In the context of announced budget cuts, the US administration recently announced that it will drastically reduce its financial support of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees). US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley wanted the outright cancellation of the $364 million allocated each year to the UN agency, as long as it did not implement reforms and transparency, but US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was for the time being content to halve the first tranche of aid, originally set at $125 million.
At the heart of this case is the desire of President Donald Trump to stop financing any agency or international organization that does not reflect American interests. There is also, however, a 180-degree turn on the US position in the Arab-Israeli conflict by the new administration. It seems determined not to make the same mistakes — and fall into the same traps — as previous administrations.
First, what is UNRWA?
Established in December 1949 with a one-year mandate, UNRWA aimed at its birth to help resettle the 600,000 Palestinian Arabs who had fled the conflict zone during the rebirth of the state of Israel, after five Arab armies had attacked it — and lost.
The causes of this exile were threefold, according to several polls undertaken in refugee camps and summarized in an article by Tibor Mende, published in French newspaper Le Monde on April 21, 1951:
“Some did not want to live in a Jewish state, others fled the battle and, once that was over, could not return home. Many more left because they were told that it was for a few days, a few weeks at most, and that they would return with the triumphant Arab armies. ”
Surprisingly (or not), no parallel office was created to help the 870,000 Jews expelled and despoiled by the majority of Arab-Muslim countries between 1948 and 1974 — including those militarily forced out of Judea and Samaria by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which hastened to rename this region the “West Bank” after illegally annexing it in 1948.
It is true that most of the Jews expelled from Arab countries were welcomed by Israel and in the Western world, whereas, with the exception of Jordan, no Arab country bordering the Jewish state made the slightest gesture to help its own victims in a conflict the Arabs had begun. They apparently preferred, instead, to let their co-religionists languish in the worst conditions, presumably in an effort to place the blame for their suffering on Israel.
In 1950, when Canada’s General Howard Kennedy and Sir Henry Knight, the first UNRWA leaders, realized that their work was rendered impossible by the politicization of the humanitarian crisis with which they were charged, and that their mandate could not be fulfilled in such a short time, an English Labour MP, Richard Crossrian, was called to explain their failure in the House of Commons. His answer, as reported by Mende in Le Monde, was eloquent:
“As long as we rely on the United Nations to do something serious for the settlement of refugees, we will only deceive ourselves because the United Nations is a political organization. There is the Arab League, and all the politics of the Arab League. The Arab League needs the refugee problem to maintain cohesion against Israel. The refugee settlement would deprive her of her most important complaint … ”
This statement is arguably the best explanation for the fact that UNRWA, created for one year, as noted, is still in operation 70 years later.
In seven decades, the small humanitarian agency has become a monster. UNRWA now has responsibility for more than five million souls, of which only some 20,000 should be considered refugees according to the definition of the UN, which applies to millions of exiles around the world… with the intriguing exception of Palestinians.
“A refugee–within the meaning of the Convention of July 28, 1951–is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries…”
Therefore, according to the UN’s own definition, the status of “refugee” cannot be passed from generation to generation — as it conveniently has been for the Palestinians. A Palestinian with a European, American or Jordanian passport has no reason to be considered a refugee. Except by UNRWA.
Compare some figures:
All refugees worldwide (with the exception of Palestinians) are supported by the United Nations High Council for Refugees (UNHCR). A staff of 10,966 executives and employees is trying to help 65.6 million victims, from Congo to Myanmar.
UNRWA employs 30,627 executives and 21,571 educators to care for the descendants of Palestinian refugees, whose number, even with the claims of supposedly inherited refugee status, remains ten times lower than all other persons displaced.
In other words, even if one accepts the inapplicable definition of the term “refugee” — attributed not only to the exiles of 1948 but also to their descendants — each beneficiary receives assistance in human assistance and money approximately 50 times higher than that of an African or Asian victim of persecution.
UNRWA’s annual budget is close to $ 1 billion, of which more than a third, as noted, is funded by the US. Wait, there is more: Unlike other UN humanitarian agencies, the one in charge of the descendants of Palestinian refugees, has a pension fund — and pensions on the stock market in various countries amount to more than a billion and a half dollars. These figures are astronomical, and only underscore several aberrations of UNRWA.
First, according to UNRWA:
“a refugee from Palestine is a person whose usual place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948 and who lost both his home and his means of livelihood because of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. ”
Clearly, any immigrant worker or visitor, regardless of his or her origin, could thereby enter the UNRWA statistics, if he could justify having spent just those two years inside what then became Israel.
Yasser Arafat’s biographer, Said Aburish, a refugee from the northern region of Israel, and also a former adviser to the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, disclosed other aberrations when interviewed by the author:
“Since the UN took them over, the Palestinians started burying their dead at night, without declaring them, in order to share their rations. As a result, for nearly 20 years, the official death rate in the camps was close to zero. In addition, there was a lot of movement between the camps. But these displacements were rarely recorded, so that a Palestinian could appear in several camps at the same time, multiplying the financial support to which he was entitled.” (Interview by the author, in 2006, featured in the documentary “From the River to the Sea.”)
By: Pierre Rehov
(To Be Continued Next Week)
Pierre Rehov, born and raised in North Africa, is a reporter, author and the director of “Hostages of Hatred” and “Silent Exodus”, documentary films about Palestinian and Jewish refugees.