Jewish World Update May/Jun 2024

Time to Dismantle UNRWA?
by Israel Kasnett
(JNS)—The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has come under intense scrutiny following the revelation that approximately 10% of its 12,000 workers in Gaza are linked to Hamas, and at least 12 participated directly in the terrorist group’s October 7, 2023, massacre in Israel.

According to Marcus Sheff, CEO of IMPACT-se, an organization that monitors educational curricula in the Middle East, UNRWA is actually radicalizing Gaza. “UNRWA failed in its duty of care,” he said, and is “complicit in the radicalization of all its students in its schools.” According to IMPACT-se, there are 183 UNRWA-run schools across the Gaza Strip, educating more than 286,000 students.

UNRWA also has perpetuated the Palestinian refugee problem, granting Palestinians the unique right to inherit their refugee status—a prerogative no other refugee group in the world is given. This policy has allowed the number of refugees, initially around 700,000 after 1948, to surge to nearly 6 million today.

U.S. President Donald Trump ended U.S. funding to UNRWA in 2018. However, the Biden administration restored funding and in July 2022 announced it had given more money to UNRWA than any other entity in the world had. The United States usually gives UNRWA between $300 million and $400 million annually.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he was “horrified” that UNRWA staff participated in the October 7 massacre and vowed to hold to account “any UN employee involved in acts of terror.” However, he condemned calls to dismantle the agency, saying that while the “abhorrent alleged acts of these staff members must have consequences,” the tens of thousands of other UNRWA employees “should not be penalized.”

After the allegations against the UN agency were made public, the United States and a number of other major donor countries suspended aid to UNRWA.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said he was “shocked such decisions are taken based on alleged behavior of a few individuals.” Others decried what they perceive as “collective punishment” of UNRWA based on the actions of a few bad people.

However, testifying before Congress, Sheff said, “These extremist views go way beyond a handful of individuals. They are endemic to the institution.” Elsewhere in the Middle East, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, and Israel, peace is promoted in school curriculum and textbooks.

“We look at the region, and extremist UNRWA schools stand increasingly alone,” he said. “The majority of terrorists who breached the border and murdered, raped, and abducted [Israeli civilians] on October 7 were graduates of these UNRWA schools. They were taught jihad and martyrdom, and . . . they were educated to commit these terrible acts of violence in these schools supported by the international community.

“If we want to prevent the next massacre, if we want to dream of peace, then UNRWA can play no further part in Palestinian education,” he added.

UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer asked Congress to “take the lead in dissolving this agency,” saying, “For the past nine years . . . we’ve been uncovering, publishing, and submitting to the United Nations, to UNRWA, evidence of widespread and systematic incitement to jihadi terrorism, the praise of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, [and] calls to slaughter Jews on the part of UNRWA teachers, school principals, and other employees.”

Blaise Misztal, vice president of policy at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, said, “The days of UNRWA should be over, in much the same way that the days of Hamas ruling Gaza should be over. We can’t go back to the status quo.”

For news about Israel updated daily, visit foi.org/news.

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