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Unredeemable ‘reporting’ by ‘Washington Post’ on UNRWA

A picture, the saying goes, is worth a thousand words. And this particular picture is worth more than the thousands of words and images that the paper has produced in its pathetic “reporting” on UNRWA.

Masked Palestinians demonstrate in the Balata refugee camp in protest against the policy of Scott Anderson, director of UNRWA in the West Bank, on Sept. 17, 2017. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.
Masked Palestinians demonstrate in the Balata refugee camp in protest against the policy of Scott Anderson, director of UNRWA in the West Bank, on Sept. 17, 2017. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.
Sean Durns
Sean Durns
Sean Durns is a senior research analyst for CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

Washington Post reporting on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) continues to omit key context and mislead readers. A Nov. 19 front-page dispatch, “U.S. cuts add to Palestinians’ misery,” adds to the paper’s poor coverage of the U.N. organization. The Post is unable, or perhaps unwilling, to offer straightforward reporting on the agency.

Originally envisioned as a temporary agency, UNRWA was created in 1949, following the unsuccessful attempt by several Arab states to destroy Israel. Over time, UNRWA developed into the only U.N. organization whose stated mission is to assist a specific group of refugees, Palestinian Arabs. All other refugee populations in the world fall under the jurisdiction of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Importantly, UNRWA’s definition of “refugee” is not dependent on need and even applies to citizens of recognized states, such as Jordan.

Oddly, UNRWA considers individuals living in areas ruled by Palestinians, as well as descendants of those who fled during and before Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, to be Palestinian “refugees.”

As CAMERA has noted, according to UNRWA’s spurious definition, the 20-year-old, Los Angeles-born millionaire fashion model, Bella Hadid, is considered a “refugee” from a 70-year old event that occurred after Arab countries rejected a U.N. plan for a Jewish state and an Arab state, opting for war instead. Further, UNRWA has become the only refugee agency in the world whose purpose is not to resettle refugees (“UNRWA Has Changed the Definition of Refugee,” Foreign Policy magazine, Aug. 17, 2018).

Instead of helping resettle refugees, UNRWA schools and facilities have been used to promote hatred and murder of Israelis. For example, a March 7, 2016 ceremony at an UNRWA school in Gaza City celebrated stabbing Jews. UNRWA officials have posed with maps erasing Israel and have been caught disseminating anti-Semitic materials.

Indeed, according to a 2014 report by the Center for Near East Policy Research, terrorist organizations Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad “control the UNRWA stations in Gaza,” and in 2012, “UNRWA in Gaza elected Hamas to all 11 seats in the UNRWA’s teacher union and to 14 out of 16 sets in the employees and service sector union.” Hamas is a U.S.-designated terror group that rules the Gaza Strip and calls for Israel’s destruction.

As CAMERA highlighted in an Aug. 10 Algemeiner op-ed, these actions run counter to section 301(c) of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act, which stipulates that “no contributions by the United States shall be made to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency except on the condition” that UNRWA “take all possible measures to assure that no part of the United States contribution shall be used to furnish assistance to any refugee who is receiving military training as a member of the so-called Palestine Liberation Army or any other guerrilla type organization or who has engaged in any act of terrorism [emphasis added].”

Readers of The Washington Post, however, wouldn’t have a clue about the numerous issues and controversies surrounding UNRWA.

In the last year alone, the Post has filed no fewer than five full-length articles and commentaries on UNRWA—most of them detailing the decision by the United States to quit funding the agency. Not once did an article mention UNRWA’s habit of employing terror operatives or promoting anti-Jewish violence.

The paper’s Nov. 19 front-page article is no exception. In more than 1,800 words, the Post failed to fully detail UNRWA’s problems. Instead, the paper implicitly minimized issues with the organization by claiming that only “Israeli sentiment” is the organization “irredeemably flawed.”

But it’s not merely “Israeli sentiment” that suggests that UNRWA is failing in its mission—the raw numbers themselves illustrate that UNRWA is doing less with more.

At the dawn of the organization’s creation, there were an estimated 700,000 Palestinian Arab refugees; in 2020, there will be a projected 6.4 million “refugees,” per UNRWA’s definition of the term. Yet, according to a 2011 report by the Center for Near East Policy Research, UNRWA has four times as many staff members as UNHCR does, despite the fact that UNRWA deals with six times fewer refugees than UNHCR. Instead of working to resettle refugees, UNRWA employees have been caught working for Hamas and praising Hitler (“Watchdog: Employees of U.N. Agency Praise Hitler, Hamas on Facebook,” The Times of Israel, Feb. 6, 2017).

Indeed, the Post seems insistent on obfuscating when it comes to UNRWA and violence. As The Jerusalem Post and other news outlets noted, in October 2018, UNRWA withdrew some of its staff from the Gaza Strip after “a number of UNRWA workers had been ‘harassed and prevented from carrying out their duties’ by people angered by the organization’s cost-cutting measures due to its financial crisis.” UNRWA management was even “specifically targeted” by threats from Palestinians, according to the organization’s executive director.

At the time, The Washington Post failed to report that UNRWA staff were being evacuated from the Gaza Strip due to Palestinian threats. Six weeks later, the paper belatedly wrote, “Protests regarding the cuts UNRWA has already made have forced some of its international staff to leave.” But “protests” are hardly the same thing as “threats,” although the newspaper does have a curious history of conflating Palestinian violence with “protests” as CAMERA has documented.

In contrast to what Washington Post reporting implies, the need to reform UNRWA has been noted by more than Israelis and Trump administration officials. As CAMERA noted in an Aug. 16 JNS op-ed, Dave Harden, a former diplomat and one-time head of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, has also been publicly critical of UNRWA, which he says, “fosters dysfunction” and needs to be “reordered.” In an Aug. 12 Times of Israel op-ed, Harden agreed that Trump adviser and son-in-law “Jared Kushner may be right in seeking to disrupt the current structure of U.S. assistance to the Palestinians” via funding cuts and other measures.

UNRWA’s own former legal counsel, James Lindsay, has also called to reform UNRWA. In a 2009 report titled Fixing UNRWA: Repairing the U.N.’s Troubled System of Aid to Palestinian Refugees, Lindsay disagreed with UNRWA’s decision to apply the “refugee” categorization irrespective of need, noting: “No justification exists for millions of dollars in humanitarian aid going to those who can afford to pay for UNRWA services.”

The Washington Post is well aware of Lindsay’s criticisms—CAMERA has, on several occasions, emailed his report to Post staff. Indeed, on Sept. 5, the Post published CAMERA’s letter to the editor (“The full truth about UNRWA”), which pointed out that the newspaper had “failed to fully detail problems with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency,” including that “UNRWA employees have been caught praising anti-Jewish violence, and, per a 2015 U.N. investigation, the organization’s facilities were used by terrorist groups to launch and store rockets during the 2014 Israel-Hamas War.”

The Post, quoting a Palestinian political activist named Manal Kortam, says that UNRWA has “helped to preserve and forge a shared memory,” although Kortam claims that the organization has “held back Palestinian aspirations to reclaim their homeland.” Yet, in a nearly 2,000-word article replete with numerous pictures—some taken at the Bourj el-Barajneh refugee camp in Lebanon—the paper fails to elaborate on what precisely is being “preserved” by UNRWA—or what the borders would be of the “homeland” that Palestinians like Kortam want to “reclaim.”

Another picture taken at the Bourj el-Barajneh refugee camp in Lebanon provides the specificity that The Post lacks. The image was originally posted on the official Facebook page of Fatah, the movement that dominates the Palestinian Authority (PA), on Jan. 19, 2017 and was subsequently translated by Palestinian Media Watch. It noted: “The picture shows Director of the Insan Center Abu Zuhdi at the Burj Al-Barajneh refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon, giving Fatah officials a plaque of honor on which is the PA map of ‘Palestine’ that presents all of Israel as ‘Palestine’ together with the PA areas.”

A picture, the saying goes, is worth a thousand words. And this particular picture is worth more than the thousands of words and images that The Washington Post has produced in its pathetic “reporting” on UNRWA.

Sean Durns is a senior research analyst for CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

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