The Biden Administration announced that it is going to send $150 million of American tax dollars to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. This “temporary” agency was established after the Arab war to destroy Israel in 1948-9, to care for “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” It has continued to extend its mandate for decades, now caring for grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those “persons.”
Several parties voiced their disapproval with the United States’ UNRWA donation. Former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said “UNRWA, is among the most corrupt and counterproductive of all UN agencies. President Trump was right to abandon it.” Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan added “We believe that this UN agency for so-called ‘refugees’ should not exist in its current format.“
To consider how the U.N. has handled “so-called ‘refugees'” in this “counterproductive” agency, imagine two Arabs leaving Palestine during the 1948-9 Arab-Israeli War. One had come to Palestine from Iraq in 1925 and the other from Syria in 1935, both settling in Jaffa. The Iraqi-Palestinian owned his home and his business and was reluctant to leave everything he had built but concluded that the war zone was too risky and returned to Iraq in 1949. The Syrian-Palestinian was renting his home and worked on a farm outside of town. He returned to Syria early in the war, assuming that the five invading Arab armies would finish the Zionists in short order and he could return to a Jew-free city, maybe even under the flag of Syria.
At war’s end, the Zionists were able to hold onto land – more than suggested under the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan and less than allocated under the British Palestine Mandate – and had no interest in allowing the return of those Arabs which wanted to see Israel destroyed.
The Iraqi-Palestinian Arab decided to abandon his Jaffa home and business and started life anew among his cousins in Iraq. However, the Syrian-Palestinian opted to not start again in his old neighborhood where he lived fifteen years earlier, and instead decided to take the free housing, food, education and medical services offered by the United Nations as part of its UNRWA initiative. His grandchildren continue to live as wards of the world because of that decision.
Another person impacted by the Arab-Israeli War was not an Arab but a Jew. He came to Palestine from Yemen at the end of the 19th century and moved to Jerusalem. The Jordanian army routed him from his home during the war and he returned to Yemen. Not long after, the anti-Semitism in Yemen became intolerable and he and his family moved to Canada.
All three of these individuals were “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict,” but only one got services from UNRWA. The Palestinian Jew and Iraqi-Palestinian Arab each lost their homes and livelihood and were offered nothing from the United Nations. Only the Syrian-Palestinian Arab who chose to not move to his hometown in Syria, became a special grantee class. As long as he and his descendants remained a grantee, there was a U.N. promise that they would get property and/or money from the country which was transforming Jaffa and the surrounding region it controlled into an economic and technological miracle.
Today, the grandchildren of that Palestinian Jew and the Iraqi-Palestinian Arab are both successful businessmen and pay less attention to politics than they do to football. They think about the United Nations as much as they contemplate a hangnail from five years ago.
But the grandchildren of the Syrian-Palestinian have built their entire way of life around the largess of the United Nations and its promise that it will force Israel to hand them money or land as long as they continue to take UNRWA’s free education, medical services and housing. The U.N. is mother’s milk, a teat which has fed their entire family for generations with more gifts to come.
Watching these three “refugees” is an elderly fifth generation Palestinian Arab who had participated in the 1936-9 riots to keep the Jews out of Palestine and lobbied the British to halt their immigration as the Holocaust started in Europe. He headed to Gaza as the first tanks from five Arab armies invaded Israel. His roughly 60km trip from Jaffa to Gaza is about the same as from Manhattan to Stamford, CT. Had there never been a war and he had decided to relocate to Gaza (as several cousins did before the 1948-9 War), he would receive neither cries of empathy nor charity, but today he has over 100 descendants living for free in UNRWA housing around Gaza.
If the U.N. is attempting to resolve the lost property of people who fled the war zone, why should it matter whether they are registered as “refugees” and take services from UNRWA? Shouldn’t the Iraqi-Palestinian Arab and Palestinian Jew be entitled to consideration? Why should the Syrian-Palestinian get so much compensation when he never owned property?
The UNRWA policy leads one to conclude that its goal is not about money and property but to physically relocate a select sub-segment of the persons impacted by the war – only Arabs – into the Jewish State. Such UNRWA policy is in direct conflict with the stated U.N. goal of a two-state solution, one Arab and one Jewish, by injecting nearly 6 million Arabs into the Jewish State. One cannot be simultaneously in favor of two states and maintaining UNRWA.
There are significant issues to consider in the Arab-Israeli Conflict but the matter of Palestinian “refugees” has long been artificially manufactured. It is well past time to shut it down.
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