UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, has joined Hamas’s clamor for lifting the blockade on Gaza forthwith. This was the gist of what UNRWA’s Gaza spokesman Chris Gunness demanded. No surprise here. UNRWA never played a remotely constructive or impartial role in the Mideast.
Its self-preservation interests perhaps rule out neutrality and fairness to begin with, lest these actually lead to improvements that might obviate the sham pretext for keeping UNRWA around. UNRWA’s continued existence hinges on not solving this region’s problems.
Put differently, it’s in UNRWA’s distinct interest to keep the flames of conflict burning high.
The fact that its installations were incontrovertibly revealed to function as rocket arsenals is only one aspect of a greater travesty. The rockets were handed right back to Hamas in a number of instances and UNRWA appears complacent about the fact that its facilities were also used to launch rockets at Israel or to fire on Israeli troops (thereby inevitably drawing back fire to supposed safe-havens).
Many UNRWA personnel, moreover, are closely tied to Gaza’s powers-that-be and are no well-meaning do-gooders. Twenty-five of the 27-member UNRWA executive in Gaza are Hamas activists. This figure speaks volumes. UNRWA schools are infamous for facilitating Hamas indoctrination.
Gunness’s demand is also disingenuous for failing to mention cause and effect. It accuses Israel of “collective punishment of the 1.8 million Palestinians packed into Gaza.” To the uninitiated it sounds as if this is all a product of capricious Israeli malevolence.
There’s no mention of what it was that caused Israel to impose the blockade, nor of what happened within Israel proper when no such blockade was in force. The fact that Israel allows food, medications, electricity and water into Gaza at the very time in which Gaza rockets Israeli population centers is also missing from Gunness’s portrayal of the situation.
But this isn’t unexpected. UNRWA’s very mandate is an aberration. The UN established a special agency in 1949 for those deemed to be Palestinian refugees, as distinct from all of the world’s bona fide refugees. All other refugees, regardless of degree of plight and objective hardship, are looked after by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), while the privileged Palestinian category is singularly served by UNRWA.
UNRWA is calculatingly exploited to prevent refugee-offspring from losing their refugee status, thereby creating the greatest obstacle to the ostensibly desired peace. UNRWA helps keep alive and fan the ambition to inundate Israel with millions of so-called refugees, while paying lip-service to a two-state solution.
This becomes self-evident when we consider the different definitions for “refugee” to which UNHCR and UNRWA subscribe. UNHCR’s refugee is one who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted…is outside the country of his nationality.” By this definition the refugee’s descendents aren’t refugees. Florida-born children of Cuban refugees are no longer considered homeless.
The only exceptions are the Palestinians. UNRWA classifies as refugees any Arabs, native or not, who sojourned “in Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, and lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.”
Not only could any itinerant foreign Arab laborer claim Palestinian refugee status, but UNRWA stipulates that the right extends to “descendents of persons who became refugees in 1948.” Indeed one refugee-parent suffices for inheriting the distinction – even when not “outside the country of one’s nationality.”
By UNHCR’s yardsticks over 97% of those whom UNRWA regards as refugees are nothing of the sort.
In 1948 there were some 600,000 self-styled Palestinian refugees. UNRWA now boasts that it cares for 5,000,000. Its budget for 2014 is USD 14bil, versus USD 5bil for UNHCR (saddled with the rest of the world’s refugees, including those from Syria and Iraq). UNHCR has 5,000 employees; UNRWA has 30,000 (90% of whom are Palestinians).
With so many layers of unabashed hypocrisy overlapping and contributing so cynically to the perpetuation of misery instead of assisting the cause of peace and prosperity, it’s time to regard UNRWA as a problem in and of itself. This region would be better off without UNRWA.