By Palak Gupta
Do UN Palestine aid agency donors realize they’re funding terrorism?
A total of 23 countries announced more than $110 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) on June 25, with the biggest contributions coming from the EU, Germany and Britain.
The announcement of contribution had come at Pledging Conference at Trusteeship Council Chamber at UN HQ in New York on June 25.
The delegations and the amount pledged is listed below
European Union (€21 million);
Turkey ($10 million);
India ($5 million);
Sweden ($5 million);
France (€20 million);
Germany (€29 million);
New Zealand ($1 million);
Belgium (€11.6 million total for 2019);
Ireland ($22 million);
Norway ($2 million in addition to $26.4 million already paid);
Indonesia ($200,000 in addition to the $1 million already paid);
United Kingdom ($24 million for a total of $83 million for 20192020);
Switzerland ($1 million to the $21 million already paid in 2019);
The Holy See ($40,000).
The critics of the UNRWA allege that a large chunk of agency’s staff (particularly in Gaza) is affiliated to the Gaza-ruling Hamas and that the 70-year-old UN aid agency, functions on the idea of refugee — whose definition is unique to Palestine and thereby is subjective in nature.
The refugee population of Palestine has only grown from 7,11,000 in 1948 to over 6 million in 2018, points out Kay Wilson, a British-born Israeli who survived the brutal machete attack which took place in 2010. The continuous growth of the Palestinian refugee population has in turn, only ratcheted up the need for an increase in funding.
On being questioned about the irregularities in mobilization of the received foreign funds, Wilson says, “We need to differentiate between two kinds of aid to the Palestinians — the direct aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the aid meant for the UNRWA”.
“The less problematic of the two, is of course the aid to UNRWA. While there are many different issues with UNRWA, it is nonetheless a UN organization that has operated for almost 70 years.”
The Agency currently serves 5.4 million Palestinian refugees — 20 per cent of the world’s refugees.
UNRWA provides services that the Palestinian economic ministry or treasury should handle, thereby enabling the PA administration to divert its resources for support of terrorists and their families.
The scholars maintain if UNRWA would cease taking up the government’s task to provide with the fundamental needs — education, health, welfare, the PA would not be able to continue paying salaries to terrorists.
In 2017/18 the US, which had been the biggest donor to UNRWA stopped its funding.
In order to fill the budgetary short fall created by the loss of the US funding, UNRWA turned to many countries, and many of them, including the UK, decided to increase their contributions.
The US funding policy to PA starkly opposes to that of its closest ally, the UK.
The US stopped most of its aid to the PA alleging it to be “irredeemably flawed” and “has been in crisis mode for many years,” the then US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said.
The decision also came in wake of the passage of the Taylor Force Act (TFA), which was passed after Taylor Force, an American who graduated from West Point and served in Iraq and Afghanistan was stabbed to death by a Palestinian militant while walking along the beach in Tel Aviv.
The TFA dictates that the US will not give the PA any direct aid until it abolishes its policy, practice and law that provide for the paying of salaries to terrorists and allowances to the families of dead terrorists
The US contribution as of 2019 to UNRWA is zero.
UNRWA has faced a financial crisis since the US, historically the agency’s largest single donor, cut its contributions from $360m to $60m in 2018 and then down again to zero for 2019.
Minister for the Middle East Dr. Andrew Murrison announced an additional £19 million to UNRWA from the UK’s Department for International Development and took the UK support to UNRWA for 2019/20 to £65.5 million
In addition to its aid to UNRWA and specific projects, in 2017 the UK adopted a five-year program of direct funding to the PA worth over 1,25 million pounds.
UK govt maintains that UK support to UNRWA, that is Palestine refugee agency, is helping to achieve Global Goals 1 and 2 by helping to end extreme poverty and hunger by providing food, vouchers and cash to Palestinian refugees and Global Goals 3 and 4 by providing education and health care services.
When UK’s Department for International Development was reached out, its spokesperson said, “No UK aid is used for payments to Palestinian prisoners or their families.”
“The UK’s support for the Palestinian Authority helps to pay the salaries of pre-approved public servants, including teachers, doctors and nurses. Public servants are only eligible for this funding after they have been vetted by the UK. We have robust safeguards in place to make sure our support is not diverted.”
There is a difference between what the UK says the money is used for and what the PA says the money is used for. The UK is ignoring the concept of “fungible money”.
“By paying the salaries of the PA’s public servants — instead of the PA — the UK is directly enabling the PA to divert its own funds to the payment of the salaries to the terrorists. I therefore called for an inquiry, and to my knowledge that has never happened,” visibly anguished Wilson said.
The UK had frozen its donations to the PA briefly.
It calls for special mention that the notable graduates of the UNRWA school system include former Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, and Abd al-Aziz Rantisi, the former Hamas chief who attended UNRWA secondary school in Khan Younis and graduated top of his class, per a report.
Another instance is that of Suheil al-Hindi, a UNRWA teachers’ representative who publicly applauded suicide bombings at a school in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza in 2003. It is alleged that the members of the UNRWA are permitted to openly affiliate with terror outfits like Hamas, Fatah and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
It is a widely known fact that the UNRWA school premises have been used to militarily train children on how to develop Molotov cocktails and roadside bombs. On June 9, 2017, UN spokesman Chris Gunness reported that UNRWA had exposed a section of tunnel under two of its schools in the al-Maghazi refugee camp.
A stockpile of Hamas rockets has also been known to found in one of UNRWA’s Gaza schools — for the third time since the onset of Operation Protective Edge.
The discovery of the rockets was made during a regular inspection.
PA, itself, admitted to spending no less than 502 million sheckels to pay salaries to terrorists in 2018. The tax revenues, collected by the Jewish state on PA’s behalf, account for almost 50 per cent of the PA budget.
Israel and the PA have been in a standoff over the approximate NIS 600 million in customs payments per month. The PA has refused to accept further transfers from Israel unless, the government agrees to transfer 100 per cent of the payments.
“Due to denial in accepting the tax collected, the PA’s budget is massively crippling, yet the terrorists and prisoners keep getting paid. Where do you think the funds and aid come from?” an anonymous source questioned.
Palak Gupta is an Indian journalist.