The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was originally a small agency mandated to provide basic humanitarian relief for Palestinians, including a vote for renewal every three years. Seventy-three years and four generations later, and with more than 30,000 employees and an annual budget of more than $1 billion, it has astonishingly become one of the largest U.N. agencies.
In the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, UNRWA has, in fact, long been operating as the de facto government. By providing the residents of the Gaza Strip with various services, UNRWA exempted Hamas from its responsibilities as the governing body, such as creating a working economy that would pay for education and healthcare, and allowed it, instead, to invest resources in building tunnels and manufacturing weapons. If UNRWA were not there, Hamas would have been forced to fill the vacuum and, for example, build hospitals and schools and find solutions to economic hardship, including unemployment and poverty.
As senior Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzouk said, in explaining why no cement could be spared from terror tunnels to build bomb shelters for Gazan citizens:
“The tunnels were built to protect the fighters of Hamas from [Israeli] airstrikes. As you know, 75% of the residents of the Gaza Strip are refugees. It is the responsibility of the United Nations to protect the refugees.”
Hamas was effectively saying: We are responsible for what happens underground, while UNRWA is responsible for what happens above ground.
In addition to evolving into a monster-sized agency, UNRWA has also morphed into a very costly incubator for terror. UNRWA-run schools emphasize and promote the “right of return,” a euphemism for flooding Israel with millions of Palestinians and turning it into a Muslim-majority Islamist state backed by Iran.
More than 50% of UNRWA’s annual budget of $1.6 billion is dedicated to funding Palestinian schools. These schools have been fostering war-mongering hatred against Israel, and against Jews in general, from the youngest, most impressionable ages and onward throughout the school years, while predictably churning out their final product: terrorists and terrorist sympathizers.
“They [UNRWA] teach us that the Al-Aqsa Mosque belongs to us [Muslims], that Palestine belongs to us,” said Atif Sharha, a student at a UNRWA school in the Shuafat refugee camp, north of Jerusalem.
“I hate the Jews,” said Yousef, another student at a UNRWA school in Qalandia refugee camp, south of Ramallah.
“Yes, they teach us that the Zionists are our enemy,” said Nur Taha, a third student from Kalandia. “We should carry out an [terror] operation against them [Zionists].”
Marcus Sheff, Chief Executive Officer at The Institute for Cultural Peace and Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se), laments:
“The Palestinian matriculation exams have become a finishing school in extremism. It is as if the Palestinian Authority is cramming as much hate into the tests as possible, to ensure the twelve previous years of indoctrination stay with them into adulthood.”
UNRWA then reinserts many of these hate-infused people right back into its institutions, perpetuating what the UN is keen on blaming Israel for: “the cycle of violence.”
UNRWA schools have been the focus of media scrutiny on many occasions. UNRWA’s textbooks, compiled by the P.A., have been blasted for showy, hate-provoking and terror-inciting material such as “a grammar exercise that encourages Palestinians to ‘sacrifice their blood to liberate Jerusalem.'”
Palestinian textbooks produced by UNRWA contain “antisemitic, hateful and violent passages,” according to IMPACT-se. Some of these passages, in an Islamic education drill, include labeling Jews as inherently treacherous. A poem included in the educational content glorifies the killing of Israelis, and portrays dying as martyrs by killing Israelis as a “hobby.”
In a grammar exercise, Jews, it is implied, are impure and supposedly defile the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Despite years of considerable condemnation of the textbooks, newly produced editions, approved by UNRWA, are exponentially worse.
“Terrorist activities against Israeli civilians are also part of the struggle against the Zionist occupation of Palestine. Thus, the new books exalt Palestinian terrorists who participated in such actions. Dalal al-Mughrabi, for example, who was killed in a terrorist attack she had led against a civilian bus… in which more than 30 men, women and children were murdered, is mentioned in four books, all studied in UNRWA schools at present. In all of them she is described as a heroine and martyr of Palestine,” according to IMPACT-se.
According to the textbooks used in UNRWA schools, Jews have no rights whatsoever or any legitimate status in Israel. A Jewish presence in the country is denied historically, geographically and religiously. No reference is made in the books to the history of the Jews throughout the region, either in biblical or Roman times. Any connection of the Jews to their ancient capital, Jerusalem, is also denied. The city is presented as having been an Arab one since its establishment thousands of years ago. The Jews’ presence in Jerusalem today is bewilderingly presented in the books as an aggression against the city’s Arab character.
Beyond the textbooks, both UNRWA administrators and teachers have proudly displayed their approval of terrorism and hatred on countless occasions, including Hamas’s recent Oct. 7 massacre, according to a report published by U.N. Watch, an independent non-governmental human rights organization, as well as IMPACT-se.
UNRWA math teacher Adnan Shteiwi, for instance, glorified Diaa Hamarsheh, the perpetrator of the March 2022 Bnei Brak shooting—in which he murdered four Israeli civilians and one policeman—as a “martyr” whose name should “forever remain in letters of fire, might and magnificence.”
UNRWA’s Asma Middle School for Girls B encouraged schoolgirls to ” liberate the homeland by sacrificing ‘their Blood’ and pursuing jihad.”
Roni Krivoi, one of the Israeli hostages recently freed from Hamas captivity, reported that he had been kept prisoner in an attic for more than a month and a half, mostly starved and medically untreated. His jailer was an UNRWA teacher.
In Gaza—as with Ahmad Kahalot, director of the Kamal Adwan Hospital, who admitted that he held senior rank in Hamas and that 16 of the hospital’s staff were also “terror operatives for Hamas”—the mesh of Hamas and UNRWA is also illustrated in the high-profile case of Dr. Suhail al-Hindi.
Al-Hindi served as both the principal of an UNRWA elementary school and as the chairman of the UNRWA employee’s union in Gaza. In 2017, UNRWA suspended al-Hindi after it received information that he had just been elected to the Hamas political bureau.
UNRWA announced that al-Hindi no longer worked for the agency, but did not say whether he had resigned or been fired. Al-Hindi first said he “resigned” from UNRWA, but later clarified that he was taking early retirement.
The case of al-Hindi and other UNRWA employees suspected of supporting terrorism makes the point that UNRWA is “the money,” while thug terror-groups such as Hamas are “the muscle.”
UNRWA tries to keep up public pretense that its hands are clean, and has taken a belligerently defensive stance against these and other accusations, as it publicly claims that it has a “zero-tolerance policy for hatred.”
The Israeli news site Ynet , however, wrote recently about a U.N. Watch report:
“In it, some 47 documented cases of school staff promoting antisemitic material are recorded, as school staff openly violates the official UNRWA policy….
“It was only two years ago that UNRWA apologized for similar instances, claiming they were done erroneously and will not occur in the future, but with this latest report, that promise rings hollow.”
One UNRWA employee portrayed Adolf Hitler in a favorable light: “Wake up Hitler, there are people left to burn.”
In addition, as is well-documented, UNRWA has allowed its school buildings to be used by Hamas as storehouses for rocket and other weapons, terror tunnels, and to shelter jihadi terrorists. Hamas and other terror organizations have bet on the media frenzy that would ensue if Israeli forces were to strike a U.N. institution (or hospital, mosque, or even a church) that is being used for military purposes. Hamas has been launching rockets at Israel from alongside UNRWA schools, and, when possible, shooting from inside the schools, thereby taking advantage of the sanctuary that a U.N. institution, especially a “protected space” such as a school, ought to offer.
Last week saw the media explode in condemnation of the Israel Defense Forces for blowing up an UNRWA school, despite the disclosure that the school had been used as a weapons depot and terror tunnels were found in its area.
UNRWA kindergartens have been discovered with weapons hidden inside toys or even in UNRWA bags, and U.N. officials are charged with being complicit in holding hostages, despite protestations to the contrary. It seems that “zero tolerance” had devolved into “zero oversight.”
When rockets were discovered in UNRWA schools in the past, UNRWA would reassure everyone that they had been turned over to “local authorities.” Those authorities, of course, were Hamas, who most likely relocated them to another equally inappropriate location.
Occasionally, UNRWA officials will make a minor fuss or put on a shocked and affronted façade for donors or the media, but apparently do nothing in the way of changing the practice in question. In the upper echelons of UNRWA management, there have been accusations of serious breaches of ethics in the forms of nepotism, bullying, mismanagement of funds—as well as lack of accountability.
This is no small matter considering that in 2022, annual worldwide contributions to UNRWA alone—not including direct donations to Palestinian governing agencies such as Hamas and the P.A., nor to the many NGOs and other Palestinian-specific aid agencies—from 68 donor nations, including the Holy See, was $1.1 billion.
Extensive reports released by UN Watch and IMPACT-se have highlighted the malignant influence of terror organizations such as Hamas, Fatah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad on UNRWA institutions, that either feign ignorance or offer enthusiastic complicity. The repercussions of these revelations are becoming an embarrassment.
Switzerland’s Parliament recently voted to stop funding UNRWA ($21 million annually), labeled Hamas a terrorist organization and unanimously banned it. “Hamas’s brutal terrorist attacks against Israel necessitate a clear position from Switzerland,” they said.
In 2018, the Trump administration, calling UNRWA an “irredeemably flawed operation,” completely cut America’s $300 million annual donation. The aid was reinstated by President Joe Biden almost immediately after he took office.
Many have called the very inception of UNRWA into question, as the United Nations already had (and still does) an agency specifically designated for refugees: the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
UNRWA remains a refugee organization distinct from UNHCR based upon two premises: first, that the Palestinians will “return” to their homes in Israel by means of a the “right of return“; and second, that there will never be a resolution not to “return,” thereby making these refugees an eternal stick in the eye to Israel.
The first premise would effectively destroy Israel by imposing a demographic shift: flooding it with millions of Palestinians, demonstrably none too peace-oriented.
The second premise would, and has been, effectively enslaving Palestinians as the crying faces that keep the international “pity-cash” flowing into the coffers of both Palestinian and UNRWA leadership.
Perhaps this may be at least one answer as to why, when UNRWA recently cried for more aid money for Palestinians, the organization was found to have an entire warehouse “filled to the brim” with food. When Gazans stormed the warehouse in October, they discovered copious amounts of rice, lentils, flour and oil.
Whatever hopes anyone may have held for the trustworthiness of UNRWA have long expired, and were arguably misplaced at the outset. UNRWA, in its current state, has proven itself irremediably defective, unworkable and yet another massive stain on the already scandalously stained United Nations [such as here, here, here, here and here.] The agency has perpetuated the issue of the “refugees” by keeping them in camps while providing them with basic services only.
Worse, UNRWA has deliberately created new generations of “refugees” by insisting that the descendants of refugees inherit the status of “refugee”—which on its face is nonsense. It is high time for the international community and those who actually want a better future for the Palestinians to liquidate UNRWA and take actions that truly help the Palestinians move forward to a golden life.
Originally published by The Gatestone Institute.