The writer is an educator at the
Hebrew University’s Secondary School of Education in Jerusalem. She
writes for a number of news sources, including the Huffington Post,
Bangor Daily News, The Near East Policy Center, Sderot Media Center and
‘Peace starts here” is the key marketing slogan that UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East) uses in its videos, posters and other fundraising material. One UNRWA video clip depicts smiling Palestinian children against backgrounds that feature “peace” graffiti in Gaza.
The video leaves you with the impression that UNRWA has successfully instilled a message of peace into the young generation that has been under UNRWA’s care since the agency’s inception in 1950.
The reality is far different.
Operating under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNRWA is the only UN organization responsible for one select group of refugees. While the UNHCR is mandated to “promote durable solutions” for refugees worldwide, which include such alternatives as “resettlement in third countries”" UNRWA has followed a fundamentally different policy.
Throughout UNRWA’s 60 years, the agency has done nothing to promote
creative resolutions to the Palestinian refugee problem. Instead, it has
done everything possible to support the Palestinians’ “right of return”
aspirations. The agency has fermented a policy that seeks to maintain
the Palestinians’ refugee status. UNRWA is the only UN body that assigns
the refugee definition not only to refugees but also to their
descendants. Thus, from the original 750,000 Palestinian refugees in
1948, UNRWA has now registered 4.7 million living in Jordan, Syria,
Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.
While the former Commissioner General of UNRWA, Karen AbuZayed, claims
UNRWA has helped create a “self-reliant refugee population,” recent
protests in Gaza indicate otherwise. In July 2011, UNRWA dropped the
words “relief” and “works” from its website’s logo, sparking an outcry
among refugees and Hamas leaders, who accused UNRWA of being part of a
conspiracy to end their refugee status and deny them the “right of
return” to Israel.
The agency tried unsuccessfully to explain that the changes were being
made to redesign and upgrade the website on the 60th anniversary of
UNRWA, but the massive protests continued, with UNRWA capitulating to
the protesters’ demands.
Indeed, this event goes to show just how much the Palestinian population
has been rendered totally dependent both psychologically and socially
on a refugee status that was supposed to have been temporary and now
defines a way of life.
This way of life is further sustained by the UNRWA education system, one
of the largest in the Arab world, which does not used textbooks of its
own. Instead, UNRWA schools use Palestinian Authority textbooks, which
teach anti-Israel attitudes, and implicitly encourage and praise jihad
against Israel while promoting the refugees’ return to 1948 homes. The
Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School
Education (IMPACTSE), has analyzed these books and found that peace is
not mentioned at all. Israel is presented as a usurper, occupier and
aggressor, and Jews and Israelis as cunning and deceitful.
EVEN MORE disturbing is that certain members of UNRWA’s teaching staff actually carry out jihadist activities themselves.
Take for example, Awad al-Qiq, a respected science teacher and deputy
headmaster at the Rafah Prep Boys School run by UNRWA in Gaza. Al-Qiq,
who taught at UNRWA schools for eight years, worked by night as a leader
of a rocket engineering squad for Islamic Jihad. In response to al-
Qiq’s death in an Israeli airstrike in May 2008, Islamic Jihad praised
the science teacher as a martyr who would now find ‘paradise.’ The
terrorist organization hung a poster in the entrance to the UNRWA school
where he taught, praising al-Qiq’s terrorist activities. His students
praised his memory, as a “great educator, who departed as a great
Although UNRWA spokesman, Chris Gunness said that there was a
“zero-tolerance policy toward politics and militant activities in
schools,” one can only wonder how a chief terrorist was able to work in a
school system for eight years.
Another noted Hamas extremist, Sayed Seyam, was an UNRWA math and science teacher for 23 years from 1980 until 2003.
Seyam was active in the first Palestinian intifada in 1987, and oversaw
rocket and mortar attacks against Israel. Another UNRWA employee, Suheil
al-Hindi, an UNRWA teachers’ representative in 2003, applauded suicide
bombings in a school in the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza. In 2009,
UNRWA’s teachers’ union voted to allow Hamas to control the curriculum
both in Gaza and the West Bank.
UNRWA schools have also produced some well-known graduates, including
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who recently condemned the US for
killing Osama bin Laden, and Abd al-Aziz Rantisi, another Hamas leader.
Rantisi, who attended UNRWA secondary school in Khan Younis, directed
countless terrorist attacks against Israelis, and repeatedly called for
the murder of American troops in Iraq.
According to Bassem Eid, director of the Palestinian Human Rights
Monitoring Group, UNRWA has many Gaza employees who belong to Hamas. Eid
explains in a film produced by the Center for Near East Policy
Research, Palestinian Refugee Policy: From Despair to Hope, that Hamas
made clear to UNRWA that if the agency did not accept its members as
employees, UNRWA would be kicked out of Gaza. “In order for UNRWA to
survive, they accepted [Hamas’s] conditions because they wanted to
continue their activities, to continue corrupting Palestinians...” said
With UNRWA’s annual budget of one billion dollars per year, the United
States, followed by several other western countries, are the leading
financial supporters. The US contributed over half a billion dollars
($560 million) from 2009-2010, followed by the European Commission. The
UK, Norway, Netherlands and Spain were also among the top 10 donors of
Much of UNRWA’s budget goes to education.
According to the agency’s website, UNRWA earmarked 52 percent of it
regular budget to education in 2009. Only 19 percent was given to health
services and 10 percent to relief and social services that year. Arab
donors provided only 1.5 percent of UNRWA’s general fund that year ($7
Until UNRWA’s mandate is adjusted to conform to that of UNHCR’s ‘durable
solutions,’ Palestinian children under the agency’s care will continue
to be educated in a culture that promotes despair and hate in a system
that works against their future.