newsIsrael at War

Israel wants UNRWA out of Gaza

"The agency is Hamas's educational arm."

Palestinians demonstrate in the Balata refugee camp against the policies of Scott Anderson, director of UNRWA in Judea and Samaria, Sept. 17, 2017. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.
Palestinians demonstrate in the Balata refugee camp against the policies of Scott Anderson, director of UNRWA in Judea and Samaria, Sept. 17, 2017. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has put together a classified report calling for the removal of UNRWA from the Gaza Strip in the long-term, noting that the U.N. relief agency works against Israel’s interests.

The report’s recommendations set out a three-stage process for shrinking and eventually eliminating UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, from the Strip: 1) Prepare a case detailing UNRWA’s cooperation with Hamas; 2) Reduce UNRWA’s field of activity and find replacement service providers; and 3) Transfer UNRWA’s responsibilities to another entity.

Channel 12, which revealed the existence of the secret report on Thursday, noted that Israel wants to move slowly, recognizing that the U.S. sees UNRWA as a positive player in humanitarian efforts in the Strip. The ministry hopes to gradually build the case for ousting the organization, linking that goal to discussions on “the day after” Hamas.

Kobi Michael, a senior researcher at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), supports dislodging UNRWA, telling JNS that “UNRWA was born in sin and exists in sin, therefore, it should be dismantled.

“It was established because of pressure by the Arab world as a platform to leverage the interests of Arab leaders against the State of Israel using the Palestinian [refugee] issue,” Michael said.

Israel must convince the U.S. and the international community of UNRWA’s unfitness by pulling together research, much of which has already been performed, on the U.N. group, (Michael co-authored a damning report on UNRWA in 2020). Israel should also highlight what UNRWA’s own people have revealed about it, he said, noting especially James Lindsay.

James G. Lindsay, an American civil servant, worked with UNRWA from 2000 to 2007 and as its general counsel from 2002. For more than a decade, he has called for a close examination of UNRWA’s activities, saying it doesn’t solve the Palestinian refugee problem, but rather perpetuates it.

Lindsay has pointed out that aside from the fact that UNRWA is the only U.N. refugee organization dedicated to a single population, the Palestinians, it defines refugees differently than the United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which handles all the rest of the world’s refugees.

“UNHCR does not consider someone a refugee who has acquired citizenship in another country. In other words, if you have been a refugee but then you become a citizen, you can no longer be a refugee,” Lindsay told UN Watch in 2019.

“If you can’t be a refugee under those definitions, then a very large number of UNRWA Palestinian refugees would not be refugees at all. For instance, in Jordan approximately 90% of the people UNRWA considers Palestine refugees are citizens of Jordan, and they would not be refugees under the UNHCR, or the U.N. Convention [Relating to the Status of Refugees] terms,” he said.

The Palestinian refugee population is the only one that increases each year. Starting from 700,000 in 1948 it has grown to 5.9 million refugees registered with UNRWA as of mid-2023.

Said Michael, “The idea that we are still talking about Palestinian refugees is not reasonable. We’re talking about fifth-generation refugees when actually they are not refugees at all.”

Controlled by Hamas

The worst aspect of UNRWA is that it’s controlled by Hamas. “All the workers of UNRWA in the Gaza Strip—something like 13,000—all of them are approved by Hamas,” he said.

In 2020, 58% of UNRWA’s then-$800 million budget (it has since ballooned to $1.6 billion) went to education. Michael says education isn’t even part of its mandate.

The curriculum in UNRWA-run schools has been repeatedly exposed for its glorification of jihad and antisemitism.

More than 100 of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists who carried out terrorist attacks and murdered Israeli citizens on Oct. 7 were graduates of UNRWA’s education system, the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) found.

In another report, it found at least 14 teachers and staff at UNRWA schools publicly celebrated the Hamas massacre and other Hamas attacks on their social media accounts.

Noting that the U.S. is UNRWA’s largest donor, disbursing almost $1 billion in funds to the U.N. agency over the last five years, IMPACT-se head Marcus Sheff said in early November that taxpayer funds pay for “the production of inciteful supplementary teaching materials by UNRWA staff,” “textbooks glorifying violent jihad against Jews” and “the salaries of UNRWA teachers, who are responsible for teaching them to students.”

“There is no doubt that Hamas uses UNRWA to promote its goals,” Michael said. UNRWA is essentially Hamas’s educational arm, which is funded by the international community. That’s one more service that Hamas doesn’t need to provide, enabling it to pour more of its money into its military, he said.

As to what will replace UNRWA at war’s end, Michael proposes an international consortium made up of Western and Middle Eastern countries (similar to what the Netanyahu government is suggesting).

Michael says this trusteeship will last for at least five years. During that time, it will train a professional technocratic class from the Palestinian population to run the Strip.

The “Palestinian national consciousness is very ill, sick. During the three decades under the umbrella of the Oslo process, the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people were poisoned by the Palestinian Authority, and later on by Hamas,” he said.

“The process of reconstruction will require very deep changes to Palestinian society and leadership,” Michael said.

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