(photo credit: REUTERS)
It is universally understood that current talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will not lead to an end of the protracted Arab-Israeli war. However, there is no reason why at least one aspect of that war cannot be resolved: the continuing humanitarian crisis facing descendants of Arab refugees from 1948, who wallow in UNRWA refugee facilities under the notion they will “return” to villages from 1948 – which no longer exist.
In that context, the Center for Near East Policy Research, which has conducted news investigations and produced films on UNRWA for the past 25 years, has launched the UNRWA Reform Initiative (URI) to facilitate a policy change at UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
While UNRWA long ago adopted the slogan “Peace Starts Here,” UNRWA’s working mantra could easily be described as “War Starts Here.” UNRWA’s schools educate half a million students with the notion that they must prepare to take back their homes in what is now Israel – by force of arms.
The Center’s July 2013 documentary, Camp Jihad, received unprecedented attention from news agencies, politicians and even from UNRWA itself. Shot on location in summer camps near UNRWA facilities near Nablus and in the Gaza Strip, the Center’s Palestinian TV crew filmed UNRWA campers singing songs of martyrdom, UNRWA instructors describing Jews as “wolves” and UNRWA camp counselors leading children in chants for their right to “return” to Israeli cities such as Tel Aviv and Haifa.
It is wrong to think that only the UN General Assembly can change such UNRWA programs.
UNRWA operates under directives from 38 donor nations, who could use their financial influence to ask that UNRWA programs reflect an agenda of peace and reconciliation.
Therefore, the agenda of URI is to petition legislators of all donor nations to ask that UNRWA funding be predicated on a change in UNRWA policy. In reality, every citizen of every donor nation can take the initiative to reform UNRWA, by asking each respective legislature to require that UNRWA: 1. Not use texts or teachers that encourage children to engage in acts of war.
2. Stop support for designated foreign terrorist entities such as Hamas.
3. Cease promotion of the “right of return” through “armed struggle.”
4. Adopt internationally accepted UNHCR definitions of refugee status, and not to bequeath refugee status on descendants of refugees from 65 years ago.
With these goals in mind, the Center for Near East Policy Research will dispatch experts to conduct high-profile briefings for legislators of nations that fund UNRWA, so that policy makers of donor nations will become aware of the UNRWA war education curriculum that should not continue.
At a time when the whole world is discussing the possibility of peace in the Middle East, this is one aspect of Middle East peace that can be resolved.
The author is director of the Israel Resource News Agency at the Center