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It’s time for Western powers to terminate UNRWA

Stop the hate and start anew.

Palestinians receive food aid at an UNRWA distribution center in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on May 26, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Palestinians receive food aid at an UNRWA distribution center in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on May 26, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
James Sinkinson
James Sinkinson
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.

Both the United States and the European Union withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) because of the organization’s blatantly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel educational materials. Despite the fact that UNRWA has made no changes in its curriculum, both have now restored their funding.

Clearly, it’s time to rethink UNRWA and stop its malign, self-perpetuating activities.

UNRWA’s founding in 1949 seemed innocent enough. Its charter was to support thousands of Arab refugees who fled or were displaced during Israel’s war of independence against invading Arab armies. But the real, nefarious purpose of the agency soon became clear.

For 73 years, UNRWA has functioned not to end the suffering of Arab refugees, but to perpetuate it—not to foster peace between Jews and Arabs, but to promote Israel’s destruction.

While the number of Arab refugees from Palestine was about 750,000 in 1949, today UNRWA claims it serves more than five million descendants of the original group. These Palestinians are the only refugees in the world who have never lived in their “homeland.” Millions of these pseudo-refugees are citizens of other countries. Perhaps equally perverse, UNRWA has maintained a huge school system serving Palestinians in Gaza and Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”), one of whose primary purposes for decades has been to indoctrinate Palestinian school children on the fundamentals of anti-Semitism and violent jihad against the Jewish state.

No wonder that in 2021 both the United States and the European Union informed UNRWA that they were withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to the agency’s schools until their textbooks were cleansed of hate. Yet, both the United States and the European Union have rapidly increased funding for UNRWA, despite there being no reported changes to any of the agency’s educational content.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Senate Appropriations Committee last June that the United States was conditioning a renewal of aid on reform of UNRWA’s textbooks. “We’re … determined that UNRWA pursue very necessary reforms in terms of some of the abuses of the system that have taken place in the past, particularly the challenge that we’ve seen in disseminating in its educational products anti-Semitic or anti-Israel information,” he said.

Nonetheless, since the U.S. cut payments of $360 million to UNRWA in 2018, the Biden administration has already ramped up payments to UNRWA by more than $200 million in 2021.

Last September, the European Parliament’s budget panel approved an amendment to withhold 20 million euros from UNRWA if immediate changes were not made to the curriculum taught in its schools, which includes anti-Israel rhetoric and incitement of violence.

Yet just a few days ago, the European Union restored some $230 million in funding to UNRWA, raising their total contribution to the organization to $320 million.

Both the United States and the European Union claim their renewed funding of UNRWA is due to “humanitarian concerns” and the need to avoid a “fiscal crisis” at the organization, whose budget has been cut by about $850 million. Some 50% of UNRWA’s budget funds its educational programs.

But there is nothing humanitarian about training children to hate Jews. There is nothing humanitarian about keeping a people perpetually dependent on international welfare, with no horizon of hope—except for a futile dream of extinguishing Israel and its people.

Likewise, it does generations of descendants of Palestinian refugees no service to educate them to murder their neighbors and perpetuate a culture of victimhood.

Make no mistake: UNRWA is a terror collaborator with Hamas in Gaza. UNRWA allows its schools and hospitals to be used as missile launching pads—with its students as human shields—and its schools are bases for Hamas terror tunnels into Israel.

UNRWA’s teachers’ unions are run by Hamas. Teachers proudly indoctrinate their kids with hatred of Israel and Jews, using textbooks and wall maps with no sign of a neighbor called “Israel.” Summer camps teach jihad, and paramilitary training creates Hamas’s soldiers of tomorrow.

The United States and the European Union know that something is rotten in UNRWA—and have known it for decades.

They know that instead of reducing the suffering of descendants of Palestinian refugees, UNRWA perpetuates it. They know UNRWA textbooks openly and stridently promote anti-Semitism—and they have righteously insisted that UNRWA reform its educational content. Yet the Palestinians and UNRWA refuse to stop the hate.

In the face of this blatant recalcitrance, unprincipled Western officials have actually renewed UNRWA funding.

In 2018, President Trump totally cancelled American support for UNRWA, due to corruption in UNRWA’s operations and the hatred in UNRWA’s curricula for nearly 500,000 Palestinian children.

But that judgment was reversed by President Biden. Unfortunately, the renewed aid was not coupled to a demand that UNRWA be reformed or replaced.

Some argue that terminating UNRWA would lead to a humanitarian disaster. Fortunately, there are humanitarian solutions to this corrupt, self-perpetuating business model.

First, a coalition of UNRWA funders should redirect all UNRWA funding to a new, time-limited agency, which funders directly supervise.

Second, the Palestinian governments—Fatah in Judea and Samaria and Hamas in Gaza—should administer the civic institutions currently operated by UNRWA. The new, temporary international agency would audit the operational entities, and enforce strict anti-hate and anti-corruption rules.

International aid would be phased out on a set schedule as responsibility evolves locally. Many advocate a Palestinian state: This aid would provide seed funding for badly needed, self-governing institutions.

As for UNRWA activities in other countries (Syria, Lebanon and Jordan), the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees must demand Palestinian patriation into the countries where they have now lived for generations as “refugees.”  The same formulas that have been used countless times on behalf of refugee populations over the past century can be applied.

It is time for the outcome of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence to be acknowledged by all. Abolishing UNRWA is step one.

Clearly the $8 billion America has spent on UNRWA since 1949 has been counterproductive, and the funding must be cut off. Only with responsibility for actual civic governance can Palestinians hope to build a viable and sustainable society.

James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which offers educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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