At a time when the issue of the Palestinian Arab "right of return" is so widely discussed, it must be stressed that it is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that runs the Palestinian Arab refugee camps and determines the "right of return" policies of those camps. As such, the UNRWA is the only UN refugee agency whose purpose is to keep refugees in nomadic tents rather than to facilitate their movement into decent and permanent housing conditions. And fully 95 percent of its budget emanates from the leading democracies in the world.
Canada chairs the committee that oversees the RWG (Refugee Working Group) of 38 nations, which in turn oversees the annual distribution of half-a-billion dollars per annum to UNRWA. The U.S. contributes close to one-third of the UNRWA budget.
Throughout its 52 years of existence, UNRWA has actively promoted the idea that Arab refugees from the 1948 war and their descendents must have the "right to return" to Arab villages lost in 1948, although these villages no longer exist.
In other words, the UN parrots the PLO argument that Israel should resettle (at its own expense) not only Arab "refugees" who actually lived in Israel in 1948 and willingly left, but all these Arabs' descendants. This group totals nearly 4 million people, or ten times the original number who are now on the UNRWA relief roles. The PLO "right of return" committee claims that there are 8 million Palestinian Arab refugees and their descendents who should be allowed to exercise their "right of return."
Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I traveled to the U.S. and Canada in order to bring the vital data on UNRWA policies to the attention of the staffers and elected officials in the Canadian Parliament, the U.S. Congress, and to an official in the White House. I sought to inform these government officials of UNRWA policies that weave the "right of return" into every aspect of the UNRWA school system and camp life. I also brought data concerning 300 news reports of military training that has taken place in the UNRWA camps over the past three years. This is a clear violation of section #301 of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act, which forbids U.S. aid to any humanitarian agency that engages in military training.
The vast majority of the 23,000 Palestinian Arabs who are hired by UNRWA to run the camps also openly express support for the Hamas terrorist organization. I presented documentation of how Hamas won more than 85 percent of the vote in the UNRWA teachers trade union and in the UNRWA officials trade union elections that were held in June. These elections were widely covered in the Palestinian Arabic language media.
Meanwhile, our news agency has learned that the forthcoming GAO report on UNRWA commissioned by the U.S. House International Relations Committee (due to be submitted to Congress on November 1) will disclose U.S. confirmed intelligence reports that each of the Palestinian terrorist organizations actively use UNRWA offices and UNRWA schools as bases for terrorist activity. It will also reveal that at least 10 UNRWA officials have been convicted of murder while perpetrating acts of terror over the past three years.
FRUSTRATION WITH SQUALOR
My own concern with this issue reaches back decades. As a social worker in the '70s and '80s, I was keenly aware of the squalor in which Arab refugees lived in the UNRWA camps. I saw their frustration and their rootlessness as they waited to "return." I had the opportunity to interview top officials of UNRWA. I began to see the other side of the coin: the political agenda that made promotion of the "right of return" so important to the Palestinian Arab cause. And it truly came full
circle as I interviewed major leaders of the PLO, including Arafat.
It's easy to be taken in: poor refugees, having nowhere to go, await the opportunity to simply return to where they came from. This is a basic human right, is it not? Isn't it recognized by General Assembly Resolution 194? Wrong on both counts, although the well-oiled Palestinian Arab propaganda machine would have you believe otherwise.
The PA and PLO even have maps by which they "demonstrate" that Israel has open spaces where the refugees might locate easily. Of course, these Palestinian Arab information specialists are careful not to discuss what would happen to Israel with four million hostile Arabs inside -- at least not with liberal sympathizers from the West. These discussions are kept "in-house."
At the bare minimum, the demographics would eliminate the Jewish nature of Israel. Violence is nearly inevitable. Either way, the destruction of Israel over time is the deliberate and intended result.
If the Arab refugee population was settled, once and for all, outside of Israel, there would be no more "right of return" issue. If the mandate of UNRWA was changed so that generations of "refugees," who have been waiting in limbo, finally had roots -- a permanent home in the Arab lands -- the very core of the plan to dismantle Israel from within would be dissolved.
The fact that the Arab states caused the Palestinian Arab refugee problem in the first place has been completely forgotten. Had the Arab states accepted a Jewish state in 1948, Israel would have had to cope with a Jewish state whose population would have been 50 percent Arab at the genesis of the state of Israel.
What is also forgotten is that an almost equal number of Jewish refugees had to leave Arab lands where they lived for thousands of years. Israel moved Jewish refugees out of transit camps as soon as possible, into permanent housing. This sharply contrasts with the UN policy to keep Arab refugees in "transit" camps for more than 55 years, under the specious premise and promise of repatriation to Israeli Arab villages that no longer exist.
And there is yet another ramification to current UNRWA policies and practices that maintain refugees in a state of perpetual disfranchisement and tell Palestinians their "right to return" is denied to them by Israel: it fuels terrorism. This happens because the UNRWA practices work in concert with Palestinian Authority (read PLO) goals. This has been known as "the festering wound."
It is one of the ironies of history that the first entity since Nazi Germany to advocate the right to murder Jews was borne out of a "peace process."
Until ten years ago, the idea of the "right of return" had been stressed in the UNWRA schools, but there was no real Arab military presence in the camps to demonstrate support for that idea. And until ten years ago, Israel actively prevented UNRWA schools and UNRWA facilities from demonstrating overt support for return to long forgotten Arab villages.
However, since Israel withdrew its troops and civil administration from the areas in the West Bank and Gaza where UNRWA camps are located, the UNRWA staffers who run the camps have enjoyed a new latitude. Almost universally, they are supportive of Arab terrorist organizations.
Witness the UNRWA camp union elections, where HAMAS gained control of the UNRWA clerks union and the UNRWA teachers union. UNRWA camps have been transformed into the battleground of an armed insurrection where thousands of UNRWA camp residents brandish their weapons to demonstrate their support for the murder of Israeli Jews, especially those who now live in towns and collective farms that have replaced the 531 Arab villages lost in 1948.
Yet the U.S. State Department continues to ignore the fact that for a decade now the Palestinian Arab population has been taught to see a relationship between "right of return" and their divine obligation to murder Jews. The connection simply is not being made between UNRWA and the failure to achieve peace.
"To think anew, to act anew," were words spoken by Abraham Lincoln on the morning of his tragic death. The time has come for the decision-makers of the United States and other western democracies to "think anew and to act anew."
Will they continue to allow the policies of UNRWA to be sustained? That will be the challenge to the 38 Western democracies who fund UNRWA policies.
Unless and until UNWRA policies and practices regarding "right of return" change, there will be no chance for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East. As the policies are halted, there must then be "deconditioning" as a means for true peace in the Middle East. The U.S.-initiated de-Nazification program begun after World War II transformed Germany from a fascist regime into a democratic nation in one generation. This sort of peaceful transformation can be achieved again if Israel is permitted to do a re-education of the Palestinian Arab society that reverses the perspective taught by UNRWA policies. Otherwise, the camps will remain a boiling cauldron ready to explode into anti-Jewish violence.