In 2012 the Senate jn 112-172 directed the State Department to issue a report detailing the approximate number of Palestinian people in 2011 who received services from United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA): (1) detailing those who actually lived in the region and were displaced during the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1948; and, (2) the number of descendants who had received funds. They asked in 2014 and 2015 as well.

The State Department finally complied. However, they classified the information despite there being no apparent national security reasons to be classified. The members of the House viewed this as a deliberate use of “classified” to conceal information from the public.

On April 18, 2018, fifty-one members of Congress sent a letter to President Trump requesting that the “classified information” label on a Senate report concerning UNRWA was not necessary and should be made public.

The letter praised President Trump for his announcement of Jerusalem as our embassy and his reduction of payments to UNRWA. They also asked that he direct the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration to remove the classified label for transparency purposes.

What they pointed out as well was that in 1948 the UNRWA was set up to assist less than a million people but that now the Palestinians were using a figure of 5.2 million refugees to be returned to the Jerusalem area as part of a peace deal.

The House members are hoping to provide information to help resolve the conflict but felt that the figure provided by the Palestinians was unrealistic and would overwhelm the Jerusalem area if that amount of refugees were allowed to stand.

The UNRWA receives funds in a small part from the United Nations regular budget for staffing but mostly from donations supplied by different countries. Their main purpose when established under  Resolution 302 (IV) was to direct relief and works programmes for Palestine refugees in particular focusing on refugee camps set up in areas such as Jordan.

The agency, initially intended to serve as a temporary relief effort, has now morphed into a quasi-governmental entity that represents, for better or worse, the only remaining element of crucial UN resolutions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still operational today.

Information available without using State Department classified documents.

When the Agency began operations in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, some 5 million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services. The agency and its purpose is unique to any other humanitarian agency in the world because they are focused specifically on 1948 Palestinian refugees and their descendants. 

Besides its obvious education and humanitarian work, the UNRWA has documentation of the refugees themselves, due to its supposedly accurate and well-kept records of refugees from the Nakba (the 1948 Palestinian exodus) and their descendants.  It may be likely, however, that many Palestinian refugees who were not in need of humanitarian assistance nonetheless registered with UNRWA in the 1950s specifically as a “proof of identity” or that the registration documentation includes other periods of time and possible refugees who are not part of the original group.

According to the UNRWA in 2010, there were 5 million refugees signed up in the region including Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza strip, and the West Bank. However, their 2006 documentation of refugees only shows 4.4 million. So somehow half a million plus individuals suddenly were born in four years to descendants of 1948 refugees and are themselves living as refugees?

Interestingly a study done by Tiltnes and Zang for a Norwegian Research Foundation (FAFO) for 1999 showed that only 5% of Palestinians residing inside of camps were part of the first generation refugees.  Another important note in the study was that they found that the majority of those Palestinian refugees in the camps were actually citizens of Jordan with full political and civil rights of all Jordanians. A higher percentage even of those registered as living outside the camps held Jordanian citizenship. It also specifically drew attention to the fact that there were two major refugee surges noted–one from 1948 and one from 1967. According to UNRWA requirements, those from 1967 should not have been registered for assistance but apparently someone decided to do so anyway.

The study went into a great deal of detail about where the original 1948 refugees originated. To be specific, it stated that only 6% of refugees registered inside camps and 12% of refugees outside the camps originated from the Jerusalem area. Everyone else came from Hebron, Ramla, Jaffa, or Ber Sheba. All of those were outlying areas of the state of Israel. It also notes that about one-third of all the registered refugees have parents, children, or siblings who reside abroad. Though it appeared some had been returning to the camps in a bit of reverse migration at the time according to the report.

So all of this is a lot of trivia information right?  Wrong. If the UNRWA claims 5 million registered refugees or more are supported by their efforts and the Palestinians are demanding that all of those 5 million return to Israel and specifically the Jerusalem area as part of their peace negotiations then there is a big problem.

1 Funds for UNRWA are supporting far more than the original 750,000 refugees who were supposed to be receiving aid for no more than a year a two. Arabs demanded and got the extension of the original to be paid renewable every year.

2 The 1967 displaced people should not have been included in the original group unless they classed as refugees themselves, were direct descendants of the original refugees, and not recognized as full citizens of a country.  Jordan alone had registered 2 million refugees who were displaced after 1967 many if not most of whom have become Jordanian citizens in every sense of the word. The lineage from those direct descendants and including their own descendants who are citizens of different countries to which they first fled should not be considered as still under refugee status covered by UNRWA.

3 We are funding a specific humanitarian effort for a specific group of people and their progeny not just for a year or two but far into the future. This is ridiculous considering they are not the only country or people in the world undergoing serious needs and displacements. It is not a fair use of funds few countries can afford considering their own economic plights.

4 Those that are citizens of countries to which they first fled should have either never been registered or been dropped from the rolls immediately upon receiving citizenship. They should have no longer been considered refugees. Therefore the figure of 5 million is incorrect and should be reevaluated.

What has it cost the US to fund its part of UNRWA?

UNRWA has a site that lists contributed amounts by donor countries since 1948. Usual payments by the US appeared to range from $89 million in 2000 to $188 million in 2008 as listed by the Jewish Virtual Library.

The grand total of $5.2 billion give or take a few million has been paid by the US since 1950.

  • 1950-1999, $2.2 billion
  • 2000-2014, $2.6 billion
  • 2015-2016, $311 million
  • 2017, $125 million – $68 million withheld by Trump

Particularly interesting and what may have prompted the “classified” purpose may have been the following: (in millions)  2009 – $268; 2010 – $248 ; 2011 – $239; 2012 – $233; 2013 – $294; 2014 – $251; 2015 – $159; 2016 – $152.

This was during the Obama Administration when we were suffering under the 2008 crash and when he was restricting payments to our country’s defense and other agencies.  This was also during the Clinton State Dept. days and when the Clinton Foundation received “donations” from the Middle East.


Not only is it time to declassify this information but also time to discontinue the UNRWA and if necessary set up a new transparent agency to help with humanitarian needs or move UNRWA to be part of some other agency such as UNESCO. They are not unique and after 68 years those original 750,000 and any children they may have had at the time may have long passed away.  Any needing help after the original group like the ones from 1967 should have already been included in other humanitarian efforts.

It appears the Palestinians are particularly worried about the records of their families that UNRWA is said to have documented.   If the Palestinians had already established a state government years ago, those documents would have been better served in the government archives. Given that this did not happen long ago then they ought to be housed in a particularly important mosque and guarded by their own imams. Perhaps even the UN could archive them.

There is no purpose to continue funding such an agency just to keep the records. Why should every country that contributes be put at a disadvantage when their own countries are needing funds for their own displaced or disadvantaged? There are already a lot of organizations in the world designed for humanitarian and educational assistance that either are helping or could also include these if absolutely necessary. I am sure each of them would appreciate a few more contributions to their funds if focus was taken off the one UNRWA.

The facts remain this is a long outdated funneling of funds to keep people in the Middle East going. These same people are often involved in fighting within their separate groups and as part of ISIS or some other radical organization. They appear to remain in poverty despite pouring so much money into their health, education, and upkeep. Perhaps this is no different from any other welfare situation after a period of time. Dependency begets nothing more than dependency and lack of initiative.