A Deception Named UNRWA


Veteran Israeli journalist Ben Dror Yamini has written extensively on the subject of the treatment of Palestinian refugees in Arab countries. This article (translated by CiF Watch) was published on June 22nd 2012 and is entitled ‘A deception named UNRWA’. 

Last month the American Senate reached a precedential decision concerning UNRWA and the Palestinian refugees. In order to understand the change, we must remind ourselves that the beginnings of UNRWA were appropriate. It was a humanitarian organization working on behalf of the UN in order to take care of the Arabs of the British Mandate, most of whom fled and some of whom were expelled, in the context of the Arab aggression which sought to destroy the State of Israel which had barely been established. But the care of refugees changed direction, and instead of care UNRWA became a factory of cloning, worsening and perpetuation of massive proportions. 

The UN has two bodies which deal with refugees. The High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which deals with all the world’s refugees and UNRWA, which deals only with those who became Palestinians. (In the beginning they didn’t know they were such. They were Arabs. The separate identity developed later). The Commissioner has taken care of fifty million people. They received initial help and they are not refugees. UNRWA, in contrast, began with 711 thousand and magically turned them into more than five million. The commission rehabilitates refugees. UNRWA nurtures, clones and perpetuates the refugee problem. 

This paradox is clear to anyone who has eyes in his head. It originates from many sources. One of them is UNRWA’s  strange definition of a refugee: someone “whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict”. But with time, descendants too came into the picture, and strangely, and in conflict with the definition, so did those who were not in need from the beginning, as well as those who became wealthy later on – all still count as refugees. And thus the number of “refugees” rises with the years at a somewhat strange and dizzy rate

On the basis of this, MK Dr. Einat Wilf has been acting in the past few months, in collaboration with AIPAC, to try to bring about change in UNRWA’s main funder – the United States. The result is the “Kirk Amendment”, named after the Republican Senator Mark Kirk, which will oblige the State Department to report on the real number of original refugees – those who meet the criteria appearing in UNRWA’s original mandate. It is estimated that the numbers are around 30,000 alone. 

There is something sophisticated about Kirk’s amendment. That is because there is nothing in it which demands a cut in aid or the changing of criteria. There is only the obligation to report. Report on the number of original refugees and report on the number of descendants. But information about the amendment makes it clear that in fact this is a first step in the direction of a more basic change. Because following the reports the question will be raised – why should the tax payers have to fund those who are not really refugees?

 Actually, these questions are already appearing. The Deputy Secretary of State of the United States, Thomas Nides, sent a letter to the Senate appropriations committee in which he urged them to vote against the amendment. According to him, this is a particularly sensitive subject, America should not interfere in establishing the number of refugees and the subject is supposed to be solved in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The Jordanian embassy in Washington exerted pressure against the amendment and Nides states in his letter that the amendment is liable to create “a negative reaction, especially in Jordan”. 

Nides’s request was rejected. The amendment passed. In the meantime there have been no strong after-shocks. It is time to pierce the inflated balloon, which continues to inflate further, of the Palestinian refugees. The day when the Palestinian “refugees” will be treated in the same way as tens of millions of other refugees in the world is the day their situation will begin to improve, together with improvement in the chances for peace. That is because the “refugee problem”, as the Arab side has said time and time again, “is perpetuated in order to achieve the solution of the elimination of Israel”. 

The treatment so far of the refugee problem has become the biggest obstacle to peace. It is time for a change. The US Senate has taken the first step, limited and hesitant. A step in the right direction. Let us hope that the next steps will come too. 

International norms

Some more points for the attention of the US Congress: according to official UNRWA figures, the number of refugees in Lebanon was at the beginning of last year 425,000. But according to research published by the American University of Beirut, which UNRWA itself helped fund, there are just 260-280,000 refugees. They are emigrating and fleeing from Arab countries because they suffer from the worst apartheid in the Arab world (also according to the report). So there is no connection between the number registered and budgeted and the number still there. So America, which is the main donor, has to ask the question: where exactly is the money going when there is an inflation of 57% in the number of refugees?  

And another deception: according to the UN’s refugee charter, whoever receives citizenship in whatever country can no longer be counted as a refugee. And yet according to official UNRWA figures, in Jordan there are over two million refugees, the vast majority of whom hold Jordanian citizenship. So it is possible to reduce the numbers by two million in Jordan, and another 150 thousand in Lebanon and it is more than likely that the situation in Syria is similar. There the number is inflated too. A recommendation in that spirit is found in a report presented by James Lindsay. For seven years Lindsay held a senior position in UNRWA. After he left, and whilst a research fellow at the “Washington Institute”, he published a comprehensive report with suggestions for deep reform. 

And the carnival carries on. UNRWA keeps a team of over 29,000 people, among whom only two hundred are not Palestinian. We are talking about a huge system, which also deals in incitement, through the education system which the organization holds. This is the UN’s biggest agency. Just for comparison, UNHCR, the commission which takes care of all the rest of the world’s refugees, keeps a much smaller team of 7,685 employees, and takes care of 34 million refugees. In UNRWA there is one worker for every 172 refugees. In the UNHCR – one worker for every 4,424 refugees. The budget per head at UNRWA is also more than double that at UNHCR. Taking into account the fact that a significant proportion of those listed are already citizens of other countries or that the lists are inflated, as in Lebanon, that means that a Palestinian “refugee” costs the international community – and especially the US – a lot more than any other refugee in the world. 

The chain of absurd and deception has to end. There is a need for universal definitions and norms. The anti-Israel camp claims again and again that Israel must obey international norms. A wonderful and just demand. That is exactly what should also happen on the subject of the refugees. The same definitions of “who is a refugee” and the same treatment which helps the real needy and does not eternalize them as “refugees”. That would be the international community’s biggest contribution to encouraging peace.

Senator Kirk began. Let us hope he continues. 

25 comments on “A Deception Named UNRWA

  1. I’m sure that all who read this article are living in straightened times financially. That being the case, and the state of nations’ economies being what they are it is madness to do the equivalent of throwing money down the drain.

    UNRWA is a gravy train for its employees as the article says. It is also as a millstone around the necks of the unsuspecting taxpayers in the world who are being conned without their knowledge. The Palestinian propagandists know very well which buttons to push and they surely have lying down to a fine art, but nowhere is it written that this state of affairs should continue unquestioned or indeed at all.

    Could Hadar or someone else tell us how much is received per annum and how it is accounted for?

  2. A very important step thinking not only of the other UN organisations working there like Unesco, Unicef, Ocha, WFP and so on, but also of the hundreds of NGOs solely dedicated to the Palestinian cause and working there, funded by OPEC, OIC, OECD, IWF, World Bank, Arab League Turkey, Saudi-Arabia, Iran, Libya, EU, USA, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Great Britain. ..
    Not to forget Red Cross, Red Crescent, and, and, …
    It must be the highest densitiy of so called and real peace and help organisations in the world, besides the outlets of political think tanks from around the world.

  3. I could find nothing online which gave, for example, last year’s total accounts from all donors to UNRWA. I did find this, however:

    “…According to the UNRWA Report of the Board of Auditors for the biennium ended Dec. 31, 2005, UNRWA does not track recording, deleting, renaming or manipulation of financial information by staff members or volunteers, and therefore has no means of detecting the alteration of financial data or other types of redirection of UNRWA funding. (Some might ask: Why not? Why doesn’t the U.N. require an independent auditor to track all use of funds and put everything on the Internet for all to see — especially U.S. taxpayers?)…”

    A good question. And how convenient that in 2005 UNRWA didn’t track incomings or outgoings by anyone.

    (source http://thehill.com/opinion/columnists/lanny-davis/57983-time-for-transparency-and-accountability-for-unrwa )

    And there’s an account of talking about reforming the auditing process. Note how recent it is: http://www.ausaid.gov.au/partner/Documents/unrwa-assessment.pdf

    In 2011 the US alone gave approx $249.4 million dollars to UNRWA.

    What are they doing with it? We should be told.

  4. I’m a Australian and my Labour-Greens Gov has committed to UNRWA $ 90 million for Palestinian cause, we all know why as being pressured by greens who are anti-Semitic and anti Israel in every way, with out the Greens vote the Labour Gov would not exist, we are very much against this as we the Australian need more for our children education and money for schools like some children in Australian schools have no air conditioning in 40 deg heat or heating in the winter but have money to teach children in Palestine to hate us, nobody ask us if we wont this and it’s our money they give away, well only till next election I hope that the greens will be gone for good we hope.

    • If your Governement does not fund UNRWA or other NGOs working in the Palestinian territory, Israel will have to. As occupying power, Israel is responsible for the well being of the people it occupies in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. This would result in the collapse of the Israeli economy, which is why Israeli politicians do want foreign donors to support humanitarian efforts in the Palestinian territory.

      • There is no obligation for Israel to fund UNRWA. If the Palestinians want money from Israel, they have to accomodate accordingly. This would have no efffect on Israel`s economy, only on the Palestinians living now on the expense of world`s taxpayers, stupid one.

  5. The UNRWA scam has finally been rumbled.

    This bloated and corrupt money-making machine should be wound up, and the few thousand remaining Palestinian refugees transferred to the UNHCR where they can be treated like refugees from every other part of the world.

    There is nothing special about Palestinian refugees.

    • I have a question. If UNRWA’s definition of a refugee is someone “whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict” does that not include the Jews who resided in Judea and Samaria during that period and who were expelled or fled as a result of the 1948 War of Independence?

      And if, as it now seems, you can be a refugee even if you are a wealthy citizen of another state who is a descendant of such a person, surely there must be hundreds of thousands of Israelis who meet this definition.

      Why has UNRWA not taken steps over the last 60 years or so to relieve THEIR suffering? Why is it only Muslims and Christians who have been beneficiaries of this bounty?

    • Are you serious Pretz? AIPAC describes itself as “America’s leading pro-Israel lobby”. What is the point of a lobby outfit if it does not try to change its government’s policy?

    • “What business does AIPAC have trying to change US policy?”

      Are you really asking what business an American lobby actually has lobbying?

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  7. It seems from this report that UNRWA act as a welfare state system in the WB, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria – an additional safety net that catches Palestinians who do not get adequate support from the national governments.

    “Host governments face an increasing demand for quality services, while their own financial situation is deteriorating; in some cases this puts additional pressure on UNRWA services, when some Palestine refugees on host government services returning to UNRWA.”

    So a “refugee” loses his job and goes back to UNRWA for a handout.

    Indeed, UNRWA itself acknowledges that “The core services, UNRWA’s provides are comparable in nature and scope to
    those provided by a local or national government.” In other words, UNWRA is NOT an agency for solving a refugee problem, it developed a long time ago into a simple prop for the governments in a poor part of the world where “Palestinians” happen to live.

    Perhaps it is time the UN changed its terms of reference to reflect this.

  8. The west needs to simply throw in the towel and suggest that they 100% and for all eternity micromanage every single aspect of these so called Palestinians. It would be cheaper and more efficient to simply erect a kind of Potemkin village state called ‘Palestine’ and pay everyone to stay home and watch TV and procreate. No government, no schools, no governmental institutions, no nothing, Except that which is spoon fed and hand delivered by everyone else. How many are there? Who cares. 2 million?, 5? 14? Whatever it is, gather up every last ‘refugee’ plunk them down somewhere in the West Bank and Gaza in some kind artificial place, give them a flag tell them they’re all ‘free’ and the greatest people ever to live on the face of the globe and ever will be. Then give every single Nobel Prize in every category, every award, every Oscar, Tony. Man Booker, every Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Victoria Cross, every Olympic medal, for everything, to them pat them on the head and move on to the next issue. In light of the catastrophe of the Eurozone, I can’t think that the 30 billion Euros or so it would take to maintain them can be much worse than any of the other burdens the west is asked to shoulder. And consider we could ship in the unemployed from elsewhere to do all the actual work. So there’s two birds with one stone.

  9. Gooner Eli,
    Yes UNWRA’s mandate was orginally set up to care for all refugees – Arab and Jewish – from the 1948 war but after a few months Israel informed the UN that it no longer required help for the Jewish refugees.
    Jews fleeing Arab countries, however, had no help from UNWRA.

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