By Carol Rushton
Part 1 in this series of articles on Understanding the Middle East dealt with Yasser Arafat’s and the PLO’s accumulation of wealth through the years, despite protests to the contrary. Part 2 will cover the amount of money donated to UNRWA and the Arab refugees since UNRWA’s formation in 1948-1949.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency was specifically set up after Israel’s War of Independence to help resettle the Arabs who had left the Jewish country on the urgings of the surrounding Arab nations, promising them they could return to their homes in a few days to a country free of Jews. Since that scenario didn’t quite work out the way the Arab countries thought it would, the displaced Israeli Arabs did not have the financial resources to start a new life in the countries they now found themselves living in.
Israel had tried to convince the Arabs in the country not to leave. The following is a quote from an appeal to the Arabs in Israel by the Assembly of Palestine Jewry on October 2, 1947.
“We will do everything in our power to maintain peace, and establish a cooperation gainful to both [Jews and Arabs]. It is now, here and now, from Jerusalem itself, that a call must go out to the Arab nations to join forces with Jewry and the destined Jewish State and work shoulder to shoulder for our common good, for the peace and progress of sovereign equals” (Jewish Virtual Library, “The Palestinian Refugees: History and Overview,” (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/history-and-overview-of-the-palestinian-refugees).
The Jewish Agency also issued a similar appeal on November 30, 1947, after the United Nations voted to approve the partition plan creating both a Jewish state and an Arab state that co-exist side by side. “The main theme behind the spontaneous celebrations we are witnessing today is our community’s desire to seek peace and its determination to achieve fruitful cooperation with the Arabs. . .”
When David Ben-Gurion formally announced the creation of the State of Israel on May 14, 1928, the declaration entreated the Arabs in the new nation to stay.
In the midst of wanton aggression, we yet call upon the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve the way of peace and play their part in the development of the State, on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its bodies and institutions. . .We extend our hand in peace and neighborliness to all the neighboring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/history-and-overview-of-the-palestinian-refugees).
While it is sad that many of the Arabs refused to stay in Israel, Israel still wanted to do everything possible to find an acceptable solution to the Arab refugee problem after the War of Independence even though the Jews were not to blame for the refugees’ situation.
The 1948 UN Resolution 194 addressed the Arab refugee problem and contained the following:
[R]efugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which under principles of international law or in equity should be made good by Governments or authorities responsible. [The UN] [i]nstructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of refugees and payment of compensation (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/history-and-overview-of-the-palestinian-refugees).
The Jewish Virtual Library analyses that the “emphasized words demonstrate that the UN recognized that Israel could not be expected to repatriate a hostile population that might endanger its security. The solution to the problem, like all previous refugee problems, would require at least some Palestinians to be resettle in Arab lands. The resolution met most of Israel’s concerns regarding the refugees, whom they regarded as a potential fifth column if allowed to return unconditionally.” Israel’s President Chaim Weitzman emphasized, “We are anxious to help such resettlement provided that real peace is established and the Arab states do their part of the job. The solution of the Arab problem can be achieved only through an all-around Middle East development scheme, toward which the United Nations, the Arab states and Israel will make their respective contributions.”
By the end of Israel’s War of Independence, the number of Arab refugees in countries outside Israel totaled over 900,000. Moshe Sharett, Israel’s foreign minister, declared it would be “suicidal folly” for Israel to try to absorb that many Arabs into its narrow land space. It is very instructive that the Arabs rejected UN Resolution 194 and refused to consider any negotiations to help resettle or repatriate the Arab refugees.
When UNRWA was created, the UN initially designated it with a $50 million budget. The US donated $25 million, and tiny Israel, who had virtually nothing, gave almost $3 million. The Arabs nations combined only coughed up a paltry $600,000 by comparison. It took almost 25 years for oil-rich Saudi Arabia to match Israel’s initial contribution. Even by 1994, Israel was still giving more to UNRWA than all the Arab countries except for Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Morocco. I quote again from the Jewish Virtual Library: “In 2003, the United States contributed more than $134 million of UNRWA’s $326 million budget (41%). All of the Arab countries combined contributed less than $11 million (3%) and $7.8 million of that was from Saudi Arabia, meaning the rest of the Arab world contributed less than $3 million (1%).”
According to the Ha’aretz, an Israeli newspaper, the country that gave the most to UNRWA in 2016 was the United States with a donation of $368,429,712. The EU was second with $159,765,906. Saudi Arabia came in third with $148,000,000. None of the other Arab/Muslim countries made the top ten (Ha’aretz, “Fact Check: How Much Funding Does the U.S. give Palestinians – and What Would Happen If Trump Cuts It,” January 4, 2018, https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/fact-check-how-much-funding-does-u-s-actually-give-palestinians-1.5630320).
FOLLOW THE MONEY
And what has happened to all the billions of dollars the UN has collected and spent on Israeli Arab refugees? According to UNRWA’s website, www.unrwa.org, the aid money is spent on education, support services, relief and social services, infrastructure, health and medical services, and camp improvement.
The article “How Much Aid Does the US Give Palestinians, and What’s It For?” published by the Times of Israel on January 3, 2018, quoted former Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner’s response to U.S. President Trump’s threat to cut funding to the PA and UNRWA. “There are many problems with UNRWA, but cutting financial support to the organization hurts the weakest members of Palestinian society and is unlikely to bring the Palestinian Authority to the table. The refugee camps have historically been hotbeds for terrorist activities, weakening this population will only lead to more extremism and violence. This will not contribute to security or stability in the region.”
The same article revealed that UNRWA has been accused of “anti-Israel rhetoric promoted at tis schools and for turning a blind eye to terrorist activities taken place at its premises, including the storing of rockets and hosting of tunnels belonging to the Hamas terror group. UNRWA has condemned the use of its premises by Hamas for military purposes. Additionally Israel has long claimed that some of UNRWA’s Palestinian employees support terrorist activities and use hate-speech online.”
How nice that UNRWA has condemned Hamas’ use of its facilities for their terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. This amounts to 40 lashes with a wet noodle.
The Times of Israel reported in February 2017 that a UN watchdog group had noticed that employees of UNWRA were using social media to praise Hitler and Hamas. UNRWA replied that only a small percentage of their employees were responsible (The Times of Israel, “Watchdog: Employees of UN Agency Praise Hitler, Hamas on Facebook,” February 6, 2017, https://www.timesofisrael.com/unrwa-employees-praise-hitler-hamas-on-facebook-report-says/).
If it is true that these refugee camps “have historically been hotbeds for terrorist activities” and UNRWA is guilty of abetting and aiding terrorism and terrorist groups, then why would the US under any president want to contribute to a system that encourages terrorism and terrorists? If terrorism will continue to flourish in the refugee camps, no matter what the U.S. does or does not do, then shouldn’t the U.S. stop donating America taxpayer dollars to any group that supports the promotion of terrorism?