter US-led peace talks with Israel, the US froze $125 million in aid. The decision was made at a meeting between Jared Kusher and Mike Pompeo, however, many other leaders- including President Trump and National Security Advisor John Bolton- were supportive.
Trump stated, “…With Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” Abbas’s refusal to engage in peace talks stems from the fact that Palestinians do not see the US as a fair, peace-making body. In moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, he claims that the Trump administration alienated Palestinians from the peace process.