On May 15, 1948, the fledgling State of Israel proclaimed its independence. Five Arab nations responded with a futile attempt to annihilate it. Among the tragic consequences of their attack was the flight of as many as 600,000 Palestinians to neighboring Arab countries. Two-thirds fled to what became Jordan’s West Bank and Egypt’s Gaza Strip; the remainder relocated to Egypt, Trans-Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. It was a self-inflicted Arab catastrophe for which innocent Palestinian civilians were fated to pay the highest price for the longest time.
To provide assistance to the displaced refugees, the U.N. General Assembly established a new organization: the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugee. Its ponderous name was abbreviated and became known as UNRWA. Its task was to provide support to “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine” between June 1946 and May 1948, “and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”
In 1965, UNRWA redefined its purpose. It extended funding to the grandchildren of refugees, born after the 1948 war, who were not themselves refugees. But for the United Nations, that was an insufficient disqualification for benefits. In 1982, the General Assembly redefined eligibility by extending coverage to all future generations of Palestinian descendants, thereby assuring that there would be no end, unto eternity, of Palestinian “refugees.” Only Jordan permitted refugees to become citizens of the country of their relocation.
The primary beneficiary of these numerical machinations was, and remains, UNRWA. At its beginning in 1950, it provided financial aid to 750,000 Palestinian displaced refugees. By 1960, there were more than 1 million registered refugees. Now more than 5 million “refugees” are eligible for UNRWA benefits. UNRWA pays the salary of 30,000 workers, as many as there are genuine living refugees. In its own statement (“Who We Are”) it prides itself for contributing to “the welfare and human development of four generations of Palestinian refugees.”
In reality, however, there was only one such generation.
Marking Rosh Hashanah in 2018, former President Donald Trump—guided by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley—announced that he had “stopped massive amounts of money that we were paying to the Palestinians” by way of UNRWA. He accused it of being “riddled with waste, fraud [and] support to terrorism.” The U.S. State Department, referring to UNRWA’s “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries,” declared it to be an “irredeemably flawed operation.”
But three years later, the Biden administration announced the resumption of payments: UNRWA would receive $150 million for its contrived number of “Palestinian refugees.” According to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “U.S. foreign assistance for the Palestinian people serves important U.S. interests and values,” including support for Israeli-Palestinian “understanding.” No definition or evidence of such “understanding” was provided.
By now, it seems likely that the contrived number of Palestinian “refugees” will increase unto eternity. Yet as Adi Schwartz and Einat Wilf note in The War of Return: “The vast majority of those registered by UNRWA have never fled their homes. They are the descendants, by now into the fifth generation, of the original refugees.” It is absurd, yet nonetheless true, that there are now as many UNRWA employees as there are living Palestinian refugees.
There is no indication from the Biden presidency, or UNRWA, that these invented “refugees” will be deprived of their fictional identity and the financial benefits that accompany it. Not even the inevitable death of the last genuine Palestinian refugee seems likely to restore reality. The UNRWA scam is too deeply embedded for that.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of 12 books, including “Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel (1896-2016).”