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August 5, 2021 11:59 am

UNRWA and a Jewish Palestinian Refugee Family

avatar by Michael L. Wise


Palestinian schoolchildren sit inside a classroom at an UNRWA-run school, on the first day of a new school year, in Gaza City, Aug. 29, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Mohammed Salem.

UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, is a major obstacle to peace between Israel and its neighbors. UNRWA was formed in 1949 to help Arabs who fled and left Israel, assimilate into surrounding Arab states. Instead, it has prolonged the Israeli-Palestinian dispute by refusing to help refugees integrate into their host countries, and has perpetuated the false hope of a Palestinian “right of return.”

As others have pointed out, “less than 5% of five million people deemed ‘Palestinian refugees’ [by UNRWA] meet the criteria for this status.” And UNRWA has admitted to cooperating with Hamas.

Nonetheless, President Biden has resumed funding to UNRWA, in spite of its ongoing cooperation with terrorist groups.

My four grandparents were driven out of Palestine in the 1920s by Arab terrorism.

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During that time, Arab pogroms were precipitated by Haj Amin al-Husseini, who claimed that Jews were going to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque. My mom’s parents, and my dad’s parents, fell victim to Arab violence and murderous mobs in their home city of Jerusalem. As penniless Jewish Palestinian refugees, they were forced to flee, and sought safety and security in New York.

My mom’s mother, Sarah, remembered how her father, Chaim Hirsch Eisenbach, saved the life of a rabbi at the Western Wall by shielding his bloodied body from Arab attackers. Violent mobs roamed the alleyways of Jerusalem, responding to exhortations of local imams to drive the Jews from the land.

Sarah married Shimon, who traced his ancestry back to the Shlah Ha’Kadosh, the scion of the Horowitz and Gotlieb families. These families lived in Jerusalem long before 95% of the Arab Bedouins and fellahin immigrated from Syria, Egypt, and Arabia.

My mom’s parents lived in the Sheikh Jarakh neighborhood of Jerusalem, and were often terrified by Arab mobs and attackers. Similarly, my wife and her family were driven out of Sheikh Jarrah in 1948, when the Jordanian Army occupied parts of Jerusalem.

My dad’s family, the Rivlins and Reichmans, lived in Palestine for centuries, primarily in Safad and Jerusalem. My grandfather was the grandson of Joseph Rivlin, who founded 11 Jerusalem neighborhoods, including Meah Shearim and Nahlat Shivah (“the settlement of seven”). In 1869, he and six friends joined together to build a community outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Joseph Rivlin’s grandfather Hillel came from Vilna in 1809. His first cousin, the Gaon of Vilna, encouraged his students to come to Israel. They joined ancient Jewish communities in Safad, Tiberias and Jerusalem. Hillel’s descendants became leaders of the Ashkenazi Jewish community in Israel.

Under UNRWA’s definition, many of my family members could be considered “refugees.” But they all built successful lives without UNRWA subsidies, and without being fed lies that they could one day return to Israel and reclaim houses and property that now belonged to others.

UNRWA is not helping solve the refugee problem; it is stirring up grievances, and prolonging Palestinian suffering.

Hopefully, one day, Arab Palestinian refugees will become citizens in Arab countries and UNRWA will disappear.

Dr. Michael Wise is a founder and investor in numerous technology companies. He is a graduate of YU and holds a PhD in Theoretical Physics from Brandeis, is the author of an Israel demography study (BESA), and has published numerous articles about Israeli sovereignty and demographics in Judea and Samaria. [email protected]

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