OPINION: What UNWRA really stands for in the Middle East

OPINION: What UNWRA really stands for in the Middle East

Rabbi Menachem Lester, Former rabbi of South London Synagogue
Rabbi Menachem Lester, Former rabbi of South London Synagogue
Rabbi Menahem Lester
Rabbi Menahem Lester

By Rabbi Menahem Lester, former rabbi of South London Synagogue

“Eyeless in Gaza: at the mill with slaves.” Thus spoke the English poet John Milton  400 years ago, about the blinded Samson.

During the recent ‘Protective Edge’ campaign in Gaza, the IDF discovered 36 tunnels on the Israel border, each designed to infiltrate terrorists to murder and kidnap.

Many of these tunnels were dug by young children, many of whom were said to have lost their lives in the hazardous process of digging underground.

Reports also indicate that Hamas drove adults in closed vans to unknown destinations, then forced them to descend and dig.

After gruelling shifts, they were returned to their homes – except some, who were judged to represent security threats, weren’t returned but exterminated.

This is the Gaza which uses its schools and institutions, under the aegis of UNWRA, as terrorist bases.

Let me give you a brief history of UNWRA, the UN Works and Relief Agency.

The body was established by the United Nations in 1949 to address the problem of the refugees resulting from the attacks by the Arab armies on the embryonic State of Israel in 1948.

The intention was to provide humanitarian relief and work opportunities for those with livelihoods destroyed by the war.

UNWRA camps and offices were set up in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt.

Why did the UN create an agency for ‘the Palestinians’ when there already existed an effective UN agency, the High Commission for Refugees (not to be confused with the UNHRC)?

Millions of refugees were created in World War II. At its termination, Jews in the hundreds of thousands were helped by the Red Cross and the Jewish Agency.

Germans ejected from territories settled by the Nazis and subsequently expelled numbered nearly five million; the independence of India and Pakistan (also in 1948) resulted in 10 million Hindus expelled eastwards to India and Moslems westwards to Pakistan.

In all these cases and others, the UNHCR resettled all the refugees.

Why was UNWRA founded?

Because the Arab states attacking Israel in 1948 did not expect defeat and would not accept defeat.

They therefore transferred the responsibility for Palestinian Arab refugees to someone else.

Why are there still Arab refugees?

Somehow, over the years, UNWRA’s objective has changed. Unlike UNHCR, whose mandate is resettlement, UNWRA became the Commission to Maintain and Perpetuate the Palestinian Refugee Problem as a festering sore.

UNWRA is an agent of Arab governments’ unremitting war against Israel.

It helps attract the sympathy of western peoples to their cause, for which the presence of these refugees is critical.

UNWRA’s definition of a refugee is now broad – it includes any non-refugee marrying a registered refugee, and the offspring that result.

Despite the faltering ‘Peace Process’, the continuation of UNWRA guarantees there will never be peace in the Middle East.

Graphically, the refugee situation demonstrates the innate cruelty of the Arabs. Jews consider all other Jews as their family and their responsibility.

The Arabs have no such concept and despise the Palestinian refugees. U

NWRA now administers five million refugees (1.8 million of them in Gaza), schools and institutions and employs 30,000.

Despite UNWRA denials, school curricula teach “the right of return” and the destruction of Israel. Who pays for this “benevolence”?

For the current UNWRA budget of more than $1bn, the US contributes 27 percent and the EU a somewhat similar amount.

Arab nations jointly used to contribute eight percent but due to straitened circumstances, that was reduced to less than three percent.

This includes contributions from Qatar, which funds enterprises as diverse as sports, mosques, university Islamic centres, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, massive developments in Doha and so on.

It’s strange that nations such as Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy undergoing economic hardship contribute fully while rich Arab states give peanuts.

Why is UNWRA so important in Gaza?

There are several reasons.

First, the majority of Gazans are “refugees” and fall automatically under the UN aegis.

Second, children needing schooling form a high percentage of the population and UNWRA supplies the resources.

Third, the ruling power in Gaza isn’t a government but a terrorist organisation whose job is terrorism.

We therefore arrive at the main question: Could UNWRA be in cahoots with Hamas?

The UN would deny any relationship and expressed its horror when weapons were discovered on UNWRA premises on three separate occasions.

Was UNWRA an unwitting agent? Possibly, but many of the UNWRA staff are recognised as Hamas night workers.

Since Hamas enforces its rule with deadly violence, I suspect UNWRA has little option.

Nevertheless, as with the Stockholm Syndrome, UNWRA speaks for Hamas jointly – demanding a ceasefire and open borders for Gaza.

UNWRA spokesman Chris Gunness impresses with his concern for the children under his authority and those who were killed.

It could be so much better for the situation if UNWRA refugees were resettled among their brethren.

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