Schneider Aviel

Tachles With Aviel – Did You Know UNRWA Is on Strike?

Perhaps the strike by UNRWA, the UN agency dedicated to Palestinian refugees, is a brilliant opportunity to end its charade.

| Topics: palestinians, United Nations
Palestinians in front of the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in the Askar refugee camp, east of Nablus, call for an end to the 90-day strike. Photo: Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90
Palestinians in front of the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in the Askar refugee camp, east of Nablus, call for an end to the 90-day strike. Photo: Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90

It is UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency, that artificially keeps the Palestinian problem alive. Compare for yourself how a Palestinian refugee lives and how true refugees live in Africa or other disaster areas. UNRWA’s total budget for 2021 and 2022 is US$1.5 and US$1.6 billion respectively. No other group apart from the Palestinians has a dedicated UN agency.

UNRWA is essentially a Palestinian organization hostile to Israel. According to its own statements, the aid organization is currently active in five areas: Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the so-called “occupied Palestinian territories,” including East Jerusalem. UNRWA employs nearly 31,000 Palestinians. But in recent years there has been less money flowing into the coffers, so a strike has broken out. Perhaps the UNRWA strike is a brilliant opportunity to end this nonsense.

Thousands of Palestinian UNRWA workers in Judea and Samaria have been on strike for more than three months in protest over not receiving their monthly wages. The mountains of rubbish that accumulate in the refugee camps are a good indication of the financial distress of the Palestinian aid organization. This demonstrates not only a day-to-day dysfunction of the organization, but also the fact that UNRWA’s continued existence poses a threat to the national security of the State of Israel.

Palestinians receive food aid at an UNRWA distribution center in Khan Yunis, Gaza. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90

UNRWA is an organization that advocates the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees. While the organization has international standing, UNRWA by its very nature, structure, goals and with tens of thousands of Palestinian employees is a Palestinian organization hostile to Israel. For decades, UNRWA has managed to hide its political essence under a humanitarian cloak, obscuring the fact that the Palestinians have never backed down from their demands for a full return to “Palestine” and the abolition of Jewish sovereignty in the land.

Israel is subject to a naïve notion that it is better to continue supporting UNRWA in order to buy calm on the ground, than to let Hamas or other terrorist organizations take care of everything. This concept gives UNRWA a diplomatic defense system against any attempt to harm or change the so-called agency. This protection is particularly important as UNRWA does not have a running budget, but relies on annual support from various countries. That is why UNRWA has to market itself as a proper charity, which is not the case. In several operations in the Gaza Strip, Israel exposed to the world that UNRWA was hiding rockets in its schools or was otherwise cooperating with terrorists. This must be changed, and to do that the activities of UNRWA must be phased out. But Israel’s security establishment is afraid of this, because it could lead to unrest.

The international community must finally recognize that UNRWA is an obstacle to solving the real problem with the Palestinians, because UNRWA perpetuates a fictitious refugee status. If Western governments want to continue helping the Palestinians, they must find a new way, but no longer through UNRWA. “The entire UNRWA education system in the Palestinian Territories just doesn’t make sense. There has to be a turnaround where children study in regular PA schools and teachers get their salaries not from UNRWA but from the Palestinian Authority,” underscored Dr. Adi Schwartz, a member of the Misgav Institute for National Security and Zionist Strategy in Jerusalem. “This situation would be easy for Israel’s security system to support as it minimizes a risk of social and security deterioration.”

An UNRWA girls’ school in the Dheisheh refugee camp in the city of Bethlehem. Photo: Miriam Alster/FLASH90

In this case, Israel would expect donor countries to direct funding for the education system not to UNRWA but to the Palestinian Authority. According to Dr. Schwartz, this poses no real problem: “An exception is the US, which is not allowed to transfer money directly to the Palestinian Authority due to the Taylor Force Act, and for which solutions can be found in the form of other aid organizations operating in Judea and Samaria, such as USAID or UNICEF.”

The Taylor Force Act is a law passed by the US Congress that halts US economic aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) until the PA halts payments by the Palestinian Authority’s Martyrdom Fund to perpetrators of terrorist attacks and to the families of deceased terrorists. It was signed into law by US President Donald Trump on March 23, 2018, cutting about a third of US foreign aid to the PA.

The Palestinians will certainly not agree with this turn of events, but in that case they would have to openly admit that there is a direct link between the existence of UNRWA and their demand for a right of return for Palestinian refugees. Such a process will throw a spanner in the works for them, because up to now they have always blamed Israel for the continuation of the conflict. It will expose the fact that the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians is about Israel’s right to exist, and not about any withdrawal from the disputed territories. This could perhaps facilitate Israel’s political struggle on the international stage and bring Israeli society closer together. So far, there has been disagreement over who bears more responsibility for the continuation of the conflict, Israel or the Palestinians.


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