Einat Wilf at the International Summit for a Future Beyond UNRWA

Einat Wilf, Writer, former Member of Knesset, co-author of “The War of Return”

Full remarks:

Thank you so much, and really thank you for doing this.

Sometimes I wryly joke that in 1947, the United Nations let it slip that it supported the establishment of a Jewish state and it has spent all the years since, trying to walk that back.

We will never understand UNRWA unless we understand that it is, first and foremost, a Palestinian organization.

I sometimes say that if you want to understand UNRWA, think about an airplane, which is a lovely machine until it gets hijacked and flown into a building. 

In the same way, UNRWA started with the best of intentions to settle Arab refugees from the war, was hijacked by the Arab refugees themselves to become a purely Arab Palestinian organization, for the singular cause of ensuring that the Jewish state knows not a day of peace until it is undone. 


This is what UNRWA is. It has a thin layer of Italians and Swiss with beautifully cut suits who ask for money, because it is very difficult to give money to a Palestinian who will tell you, “From the river to the sea.” It is much easier to give it to a nice-speaking Italian.


So, what do we do? 

UNRWA is a classic case of you get what you pay for.

So we need to make sure that we pay for something else.

For 75 years, money, legitimacy, support, services, aid, were given – were funneled – to the perpetuation of the myth that Palestinians are still – uniquely, from all the tens of millions of refugees throughout the 20th century – refugees from a war that we think ended 75 years ago. But they don’t think it ends until they win it to their cause of no Jewish state.

So all the Western legitimacy, the global legitimacy, the funding, the aid, the services were funneled to the perpetuation of the myth of the refugee status and to the belief and the fictional idea of a right of return. 


And lest we think that return is an innocent idea of just feelings of nostalgia to a home that belonged to a great-grandparent in today’s Israel, October 7th is return. 

October 7th is the realization of the Palestinian vision of return. It was never an innocent idea. It always had the element of violent, brutal triumphalism over the Jewish state. All the money supported that for 75 years. 

So what we need to ask right now is not who will replace UNRWA – that doesn’t matter – but what? What will replace UNRWA?


And what needs to replace UNRWA is any mechanism that only funnels legitimacy, support, money and aid to those who are taken off of UNRWA’s rosters; those who are no longer registered as refugees; those who sign and make it clear that they understand that they’re not refugees and that they posses no such right of return. Only then can something be built.

Adi and I are on the record now, with books and essays and lectures and meetings, telling donor countries for years: Don’t give a single dollar. Don’t give a bag of cement to UNRWA anywhere, and certainly (not) in Gaza. 

As long as the people of Gaza – 75 percent of whom are still registered by UNRWA as refugees from Palestine – don’t give them anything as long as their dominant ideology is not to think of Gaza as the home which they wish to make into the “pearl of the Mediterranean,” the “Dubai of the Levant.” As long as their ideology is to literally use Gaza as a launchpad to “liberate” Palestine from the river to the sea, Adi and I are on record as telling donor countries: You are guaranteed that all your money, your aid, your bags of cement, will go into turning Gaza into a highly effective war machine, in order to exercise the brutal vision of return.

So this is what we need to say: It doesn’t matter who replaces UNRWA – but what replaces UNRWA? Reverse the equation. Legitimacy, money, aid, services will flow only to individuals who have been stricken off UNRWA’s rosters, if it still exists, and who themselves testify that they understand that they’re not refugees, that they do not possess the right of return, and they have no intention of liberating Palestine from the river to the sea.

And I want to end with one thought: October 7th should put an end to the notion of “the poor Palestinians” – the ones who constantly need aid, aid, money, support. The Palestinians are a highly capable people. October 7th required years of planning, massive investment in infrastructure, strategy, discipline, vision – a perverse vision – but vision. The Palestinians are not an incapable people. They are a people with terrible priorities.

For a century they decided to devote all their substantial capabilities not to building something for themselves, but in order to destroy the Jewish state. And as long as this is their ideology, anyone who gives them any kind of funding, aid and legitimacy is guaranteed that this will be funneled to the destruction of the Jewish state and to continued war. And if people really want peace, and really want to abide by the principles and the vision of the United Nations, reverse the equations: Support those who want to put the war behind us, not the ones who want to keep fighting that war.

Thank you.


UN Watch