The Endless UNRWA Gravy Train

The United Nations High Refugees Commission (UNHRC) defines a refugee as,Someone who has been forced to flee conflict or persecution and has crossed an international border to seek safety. They cannot return to their country without risking their life or freedoms.” Generally, a refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership of a particular social group.

A Unique Agency for a Unique Class of Refugees

If one is born in the region known as Palestine, and one’s parents and grandparents were also born there, and one speaks the common language, holds the common religion, nationality, and residence, how can one be a refugee from Palestine? How can anyone be a refugee from the land they were born in, and currently live in? The mentality of refugeehood must then be created by a different definition.

The mandate of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) is forall whose place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who has lost both home and means of livelihood because of the 1948 conflict. It includes their descendants.

UNRWA is an organ of the U.N. but is not part of the U.N. itself. It is renewed every 3 years. There is currently no equivalent U.N. body anywhere else in the world. It was established in 1949 to deal only and exclusively with the consequences of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. No other group of refugees gets their own agency, although Korea briefly had UNKRA which was disbanded after 8 years once all refugees were resettled. This article will use the term “UNRWA clients” for Palestinians instead of “refugees.”

The Six-day War of 1967 generated a new wave of Palestinian refugees who could not be included in the original UNRWA definition, so since 1991, the U.N. General Assembly has adopted an annual resolution allowing the 1967 refugees within the UNRWA mandate. UNRWA aids all “those living in its area of operations who meet its working definition, who are registered, regardless of whether they reside in areas designated as Palestine refugee camps or in other permanent communities.” The UNRWA definition does not address final status.

Palestinian “refugee camp” in Nablus West Bank. Such “camps” have hospitals, shopping malls, movie theatres and universities.

Registered descendants of UNRWA refugees inherit the same refugee status as their male parent. According to UNRWA, “The descendants of Palestine refugee males, including adopted children, are also eligible for registration.” Therefore, all their patrilineal descendants irrespective of attaining other citizenships and other countries of residence, remain permanent refugees.

Suha Arafat (right), the widow of former Chairman of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO Yasser Arafat, and daughter Zahwa. Suha inherited $8 billion, owns almost an entire street in London, and has been a resident in Paris for 25 years. She is still classed as a Palestinian refugee. (Photo AFP)

No other refugee in the world is accorded this benefit-driven status. And no other group is continually paid for being classed as a refugee in perpetuity. This article will use the term “UNRWA clients” for Palestinians instead of “refugees.”

Burgeoning Numbers Include the Wealthy

The generally agreed-upon figure is that approximately 700 000 Arabs fled the 1948 conflict, although there are some who maintain that figure is as low as 100 000. (Has there ever been a refugee-less war?) Among them were many from the upper and middle classes, who left voluntarily, expecting to return when the Arab states won the war and took control of their new country. Currently, the remaining population of the original refugees from 1948 is around 25,000. (Older people have passed away.)

Most Palestinians who are registered as UNRWA clients live in or near the 68 refugee camps spread across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and the Gaza strip. In 2019, more than 5.6 million UNRWA clients were registered with the United Nations (a number that keeps increasing), of whom 2,000,000 are in Jordan, approximately another 2,000,000 or more in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and approximately another 500,000 in each of Syria and Lebanon.

Multi-millionaire American-Jordanian Mohammed Hadid, born in Nazareth, father of supermodels Gigi and Bella Hadid, poses with three of his children. In spite of two citizenships, he remains a U.N. refugee, as do his children.

It should also be stated that this war created far more Jewish refugees, (between 850 000 to 1 000 000), than Arab, as all the Arabic countries promptly expelled their Jewish populations, who settled elsewhere with minimum fuss. These expulsions were an act of revenge, for the creation of a Jewish state. No compensation was ever paid by Arab countries to their expelled Jewish citizens, for this mass ethnic cleansing. Of these, 650 000 settled in Israel, and the remaining 350 000 either went to USA, or other countries in Europe. None of these Jewish refugees received any help from UNRWA, as they did not fit the very narrow definition of being resident in mandatory Palestine for the two years between 1946 to 1948.

A Large Staff, A Large Budget and The Donor States

At 1-to-187, the staff-to-client ratio for UNRWA is drastically higher than the Commission staff-to-refugee ratio at 1-to-4,977. Income rewarded per client by UNRWA is $219 while the Commission grants refugees $103.

UNRWA employs over 30,000 staff, 99 percent of whom are locally recruited Palestinians, to attend to the 5.6 million perpetual UNRWA clients.  Most of UNRWA’s funding comes from European countries and the United States, and very little from Arab states. Between the years 2000 to 2015, the European Union contributed €1.6 billion to UNRWA. In addition to its regular budget, UNRWA also receives funding for emergency activities and special projects.

According to World Bank data, for all countries receiving more than $2 billion international aid in 2012, Gaza and the West Bank received a per capita aid budget over double the next largest recipient.

The U.S. was the largest single donor to UNRWA in 2021, contributing over $338 million, with the specific condition that the funds are not used to assist any person receiving military training or who has participated in any terrorist act. (It has subsequently been discovered that 1,200 members of UNRWA staff are also members of terrorist organizations, and that 12 staff members took part in the murders on 7 October 2023 in Israel. Also, 3,000 UNRWA teachers were in a Telegram group that celebrated the attacks.) In addition to the funds from the USA, UNRWA also received over $1.18 billion in donations from various nations and organizations in 2021.

In 2022, the U.S. was again the largest single donor to UNRWA, contributing $344 million, while UNRWA received over $1.17 billion from various nations and organizations.

In comparison, the Commission, which helps every non-Palestinian refugee on the planet, employs only 20,739 staff for 103.2 million persons in 135 countries and territories. They attend to the needs of 35.3 million refugees, 62.5 million internally displaced persons and 5.4 million asylum seekers. Their 2023 targeted budget is $860 million.

Unlike the Commission, UNRWA does not try to resettle their clients, but instead provides “social services” so Palestinians are kept in a perpetual stateless limbo. Most of the aid gets siphoned off by Palestinian officials who then seek more funds for their supposedly neglected people.

Ismail Haniyeh, who replaced Khaled Meshaal as head of Hamas Political bureau, is valued at $4 billion. Clearly being a director of such a vigorously supported charity is a well-paid position. In contrast, the net worth of Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority is a mere $100 million. And yet the Gaza Health Ministry claims the residents are suffering from starvation and dehydration.

Ongoing Investigations

In 2021, the Australian and Canadian governments started investigating UNRWA. A 2021 Hamas propaganda video showed Hamas members digging up and dismantling water pipelines to produce rockets such as the Qassam, which is commonly assembled from industrial piping. Concerns were expressed over Hamas redirecting aid for military activities. The United Kingdom, which had provided significant aid for building pipelines in Palestine, has denied that its funds could be abused by Hamas, but upon investigation the British government found that UNRWA had produced and disseminated textbooks inciting violence.

The European Parliament placed conditions on its funding. The status of international participation is shifting and is current for May, 2024, the date of publication.


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