WHAT IS UNRWA?
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. Until the October 7 massacre, the Gaza Strip had not been under Israeli occupation since 2005. While now millions in Gaza are internally displaced, prior to this current war, there was absolutely no reason why Gazans in Gaza should have been held in refugee camps. There is still no reason why Palestinians in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of the West Bank should be held in refugee camps.
UNRWA DEFINITION OF REFUGEE
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, worth $25 million and $30 million, respectively, can register as Palestinian refugees.
UNHCR DEFINITION OF REFUGEE
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.”
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.
At least 12 UNRWA employees slaughtered Israeli civilians on October 7. Again: United Nations employees slaughtered civilians on October 7.
Six UNRWA workers breached the wall from Gaza into Israel on October 7. A school counselor and his son abducted a woman from Israel. Another UNRWA employee participated in the Kibbutz Be’eri massacre. A third worker participated in the Nova Music Festival massacre. Another worker also kidnapped an Israeli into Gaza. Others were involved in the logistics for the massacre and even collected weapons.
Of the 12 UNRWA workers who participated in the attacks, seven were school teachers.
According to a Wall Street Journal investigation, 1200 out of the 12,000 UNRWA employees in Gaza are members of Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Of UNRWA’s male employees, nearly a quarter — 23 percent — are members of Hamas. It’s a percentage that is significantly higher than the average 15 percent of adult males in Gaza who are members of the terrorist organization.
Two Israeli hostages were held in the homes of UNRWA workers. A released Israeli hostage testified that they had been held locked away in the attic of an UNRWA teacher for over 50 days. They were not provided any medical attention and were barely provided any food.
Instead of immediately investigating the allegation, the United Nations claimed the accusation was “unsubstantiated.”
A Telegram group of 3000 UNRWA teachers celebrated the October 7 massacre, including comments calling for the execution of the Israeli hostages “on live broadcast.”
For a more in-depth look into UNRWA’s history of corruption, please see my last UNRWA post.
There is a plethora of video footage of Hamas diverting UNRWA aid, including videos of Hamas running off with aid trucks. In an Al Jazeera interview, an elderly woman said that “Hamas takes everything to their homes…All the aid goes underground.” Al Jazeera quickly turned its camera away (a reminder: Al Jazeera is Qatari-state owned and acts as a propaganda arm of Hamas). Israel estimates that Hamas is diverting 60-80 percent of aid going into Gaza.
On December 24, Hamas shot and killed a 12-year-old boy who tried to approach an aid truck.
On October 16, UNRWA posted a Twitter thread alleging that men associated with the Hamas Ministry of Health had stolen medical equipment and fuel from them. The thread was quickly deleted.