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The Refugee Factory: The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine and why it has to reform

When US President Donald Trump announced that his administration will follow a policy of massive budget cuts, there were many to point out the errors of such drastic measures. But at least in one case, it seems that the decision is based on facts and the reality in the field.

On January 14th, the US Administration announced a plan to cut contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, with the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, supporting a full cancellation of the yearly $364 million aid, while US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson proposed a payment of $60 million, that is half of the first yearly tranche.

The decision was first mentioned – although numbers weren’t -, in a message posted by President Trump on January 3rd, in the context of US controversial decision to move its Embassy to Jerusalem.

“(…) we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel. (…) with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” wrote the US President on Twitter at the beginning of January.

For the US, cutting up the huge sums the Administration in Washington is paying is in concordance with the “America First” slogan President Trump has been advocating ever since he announced his candidature for the White House. It only makes sense to stop the influx of money to organisations who don’t reflect American interests.

For the UNRWA, budget losses would hopefully translate into reformation and change of structure in such a way that American objections will be appeased. But the situation in the field is more complicated.

Today, the UNRWA is a giant organisation, with more than 50.000 employees in 59 officially recognised Palestinian refugee camps spread across Middle East. This makes it the largest UN organisation, even larger than the similar United Nations High Council for Refugees. But the UNHCR only has close to 11.000 employees trying to help all the other refugees in the world: 65 million compared to the 5 million in the care of the UNRWA.

Across the years, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees has been at the center of some major controversies. Its overgrown staffing and poor results are just a few of the reasons that might have prompted the Trump Administration to reassess its funding.

UNRWA was established back in 1949, with a one-year mandate at the end of the first Arab – Israeli war, and was meant to provide relief to the 700.000 Palestinians who fled the conflict area. Right from the start, the nascent organisation was politicized under the umbrella of the United Nations. It only took two years for officials of the UNRWA to understand that their work would be difficult.

“As long as we rely on the United Nations to do something serious for the settlement of refugees, we will only deceive ourselves because the United Nations is a political organization. There is the Arab League, and all the politics of the Arab League. The Arab League needs the refugee problem to maintain cohesion against Israel. The refugee settlement would deprive her of her most important complaint…” English Labour MP, Richard Crossrian said in the House of Commons, according to Tibor Mende, the author of an article published in French newspaper Le Monde on April 21, 1951.

In short, Palestinian refugees were going to remain refugees simply because their status was to be used by Arab countries against the State of Israel.

UNRWA school in Gaza

Sixty years later, the UNRWA is the only UN organisation dedicated to a single group of refugees. It tends to the needs of some 5 million Palestinians, most of them descendants, although according to the UN’s own definition, only 20.000 of them should be considered “refugees”. In the past decades, tent camps transformed in building quarters, stoves were replaced with electricity, and the refugees who inhabit these houses in the suburbs of Jenin or, let’s say, Ramallah receive more than 50 times the aid which other refugees from Congo or Myanmar try to survive on.
Apart from this, UNRWA’s spiritual influence is also criticised. The 2016-2017 curriculum for elementary schools in Palestine, partly funded by UNRWA, “teaches students to be martyrs, to demonize and deny the existence of Israel, and to focus on a ‘return’ to an exclusively Palestinian country,” according to a report from the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education.

It comes to no surprise, then, to learn that UNRWA schools and hospitals in Gaza were frequently used by terrorist organisations to launch rockets agains Israeli targets or as staging points for terror tunnels. UNRWA officials were quick to condemn the breaking of their neutrality, while returning rockets and mortars found in their premises to Hamas.

That neutrality comes in question when Palestinian children tutored in UNRWA schools are asked what are they learning there. The Center for Near East Policy published several reports in which schoolchildren admit they were told that their country was stolen by Jews, that Israel has no right to exist and that one of their greatest wishes is to become martyrs to the Palestinian cause, right there close to their desire of killing Jews.

But the pupils are only repeating their teachers’ beliefs. A year ago, the Geneva-based non-governmental organisation UN Watch published a 130-page report in which at least 40 teachers employed by UNRWA in Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria were brought in the spotlight for their Facebook posts where they incited to Jihadist terrorism and antisemitism while posting Holocaust-denying videos and pictures celebrating Hitler.

“We need to see zero tolerance in the U.N. for terrorism and antisemitism,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch.

Forcing the UNRWA to reform might be a first step towards normalization, and one of the possible developments is to merge the UNRWA with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. But for this to happen, a decision must be taken in the United Nations General Assembly, a close-to-impossible task considering the opposition of the Arab League.

Transparent policies, a renunciation of questionable school curriculum in favor of an education in the name of peace and the elimination of paramilitary training sessions in the courtyards are also small steps towards a larger goal, but first of all, the UNRWA should begin reform by changing its mentality: its purpose is to help refugees integrate and start a normal life, not to prolong a situation which was already obvious more than 60 years ago.

These examples support the generally held view that the United Nations would spend large sums of money to create a refugee problem rather than solve it.” Tibor Mende, the author of an article published in French newspaper Le Monde on April 21, 1951.

About The Author

David Nataf started his career as co-founder of Net Development, a leading French web integrators, employing 80 people. After the merger of Net Development with Reef publisher, David joined the law firm, Jean-Pierre Millet, with the defense of computer attackers and victimes specialty ("hackers") in cases between different organizations such as NSA or other members of the international interception 'Echelon' network from the UKUSA treaty or the US Air Force. He is the author of several books on information warfare, consultant for the European Parliament as an expert in computer security (SSI) and electromagnetic signals intelligence (SIGINT). David Nataf successively launched several start-ups of the Internet in the field of paperless technologies termination of contracts online (""); online subscription to early stage fundraising foreshadowing the model will retain more later the platform "", or free roaming mobile operators (MVNO). Given his specialty at the cross road of anti computer crime legal advising, Internet technology, media and anti-propaganda operations, David has naturally become an actor's influence on the Web, working for a think-tank representing french defense and Aerospace. He is architecting crypto farms and masternodes for cryptocurrencies in Asia and Israel technological parks. He graduated in Law from the Faculty of Paris, is a passionate graduated gemologist by Gemological Institute of America "GG", Gemmological Association of Great Britain "Cert-Ga", practical daily triathlon.

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