Investigative Journalist and MSW, Community Organization practice,
Two months ago, the DIG Berlin organization from Brandenburg addressed the German Bundestag legislative body with a press release that “put UNRWA funding to the test”.
The content of this press release is an appeal to the new federal government of Germany with a proposal for an urgently needed reform process within UNRWA, the agency which aids the 5.3 million descendants of Arab refugees from the 1948 war.
UNRWA has attracted public attention in the past due to internal reports of fianancial misconduct.
In response to this press release, Matthias Burchard, UNRWA Director of the EU Representative Office, wrote to DIG on December 21st, 2021.
In his response he claims, among other things, that the DIG is taking steps “against UNRWA”. This statement is intended to address Burchard’s respective statements.
With its UNRWA-Monitor.com initiative, the Bedein Center for Near East Policy Research in Jerusalem has drawn up specific demands for a reform process within UNRWA, which should be carried out by UNRWA donor countries – above all Germany as UNRWA’s largest donor to date.
It is very important to the Bedein Center that UNRWA aid money is supervised.
In the field of humanitarian aid, it is imperative to ensure that public funds are not embezzled, misappropriated or even distributed to members of EU-listed terrorist organizations such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and PFLP – as UNRWA has been doing for years.
A reform process would help create transparency and implement quality assurance.
Introduction of UNHCR standards
Matthias Burchard addresses each of the demands of the UNRWA Reform initiative.
He comments on the first point, the introduction of UNHCR standards, as follows:
“When providing services, UNRWA, like UNHCR, applies the internationally recognized “principle of family unity”, which you can read about on the website of the UN General Secretariat (see attachment). This was also confirmed by the scientific department of the Bundestag in 2019 .
UNRWA was explicitly not given a political mandate when it was founded, and thus no mandate for the return of refugees, as is falsely claimed.
A solution to the refugee issue was entrusted to the UN Reconciliation Commission for Palestine, which the United States still heads today. Among other things, because the UNCCP does not fulfill its task, the mandate of UNRWA is repeatedly extended by three years (in 2019 by 170 UN member states – see paragraphs 1&2 of the resolution).
However, UNHCR does have a mandate for return.
This is also UNHCR’s primary goal – as well as a WWII lesson – that refugees should, if at all possible, return to where they fled from. It is an internationally recognized right, but difficult to achieve. In 2019, UNHCR was able to repatriate just over 300,000 of the 26 million refugees it cared for together with numerous other UN agencies.
Unfortunately, there is an increasing number of long-term refugee situations (see US State Department overview of 2016). Therefore, the “family unit” law applies here. See above.
In 1948, the UNGA Resolution 194 established a refugee status for those who fled Palestine. UNRWA merely instituted 1,950 criteria and standards to reliably identify those eligible to be registered in the UNRWA registration system and receive the services.”
Contrary to what is often claimed, there is no “right to return” in the aforementioned Resolution 194: The fact that refugees “should” be allowed to return expresses a wish or an appeal – but nothing more. This is even clearer in the original English version, which states that the return “should” be made possible.
And this desire was significantly weakened by the attachment of a crucial condition: Only those who would be willing to live in peace with their (Jewish) neighbors should be able to return. However, the resolution did not say how and by whom this readiness should have been established in the midst of the ongoing war that had been forced upon Israel by the Arab states. Without entering into the realm of speculation, it was clear to everyone that not all refugees met this criterion.
In the beginning, UNRWA saw it as its main task to help the refugees to integrate and to strengthen the economy in the host countries so that the refugees could integrate and become independent. However, since the Arab states and the majority of the refugees firmly rejected this and instead propagated a non-negotiable right of return, UNRWA declares itself to be a kind of quasi-government that came up with large-scale supply services in the areas of education, health and social welfare.
Thus, over time, the refugees’ dependence on UNRWA grew more and more, and the Arab states in which the refugees and their descendants live, absolved themselves of responsibility for the well-being of the Palestinians – the same Palestinians who are otherwise relished as Arab brothers and sisters. In truth, however, they have primarily been used as a weapon in the propaganda war against Israel, and particularly in Lebanon, they are exposed to massive disadvantage and discrimination.
The difference between UNRWA and UNHCR is striking: while UNHCR sees its task as solving the problems of their refugees, UNRWA’s policy is to perpetuate the difficulties of their refugees. If necessary, the UNHCR tries to find a new home for the refugees and helps them with the hurdles and formalities of immigration. UNRWA, on the other hand, as it wrote on the occasion of its 60th anniversary, “has no mandate to find lasting solutions for the Palestinian refugees”.
Today, UNRWA is the largest single agency of the United Nations (and the second largest employer in the Palestinian territories after the Palestinian Authority). It employs more than 27,000 people – 99 percent of whom are Palestinians – and has
UNRWA’s definition of who is to be considered a refugee has changed repeatedly since its inception. While neediness played a role at first, this criterion was later dropped. According to the current definition, a Palestinian refugee is anyone “residing in Palestine between June 1, 1946 and May 15, 1948, who lost his home or livelihood in the wars of 1948 or 1967” – and all his descendants , even divorced spouses with a different nationality.
This means that Palestinians inherit refugee status until they “return” to a country which they have never lived in. The overwhelming majority of the now more than five and a half million Palestinians who are registered as refugees with UNRWA and insist on their “return” – have never fled. Instead, that status is passed on to the
the descendants of initial refugees. Of the Palestinian Arabs who left the country during the 1948 war, it is estimated that around 30,000 were still alive in 2012. Today this number is likely to be considerably smaller.
It should also be borne in mind that more than half of the Palestinian Arabs who fled in 1948 did not leave Arab-Palestinian territory at all, but resettled in the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip. Another 10 percent went to Jordan, whose territory was also part of Palestine until 1922. However, today millions of Palestinians live as refugees on Palestinian land, aspiring to return to a land where they have never lived. And UNRWA explicitly supports them in this. With their help, the Palestinians can hold on to their area of ??”return” to change the demographics in Israel so that the Jews would become a minority.
This is also precisely why the Arab states placed the issue of return as their priority, especially in the beginning: in this way they are trying to achieve what they had not been able to achieve by military means in the war against the Jewish state. In 1949, the Egyptian foreign minister explained this very clearly: “When the Arab states demanded that the refugees return to Palestine, they meant “that they should come back as rulers of the homeland, not as slaves.” To make it even clearer: they want to destroy the State of Israel.” It goes without saying that no Israeli government – ??regardless of which parties belong to it – would accept such a thing.
In any case, there is not a single case in the world in which a refugee problem or even a political conflict was solved by a mass return, as the Palestinians are demanding – not even in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, although there was an explicit agreement to provide for the repatriation of refugees and displaced persons, especially in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Abolition of PA curriculum in UNRWA schools
Matthias Burchard writes on the absorption on of the PA curriculum at UNRWA schools:
“Since its inception, and in line with UN practice in refugee situations around the world, UNRWA has used the “host country” curriculum. This ensures that Palestinian refugees can integrate into the receiving secondary and higher education system and also participate in the social and economic life of the receiving country.”
However, this argument is devoid of reality and bears no relation to actual UNRWA policy. UNRWA’s mandate does not include integration into a host country and thus participation in social and economic life. To date, there are neither programs for the very integration Burchard mentioned, nor are there efforts to initiate such programs.
In its policy, UNRWA pursues a quasi-governmental orientation with its own infrastructure and educational facilities. Children and young people do not attend the schools in the host countries, but UNRWA’s own schools. It is highly questionable why the curricula of the host countries are used at all. It would make more sense for UNRWA to develop its own teaching system that truly conforms to UN values. UNRWA spokesman repeatedly emphasized that the curriculum used by the Palestinian Authority would correspond to UN values.
Burchard goes on to write:
“The UN, like UNRWA, has no mandate to change curricula or textbooks of the host government, as these are subject to national sovereignty. Nevertheless, UNRWA regularly reviews all newly published host country textbooks and works to ensure that what is taught in UNRWA schools is consistent with UN values ??and principles. This robust system of reviewing host country textbooks helps ensure UNRWA’s zero-tolerance policy towards all forms of racism and discrimination.”
Burchard refers to a study commissioned by the EU by the Georg Eckert Institute (GEI), the results of which were recently published:
“UNRWA welcomes the Georg Eckert Institute’s (GEI) independent scientific and empirical assessment of the teaching materials published by the Palestinian Authority (PA). This EU-commissioned analysis of textbooks published by the Palestinian Ministry of Education (MoE) between 2017 and 2019 offers an objective perspective.
UNRWA is pleased that the GEI’s findings are consistent with its own reviews for the classes it has established. The findings categorically affirm that the textbooks used by the PA “comply with UNESCO standards and adopt criteria prominent in international educational discourse, including a strong focus on human rights.”
The Middle East expert Dr. Arnon Groiss,a journalist who has been examining the PA instruction manuals used in UNRWA schools for more than 20 years to determine whether they really – as UNRWA repeatedly claims – meet the standards of the UN and UNESCO. Here he comes to a completely different conclusion. A March 2021 report shows recent examples from UNRWA textbooks. It has been translated into English and is available online.
Dr. Groiss expresses great concern about this and writes: “One of the most serious examples in the textbooks is even mistranslated in the GEI report.”
In a statement, he goes into detail about the GEI study. He names relevant textbook examples that were either ignored or completely misinterpreted when the GEI study was conducted.
One of the most egregious examples is a poem that appeared in a third-grade textbook between 2017 and 2019, expressing genocidal intentions toward the Jewish citizens of Israel. It says:
I swear! I shall sacrifice my blood
In order to water the land of the noble ones
And to remove the usurper [i.e., Israel] from my land
And to exterminate [ubid] the foreigners’ remnants
O land of Al-Aqsa [Mosque] and the holy place
O cradle of pride and nobility
Patience, patience, for victory is ours
And dawn is peeping from the darkness”
(Our Beautiful Language, Class 3, Part 2 (2019), p. 66. This poem was replaced with a less violent one in the 2020 textbook edition, as mentioned in the GEI report on p. 139.)
The word “eradicate” (Arabic: “ubid” – ?W?? line 2, section 2, first word) is omitted from the translation of the GEI report. There it says instead: “…to expel transgressors and strangers from my land….”
A murderously charged teaching content is presented distinctly in the PA textbooks and thus played down. A case of translation errors is such a problem for a scientific work such as the GEI study presents. It stands to reason that an approach is being taken that is biased and that an attempt has been made to hide uncomfortable evidence – particularly when it concerns a popular poem read in many UNRWA schools.
Dr. Groiss noted that even in the summary of the report, the GEI half-heartedly conceded:
“The textbooks reaffirm the importance of human rights in general and, in several places, explicitly emphasize a universal notion of these rights. However, this universal notion WILL NOT be carried into a discussion of Israeli rights. (p. 3)
A textbook presents a learning context that reveals both anti-Semitic motives and links characteristics and actions attributed to Jews in the early days of Islam to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The mapping of Palestine as a political entity, geographic region, or imaginary homeland generally does not include the State of Israel or cities founded by Jewish immigrants.
The term “Israel” is relatively rare, while the term “(Zionist) occupation” dominates in school textbooks.
The acknowledgment of Israel’s right to live in peace and security documented in Yasser Arafat’s letter to Yitzhak Rabin contrasts with the questioning of the legitimacy of the State of Israel expressed in other passages and textbooks.
Arabic language textbooks contain emotionally charged depictions of random violence that tend to dehumanize the infinite adversary, the latter occasionally becoming the object of malice and deceit… perpetrated violence, including violence against civilians, is presented as a legitimate means of resistance… (p. 4)
In numerous places, the textbooks call for tolerance, mercy, forgiveness and justice and encourage students to help others, fight corruption and respect human values. They do not apply these ideas to Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
When the issues of… coexistence and tolerance are raised, no reference to the current conflict will be made. (Conclusion, p.170)”
This is only part of the whole picture given by the books used in UNRWA schools.
Since the GEI refrained from providing further examples that would note a negative impression of the PA and UNRWA’s attitude towards Jews and Israel – which clearly contradicts UNESCO and UN principles – here are a few more examples that the GEI report does not take into account:
- Elementary school students learn in National and Social Education that the State of Israel will be replaced by Palestine as the “sovereign state” in the region:
“[Lesson] 2: Palestine is Arab and Muslim”
In this lesson, a map entitled “Map of the Arab Homeland” is presented. On this, the whole country (and thus also the national territory of Israel) is filled in red, “Palestine” is written next to it, and the Palestinian flag can be seen above it.
(National and Social Education, 4th Grade, Part 1 (2020), p. 8)
- Israel counts within its pre-1967 borders as Palestinian territory occupied in 1948 – with a very clear indication that it “liberated”, i. H. should be eliminated. Instead of the expression “Israeli territory” the term “the territories occupied in 1948” is used in the following example (math problem):
“The following graph illustrates the number of Palestinians in 2015 according to the Palestinian Statistics Center:
Region Population The West Bank and Gaza Strip
Within the territories occupied in 1948 1,470,000 In the Arab States 5,460,000 In other (foreign) states 685,000
I rank the regions where the Palestinians can be found in descending order of population:
[four empty squares]”
(Maths, Grade 4, Part 1 (2020), p. 22. Emphasis added.)
- There is no place for Israel in free Palestine:
(Wissenschaft und Leben, 3. Klasse, Teil 1 (2020), S. 65)
- In the UNRWA textbooks, the war against Israel is given a religious character and Jews are demonized as infidels and helpers of the devil, as illustrated by the following verse from a poem:
“Where are the riders [who will ride] to Al-Aqsa [Mosque],
to free her from the grip of unfaithfulness, the helpers of the devil?”
(Arabic Language, 7th Grade, Part 1 (2020), p. 67)
Note: There is no new edition of the textbooks for the current school year 2021/22 and the teaching materials of the previous year are used.
- In the PA textbooks, as used by UNRWA in classes of all ages, there is neither a promotion of neutrality nor peace and understanding.
- Instead, war, non-recognition of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the UN member state of Israel, and anti-Semitism against the “devil’s helpers” are propagated.
- Overall, this is a breach of UNRWA’s commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of the children and young people in its care. At the same time, UNRWA is cooperating with the PA in inciting young children to go to war.
Continuation of paramilitary training at UNRWA schools
Not only the school lessons serve to incite, but also leisure activities in the youth clubs and activities during the summer holidays.
Hamas summer camps have been held in the Gaza Strip for many years. In addition to UNRWA Monitor, the media and the IDFalso reported on the annual summer camps in the Gaza Strip.
Matthias Burchard comments on this as follows:
“There is no and never was aspired training at UNRWA schools. Again, your source is probably the UNRWA-Monitor, which shows videos – taken from the Hamas website – in order to blame UNRWA. These are hateful and blatant falsehoods with defamatory and misleading information.”
Burchard is probably talking about the documentary film that was published in German in August 2021. These are film recordings by the Bedein Center and its UNRWA Monitor initiative. They were not taken from the Hamas website, nor do they contain untruths with slanderous and misleading information.
Burchard seems unaware that Hamas in the Gaza Strip is recruiting very young children, all of whom are UNRWA students, to be child soldiers. Hamas members are currently employed as teaching staff at UNRWA schools. Instead of showing children a perspective for peaceful coexistence with their neighbors, UNRWA leaves its wards to an EU-listed terrorist organization.
This documentary clearly indicates what really happens with the donations from the UNRWA donor countries, 58 percent of which flow into the education sector.
In plain language, this means that 58 percent of the funds available to UNRWA – thanks to donations – are exclusively used for incitement, violence, anti-Semitism, military training and the recruitment of child soldiers. The latter constitutes an explicit violation of the Geneva Convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child under international law.
Dismissal of all UNRWA staff with ties to Hamas
Another demand is the dismissal of all UNRWA staff associated with an EU-listed terrorist organization such as Hamas. Burchard writes:
“As a neutral and impartial UN organization, UNRWA has a legal framework for its operations that ensures the neutrality of the United Nations towards staff, third parties, including partners, the use of UNRWA facilities and the provision of assistance to refugees. There are verifications and due diligence procedures in place to ensure UNRWA does not work with third parties that are on the Consolidated UN Sanctions List. The US requires UNRWA to undergo an annual anti-terrorism review — a standard procedure for US foreign aid that UNRWA has passed uncomplained for decades.”
In full compliance with UN best practice, UNRWA is committed to doing everything in its power to ensure the highest standards of internal and external security control. This includes but is not limited to semi-annual verifications of the names of all employees, donors, beneficiaries and suppliers against the UN sanctions list and the annual release of employee lists to host country authorities, including the State of Israel.
It is more than questionable whether such verification measures really take place at regular intervals.
As early as 2009, the Center for Near East Policy Research wrote a report commissioned by the European Parliament EU Commission which documents the Hamas takeover of the UNRWA teachers association and UNRWA workers union in Gaza.
In the course of the conflict between Hamas and Israel in May last year, a terrorist tunnel was found beneath UNRWA schools. As early as 2014, it was confirmed that rockets were fired at cities in Israel from UNRWA schools.
UNRWA itself states on its website that it is responsible for at least 1.4 million refugees in the Gaza Strip (as of May 2021). This makes up 75 percent of the population. 290,000 students attend the 278 UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip.
It was children from UNRWA Camp Deishe who “celebrated” the founding day of Fatah with automatic weapons a little over a month ago – on January 1, 2022. On August 24, 2020, images were captured that clearly show UNRWA students being implicated in terrorist activities by Hamas and Islamic Jihad earlier in the school year.
This is merely one example of the footage which clearly demonstrates how children from UNRWA schools have been involved in military training and terrorist activities for many years. There are no “untruths with slanderous and misleading information”, as Matthias Burchard claims – but only an unfortunate and bitter reality.
Approval of all UNRWA staff associated with Hamas
Another demand made of UNRWA is the dismissal of all UNRWA staff associated with an EU-listed terrorist organization such as Hamas. Burchard writes:
“As a neutral and impartial UN organization, UNRWA has a legal framework for its operations that ensures the neutrality of the United Nations towards staff, third parties including partners, the use of UNRWA facilities and the provision of assistance to refugees. There are verification and due diligence procedures in place to ensure that UNRWA does not work with third parties that are on the Consolidated UN Sanctions List. The US requires UNRWA to undergo an annual anti-terrorism review — a standard procedure for US foreign aid that UNRWA has passed without complaint for centuries.
In full compliance with UN best practice, UNRWA is committed to doing everything possible to ensure the highest standards of internal and external security control. This includes but is not limited to semi-annual verifications of the names of all employees, donors, beneficiaries and suppliers against the UN sanctions list and the annual release of employee lists to host country authorities, including the State of Israel.”
It is more than questionable whether such verification measures really take place at regular intervals.
As early as 2009, the Center for Near East Policy Research wrote a report for the EU Commission that clearly proves the Hamas takeover of all UNRWA teachers’ associations and unions.
2017 dismissal and severance letters relating to Hamas official Suhail Al-Hindi show that UNRWA only split after public pressure from Hamas members. They also state that Al-Hindi received a severance payment of 177,000 US dollars. The documents were signed by Al Hindi and UNRWA’s founder, Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl (see appendix).
Matthew Burchard writes:
“UNRWA has been working for 70 years in one of the world’s most difficult regions, one marked by violence and conflict. UNRWA is a United Nations humanitarian agency committed to the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence because this is what enables our work and ensures the safety of our staff.
UNRWA is also expanding its school education through U.S. and Norwegian-sponsored human rights, conflict resolution and tolerance education applied in all schools, and a public, centralized digital learning platform with learning materials for teachers and students.
In our opinion, such attacks by the DIG B&B as those on UNRWA are hardly compatible with your statute, which aims to promote international solidarity, tolerance and understanding between people, especially in the Middle East.
UNRWA therefore calls on the DIG B&B to engage in dialogue and to refrain from spreading objective untruths and to immediately delete such content from its website.”
The Palestinians’ insistence on a “return” of 5.3 million descendants of the refugees from the 1948 war follows the goal of destroying Israel on a demographic basis.
Additionally, it is an attempt to reverse the results of a war started by the Arab states against the Jewish state – not the other way around. The alleged right of return of the Palestinians is not guaranteed under international law, nor does the existence of their own UN refugee agency, which actively promotes the Palestinian illusion of a return, have anything to do with it. It is a dangerous illusion that burdens every negotiation and makes it impossible to resolve the conflict.
UNRWA is part of the problem, not part of the solution, and its alleged education in tolerance is in fact the opposite. Criticism of UNRWA and calls for a policy change should be adhered to.
 see Roberts, Rebecca: Flüchtlinge zweiter Klasse: Palästinenser im Libanon, Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 26. Mai 2016, https://www.bpb.de/gesellschaft/migration/laenderprofile/228365/palaestinenser-im-libanon
 see UNRWA in figures, 31. Dezember 2019, https://www.unrwa.org/sites/default/files/content/resources/unrwa_in_figures_2020_eng_v2_final.pdf
 see Hafner, Georg M./Schapira, Esther: Israel ist an allem schuld. Warum der Judenstaat so gehasst wird, Köln 2015, p. 279.
 see Schanzer, Jonathan: Status Update, Foreign Policy, 21. Mai 2012, https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/05/21/status-update/
 quote, Dershowitz, Alan: The Case for Israel, Hoboken 2003, p. 85.
 Incidentally, Jordan is an exception when it comes to integration. Many former UNRWA refugees and their descendants have already been taken in by Jordan and have thus been able to lead a self-determined life as citizens.
 https://owncloud.gei.de/index.php/s/FwkMw8NZgCAJgPW, p.139: „ […] to kick out the violators and strangers from my country.”
 https://vimeo.com/662065494?embedded=true&source=vimeo_logo&owner=81933074 – “Fatah Day” – UNRWA Deishe Refugee Camp (2022)