Canada has a unique opportunity to take the lead in pushing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) to exclude Palestinian terrorists from its payroll and to adopt the same criteria on refugees that the UN uses elsewhere, an Israeli researcher said last week.

David Bedein told a small workshop at the Shaarei Shomayim Congregation that Canada has leverage as chair of the Refugee Working Group, an independent multilateral assembly that supplements bilateral discussions on Palestinian refugees. Canada can push for the application of the principles used by the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to the Palestinian situation, he said.

Since its creation in December 1949, UNRWA has had jurisdiction over Palestinian refugees, while UNHCR has a mandate to address the humanitarian needs of all other refugees around the world. UNRWA has departed from the principles of resettlement and normalization that UNHCR applies universally in all other refugee situations, said Bedein, founder of the Israel Resource News Agency.

Instead of “resettl[ing] refugees with dignity,” UNRWA predicates its operations on a “right of return” for Palestinians to homes they once possessed in what is today Israel. Bedein argued that “right of return” does not exist as a principle in international law and that by advocating it for Palestinians, UNRWA has kept them in “a situation of limbo” since 1949.

As a result, UNRWA is guilty of “the ultimate crime of manipulating people’s human dignity,” he stated.

Bedein said UNRWA’s staff includes many members of Hamas, the radical Islamic terrorist organization that recently formed the Palestinian Authority government. Canada, which has announced it will not fund the Hamas government, co-ordinates the 38 donor countries who provide funds for the UNRWA payroll, gives UNRWA $11 million and makes sure it remains solvent, Bedein stated.

In addition to UNWRA’s employing numerous Hamas operatives, schools it administers in refugee camps use textbooks that fuel the conflict with Israel. They ignore the historic Jewish connection to the land and maps in the textbooks don’t include Israel at all, he said.

Bedein said the concept of the right of return has been integrated into the “UNRWA curriculum” and is part of the pervasive atmosphere in the camps. UNRWA camps have celebrated Martyrs’ Day, which honours suicide killers.

Bedein said donors providing funds to UNRWA should demand accountability of how those funds are used in UN schools.

Bedein’s address was sponsored by the Media Action Group and the Canadian Coalition for Democracies.

This appeared in the April 12th, 2006 edition of the Canadian Jewish News