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.
About the Author: Mudar Zahran is a Palestinian writer and academic from Jordan, who now resides in the UK as a political refugee.
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