In Brussels, a conference of countries contributing to UNRWA, the special refugee organization set up by the UN for Palestinian Arab refugees and their descendants, is being held today. The conference is being held after Washington administration’s decision to return the organization’s budget after years of prevention imposed by Donald Trump.
We discussed the implications of the conference with David Bedein, who has been researching UNRWA, its activities and funding for decades. At the beginning of the conversation, we asked Bedein to summarize what he would say if he had the opportunity to stand before the UNRWA and speak. He welcomed the challenge and said:
“You spend money on education and that’s good, but if your education system is engaged in wild incitement, textbooks praising murderers, erasing Israel from the maps, textbooks denying Israel’s right to live that is not even appropriate for those who want two states,” he says.
“They are learning in the new education system, which was verified 4-5 years ago, that places like Ramla Lod, and more, are illegal and the new maps that UNRWA adopts define every Jewish settlement as an Arab village. It’s amazing that the UN agency is engaged in such a thing. It’s unbearable,” he said, noting that the organization’s budget stands at $ 1.5 billion and on the UNRWA website the organization boasts that 58 percent goes to education. It is important to emphasize this. In the summer, we filmed the arms camp of 30,000 young Palestinians who took training courses to conquer Palestine. “These are UNRWA schools that are held all year round in selected youth clubs and in the summer they win the grand prize, learn how to use weapons, and instill in their heads with the encouragement of UNRWA the obligation to return Palestine into their own hands.”
Bedein emphasizes that if the organization had prepared the next Palestinian generation for peace as it claims to be, he himself would have been happy to publish so, “and I would have become the most popular reporter in the world, but I’m the most unpopular reporter in the world because I tell the truth they do not want to hear. They want to hear that they are a welfare agency, but it is just the opposite.”
And perhaps, we asked Bedein, do they combine peace education alongside the assimilation of the Palestinian Arab narrative in the younger generation? “33 years ago I started dealing with the topic and then there really was nostalgia. In the seventies when someone said he lived in Dahisha but he is a resident of Jaffa they laughed at him, but today they take it seriously. They talk about us living in Jaffa and going back there to kill everyone who lives there.”
“We produced 24 films that we shot within UNRWA institutions and the only issue is the aspiration to occupy Jaffa and Lod by force of arms. If they were discussing how to reduce violence we would publish that, but that’s not the case, “he says, noting that the Center for Middle East Studies, which he has presented, presented a plan for change and reform at UNRWA, including peace education, economic transparency, refugee housing, “This is not happening,” he said.
Bedein says that the organization’s employees are not social workers at all, as might be expected from a welfare organization, but rather that the terrorist organizations take over the organization and the aid institutions. “Terrorist organizations are competing for the professional takeover of UNRWA. They are proud of it. We revealed that the Hamas list won the elections in UNRWA’s professional organizations. Hamas received 90 percent of the vote.”
“If they truly cared about the people, I would have nothing to say, but these are violent organizations and Israel has turned a blind eye. Now Israel is beginning to recognize the threat,” he says, noting that in the last two years the Israeli leadership has begun raising awareness about what is really happening at UNRWA and its institutions.
“We sent a team of photographers to document the refugee camps near Bethlehem, Aida and Daheishah. All the pictures taken there are on one subject of killing Jews. I do not see hatred there but preparation for murder. To deal with haters a team of psychologists would be sent, but here there is preparation for violence.”
Bedin recounts meetings with members of the Office of the UN Secretary-General who turned out to be unaware of the contents of the textbooks of the organization under his responsibility. Bedein and his men handed over to the Secretary-General the Office the relevant books and the contents of the incitement in them.
“The biggest donor is Germany and we have now gone through a round of lectures there with the relevant films. It is time for official Israel to demand changes in the German attitude towards UNRWA.”
On the numbers of Palestinian refugees according to UNRWA records, Bedein says that while the numbers at UNRWA are 5.3 million people, that if the Palestinians were required to meet international refugee standards and not the special refugee standards, there would be no more than twenty thousand refugees who really deserved to be defined as such. “The rest are descendants of refugees demand to define themselves as refugees. Our staff reports that in Jabalya, the children walk around with accurate maps of Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba, (and so on) streets, and they think they will return there.”
Bedin also says that when Israel opened its gates to workers from Gaza, they gathered and sang about the right of return with the feeling that they were returning to their homes.