A couple of days ago Iran was appointed to chair the UN human rights meeting in Geneva. Yet another blunder on the side of the UN who seems to have misplaced their own textbook on human rights. Let me help you find it – it’s here: https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights. If I recall correctly, the United Nations was created to prevent war and stand up for human rights. Iran openly and actively supports the Hamas terror regime in Gaza. It provides weapons to Hamas, to the Hezbollah in Lebanon and to Syria for the purpose of destroying Israel. Iran arms the Hoothi rebels in Yemen and is involved in armed conflicts against Middle Eastern states and their Western allies. It also supplies weapons to Russia for its war against Ukraine. Add to that the human rights abuses inside Iran and its nuclear program and you get the picture.
Palestinian Refugees and UNRWA
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was established in 1949/1950 in the aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war to support around 700,000 Palestinian refugees. It replaced the UN Relief for Palestine Refugees (UNRPR) that was established the year before. UNRWA is one of two UN organizations tasked with helping refugees, the other being the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In 2021 the UNHCR reported more than 21 million refugees and specified nearly 95 million “people of concern”. It commands a global workforce of nearly 19,000 staff.
While the UNHCR is concerned with all refugees worldwide, except for Palestinian refugees, the UNRWA’s only mission is the welfare of Palestinian refugees. UNRWA’s 2020-2021 biennium budget shares insights into its operation. UNRWA is the largest UN agency, employing nearly 30,000 staff, 99% of whom are locally recruited Palestinians. Its budget for 2021 was over a billion dollars, after the previous US administration had severely cut funding due to the agency’s inability to adapt its course (compare 2017 budget of more than $1.5 billion).
UNRWA operates schools and facilities for Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. The agency has long abolished the idea to turn refugees into permanent citizens of their host country (or any country) who are then able to sustain themselves and lead a meaningful life. How the UN and UNRWA have kept Palestinian refugees in limbo for 75 years, and the suffering this has caused, will be the subject of a separate post.
UNRWA and Gaza
First a short background on Gaza. Gaza was designated by the 1947 UN decision to be part of the Arab state of Palestine. After a period of independence, it came first under Israeli control, then under Egyptian military rule, then in 1967 under Israeli occupation, until Israel withdrew from it in the 2005 Gaza disengagement. During the Battle of Gaza in 2007, Hamas forcefully ousted its rival Fatah and took control over the territory. From then on until today the Gaza strip is under the rule of the Hamas terror regime.
At the 2007 Hamas takeover, unemployment in Gaza was about equivalent to that in the West Bank, around 18%. Today the unemployment in the West Bank is 13%, in the Gaza strip 46%. Hamas has repeatedly waged armed warfare against Israel using rocket-propelled grenades and rockets, kites and balloons with incendiary devices, as well as underground tunnels to invade Israel. While the acts of war and terror are filling books, there is hardly a page written on economic development, or any other testimony for human achievement. Under the rule and guidance of Hamas, Gaza has become probably the worst place to live on earth.
Like in the other countries where UNRWA is active, the agency provides a number of services in Gaza. A closer look at the UNRWA-provided figures show that the largest benefactor is Gaza, which receives about 1/3 of the budget (see pages 11 and 12 of the report).
UNRWA categorizes the budget for Gaza as follows:
|Gaza strip field office 2020 budget estimate
|Palestine refugee rights under international law are protected and promoted
|Palestine refugee health is protected and disease burden is reduced
|School-age children complete quality, equitable and inclusive basic education
|Palestine refugee capabilities are strengthened for increased livelihood opportunities
|Palestine refugees are able to meet their basic human needs of food, shelter and environmental health
|Effective and efficient governance and support
The biggest item on the list is “education” (actually a euphemism as will be shown later). According to table 10-1 (estimate for 31 Dec 2021) of the UNRWA report, the agency employs 9,677 area staff in education, out of a total of 11,851. Area staff means local Palestinian workers.
UNRWA provides complete quality, equitable
and inclusive basic education
I really wish the list of Hamas terrorists captured or killed during the attack on Israel will be cross-checked with the list of graduates from the various Gaza schools. One doesn’t have to be Sigmund Freud to understand the impact of education on the aspirations of young men and women. UNRWA is clearly aware of the crucial role of its educational program.
In 2021 UNRWA Commissioner-General Phillipe Lazzarini specifically addressed the “attacks against [the] UNRWA education programme“. He assured that
as Commissioner General and UNRWA, we have zero tolerance for hate speech, incitement to violence and discrimination, including anti-Semitism.Introductory remarks of the UNRWA Commissioner-General at the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee
The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) is an international research and policy organization that monitors and analyzes education around the world. IMPACT-se undertook several reviews of UNRWA-provided study material for Palestinians and found that they contain material which does not comply with UN values. One 2021 study criticized the:
- Encouragement of violence, jihad, terrorism and martyrdom.
- Rejection of peace.
- Intolerance, disrespect and demonization.
- Libel and conspiracy.
- Conflict-oriented discourse.
- Bias and lack of neutrality.
- Erasure of Israel.
- Erasure of Jews.
The above report also mentioned that UNRWA’s methodology to isolate and address problematic content is seemingly not employed in Gaza-produced texts.
An overview of IMPACT-se reports on UNRWA can be found on their website. The latest joint IMPACT-se/United Nations Watch report titled “UNRWA Education: Reform or Regression” not only reviews the study material at UNRWA schools but also the teachers employed by UNRWA. The report gives examples of teachers supporting or glorifying terrorism on the social media accounts. It also shows how the glorification of terrorism is taught at UNRWA schools.
UNRWA, as it seems, had taken earlier criticism seriously, also because the US government as a major donor to the agency had produced its own report on the matter (GAO-19-448). The report found that, for example,
UNRWA created complementary teaching materials, such as alternate photos, examples, and guidance for teachers to use with the textbooks in UNRWA schools. However, due to financial shortfalls and other constraints, UNRWA officials told GAO that UNRWA did not train teachers or distribute the complementary teaching materials to classrooms. As a result, these materials were not used in UNRWA classrooms.U.S. Government Accountability Office – Reports and Testimony
The before-mentioned 2023 IMPACT-se/United Nations Watch report follows up on that GAO report and other IMPACT-se reports. The accusations against UNRWA are serious:
UNRWA’s neutrality violations are systemic
UN Watch revealed that rather than addressing the underlying problem of antisemitism and support for terrorism among UNRWA staff, the social media training focused on encouraging staff to “limit online exposure” by “taking advantage of privacy and other settings.”UNRWA Education: Reform or Regression
In plain words: If an UNRWA teacher does support terrorism or wants to incite on social media, (s)he should make sure to do it anonymously to cover his/her tracks.
Citing from the same source:
UNRWA similarly minimized the issue in its responses to our latest reports. For example, in its August 5, 2021 statement, UNRWA emphasized that it had opened an investigation into whether 10 UNRWA staff “out of more than 28,000 personnel violated the Agency’s social media policies,” denying that the problem was “widespread.” In essence, UNRWA refused to acknowledge the more serious issue of its hiring antisemitic and terror supporting staff in the first place. Moreover, UNRWA’s investigations of individual staff members have been completely lacking in transparency and UNRWA does not appear to have ever undertaken a thorough independent investigation of all its staff.UNRWA Education: Reform or Regression
The report lists the names of 133 UNRWA staff who posted antisemitism and terror incitement on social media, together with their violation. Here are random excerpts of violations:
- Glorification of terrorists
- Teaches children to destroy Israel
- Praises Hamas and advocates killing Jews
- Incites killing Israelis and Jews
- Endorses Hitler
- Glorifies knife terrorism
- Praises murder of “collaborators”
Annex B names 82 UNRWA staff listed on teaching material with hateful content. Annex C lists 10 schools identified with teaching hateful or inciting content. A recurring motive is the glorification of terrorists. Here some examples from textbooks:
- Firebombing of Jewish bus is “Barbecue Party”
- Textbook exercises praise martyrdom and jihad as “the most important meanings of life”
- Dalal Mughrabi praised as a hero in the classroom (she was part of the 1978 coastal road massacre that killed 38 Israeli civilians, 13 of them children, and injured over 70 people)
The Gaza strip has a population of around 2.3 million Palestinians, with about 1.4 million refugees. UNRWA’s focus is on those refugees. As the UNRWA reports show, most of its money and manpower in the Gaza strip is focused on education.
James Lindsay, a former official at UNRWA, points out in an address that the UNRWA today is providing basic government services. He suggests changes to help the agency reach its original goal, the settlement of the refugees. In the context of the Gaza strip, by relieving the Hamas “government” of its duty to provide essential education, health services and other basic services, the agency indirectly helped fund Hamas’ military arsenal.
UNRWA has repeatedly been criticized for spreading incitement to terror. Yet it has done little to bring about a change. By employing people who incite to terror, support Hamas, etc., UNRWA has become an accomplice to the murder and violence.
Until UNRWA replaces all questionable study material, enforces the use of amended material, and replaces those staff that incite terror and/or disqualify themselves from being able to provide an inclusive education, funding of UNRWA schools must be suspended. Additionally the European and US governments must investigate UNRWA employees and leadership for violation of anti-terror laws.