AJC Policy on UNRWA
As of 2/5/2024
American Jewish Committee (AJC) is outraged by the revelations that twelve employees of UNRWA – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Middle East – were involved in the horrific October 7 terror attacks perpetrated by Hamas against Israel. According to an Israeli government dossier shared with the media and selected foreign governments, an additional 1,200 of Gaza’s 12,000 UNRWA employees are said to have links to Hamas or Islamic Jihad.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has pledged to investigate the allegations of UNRWA staff complicity in October 7 atrocities, saying any UN employee involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution. UNRWA had also previously announced a full, independent review of its operations. We note with interest the Secretary-General’s decision to establish an independent Review Group, which will function separately and and in parallel from the efforts already underway by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). We expect such serious allegations to be investigated by an impartial outside body, independently and with full transparency.
We are keenly aware that some two million Palestinian civilians in Gaza depend on aid from UNRWA. Their condition might deteriorate further due to the allegations against UNRWA employees, which led the U.S. and several other major donor countries to suspend their financial aid to the agency. Despite the serious issues with UNRWA that must be investigated, continued delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza is essential, and next steps on UNRWA must be conducted in a manner that does not harm Palestinian civilians in need of humanitarian assistance.
The allegations against UNRWA that continue to emerge are just the latest revelation regarding an institution that has, since its formation, been deeply flawed. Once the immediate crisis in Gaza is remedied and as Israel, the United States and key stakeholders in the region chart the course ahead, it is clear that the international community must engage in serious conversation around the future of UNRWA.
UNRWA was established in December 1949 to provide education, health care, social services, and emergency aid to Palestinian refugees. It is the only UN refugee institution that deals with a singular population, whereas the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which was created in 1950, is the United Nations’ main agency that handles all other refugees and displaced persons.
Unfortunately, for many years, the agency has also served as a vehicle for the advancement of Palestinian goals against Israel. It has detracted from the cause of a negotiated, peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and instead of helping solve the refugee problem, it has endeavored to perpetuate it. UNRWA also continues to register people as refugees even if they have gained citizenship or citizen rights in other countries or were born in Palestinian territories. These practices have been one of the main reasons that the original count of an estimated 750,000 Palestinian refugees in 1948 has expanded to 5.9 million today. To the detriment of peace, UNRWA has magnified the Palestinian refugee problem.
What’s more, UNRWA has been teaching successive generations of Palestinians born in Gaza and the West Bank with deeply problematic curricula that promote and glorify violent antisemitism and deny Israel’s right to exist.
The Path Forward
We recognize that the ultimate settlement of the refugee problem lies in the permanent resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – a resolution continually pushed out of reach by the principles and incendiary practices of UNRWA.
To address the issues perpetuated by UNRWA, AJC urges governments to press for fundamental reforms that will:
- Create new procedures for the screening of UN staff engaged in assisting the Palestinian population, particularly in the educational sector, to prohibit connection with terror organizations listed as such by donor countries.
- Ensure that curricula taught in Palestinian schools are in line with UNESCO standards, do not promote hatred or incitement, and rather promote peaceful coexistence.
- End UNRWA’s policy of perpetuating the Palestinian refugee problem and replace it with a new policy designed to help resettle refugees.
There are currently 35.3 million registered refugees worldwide, of whom 29.4 million are under the UNHCR mandate. The remaining 5.9 million people are under UNRWA’s mandate. The existence of a separate agency to deal with Palestinian refugees, while all other refugees are under UNHCR’s mandate, is politically based, costly, and nonsensical. The needs of those currently under the umbrella of UNRWA could be met as well or better under UNHCR and other international agencies.