Donor countries will be gathering on Tuesday in Brussels hoping to raise $800 million for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) to run Palestinian refugee camps. But is funding UNRWA a wise investment for the donor countries? And even more important, is funding UNRWA good for the Palestinians?
There has been a lot of negative news about UNRWA. The United States and others are demanding that UNRWA fix its schoolbooks and guarantee that UNRWA schools will no longer hide terror tunnels. Certainly, these demands are valid.
However, what is not being addressed is that even if UNRWA fixed all these problems, UNRWA still remains possibly the most human rights abusing institution funded by the international community.
This year the US has already given UNRWA $318m., and prior to the Trump administration, the US was the largest donor to UNRWA. During the eight years of the Obama administration, for example, the United States gave UNRWA over $2 billion. What did the United States get in return for this investment?
According to UNRWA, the number of refugees increased during the Obama years from 4.6 million to 5.3 million – a rise of 700,000 refugees. The $2b. investment by the US did not rehabilitate even one refugee. Instead, every $2,857 corresponded to one new refugee. When adding in the many billions contributed by other countries, the total waste is enormous. In addition, the core UNRWA budget since Obama’s first year has risen from $545m. to $806m. today. UNRWA is a nursery for growing refugees and a bottomless pit for international money. The fundamental problem with UNRWA is not its terror links; the fundamental problem with UNRWA – is UNRWA itself.
Looking at UNRWA’s history shows this even more clearly. UNRWA was established in 1949 when approximately 726,000 Arabs (according to UN figures) who had been displaced during Israel’s War of Independence were put under UNRWA’s care. Incredibly the number has grown today to 5,700,000 across 58 camps. By refusing to resettle the original refugees, UNRWA intentionally turned a limited problem into permanent misery, both for those actual refugees and the 5.5 million people who were born refugees. Possibly, the worst thing that ever happened to Palestinians was the creation of UNRWA. UNRWA is the real Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe).
It didn’t have to be this way. A few months after UNRWA was created, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) was opened to help all other refugees. UNHCR describes its success: “During our lifetime (since 1950) we have helped well over 50 million refugees!” The contrast is extraordinary. UNHCR has resettled millions of refugees in the same period that UNRWA didn’t resettle even one, but imposed refugee status on millions of children, some born as long as 72 years ago. Every child has the right to be born into freedom, but UNRWA has trampled those human rights over five million times. Funding UNRWA is not only a waste of limited international resources but is funding an organization that is fundamentally a human rights abuser.
In a shocking admission of the political agenda behind UNRWA, PA Social Development Minister Ahmed Majdalani recently told UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini how the PA sees UNRWA in an online article from Al-Quds on October 27. “Majdalani emphasized the necessity of protecting UNRWA not as an institution that provides services to the refugees, but rather because it is a political symbol of the refugees’ right of return,” the article reads.
UNRWA is not intended to help the refugees but to preserve them as refugees serving the PA’s goals. The world saw a tragic example of the PA’s ideology during the Syrian civil war. Palestinians in refugee camps were being killed and Israel offered to allow them into PA areas on the condition that they be taken off the UN refugee lists. Shockingly, Mahmoud Abbas refused. The PA preferred that they be killed as refugees than live as free people in the PA areas. Estimates are that as many as 4,000 camp residents were killed during the fighting.
As a supreme international priority, something must be done to save the 5.7 million victims of UNRWA, and there is a solution. The UNRWA infrastructure must be closed and the administration of all their camps must be transferred to UNHCR – free of the dictates of the PA. UNHCR will be tasked with solving the problem as opposed to UNRWA whose task has been to perpetuate the problem. UNHCR will go to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the PA areas with the mandate to take the chains off the refugees and give them freedom.
UNHCR will use its billions of dollars to train them, create jobs and give them homes in the countries where they were born and lived their entire lives, where they must be granted full citizenship. Countries that refuse to resettle their fellow Arabs must be ostracized by the international community and denied international aid until they agree. Instead of chaining an additional 100,000 new refugees every year, hundreds of thousands, and eventually millions can be resettled every year until all the political refugees are freed.
UNRWA as the PA’s “political symbol” does not fit the world’s values or serve the interests of those suffering in the prisons of UNRWA. Disbanding UNRWA and having UNHCR resettle these chained people is a human rights imperative. If the international community allows UNRWA to continue, by 2030 there will be seven million refugees, and by 2050 probably 10 million or more. Every day another 274 children are born into UNRWA’s 58 prisons. Every year another 100,000 children are denied their freedom. It is immoral to allow UNRWA to exist even one extra day.
The writer is director of Palestinian Media Watch. His book ‘Deception,’ co-authored with Nan Jacques Zilberdik, was acclaimed by Robert Bernstein, the founder of Human Rights Watch, as “one of the most important books you handle in your lives.” He was recognized as being among the world’s “top 100 people positively influencing Jewish life or the State of Israel,” by ‘The Algemeiner.’