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At UNRWA, the Latest Scandal Might Allow Hard Questions to be Asked (Part 2)

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The mismanagement of UNRWA, especially its bloated budget, at a time when the American contribution, UNRWA’s largest, has ended, is a large part of what ails the organization. There are not only the scandal we witness at  the top, with well-paid jobs being created for lovers and husbands of senior staff. Throughout the organization there are far too many employees; for Palestinians, UNRWA is a jobs program, a source of sinecures where not much work is required and the pay is good. Consider that for the care of 17 million other refugees in the world, the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency), employs a total of 11,000, while UNRWA, with five million “refugees” as its charge, employs more than 30,000 people. 23,000 of those 30,000 are themselves Palestinians.
It is too soon to tell if other states will join Israel in calling for a thorough, top-to-bottom investigation of UNRWA. Certainly the United States will do so. Perhaps the four countries – Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, and New Zealand – that have frozen their contributions to UNRWA pending a full investigation of the latest scandal – will continue to withhold funds until other outrages at UNRWA are addressed.
Now that UNRWA’s reputation has taken a major hit –with its three top executives (Krahenbuhl, Mitchell, Sharwan) having had to resign from their positions – it’s a good time to press for other changes.
Three major changes stand out.
First, there is the Hamas  presence in UNRWA. It is well understood that UNRWA knowingly employs members of terrorist groups – mainly those of Hamas, though Islamic Jihad and the PFLP are also represented. Furthermore, Hamas has stored weapons in UNRWA-run schools.
One report on UNRWA’s willingness to accommodate terrorists among its employees can be found here.
According to Yoni Fighel, a former Israeli military governor in the Palestinian territories, UNRWA workers are permitted to openly affiliate with terrorist groups. He notes that, “as long as UNRWA employees are members of Fatah, Hamas, or PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine], they are going to pursue the interests of their party within the framework of their job…Who’s going to check up on them to see that they don’t? UNRWA? They are UNRWA.”
In other words, UNRWA sees Hamas and other terrorist groups as part of the Palestinian landscape, and therefore embraces these groups.
Since many UNRWA teachers are alumni of the UNRWA school system, they often perpetuate the vitriolic curriculum they were taught, vilifying Israel and the West. For example, Suheil al-Hindi, an UNRWA teachers’ representative, openly applauded suicide bombings at a school in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza in 2003. Instead of a condemnation, al-Hindi received a promotion and was subsequently elected to UNRWA’s clerks union.
UNRWA teachers who publicly identify with radical groups have created a teachers’ bloc that ensures the election of Hamas members and other individuals committed to Islamist ideologies. After using their classrooms as a place to refine their radical messages, these teachers gravitate to politics. As such, UNRWA’s education system has become a springboard for Hamas leaders.
For example, Said Sayyam, the Hamas minister of interior and civil affairs, was a teacher in UNRWA schools in Gaza from 1980 to 2003. He went on to become a member of UNRWA’s Arab Employees Union, and headed the teachers sector committee.
Notable graduates of the UNRWA school system include former Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, and Abd al-Aziz Rantisi, the former Hamas chief who attended UNRWA secondary school in Khan Younis and graduated top of his class.
UNRWA institutions have not just produced terrorist ideologues. They have also produced terrorist masterminds. According to Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, UNWRA has produced graduates like Ibrahim Maqadama, who “helped create the military structure of Hamas.” Gold notes that, “at least 46 terrorist operatives were students in the UNRWA schools.”
There have also been widespread reports of terrorism from UNRWA-supervised facilities, including sniper attacks from UNRWA-run schools, bomb and arms factories in UNRWA camps, the transport of terrorists to their target zones in UNRWA ambulances, and even UNRWA employees directly tied to terrorist attacks against civilians.
Nidal Abd al-Fattah Abdallah Nazzal, an ambulance driver for UNRWA from Kalqiliya in the West Bank, was arrested by Israeli security services in August 2002. Nidal admitted that he was a Hamas activist and that he had transported weapons and explosives to terrorists in his ambulance, taking advantage of the freedom of movement afforded to UNRWA vehicles by the Israelis.
Nahd Rashid Ahmad Atallah, a senior official of UNRWA in the Gaza Strip, was also arrested by Israeli security in August 2002. In his capacity as an UNRWA official, he provided support to families of wanted Fatah and PFLP terrorists. He used his UNRWA car to transport armed members of the “Popular Resistance Committees,” a militant faction of the Fatah movement, to carry out attacks against Israeli troops at the Karni Crossing.
UNRWA also appears to be in the business of cultivating new terrorists. The New York Times exposed in 2000 that UNRWA allowed terrorist groups to use their schools as “summer camps” so that 25,000 Palestinian children could receive paramilitary training, including instructions on how to prepare Molotov cocktails and roadside bombs.
These connections between UNRWA and Hamas, as set out above, should be enough to convince the fair-minded that UNRWA has for too long received a pass on its deep links to Hamas. UNRWA knowingly employs members of Hamas and other terror groups. It has provided support to the families of wanted terrorists. It has allowed Hamas snipers to attack from UNRWA schools, and bombs and arms factories to be built in UNRWA-run camps. UNRWA has allowed terrorists to use its ambulances, which Israeli soldiers will not fire on, to get to their targets. UNRWA employees are known to have taken part in terror attacks on Israeli civilians.
Until now UNRWA has done nothing to address this intolerable state of affairs. But now that it has been weakened, for quite other reasons, the time is ripe, and the Americans willing to bring pressure on its allies, and especially those in Europe, to insist that all members of terrorist groups be discharged from UNRWA, and that any UNRWA employee found to be helping terrorists – in any way — everything from storing weapons for them, transporting them in UNRWA ambulances, or letting them manufacture bombs in UNRWA camps –must also be promptly discharged.
Second, the issue of UNRWA’s size needs to be raised. Why is it that UNRWA requires 30,000 employees to take care of five million soi-disant “refugees” while the UN Refugee Agency (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR) needs only 11,000 employees to take care of 17 million other refugees? How many of those UNRWA jobs are truly necessary, and how many have been created by Palestinians to provide secure jobs for fellow Palestinians (23,000 of UNRWA’s 30,000 employees are Palestinians), sinecures that are well-paid and do not require much work? Pierre Krahenbuhl was the foremost example of this immense sense of entitlement. He was himself away from his office a total of 28-29 days out of every month; employees were discouraged from asking questions about his long absences. Bloated beyond belief, UNRWA’s staff should be reduced in size. With only five million refugees to take care of, no one can argue with a straight face that UNRWA needs nearly three times as many employees as the U.N. Refugee Agency employs to take care of 17 million non-Palestinian refugees. Let UNRWA’s numbers be brought into line with those of UNHCR: not 30,000, but less than 10,000 employees for UNRWA, would then be appropriate. What possible objection could be made?
Third, there are many who think that cutting UNRWA down to size is not enough. They argue that it should be shut down altogether. For UNRWA’s self-described mission is based on a unique definition of who is a refugee. A Palestinian refugee, according to UNRWA, is not only someone who left Palestine/Israel in 1948, but the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren of that original refugee. No other refugees – there have been hundreds of millions in the last century – have been defined to include not just those who left one land for another, but their children, grandchildren, and all succeeding issue, No one has explained why there is this bizarre and infinitely expansive definition of a “Palestinian refugee,” nor explained why such a definition applies only to this one group of refugees and to no other. It’s time for the American government and others, who agree that the definition of “refugee” should be limited to actual refugees and not extended to their endless progeny, to raise this issue. They should  demand, too, since there are only about 20,000 Palestinian refugees, according to the generally accepted definition of a “refugee,”  an end to UNRWA.  You can already hear the howls of protest from Mahmoud Abbas, Saeb Erekat, Hanan Ashrawi of the Palestinian Authority, as well as from representatives of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP, the Arab League, the O.I.C. So what? If the Muslim Arabs want to take upon themselves the expensive care and feeding of all these non-refugee refugees, who were once given limitless succor by UNRWA, let them. Meanwhile, in the Western world, those who have poured tens of billions into that organization in the 71 years of its existence will be happy to see the end of that scandal-ridden, employee-bloated, Hamas-supporting UNRWA. Let some new group take charge of those “refugees,” a group completely funded and run by Arab states, for just as long as they can stand it.

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