In late June, JNS.org confirmed that the U.S. has asked Israel to work with UNRWA to “rehabilitate Gaza.”
Yet the seeming absurdity of a suggestion that Israel should work with UNRWA to rehabilitate Gaza defies the facts on the ground: UNRWA in Gaza has been taken over completely by a terrorist organization – Hamas.
Moreover, 82% of the people of Gaza – 1.7 million people – now dwell in 11 “temporary” UNRWA camps in Gaza established for refugees of the 1948 war.
There is no question that the attacks which Israel endured from Gaza during the month of May were orchestrated by Hamas, an affiliate of the Islamic Brotherhood, defined by the U.S., Canada, the UK, the EU, Israel and Australia as a terrorist organization.
The Hamas connection to UNRWA is obvious and understated.
For the past 28 years, the UNRWA Teachers Association and UNRWA Workers Association have been controlled by Hamas. The European Parliament, expressing its concern over the increasing influence of Hamas, financed a study of the 2009 UNRWA union elections. In those elections, 90% of the votes for the UNRWA Teachers Association and Workers Union went to a Hamas slate of candidates, placing the UNRWA economy and UNRWA schools firmly in the hands of Hamas ever since.
Most recently, following the Gaza-Israel war, funds flowed to UNRWA and to the Gaza economy from nations around the world who wanted to address the humanitarian crisis faced by the people of Gaza, with close attention paid to the plight of children under fire and to their education.
Tragically, the one program that Hamas and UNRWA have worked on together during Spring 2021 months was a massive weapons training summer camp. In this camp, Hamas recruited 60,000 children (from age 9!) from UNRWA schools to teach them how to fire weapons and missiles in the next round of fighting. (Full disclosure: The Bedein Center for Near East Policy Center dispatched a TV crew to film the Hamas munitions summer camp for UNRWA students, to produce a film in three languages for parliaments of the three leading donors to UNRWA: Germany, the United Kingdom and Sweden.)
Why will there be a next round? The openly stated purpose of UNRWA education – whose school books are published by the Palestine Liberation Organization – remains: “the Right of Return” by force of arms to Arab villages that existed before 1948.
A UN agency does not have to behave this way. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – UNHCR – has successfully helped tens of millions of refugees worldwide rehabilitate their lives. UNRWA could be converted into a similarly normative United Nations agency if it focused on building better lives for the people of Gaza.
Because UNRWA in Gaza has been co-opted by terrorist organizations, Palestinians under UNRWA’s care are relegated to a refugee life for perpetuity, raising a fourth generation in frustration that they cannot return to villages that existed before 1948.
Thanks to the rule of Hamas and to the influence of the Palestine Liberation Organization, nations that wish to extend a hand to the people of Gaza must circumvent UNRWA’s current policy which allows terror groups that dominate the Gazans and dupe them into believing that they can build their lives based on a goal that can never be achieved.
What can be done to make sure that funds of UNRWA donor nations will help the people of Gaza?
The Bedein Center staff of UNRWA experts has raised this specific concern on six different occasions with the staff of UN secretary Secretary-General António Guterres.
The answer communicated six times from the staff of UN Secretary-General Guterres:
“Work with the donor nations of UNRWA – they bear full responsibility.”
The time has come for UNRWA donor nations to foster a professional social work system based on needs assessment, peace education and rehabilitation for the people of Gaza, instead of forcing Gazans to endure another generation of refugee life for perpetuity – which is a prescription for indignity, frustration and violence.
As a first step in the right direction, President Joe Biden issued an unprecedented policy statement on June 11 to mandate new U.S. policies that condition U.S. aid to UNRWA on a reform and an end to incitement.
However, on July 17, UNRWA issued a statement that the U.S. has just handed over $135 million to UNRWA, with no mention of any conditions.
Over the years, the U.S. has given UNRWA billions to operate. But after defunding the agency under Trump, Biden has sent a message to UNRWA. The UN agency’s confusion and inability to acknowledge that the U.S.’s donor policy has changed is consistent with UNRWA’s lack of accountability and transparency over its 70 year history.
This is the time to hold the United States government responsible for UNRWA policies, now that the U.S. has restored funds for UNRWA after a three-year hiatus. This must be done on a bipartisan basis. The good news is that both Democrats and Republicans will now be responsive to a call for full transparency with UNRWA allocations. This year, for the first time. UNRWA published that 58% of the UNRWA budget goes to education. Now both sides of the aisle have been exposed to current UNRWA school books which derive from the PLO, and read like manuals for war.
David Bedein leads the Center for Near East Policy Research in Jerusalem. His research and films can be found at cfnepr.com.