Features Australia

UNRWA, where refugee services meet terrorism

Australia’s federal budget sends a signal

17 October 2020

9:00 AM

17 October 2020

9:00 AM

Within a federal budget awash with massive red ink, a modest yet important saving is to be found in the detail of the foreign aid allocations. In the programmes administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is a section called Partnerships for Recovery, Australian Official Development Assistance. There we find Australia’s annual funding of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) is halved from $20 million to $10 million.

If there was a competition for the worst of all international agencies, UNRWA would be a strong nominee. It ticks the boxes of a bloated unaccountable bureaucracy, corrupt leadership, failure in executing its mission, but worse, it demonstrably harms the cause of peace by teaching hatred and inciting terrorism.

When the modern State of Israel declared independence in 1948, it was immediately invaded by the armies of five surrounding Arab countries. The conflict resulted in an estimated 750,000 Arab refugees and 850,000 Jewish refugees expelled from Arab lands.

UNRWA was formed in 1949 as an agency dedicated solely to the Arab Palestinian refugees. It adopted a definition of ‘refugee’ quite different to that of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). UNRWA determined that refugee status could be passed on to future generations, even those who had never fled conflict. If the UNHCR definition was applied, there would be an estimated 30-50,000 Palestinian refugees. Using its own definition, UNRWA claims 5.6 million.

Now you might think the role of a refugee agency would be to help with the resettlement of displaced persons. By that criterion, UNRWA is an abject failure. The Arab Palestinian refugees have been shamelessly used as pawns for anti-Israel political strategy, whether they are located in Gaza under Hamas, Judea-Samaria (West Bank) under the Palestinian Authority or in surrounding states of Lebanon, Syria or Jordan.

By contrast, the number of Jewish refugees from that era is zero. Most were rapidly integrated into Israel, some migrated to America, England, Canada, or Australia. The Arab and Muslim states of the Middle East could similarly resolve the issue of Palestinian refugees almost overnight by adopting the same moral standard of Israel and resettle their brethren.


But resettlement of the Arab Palestinian refugees as a permanent solution has been actively resisted, specifically by UNRWA and by those opposed to Israel.

UNRWA provides schooling for the Arab Palestinian refugees. Research agencies have repeatedly exposed the problematic educational content, reviewing the textbooks and recording activities.

A short film produced by the Center for Near East Policy Research exposed numerous examples of children being taught they had a right of return by force of arms and terrorist role play. A review of the 2019-20 curriculum textbooks by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education reports content rejecting the possibility of peace with Israel. A Palestinian student in fourth grade opens his maths book to count martyrs in Palestinian uprisings based on a photograph of raised coffins at a mass funeral. A reading exercise with the letter ‘h’ for first-graders includes the word shahid (martyr), placed in a list of other words that include hujum (attack) and harab (run away).

Arab human rights activist Bassam Eid stated after talking to children in the schools that ‘UNRWA teaches children to blow themselves up’. Indeed, outside some UNRWA schools are posters and paintings of those who have done exactly that, martyrs to jihad glorified as heroes and heroines which the Arab children walk past daily.

Interviews conducted with children leaving UNRWA schools confirm lessons that Jews are evil, that all Israel is ‘Arab land’ and some express a readiness to stab, use a car to runover or become suicide bombers to kill Jews.

The proscribed terror organisation Hamas is embedded in UNRWA schools. A recent election resulted in Hamas members winning all eleven places for management of the teachers’ union. The Hamas-affiliated Islamic Bloc (known in Arabic as Al-Kutla Al-Islamiah) maintains religious programs in UNRWA schools; these promote incitement for jihad and opposition to Israel. Representatives of the Kutla operate in the schools, with each group supervised by a counsellor (amir) assigned by Hamas. The goal is winning the hearts and minds of students so they can be recruited into the Hamas military wing during high school or after graduation. UNRWA schools serve as recruitment facilities for the Hamas youth paramilitary training camps which are run during school holidays.

Australia’s foreign aid to the Palestinian Territories inadvertently funding terrorism was raised in my Speccie cover story in March 2018. The Australian Jewish Association (AJA) pursued a campaign for reform with the principal target being the Palestinian Authority’s notorious ‘Pay for Slay’ scheme which rewards terrorists. The government acknowledged the risk and former foreign minister Julie Bishop announced in July that year that the cash grants to the PA would stop. Great progress.

But this left Australian aid being used in UNRWA schools where foundations are laid for the development of future terrorists. This year AJA had a dozen meetings with MPs and senators in which we raised the role of UNRWA teaching hatred and inciting terrorism. So, we welcome this budget reform. Previously the largest single funder of UNRWA, President Trump announced in late 2018 that the US would cut its funding due to failure of UNRWA to reform.

In mid-2019 an internal UN report exposed a major corruption scandal involving senior UNRWA management. Israel has found Hamas rockets stored in UNRWA facilities. UNRWA employment of terrorists has occurred. It is hard to think of a more unworthy organisation.

UNRWA should be disbanded and the Arab Palestinian refugees brought under the auspices of the UNHCR, treated like all other refugees, prioritising assisted resettlement to become permanent residents and citizens. Indeed, this is a strategy found in the US ‘Deal of the Century’ Peace Plan.

UNRWA during its 70 years existence has solved nothing. It has compounded the difficulties in the Middle East with a culture which has fomented terrorism, not peace. UNRWA deserves no Australian support.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Dr David Adler is President of the Australian Jewish Association.

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