Since its establishment, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency [UNRWA] has received billions in international aid, including more than $4 billion dollars of US taxpayers’ money. While UNRWA’s mission is to “relieve” and “support” the Palestinians, it has been doing exactly the opposite. It has been keeping Palestinians in pens as refugees and obstructing them from integration and from normalizing their lives, all while UNRWA seems to be funnelling international aid money to whitewashing and supporting the terrorist organization Hamas; promoting the illegal Turkish flotilla which included members of Turkey’s terrorist group the IHH, and which tried to subvert Israel’s protection of its borders; and misrepresenting and politicizing the situation in Gaza. One has to wonder if UNRWA is not actually an obstacle to peace in the Middle East Although UNRWA was established in 1948 as a temporary institution, more than six decades on it still exists, larger than ever, growing exponentially, and with an annual budget exceeding half a billion dollars US, paid by the international community. Such a huge budget not only covers a large and growing number of people on the payroll – UNRWA is now the UN’s largest entity with over 30,000 employees – it is a boondoggle of a jobs program; it almost cannot let the Palestinian refugee problem be solved. If it did, 30,000 people would be out of work. If that problem makes UNRWA “too big to fail,” this experiment is nothing but torture by other means, conducted on innocent human lives, forcing literally millions of people to live in squalor in perpetuity. By comparison, maintaining a handful of prisoners caught in active anti-American combat at Guantanamo Bay should seem like a week at a country club. UNRWA, on the contrary, has been focused on keeping the Palestinians and their great-grandchildren stuck in the refugee trap. UNRWA is not there to settle the refugees, it is there not to settle the refugees.
How good, then, is UNRWA at “relieving” the Palestinian refugees?
A prominent Australian Member of Parliament, Michael Danby, protested Australia’s funding of the UNRWA in 2007, describing it as “a notoriously corrupt” institution, and claiming that UNRWA was channelling the funds for “arms purchase, terrorist operations, and anti-Israel incitement as well as into the pockets of the PA leadership.” On the corruption claim, Danby is not alone. Palestinians agree: in March 2011, the Palestinian Human Rights Foundation condemned the UNRWA for what it called “disregard for the lives of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.” This charge surfaced after a Palestinian boy died “at the door of a hospital” after being denied admission afterUNRWA’s refusal to pay for his medication.
A few months later, in June, 2011, Palestinian refugees in Southern Lebanon burned the UN flag in front of UNRWA’s headquarters to protest what they described as “UNRWA’s corrupt practices.” They waved banners reading: “No to UNRWA’s corrupt policy”, and “People want medical care and medication”. Munir Maqdah, the Fatah military commander in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp, told the Lebanese newspaper, the Daily Star, that UNRWA had brought 43 “foreign” staff to Lebanon “with a mission that does not serve the Palestinian people.”
While the Palestinians say they think UNRWA is corrupt, UNRWA issues “transparency” testimonials to Hamas. In May 2008, the Iranian English TV Satellite network, Press TV, reported UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, Karen Abu-Zayd, as saying that “institutions affiliated with Hamas were corruption-free” and that “Gazans are gripped with a daily battle to survive” as “the siege of Gaza has deprived its people of fuel, crippling all aspects of their lives.” Unsparingly, Abu-Zayed did not mention that Hamas was carrying out daily rocket attacks against Israeli cities as well as its own bloody takeover of the Gaza strip, in which members of both Fatah and Hamas threw each other out of the fifteenth and eighteenth floors of buildings.
In 2011, Ayman Taha, a senior Hamas official, was suspended over allegations of corruption and embezzling money. That’s one person who was apprehended, but how many others are still free, and how come UNRWA never made any statements about this?
Over six decades, the US contributed more than USD $4 billion to the UNRWA. Nonetheless, in May 2009, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report that included UNRWA’s admission that it does not screen potential staff or aid recipients for ties to Hamas, Hezbollah, or the Islamic Jihad. According to the report, the UN does not list Hamas as a terrorist organization — the UN only lists the Taliban and al Qaeda as terrorist groups. This is the very same UN that designated “Zionism Equals Racism” through UN General Assembly Resolution number 3379, adopted in 1975 and revoked after 16 years, only thanks to the efforts of future US Ambassador John Bolton.
In addition to UNRWA’s appeasement of Hamas and its failure to carry out its mission in good faith, UNRWA has been at the forefront of sustaining the Palestinians’ despicable status as refugees — and not merely the refugees who left Israel during the war of 1947, in which five Arab countries, after rejecting the UN’s Partition Plan to divide the land between the Arabs and the Jews, started a war against Israel in which they were humiliatingly defeated. The Palestinians are made up of those people who chose to leave Israel as it was under attack, but were then surprised when, after the war, Israel declined to let them back in on the grounds that they had not stayed to help – unlike the Israeli Arabs, who chose not to leave during the war and who now make up a fifth of Israel’s population.
By now, most of the original refugees have passed on, leaving UNRWA in the position of maintaining their children, their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren — and, one can assume, at some point their great-great-great-grandchildren…. The UN, in fact, currently counts as “refugees” entire generations furious that they are being punished for a war their ancestors started but lost, and who are now asking the international community to reward them diplomatically with what they were not able to seize militarily.
As an Israeli Member of Knesset, Einat Wilf, puts it: “No other refugees in the world are afforded refugee status for generations.” Even the charter by which UNRWA was created maintains that it was supposed to be only a temporary institution.
UNRWA’s insistence on maintaining the Palestinian refugees in abysmal, overcrowded slums is harming the Palestinians – they are not only blocked from integrating, but they are being used to provide Arab countries with a legal justification for denying the Palestinians citizenship and the right to work and of citizenship. A US Embassy-Amman cable made public by Wikileaks confirmed that only 35% of the Palestinians in Jordan are registered [with UNRWA] as refugees – a figure that seems to indicate that the Palestinians in Jordan are not keen on being labeled refugees. Nevertheless, according to the UN’s own Minority Rights Group International’s World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples of 2008, Jordan still considers Palestinian-Jordanians as “refugees with a right of return to Palestine.”
Thanks to UNRWA, the Jordanian government not only discriminates against Palestinians – who make up the majority of Jordan’s population at 70%, and who make up the great concentration of Palestinians in the world – but states that these Palestinians are just “refugees”; ignoring the fact that they are full Jordanian citizens who pay taxes to the Jordanian government and should therefore be Jordan’s responsibility.
The Jordanian government, however, seems determined to expand UNRWA’s role. Thus UNRWA, whether willingly or unwillingly, is contributing to the isolation and disenfranchisement of the Palestinians.
A Palestinian in Bakaa refugee camp in Jordan, Muhammad (AKA Hanthlah) Abu Hamadeh explained how a Palestinian relative of his who passed away recently was denied a burial place by both the Jordanian government and the UNRWA administration of the camp, despite the fact that the deceased was a Jordanian citizen and a registered refugee. “Do we have to ask the UNRWA for permission before we die?” Abu Hamadeh asked.
In 2009, UNRWA’s former legal advisor and general counsel, James G. Lindsay, published a study entitled, “Fixing UNRWA: Repairing the UN’s Troubled System of Aid to Palestinian Refugees,” in which he argues that UNRWA has changed its function from refugee-status-based to need-based – a situation in which the Palestinians become dependents, and in which UNRWA continues to operate in parallel not with them, but with the host governments, such as the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Lebanon, and evidently Hamas. The real question is, With what is UNRWA’s leadership more concerned, the Palestinians’ welfare or appeasing governments or maintaining another UN jobs programs? If UNRWA is “too big to fail,” it is an ugly experiment in social engineering, conducted on innocent human lives, and a violation of human rights.
The US and the world should reconsider the premise of UNRWA, as well as funding of UNRWA, until it not only stops obstructing the livelihoods of Palestinians, and refrains from channelling international aid money to terrorist groups, but also takes immediate steps to normalize the status of Palestinian refugees so that their status conforms more closely to that of other refugees. Otherwise, UNRWA will continue to harm the Palestinians, while threatening the security of the world by tolerating and incubating terrorists.
It is about time UNRWA stopped funneling US tax dollars to its own self-sustaining projects. It is also about time that UNRWA-tailored Palestinian suffering, as well as UNRWA itself, are both denounced and shut down by the international community.
Originally published by Stonegate Institute www.stonegateinstitute.org
About the Author: Mudar Zahran is the Secretrary General of the Jordanian Coalition of Opposition, a known Jordanian- Palestinian politician and writer, who now resides in the UK as a political refugee. His writings regularly appear in Arab, Israeli, and American publications.
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