(Continued from last week)
When it comes to UNRWA, however, the terms used to describe their mission quickly lose their meaning. The suburbs of Jenin and Ramallah, for instance, composed of small plush houses, bordering some overcrowded residences, continue to be called “refugee camps,” while tents and stoves have long been replaced by solid constructions, all with sewage and electricity.
To quote a former minister and history professor, Shlomo Ben Ami, in an interview with the author, in May 2006: “Administrations, to survive, tend to perpetuate the problem they are supposed to solve”.
UNRWA has mushroomed — largely on account of at least five generations of “inherited refugee status” — without apparently having even tried to solve a single refugee problem in seven decades.
In the 1960s, the Israeli government developed a humanitarian project for the self-rehabilitation of Gaza refugees. The idea was simple: it was to build modern residential neighborhoods in the unexploited areas of the formerly-Egyptian Gaza Strip. The 160,000 Palestinians living in camps there would obtain free loans, allowing them quick access to the property, while many would participate in the construction of units, infrastructure, schools and hospitals, in exchange for a salary that would allow them to repay the loan.
The reaction was not long in coming. PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat immediately appealed to the Arab League, which immediately put pressure on the United Nations, causing the organization to immediately to condemn Israel for this initiative, and .and concluded its resolution with the following injunction: “Return the refugees to the camps!” The project was aborted after only 7,500 Palestinians were able to enjoy it.
This “incident” was reported by Tibor Mende in Le Monde. Mende discovered, on the ground, that any initiative aimed at integrating or rehabilitating Palestinian refugees from Lebanon — where, today, they still have no rights, no access to the labor market, nor to the most basic care — was prohibited, and concluded:
“These examples support the generally held view that the United Nations would spend large sums of money to create a refugee problem rather than solve it.”
Proponents of UNRWA, however, such as UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric, are right to say that, in a certain way “UNRWA is a stabilizing presence on the ground”. If tomorrow the more than 50,000 UNRWA employees, 95% of whom are Palestinians, were left without work; and rations, aids, and access to education for dependents were removed, the already explosive situation in the “camps” could become equally unfortunate.
Another more serious problem remains: UNRWA is not just a humanitarian agency. Its political stance is evident at all levels of the organization. A report from the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, says that the 2016-2017 curriculum for elementary schools in PA, partly funded by UNRWA, “teaches students to be martyrs, to demonize and deny the existence of Israel, and to focus on a ‘return’ to an exclusively Palestinian country.”
On February 12, 2017, the non-governmental organization “UN Watch” sent a letter to UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres, denouncing the actions of about 40 UNRWA officials. The officials’ Facebook pages, the report shows, make apologies for Nazism, venerate Hitler, call for the extermination of Jews, celebrate the murder and kidnapping of Israelis, publish Hamas propaganda to the glory of “martyrs” and, more generally, deny the right to Israel’s existence, whatever its boundaries. With his back put to the wall by these overwhelming revelations, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness hastened to call for an investigation — against UN Watch!
Even the most moderate among UNRWA loyalists continue to promote the myth of a “right of return” — a wish that can never be realized because it means flooding the tiny country of Israel (roughly the size of Vancouver Island) with millions of “Palestinian refugees” in order demographically to outnumber the Jews there and thus create the end of Israeli democracy — and preventing any attempt at “integration”.
During the wars between Israel and the terrorist organizations that rule Gaza, rockets were commonly fired from UNRWA schools or from near its hospitals.
Access to several terror tunnels was dug under UNRWA’s infrastructure; ammunition was found in its college. Of course, when questioned on these points, UNRWA officials hastened to condemn the intolerable use of their neutrality for the purposes of war! But that did not stop UNRWA from returning the rockets and other mortars found in its infrastructure to Hamas.
Several video reports by the Center for Near East Policy to students at UNRWA schools are even more disturbing. No child, questioned on this point, recognizes the right to the existence of Israel. All girls and boys dream of one day becoming martyrs to the Palestinian cause, and some unashamedly say that their greatest wish is to kill Jews. When asked about the source of their motivation, most said that their teachers taught them that their country was “stolen by the Jews.
So, how to deal with such a situation?
The first logical solution would be to merge UNRWA with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), thus ending the “Palestinian exception,” while distributing UN budgets more equitably among the true refugees suffering extreme misery.
Unfortunately, UNRWA is dependent on the UN General Assembly, where the anti-Israeli automatic majority, led by the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, has so far been preventing any change in its current status.
The gradual withdrawal of funds allocated by the US seems a positive measure, provided that the resulting shortage leads UNRWA to reform its structure and mode of operation. The danger is that rogue countries will probably try to take over.
The next step would be for the UN to be transparent; to have outside monitors from the US make sure that no member of any terrorist organization is a part of its staff; to trade its highly questionable school curriculum for an education toward peace; to denounce the paramilitary training that sometimes takes place in the courtyards of its schools and, as a token of good faith, to begin by canceling the world tour of its “young ambassador”, Muhammad Assaf, who, during his talks, only encourages violence.
It is hard not to include a quote from UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness: “UNRWA will continue to work tirelessly to ensure the full implementation of our mandate, as defined by the General Assembly. ”
In other words, in 30 years, if nothing is done, UNRWA, instead of managing the fate of supposedly between 5–6.5 million Palestinians as it does now, will be managing the fate of 40 million.
By: Pierre Rehov
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.