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December 4, 2014 4:07 pm

Palestinian Human Rights Activist Calls for Major Overhaul of UNRWA (INTERVIEW)

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The Shuafat refugee camp in Jerusalem, where Palestinian human rights activist Bassam Eid gew up. Photo: Wikimedia

Bassam Eid, a prominent Palestinian human rights activist, has issued an urgent plea for a serious overhaul of UNRWA, the UN agency tasked with caring for the Palestinian refugees of the 1948 war in which Arab armies failed to prevent the creation of the State of Israel.

Eid, the Director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, is currently visiting London, where he addressed a meeting at the British parliament organized by the Henry Jackson Society, an international relations think-tank, entitled  “Perpetuating Statelessness? UNRWA, Its Activities and Funding.” In that presentation, Eid, who was raised in the UNRWA refugee camp in Shu’afat, east of Jerusalem, harshly criticized the agency for perpetuating the plight of the refugees as well as for its political relationship with Hamas.

“Sixty-six years after it was created, UNRWA is still promising Palestinians that they will return to their homeland,” Eid told The Algemeiner by telephone. “In my opinion, causing five million Palestinian refugees to suffer more and more under the umbrella of the ‘right of return’ is a war crime. They are being used as pawns in a war strategy.”

Eid, however, does not advocate the dissolution of UNRWA, which operates on a budget of $1.2 billion provided by donor nations led by the United States, which donated nearly $300 million in 2013. Doing so, he argues, would create a vacuum that would inevitably be exploited by wealthy Arab states like Qatar, the principal funder of Hamas. Instead, he is urging a reform program ambitious enough to transform the agency’s core mission.

“As a refugee, I want to see UNRWA submitting audited reports to donor countries,” Eid said. “I want UNRWA to present to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees a plan for the permanent resettlement of the Palestinian refugees. And I want UNRWA to abolish the curriculum they teach in their schools, which promotes war and terror and jihad.”

Eid is particularly concerned by UNRWA’s relationship with Hamas, advocating that all UNRWA employees with Hamas ties be dismissed from their posts. “During the war in Gaza over the summer, it was well known that Hamas was hiding rockets in UNRWA schools,” Eid said. “So what did UNRWA do? They called Hamas on the phone and said, ‘please come and collect your rockets.’ This by itself shows the degree of cooperation between them.”

Donor countries also need to exercise greater scrutiny over UNRWA’s financing and operations. “The donor countries are keeping a blind eye on UNRWA’s activities,” Eid asserted. “This gives the impression that UNRWA is running its own state with its own foreign policy. UNRWA needs to understand that it is just a small agency that belongs to the UN.”

Eid said that it is unclear exactly how many Palestinian refugees there are in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as neighboring countries, because UNWRA has not carried out a census in the camps for more than two decades. “While one source says there are 2.5 million refugees, the Palestinian Authority claims that the number is higher than 6 million,” he wrote in a Jerusalem Post oped that provoked a furious response from UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, who took to Twitter to denounce “Jewish terror supporting staff accusing UNRWA of Jihadism.”

Eid continued: “UNRWA, which should be the authoritative source, is silent. So on what figures is UNRWA basing its requests for funds? Do the contributing countries have any idea of what they are contributing to?”

As a first step to focusing UNRWA’s mission away from the ‘right of return’ – a demand that is incompatible with the international commitment to a two-state solution, since an influx of the descendants of the original Palestinian refugees would end Israel’s existence as a sovereign Jewish state – Eid believes that donor countries should convene a major international conference with two purposes.

“First, UNRWA needs to apologize for six decades of false promises,” Eid said. “Then it needs to concentrate on building permanent neighborhoods for the refugees, to remove them from the miserable situation that prevails in the refugee camps.”

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  • Maya Rosenfeld

    The fact that Bassem Eid is a Palestinian refugee does not, by any means, render his accusations against UNRWA, indeed his demonetization of this UN organization, credible. And the honoring title “Palestinian human rights activist”, which is attached to Eid’s name is more than misleading. It’s been many many years since Mr. Eid has contributed anything but incitement against almost every existing player (and corresponding self-praise)to the struggle for human rights in the Occupied Palestinian territories.I urge Mr. Eid or this paper to give me an example of one humanitarian case that he has solved or tried to solve lately.
    However, I do not want to focus on Mr. Eid – he does not deserve that attention – but rather to say a few words on UNRWA, who is assisting millions at this very moment, and whose work I’ve been following for more than two decades in the framework of my academic research.
    The idea that UNRWA “profits” from the propagation of the Palestinian refugee problem is too absurd to be discussed seriously. Unsurprisingly, nearly all those who propose it are right wing conservatives who wish to “dissolve” the refugee problem, not solve it. It is not UNRWA who kept the refugee problem alive but rather the fact that the international community has failed- to this date – to solve it as part of a comprehensive solution to the Palestinian Israeli conflict. As long as the UN is committed to Palestinian refugees (see UNRWA resolution 194)and as long as it refrains from forcing the two-state solution (i. e. the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, wherein the Palestinian refugees can re-establish their lives)their will remain a need to assist the Palestinian refugees, whose rights continue to be denied.
    So please, Mr. Eid, be honest enough and tell the readers, where do you stand. It seems that you are calling the UN to withdraw its support for Palestine refugees, so why not state this upright?
    Dr. Maya Rosenfeld
    Jerusalem, Israel

    • Lynne T

      Dr. Rosenfeld:

      Asking that UNRWA be held accountable for use of funds is not the same at all as demanding an end to support for Palestinian refugees.

      As for lack of honesty, few readers here have forgotten the photos of infiltration tunnels built out of cement delivered in sacks stamped UNRWA and similar outrages.

      Your claims fool only those who wish to be fooled.

    • Assaf

      When someone bother to write Doctor at the end of a comment, you know that someone is full of it.

    • Eitan

      it seems you have neglected a point and gone through with a tactic of slander. it seems that you have a horse in this race, Dr. Rosenfeld, should we Google your name? First hit is not an academic paper or even university page, but a article on a known hateful anti-Semitic rag. So. what say you, it’s easy to impugn the opinions of others but when that same tactic is used against you it seems rather contrite that you would attempt an ad hominem, considering your own proclivities.

    • Bassem Eid

      Maya is irrelevant person to reply to her she just want to show her self as a Palestinian more than the Palestinians we the Palestinians got so much garbege like Maya Rosenfeld.

      • Leo

        Words will not help. Actions do. How hard would it be for your group to organize a new Palestinian Relief Agency independent of UNRWA? Raise money and start small, just in one camp to begin, kick UNRWA out from there, then get bigger.

    • Ludek H

      Dear Dr. Maya,
      I do not want to belittle any refugee plight but from practical point of view all other refugees in all other world are displaced in one year and are assimilated in the next 2-3 years.
      Germany with population of some 60 million absorbed some 12 million refugees from Poland, USSR, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Yugoslavia.
      Now you do not see any German refugees sitting in refugee camps and firing Middle Range rockets at say Poland or Czechoslovakia.

      Peoples in the Middle Europe compare how Germany, Italy, Greece, Finnland absorbed millions of refugees within two or three years….
      ……while the great Panarabic nation endowed with endless oil riches was not willing to absorb 600 thousand Arabs from what is now Israeli territory.

      Function of UNRWA has no parralel in the world – and its further existence – as it is now – seems to provide mainly material support to armed groups attacking Israel.

  • steven L

    The West created and supported UNRWA with the hidden goal of eliminating Israel.

  • gabi

    at last, a palestinian who tell the truth about UNWRA and its hate policy.

  • Lorelei

    “o the contributing countries have any idea of what they are contributing to?”

    Yes, they´re perfectly aware.

  • Robert Davis

    To destroy Israel a few millions more professionnal refugees are not needed the 4 m.of them is quite sufficient! What is needed is an Israeli Govt.who defends Israel’s interests and have the courage not to care for “world opinion” ie left opinion since world opinion is NOT made only of leftists’ opinion but also the right wing opinion which is canceled in leftist TERMINOLOGY! I do not agree the leftist opinion and do not see why MY opinion is not taken in consideration! Am I not in the world? why should leftist be the only ones authorized by the liars of the media to give their opinion? Israelis must understand that voting for the left means their conflict will never be solved and will end up with ww3.

  • Askirsch

    Most refugees from 1948 are old or dead. Their children and grandchildren are not refugees; they were not born in Palestine and never fled from it. They should be citizens of their fellow Arab states where they live. But the “Arab nation” is a fiction as far as they are concerned. I feel sorry for the Palestinians, refugees or not. Oppressed by Israel, screwed by their Arab hosts, and utterly misled by their own leadership, they are the sorriest of the world’s tribes.

  • David Blacher

    Let’s look at history.

    The US succeeded because it took in and integrated refugees into its society. Australia succeeded because it took in and integrated refugees into its society. Canada succeeded because it took in and integrated refugees into its society. Israel succeeded because it took in and integrated refugees into its society.

    “Misunderstanding of the present grows fatally from the ignorance of the past.” – Marc Bloch, Historian.

  • Scott Adler

    That man has a death wish…

    He is a hero, though.

  • Suzanne Edmunds

    Courageous man. I hope that the right people are hearing him and will take suitable action.

  • Reform School

    Donor countries also need to exercise greater scrutiny over UNRWA’s financing and operations. “The donor countries are keeping a blind eye on UNRWA’s activities,” Eid asserted. “This gives the impression that UNRWA is running its own state with its own foreign policy. UNRWA needs to understand that it is just a small agency that belongs to the UN.”

    First, Eid needs to understand the United Nations has been hijacked by member states of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation. Blackmailing oil-less UN member states with Institutionized Terrorism and veiled threats to reinstitute 20th Century Arab Oil Embargoes has made the UN essentially a large agency hell-bent to destroy the States of Israel, Palestine and Lebanon as initial steps to Islamize the world under a UN caliphate.

    Perpetuating the myth of squalid life in refugee camps,

    “First, UNRWA needs to apologize for six decades of false promises,” Eid said. “Then it needs to concentrate on building permanent neighborhoods for the refugees, to remove them from the miserable situation that prevails in the refugee camps,”

    this ‘Pied Piper’ ‘wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing’ is well on his way to infecting terrorized, brain-dead westerners with his own brand of ‘EIDS’ pandemic.

  • Tony Trenton

    The fundamental purpose of the ME conflict is to maintain the international Jihadist focus on the end game of an Islam only world without Infidels.

  • David Hersch

    Fascinates me, looking at the photograph of Shuafat, how it can be described as a “refugee camp”. On the issue of UNRWA, Bassam is correct. As far a Shuafat is concerned, it is just north of Jerusalem and should be functioning today as any other city/town/suburb.

  • Jose Duran

    Finally somebody with brains and honesty has spoken.
    The Palestinians, do not belong in Israel, for as long as they practice hate and terrorism, and teach their children that hate is part of their Muslim, madness.
    There should be an end to the state of permanent stateless situation and the continuation of a situation of professional refugee state practice by the UN . This situation was resolved by Israel decades ago, and the UN. With vastly superior resources, shamelessly continues to use the original defeat and subsequent tragedy of the Palestinians to create a convenient population of ready made refugees. This is unacceptable .

  • Scott

    A man of integrity.
    He’ll now need a bodyguard. I hope this will save him from the assassination attempts he’s now likely to suffer from Hamas.

    • Len

      Finally, a sane voice from someone who apparently knows what he is talking about. Imagine how much graft is taking place by perpetuating the issue! A comprehensive investigation of the UN and its agencies would be a start. The next step would be to set minimum human rights standards for nations to be members.

    • Tony Trenton

      It’s all about the money!!!

      UNRWA officials have their hands in the cooky jar so deep.

      They are addicted to the free lunch!!!

      They have been bought and paid for by Arab Muslim money


    Good for this gentleman who has woken up. I hope that the world will wake up and take note of what he said.
    As for Chris Gunnes, he is the biggest war criminal and should be taken to the ICC and jailed for the rest of his life.
    He was responsible for the war, and the many deaths.

    Gunnes exaggerated the actual death figures as well as supplied Hamas with rockets in UN buildings, knowing full well, that those buildings would be legal targets.

    Israel had to destroy those rockets.

    Gunnes put those rockets in those buildings, knowing that there would be many people killed, so that the world can blame Israel for all the deaths.


      I would also like to know how much of UN money, Gunnes and his Hamas friends have stolen

      • Robert Davis

        Kristian : who cares for the money? our real problem is Israel’s SURVIVAL which will be possible only when fake palestinians are expelled. This money should be used to settle them in Jordan and Sinai. But I am sure that when donors will see it is not going to be used to destroy Israel …they will not give a dime any longer!

  • Carl

    Wow, a truly rational Palestinian!! And at the same time that Europe is sucking on the teats of terrorists and vilifying the civilized and democratic state of Israel in the utterly misguided belief that peace will magically emerge.

  • Ivan Gur-Arie

    At last some light is being shed on the corruption of UNWRA and by extension the United Nations.

  • Robby

    Is this true, or something from the Onion?

    A Palestinian coming forward with an honest opinion on the refugees, I don’t believe it.

  • ilana Goldstein

    It is not just UNRWA that is the problem it is the Arab countries who deliberately made the Arab refugees which they helped create the scapegoats for their internal deficiencies.USA and Europe are to blame as well.

  • Yoel Nitzarim

    The message Bassam Eid is invoking is both sensible and novel. Kudos to this man who has the courage to speak the truth about the plight of the Palestinian refugees. UNRWA should absolutely be completely revamped from top to bottom!

  • sonya
  • Do you know who are the Palestinians?
    More than 10 years ago I made a short presentation on two UN organizations dealing with refugees. UNHCR organization caring for refugees from around the world.
    And UNRWA organization who cares for Arab refugees who fought against the Jewish state – Israel.
    Here is also a page of the changes made to UNRWA’s refugee definition in recent years after I published the presentation
    Out of the work on the presentation I learned that the UN through UNRWA, which is used as an arm of the United Nations, promotes violence, is a factor for not resolving the conflict and transmits and stores actual war material against Israel.
    Is this not a crime against humanity?
    Without UNRWA, there would not exist “Palestinian refugees.”
    Without UNRWA, there would not be the requirement of the “right of return”.
    Without UNRWA, all the refugees in the world would receive the same conditions and the same treatment.
    Without UNRWA, there would not exist in the eternal warfare between Israel and the Arabs of Israel.
    UNRWA is an organization that had to be closed 66 years ago. So why is it still exists? Who and why prevents the closing of this criminal organization?
    Another important point that must be said, in January of 1948, toward the end of the British rule in Palestine- the land of Israel,
    the British made a population census.
    The result was: the number of Arabs in all this region, including the West Bank and Gaza was: – 914 000 includes Muslims, Christians, Druze, and anyone who is not Jewish.
    Any intelligent person can understand that someone in UNRWA fabricates numbers.
    After the 1948 war, 200,000 Arabs remained within the borders of Israel.
    When it comes to the number of refugees in those years it was about 350,000-450,000.
    But there is evidence that UNRWA traded with their refugee cards. Well, they put to this list also everyone who wanted to get the support of that organization at the places where they set up camps.
    What does the UN teach Palestinian children at UNRWA schools?
    Let’s talk about occupation.
    Because what is happening now in Israel will happen in your countries. Therefore, you should know about that.
    Everyone who talks about the oppression of the Palestinians. Some historical information would not hurt.
    The Arabs are Not Palestinians! The real Palestinians are Not of Arab origin.
    Do you know who are those who stole the Palestinian identity?
    Do you know that the largest mosque in Gaza was a synagogue less than a hundred years ago? Did you know that a hundred and fifty years ago, most of Gaza’s population was Jews and Christians? The Jewish population in Gaza ended with the pogrom of 1928. The last Christian Priest murdered three years after Hamas came to power. And recently, Christians in Gaza are forced to convert to Islam. Just like ISIS do it anywhere which they occupy.
    Please read this short article and visit all the links to get more information..

    And this article written by Ben-Dror Yemini: Nakba Day and the Fraud

    And also the Interior Minister of Hamas indicates that the historical facts which I present are true. From his explanation, it is understandable that was made a deception of identity theft.
    What does the UN teach “Palestinian” children at UNRWA schools?
    If so, what are the real causes of the Arab war against Israel?
    Here’s a real explanation from the mouths of imams in mosques.
    It is very important to know that Branding the Jews and their state Israel as “occupiers”, gives Arab the legitimacy to remove the occupier in any way they choose, including terrorism against civilians. Therefore they insist to preserve and to leverage this branding. But anyone who is interested in reaching a peace must be recruited for switching it off.
    And here you have a person who explains it the best way.!
    And also Sheikh Palazzi
    and Dr. Tawfik Hamid, who was a member of Alkaaida. Now he loves Israel and is trying to change Islam in order to achieve peace.
    And this precious man . Once he was a terrorist and murder people.
    One more point. During this period when UNRWA was created, there were a million refugees that the UN did everything to forget about them.
    And this is a video for those interested in delving into the subject of the relationship between Arab – Israeli conflict and the Nazis.

    Hamas’s goal is the destruction of the State of Israel. But don’t take our word for it! Read the actual Hamas Charter and see why Hamas will stop at nothing to destroy Israel and the Jewish people.

    The Palestinian National Covenant
    And an interesting series on the origins of the hatred of Jews and how the Palestinian Authority supports this hatred.
    Blaming the Jews – Muslim anti-semitism – (part 1/4)
    Blaming the Jews – Muslim anti-semitism – (part 2/4)
    Blaming the Jews – Muslim anti-semitism – (part 3/4)
    Blaming the Jews – Muslim anti-semitism – (part 4/4)

  • Haim Ahmed Emmet

    Finaly a Palestinian with brains