The UNRWA Shill Game and State Department Compliance
The international scandal of our time, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), has persisted for sixty-five years. “By any measurement,” Middle East Forum fellows Asaf Romirowsky and Alexander Joffe recently blogged (December 19), UN and American policy toward UNRWA meets the standard for insanity: “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Although UNRWA defines itself as “a relief and human development agency,” it has long been anything but. It effectively consigns some 30,000-50,000 genuine Palestinian refugees still living, and 5.4 million of their descendants, to squalid refugee camps with little hope for citizenship rights in the lands of their imprisonment: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and its former West Bank, and Gaza. Their plight only enhances UNRWA’s bloated claims for international funding, invariably met, to sustain more than 30,000 UNRWA employees amid the comforts to which they have become accustomed.
Bassam Eid, a Palestinian human rights activist who grew up in Shu’afat, a refugee camp near Jerusalem, recently castigated UNRWA for the “war crime” of “causing five million Palestinian refugees to suffer more and more under the umbrella of the ‘right of return'” to their 1948 homes, which no longer exist. “In the eyes of the Palestinians,” he asserts, “UNRWA acts [as] a state with its own foreign policy. And that foreign policy does not serve the best interests of the Palestinian refugees.”
Proof for Mr. Eid’s indictment was recently provided in a document released by the State Department entitled “Framework for Cooperation” between UNRWA and the United States for 2015. The report boasts: “Assisting vulnerable populations through effective provision of humanitarian assistance is a key element of U.S. foreign policy.” That sounds fine in theory; in practice, however, the bloated funding for UNRWA provided by the United States – $294,023,401 in 2013 alone – sustains a travesty.
“The goal of U.S. support to UNRWA,” according to the State Department Report, “is to ensure that Palestinian refugees live in dignity with an enhanced human development potential until a comprehensive and just solution is secured.” In reality, however, UNRWA has assured that the children, grandchildren and all future descendants of Palestinian refugees will remain degraded and humiliated victims of its policy, which has no equivalent for any other refugees in the world – including more than three million Syrians from President Assad’s current reign of terror.
The stated goal of State Department largesse toward UNRWA is to “promote the human development of Palestinian refugees by improving living conditions, economic potential, livelihoods, access, and human rights.” It pledges to do so “until a just solution is achieved and UNRWA’s mandate ends.” American taxpayers should not hold their breath. A sixty-five year-old policy of unmonitored generosity to a certified rip-off organization that invents and inflates refugee numbers to justify its shnorring is unlikely to abate in the foreseeable future.
Indeed, as Romirowsky and Joffe indicate, UNRWA in Gaza has become little more than a surrogate for Hamas. During its summer rocket assault against Israel UNRWA schools were storehouses for Hamas rockets while UNRWA employees cheered the murder of Israelis. Belatedly mindful of this travesty, the new State Department Framework states, rather preposterously in light of recent events, that “the United States and UNRWA share concerns about the threat of terrorism.” Tunnels beneath and rockets above Israel’s borders are not mentioned.
On paper at least, according to impressionable State Department drafters, UNRWA is “committed to taking all possible measures to ensure that funding provided by the United States to support UNRWA is not used to provide assistance to, or otherwise support, terrorists or terrorist organizations.” The State Department notes “with appreciation efforts taken by UNRWA during the course of 2014 to strengthen the Agency’s neutrality compliance.” Gaza is ignored. Romirowsky and Joffe wonder, as anyone might, how the Facebook celebration by UNRWA teachers following the recent murder of four Jerusalem rabbis at prayer in their synagogue meets the standard of “neutrality compliance.”
The State Department report might also have noted, but overlooked, the actual number of Palestinian refugees from the Arab war to destroy Israel in 1948. It was not 5.4 million, as UNRWA now claims, nor even 900,000 as The New York Times repeatedly asserted over the years. Rather, according to the diligent research of historian Efraim Karsh, it was between 583,000-609,000. A tragedy, to be sure, foisted upon them by their own leaders and abetted by the determination of neighboring Arab nations to annihilate the fledgling Jewish state. It is long past time for the State Department to reconsider the shill game it supports in which Americans continue to be ripped off by UNRWA.
Jerold S. Auerbach is a frequent contributor to The Algemeiner