The US government recently announced that it will reduce its funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides aid to Palestinians, to $125 million per annum, down by $60 million.  It accuses UNRWA of having close connections to Hamas and its racist, rejectionist ideology towards Jews and Israel, and of perpetuating rather than resolving the problem of Palestinian statelessness.[i]

As well-founded as the accusation appears to be, many people will nonetheless feel uneasy about a funding cut that could jeopardise the provision of vital health, educational and food services to ordinary people in need.

An alternative might be for the US to continue to provide the same level of aid, but have it administered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Not many people realise that the UN has one definition of “refugee” for Palestinian refugees, and a completely different definition for all of the world’s other refugees, and one agency that deals with Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) and a completely different agency to look after all of the world’s other refugees (UNHCR).[ii]

UNRWA was established in December 1949 by UN General Assembly resolution 302.[iii]  It defines “Palestine refugees” not only as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict”, but also theirdescendants – ad infinitum.[iv]  Fewer than 1 percent of the people currently served by UNRWA fled from their homes during the 1948 or 1967 wars against Israel.[v]  The rest are descendants of refugees, many of whom are natives of other countries or enjoy full citizenship rights or permanent residency in other countries.  Some have become refugees from other conflicts, such as the civil war in Syria.

[i]     Elliott Abrahams (blog), ‘Trump Gets UNRWA Right’, Council on Foreign Relations, 17 January 2018: https://www.cfr.org/blog/trump-gets-unrwa-right

[ii]    ‘About us’, UNHCR website: http://www.unhcr.org/en-au/about-us.html

[iii]   See http://www.unrwa.org/content/general-assembly-resolution-302

[iv]  ‘Persons who meet UNRWA’s Palestine Refugee criteria’, UNRWA website: http://www.unrwa.org/userfiles/2010011995652.pdf

Read the article by Peter Wertheim AM (Executive Director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry) in the ABC Religion and Ethics program.

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