30 January 2024

It’s time to disband UNRWA

By Dr. Jeremy Havardi

We should congratulate the governments of many nations, both in Europe and beyond, for suspending aid to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees in the Middle East. It follows the allegation that at least 12 UNRWA employees were involved in the appalling attacks of 7 October, leading to their dismissal by the agency. However, this is not the only scandal to hit UNRWA in recent weeks.

UN Watch has exposed how 30 members of a 3,000 strong Telegram group of UNRWA teachers openly celebrated the 7 October attacks, endorsing the vicious killings of Israelis and lauding the taking of hostages. It is naturally an outrage that members of a taxpayer funded organisation committed to the principles of humanity and neutrality were advocating the rape and murder of innocent people.

But western governments should go further than suspending aid. They should call for UNRWA’s disbandment altogether, and demand that the services it offers are administered by a less compromised agency. For the undeniable truth is that UNRWA has long been a willing accomplice to a Palestinian terror movement which aims to eradicate the Jewish state entirely.

Firstly, it offers a completely distorted picture of the Palestinian problem by inflating the number of actual refugees. For decades, UNRWA has allowed all descendants of Palestine refugee males, including legally adopted children, regardless of whether they had been granted citizenship elsewhere, to be classed as Palestinian refugees. The net result of this policy, one which is at odds with the 1951 Convention, is that the number of ‘refugees’ has steadily increased year on year, making the problem harder to resolve than need be.

Worse, UNRWA sponsors the ‘right of return’, the idea that nearly 6m Palestinians have the right to return to their homes in Israel, despite the fact that the vast majority have never lived there. Quite naturally, the idea is a non-starter as it would render Israel an Arab majority state and void the Jewish right to self-determination at a stroke. It therefore directly contradicts the UK government’s commitment to a two-state solution, repeated endlessly in recent weeks.

But what really explains the involvement of UNRWA employees in terror is the routine incitement one finds in the agency’s schools. UNRWA has been responsible for educating about a quarter of all Palestinian children in Gaza and the West Bank.

A recent study from the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education demonstrated the hatefulness on display. A Grade 4 mathematics book taught calculus by counting the number of ‘martyrs’ in Palestinian uprisings. A Grade 9 textbook on Arabic language described a murderous attack on an Israeli bus as a ‘barbecue party’. A Grade 11 History book contained an image implying that Jews controlled the world.

These textbooks have been developed by the Hamas education ministry and clearly bear the imprint of the terror group’s antisemitic charter. They are designed to vilify Jews, delegitimise the Jewish state and encourage the view that that Israelis do not deserve to live. They help explain why the barbarous pogrom unleashed on 7 October met with such jubilation on that Telegram group and why others participated in the horrors that day. They also explain why, in 2014, Qassam rockets were found in an UNRWA school. Then UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, said he was ‘dismayed’ by the finding, but he need not have been surprised.

Proof of UNRWA’s links with Hamas comes from Peter Hansen, a former UNRWA Commissioner General, who said: ‘I am sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll, and I don’t see that as a crime…We do not do political vetting and exclude people from one persuasion as against another’. Yet Hamas is not merely a ‘persuasion’ within Palestinian society. It is an internationally proscribed terror group with genocidal aims and an antisemitic ideology. That was true even before 7 October.

It is high time for western sponsors to draw the appropriate conclusions. UNRWA is an institutional barrier to peace and co-existence and can never be part of the long-term solution to this conflict. Donor countries should cease funding it and transfer their resources to other bodies, principally the UNHCR. The future of Middle East peace depends on it.

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Dr. Jeremy Havardi is the author of a number of books, including Refuting the Anti-Israel Narrative, and is director of the B’nai B’rith UK Bureau of International Affairs.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.