On November 29, 1947, following decades of violence, the United Nations voted in favor of partitioning the British Mandate for Palestine into one Jewish and one Arab state. The Jews celebrated the vote, with singing and dancing and champagne flowing in the streets. The day after the vote, the Arabs ambushed two Jewish buses and massacred 7 Jews, marking the start of the Palestine Civil War.

By May 13, 1948, one day prior to Israel’s Declaration of Independence in accordance with the termination of the British Mandate, some 300,000 Palestinian Arabs had left their homes in light of the civil war. The majority of these refugees belonged to the middle and upper classes, as they had the means to leave. No Zionist expulsions of Arabs are recorded prior to this date.

By the end of the 1948, 750,000 Palestinians had left or been expelled from their homes. At the same time, some 850,000 Jews were expelled from the Arab world as retribution for the war in Palestine. They were stripped of their citizenship, arrested on trumped up charges, their communities were violently attacked, and their assets were seized. Between 1948-1951, Israel was forced to absorb over a million Jewish refugees, including refugees from the Arab world and Holocaust survivors. This fast absorption of refugees put the nascent country on the verge of economic collapse. About one sixth of the Israeli population lived in refugee camps by the early 1950s, and rations were implemented across the nation. 

On December 11, 1948, the United Nations passed Resolution 194, stating: “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.” To reiterate: “and live at peace with their neighbors” was established as a precondition for the repatriation of the Arab refugees. To this day, there is no peace between Israelis and Palestinians. 

In the immediate aftermath of the war, Israel offered to repatriate 100,000 Palestinian refugees under the condition that the Arab League recognize Israel. The Arab League refused the offer. 

By the late 1950s, Israel dismantled its Jewish refugee camps, largely thanks to the West Germany-Israel reparations agreement. Palestinians, on the other hand, have been denied citizenship in almost all Arab countries. Their status is passed down from generation to generation, and today, seven decades later, there are some 5.9 million Palestinian refugees. Only about 20,000 still living today were actually alive and displaced in 1948. 



Neither the United Nations nor any other nation made any sort of effort to assist with the resettlement of the 850,000 Jews expelled from the Arab world. On the other hand, the United Nations established the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees, or UNRPR, to assist the Palestinian refugees. In 1949, the United Nations established the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, to help with the Palestinian refugee issue. The establishment of UNRWA was supported by both Israel and the Arab states.

UNRWA was supposed to provide temporary solution. Instead, it became a permanent agency. 

UNRWA is the only UN agency dedicated to a specific group of refugees. All other refugees in the world fall under the mandate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR.

UNRWA, which is responsible for some 5.9 million Palestinian refugees, has over 30,000 employees. UNHCR, which is responsible for the rest of the world’s 21.2 million refugees, has less than 19,000 employees. 

In my view, UNRWA provides no legitimate or satisfactory explanation as to why Palestinian refugees do not fall under UNHCR, like all other refugees in the world. Instead they state: “This is not a decision on the part of either UNRWA or UNHCR, but rather the result of decisions of the international community enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention and the UNHCR Statute…Neither UNRWA nor UNHCR can unilaterally change these instruments.”

It’s worth noting that the majority of refugees living in UNRWA refugee camps live within Palestinian territory, under Palestinian governance. The largest UNRWA population is located in the Gaza Strip. The Gaza Strip has not been under Israeli occupation since 2005. In other words, there’s no reason why these refugees should still be held in refugee camps. 



UNRWA defines Palestinian refugees those whose “normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”

The descendants of fathers who meet the above definition can also register as Palestinian refugees, including adopted children, even if they are born after their fathers have already been resettled. 

This means that, for example, Bella and Gigi Hadid can register as Palestinian refugees. 



UNHCR defines refugees as those who “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Children born to refugees are considered refugees per UNHCR so long as their parents remain stateless. Children born to parents who have been resettled or repatriated are not refugees. 



Per the UNRWA website, “UNRWA does not have a mandate to resettle Palestine refugees and has no authority to seek lasting durable solutions for refugees.”

Read that again: UNRWA has no authority to seek lasting solutions for Palestinian refugees. Why does a United Nations refugee agency not help refugees with solutions, whether the solution ends up being repatriation or resettlement? Isn’t the point of a refugee agency to…help refugees?

From a humanitarian standpoint, this should outrage people, yet it seems that much — if not most — of “pro-Palestine” activism is predicated on the opposition of Israel rather than sincere humanitarian concern for Palestinians. 



By contrast, UNHCR states of its responsibilities: “Seeking long-term solutions for refugees is central to our mandate. Once it is safe to do so, we help families and individuals return to their homeland. For those who cannot return because of continued conflict, war or persecution, UNHCR helps them to settle and make a positive contribution in a third country or integrate into a host country.”



The majority of refugees under UNRWA are living in refugee camps in the Gaza Strip (1.5 million) and the West Bank (one million), in areas under Palestinian rule. Israel withdrew both civilians and military from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and the refugee camps in the West Bank are in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. In other words, Palestinian refugees are living in refugee camps in Palestine, for the past seven decades. It makes no sense. 



According to a joint 100 page United Nations Watch and Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) report, UNRWA textbooks “contain material that encourages jihad, violence and martyrdom, promotes antisemitism, and promotes hate, intolerance, and lack of neutrality.”

Some of its educational literature, for example, depicts Jews as “inherently treacherous, and hostile to Islam and Muslims.” A grammar exercise implies Jews are impure, defiling Al Aqsa Mosque (in reality, Jews are not even permitted to enter Al Aqsa Mosque). A poem describes murdering Israelis as a “hobby.” 

In 2020, the European Parliament condemned the Palestinian Authority for continuing to incite violence and hatred in its educational material. UNRWA claimed to have removed the problematic material from its textbooks, but a 2022 report found that it had merely been removed from its English language online portal. 

In 2009, a dispute erupted between Hamas and UNRWA because Hamas claimed UNRWA schools were teaching about the Holocaust, which they stated was “a lie the Zionists made up.” Instead of condemning Hamas, UNRWA appeased it instead, stating that their curriculums do not include the Holocaust. 

UNRWA educators frequently post antisemitic conspiracies and even admiration for Hitler on their social media platforms. 



UNRWA is infamous for its corruption. The agency received about 16.5 billion in aid from 1994-2017 plus another 8.5 billion in aid from Arab states between 1994-2020. UNRWA workers, usually associated with Hamas, have been caught diverting aid intended for Palestinian refugees various times, both by Israel and by the United Nations itself. For example: in February of 2009, the United Nations stopped funneling aid into Gaza after it discovered that Hamas had stolen aid twice in the same week, comprising of thousands of tons of food and other provisions. 

In 2022, Israel accused a Gaza aid worker of diverting about 50 million dollars worth of UNRWA donations to Hamas. A court upheld the ruling, though various human rights organizations accused Israel of a “miscarriage of justice.”

According to a 2009 Washington Institute for Near East Policy report, UNRWA workers fear a permanent peace agreement and the dissolution of UNRWA, as UNRWA pays its employees, unlike the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which are known to withhold wages from their workers. In other words, UNRWA has a major economic incentive to maintain the Palestinian refugee crisis, rather than alleviate it. In 2008, UNRWA itself claimed that it is “dedicated to blocking resettlement,” as reported by Global Research in International Affairs. In the early 1980s, when Israel attempted to resettle refugee in Gaza into permanent housing within the Strip, some UNRWA employees allegedly told refugees to resist because permanent resettlement (even within Gaza itself) would mean that they would lose their “right of return.”

UNRWA itself claims that it is mandated to be apolitical, but in reality, it seems to violate this mandate at every turn. First, its school textbooks openly promote political violence. Second, UNRWA facilities, including schools, have repeatedly been caught storing weapons. For example, UNRWA admitted weapons had been stored at their facilities in July of 2014. Hamas tunnels have repeatedly been found under UNRWA schools. In January of 2021, for instance, UNRWA claimed that it had “discovered a cavity and a possible tunnel 7.5 meters beneath a school.” A similar discovery was made that December. Hamas has even fired missiles from UNRWA schools, which is a double war crime. UNRWA has admitted as such at various points, such as in April of 2015. 

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