Is This the End of the Road for Unrwa?

The Relief and Works Agency has done nothing so much as teach hate and fear and stoke the anger of Palestinian Arabs.

AP/Peter K. Afriyie
The United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, on January 23, 2024, at United Nations headquarters. AP/Peter K. Afriyie

The pleas for Western democracies to keep the aid going to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency are taking on an increasingly desperate air. The latest is from Secretary General Guterres. The BBC quotes the top UN official as urging countries that have halted funding for the agency for Palestinian Arab refugees to “continue its operations.” Says he: “The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met.”

Forgive us, but our eyes are dry. We have been covering the plight of the Palestinian Arab refugees since 1967, when we first visited a refugee camp in Gaza. The refugee camps confine persons in conditions that are often shocking. That, though, is because the UN itself, and too often Arab countries, have refused to permit improvements to be made in their condition. This intentional immiseration perpetuates suffering rather than alleviates it. 

One feature of Unrwa is sui generis. No other refugee population is given its own agency. No other agency automatically designates descendants of refugees as themselves refugees. In the case only of  Palestinian Arabs are internally displaced persons counted as refugees. The result is a horizon of misery that serves only Hamas. We’re not saying the misery is unworthy of being addressed, only that Unrwa — and the UN — are incapable partners.

All the more is it overdue, in our view, to halt funding to Unrwa, which, in addition to everything else, runs schools in which Palestinian Arab children have been educated in hatred. It reminds us of the song “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” from “South Pacific.” The circumstances are not exactly parallel, but the message is on point. Unrwa is not a source of hope. This moment is an opportunity for the Palestinian Arabs to find another way forward.

It’s remarkable that the list of countries that have suspended funding Unrwa has grown to comprise Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Britain, and America, the agency’s largest funder. President Trump turned off our spigot, only for the Biden administration to turn it back on. Washington was floating a role for Unrwa in Gaza’s future even as Israel was sharing evidence of its complicity in October 7.

The agency’s leader, Philippe Lazzarini, calls the decision of countries to pause funding “shocking.” That quality is better applied to the cozy symbiosis between the UN agency and Hamas. Documents identifying Unrwa members as also members of Hamas were discovered. Schools served as arms depots. Reports are emerging of Unrwa personnel holding hostages. What’s “shocking” is how a UN agency became an arm of a terror syndicate.

Nothing about this arrangement was particularly hidden. The NGO called UN Watch uncovered a Telegram channel where Unrwa employees shared messages like an image of a suicide bomb vest wired with explosives, with the caption “Wait, sons of Judaism.” Other messages said “O God, tear them apart” and “execute the first settler on live broadcast.” Intelligence is expected to show that employees massacred Israelis.

Mr. Guterres professes that he is “horrified by these accusations.” He reports that of the 12 staff members accused, nine have been fired, one is dead, and the identities of the other two need to be “clarified.” What needs little clarification is that this is not a case of a few bad apples, but of an institution beyond saving. A Gaza rid of Unrwa and liberated from Hamas is one that can start to entertain the possibility of a future.  

Our Benny Avni reports that when Israel asked Unrwa to help remove civilians from the battlefield, it heeded Hamas in blocking evacuation so as to enable civilians to serve as human shields for the terrorists. A former IDF spokesman, Jonathan Conricus, tells Mr. Avni that Unrwa has “blood on its hands.” Now, when the UN is being confronted with the truth, is the moment for Mr. Biden to wake up to what Mr. Trump understood about Unrwa.


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