Posted by Judy K. Warner on May 9, 2008
We’ve often written about the UN’s refugee agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR. But there is another refugee agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), that exists solely to deal with the Palestinian refugees, the Arabs who left Israel at its founding, and their descendants.
In a new report from the GLORIA Center (Global Research in International Affairs), Barry Rubin, Asaf Romirowsky and Jonathan Spyer show how dysfunctional and destructive this agency is.
On the surface, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) seems a humanitarian group helping Palestinian refugees. In reality, it actually helps destroy the chance of Arab-Israeli peace, promotes terrorism, and holds Palestainians back from rebuilding their lives.
Unique in history, UNRWA’s job is to keep Palestinian refugees in suspended animation–and at low living standards–until they achieve the goal set for them by the PLO and Hamas: Israel’s extinction. In the meantime, their suffering and anger is maintained as a weapon to encourage them toward violence and intransigence.
UNRWA schools become hotbeds of anti-Western, anti-American, and anti-Semitic indoctrination, recruiting offices for terrorist groups. UNRWA’s services are dominated by radicals who staff and subsidize radical groups while potentially intimidating anyone from voicing a different line. UNWRA facilities are used to store and transport weapons, actually serving as military bases.
In this process, UNRWA has broken all the rules that are supposed to govern humanitarian enterprises. Consequently, UNRWA is the exact opposite of other refugee relief operations. They seek to resettle refugees; UNRWA is dedicated to blocking resettlement. They help refugees to live normal lives so that they can move on with their existence; UNRWA’s role is to ensure their lives remain abnormal so they are filled with anger and a thirst for revenge that inspires violence and can only be quenched by a victorious return. They try to create stable conditions for refugees; UNRWA’s mission is to enable radical political activity and indoctrination by armed groups which ensures a continual state of near chaos.
The Palestinians are the only group of refugees that were not resettled after World War II. UNRWA was set up in such a way that it discouraged the refugees from building new lives, unlike the UNHCR, which seeks resettlement if repatriation is not an option. The authors go into the historical reasons that this happened, and a great deal more. They have three recommendations:
First, UNRWA should be dissolved.
Second, all services it provides should be transferred to other agencies within the UN, notably the UNHCR, which has a long and productive experience in this area.
Third, responsibility for normal social services should be turned over to the Palestinian Authority. Most UNRWA staff should be transferred to it. Donors should use the maximum amount of oversight to ensure this be done effectively.
People often wonder why violence and instability persists and why the Arab-Israeli conflict is so seemingly impossible to resolve. One important part of the answer is that UNRWA perpetuates the problem. All those seeking real progress toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians need to take a close look at this unacceptable situation. All those with responsibility for the management of these issues need to work for a change of course.
I agree wholeheartedly.