Religious Freedom Coalition, by Andrew Harrod (Exclusive)
In the Gaza Strip “UNRWA is effectively a branch of Hamas,” the Middle East Forum’s Alexander H. Joffe and Asaf Romirowskyrecently concluded concerning the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Weapons caches in UNRWA schools and other forms of UNRWA support for Hamas, though, are no surprise given documentation of how Palestinians abetted by the UN misuse refugees to attack Israel.
Founder of the Israel Resource News Agency, David Bedein has recently authored Roadblock to Peace: How the UN Perpetuates the Arab-Israeli Conflict—UNRWA Policies Reconsidered, describing the uniquely dysfunctional treatment of Palestinian refugees throughout history. Anywhere from 540,000 to over 750,000 Arabs lost their homes in what became Israel during its 1948 independence war. For these people UNRWA originated as the “only UN organization dedicated to handling exactly one ethnic group of refugees” while theUnited Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) handles all others.
Begun as a short-term mission on May 1, 1950, UNRWA’s existence has continued with successive three-year mandate renewals, the latest being last June 30. UNRWA’s longevity derives from evolving definitions of “refugee,” never defined in UNRWA’s founding 1949 UN resolution, that count descendants through a refugee’s male line. This includes some whose ancestors were nomadic Bedouins or who simply became indigent after losing their jobs in the new state of Israel. The 1951 UN Refugee Convention’s definition, by contrast, is not inheritable, nor does it encompass individuals who obtain new citizenships, like the 2 million Palestinian “refugees” in Jordan who may attend both UNRWA and Jordanian schools.
Additionally, UNRWA’s 59 camps serve 1.1 million beneficiaries in the Gaza Strip, 688,700 in the “West Bank” territories of Judea and Samaria, including East Jerusalem, 496,000 in Syria, and 425,000 in Lebanon. These 4.7 million UNRWA clients compare with 15.4 million refugees in UNHCR’s definition and 12 million stateless individuals. Yet UNHCR counts 7,200 staff and a $3.32 billion budget compared to UNWRA’s 29,000 (99% local Palestinians) and $1.0037 billion budget.
Only an estimated one-third of 100 million 20th century refugees received any assistance, yet international aid helped encourage 962,000 people to register as refugees with UNRWA at its founding. UNHCR usually expects host countries to provide refugee services, in contrast to UNWRA’s agencies, such that non-refugee Palestinians avail themselves of services in Gaza and Jerusalem camps largely indistinguishable from the surrounding cities. Although overcrowded, UNWRA camps consist largely of stone-block buildings with modern utilities such as phone lines, sewage, water, and electricity. Some camps even have luxury dwellings, such as those in Jenin with Italian marble and Spanish tiles.
Bedein condemns, though, that UNRWA “mandates the perpetuity of refugee squalor.” Traditional refugee policy practiced by UNHCR focuses on refugee resettlement where return to lost homes is not possible or even permitted. The 1949 Geneva Conventions for the Protection of Victims of War, meanwhile, do not recognize any refugee “right of return.”