Like many other UN relief agencies, UNRWA was founded in the midst of a refugee emergency that occurred in the wake of war. The UN organized UNRWA as a special relief agency that was mandated to tend to the needs and establish “temporary refugee shelters” for the estimated 650,000 Palestinian Arab refugees who abandoned their homes and villages during the War for Israel independence in 1948. This occurred at a time when 450,000 Jews left their homes in the Arab countries and emigrated to Israel, while more than 600,000 Jews arrived from war-torn Europe to the new land of Israel.
By the mid-1990’s, the UNRWA camps operated on a $320 million annual budget, providing services as incentives for Palestinian Arabs to remain in the camps – free education, free health services, free housing, free electricity and free water. The budget is broken down as follows: 57% education, 19% health, 9% welfare payments, and 10% for transportation servicesLucky Patcher Apk for Android
UN Resolution 194 that established UNRWA was written in both contexts: to help Palestinian Arab refugees and to keep them there as refugees. No clause allowed for any permanent solution except for repatriation. These two tenets of 194, re-enacted every two years, remain very much alive.
Many people were surprised when the US state department, in the midst of the Oslo peace process, issued countless statements that supported the status quo of the refugee situation and the absolute right of Palestinians to return to the property that they left in 1948. Indeed, an emergency resolution of the UN general assembly in 1985 dealt with Israeli violations of 194, when Israel launched its first major effort to make housing improvements in the camps. Thirteen hundred homes were built for Arab refugees in Gaza and in the Nablus region, with funds raised by Israel through international relief agencies. These housing initiatives followed a two year study conducted by a special task force of the Israeli government in the early 1980’s that recommended an ambitious program to rehabilitate the housing and sewage facilities in all UNRWA refugee camps.
However, The UN resolution that was enacted on December 16, 1985 against Israel violations of ‘temporary refugee shelters’ transformed the hills of new homes just south of Nablus into ghost towns that remain uninhabited to this day, with an UNRWA guard who watches to make sure that no Arab refugee will ever move in.
Throughout 1986 and 1987, the Israeli government initiated wide ranging discussions about the necessity to take unlilateral action to address the issue of Palestinian refugee squalor. Besides being a humanitarian embarrassment, the camps were quickly becoming a potential powderkeg. UNRWA officials had their own “explanation” as to Israel’s programs for improvement: UNRWA officials issued weekly memos to the refugee residents that the Israeli government was making plans to “exile them once again.”
It was no coincidence that the intifada riots broke out in the UNRWA refugee camps in December, 1987. There is widely circulated opinion within the Israeli intelligence community that the intifada broke out as a direct result of a program that was about to be implemented, calling for the massive overhaul and improvement of camp conditions.
Indeed, the Palestinian Arab rebellion was openly organized on UNRWA premises. Under the terms of a special UN resolution that was passed in February, 1988, UNRWA was allocated $21 million to hire special R.A.O.’s ( refugee affairs officers) to protect the local population from Israeli forces. Israeli security reports issued in 1989 and 1990 accused UNRWA personnel of using UNRWA vehicles to faciliate violence, by blocking roads, providing surveillance of IDF facilities, and actually instigating riots.
Palestine Authority officials today openly acknowledge that the intifada leadership was made up almost entirely of UNRWA personnel.
Indeed, it was the RAO’s operating popular committees that decided who will get aid/assistance, it was the RAO’s who issued frequent memos on “starvation” in the camps, and it was the RAO’s who organized the Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine to take over the UNRWA workers union that comprises more than 18,000 employees of UNRWA.
It is therefore no surprise that UNRWA schools are decorated with Hamas and PFLP graffitti along with pictures of machine guns spread over a full map of Palestine. In Jerusalem, it was the RAO’s who organized the people in two Jerusalem-based refugee camps to refuse Jerusalem muncipal services.
As a matter of policy, the new Palestinian Authority refuses to provide for any kind of housing aid to the UNRWA camps, since these camp are temporary Palestinian “shelters” where Palestinian Arab refugees are mandated to dwell until they realize their “right of return”.
At a time when the matter of Palestinian refugees enters into the next stage of the Oslo peace process, Arab refugees who live in camps throughout the Middle East have had their hopes raised that they are returning to the homes and villages that they left in 1948. On a recent visit to Palestinian refugee camp, a lifetime resident and school teacher told me that “people laughed at us a few years ago when they said we are going to have our own Palestinian Liberation Army here. Now people laugh at us when we say that we’re going back to the village that we left in 1948.”