A Palestinian woman takes part in a protest against possible reductions of the services and aid offered by United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), in front of UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City August 16, 2015.. (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)

What’s Wrong With UNRWA and Why it Must be Reformed

In the flurry of press about UNRWA in the last weeks, much has been written and said about the U.N. Palestine refugee agency, both positive and negative.


UNRWA Perpetuates The So-Called “Right of Return”

The real problem with the organization is evident from these two media quotes by Palestinians registered by UNRWA as refugees, yet who were born after 1948 and who never lived in British Mandatory Palestine or Israel:

  • “I hold on to UNRWA because I hold on to my right of returning to Palestine,” Mohammad Afifi, a 58-year-old shopkeeper born and raised in Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon.
  • “Take everything and return us to our homes. We don’t want any assistance or anything, just return us to our country,” Ramy Mansour, a 34-year-old born and raised in Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, and who now lives in Lebanon.


As Prime Minister Netanyahu aptly said while arguing for a gradual approach to phasing it out, “UNRWA is an organization that perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem, and perpetuates also the narrative of the so-called right of return, whose goal is the elimination of Israel. For these reasons, UNRWA should be shut down.” This is patently clear from the above quotes.

UNRWA is painted by the media as a humanitarian agency that provides education, health care and social services to needy Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, as reported by Reuters, The Independent, The Los Angeles Times, and others. But as UNRWA expert Einat Wilf explains, what UNRWA is really giving these Palestinians is the false hope that they will one day be able to return to family homes in Israel abandoned in a war years before most of them were even born. Only approximately 20,000 of the original refugees that were actually displaced from their homes in 1948 remain.

UNRWA officials freely and openly advocate for this “right of return,” as exemplified by statements from various officials, including UNRWA Spokesperson Chris Gunness and UNRWA Lebanon director Claudio Cordone, that the refugee crisis will continue as long as there is no “solution.”

And the “solution” they are talking about is not resettlement, as it would be for the rest of the world’s refugees, who are handled by UNHCR. By contrast, UNRWA is not mandated to find durable solutions for the Palestinians.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the “right of return” is a prominent feature of UNRWA’s educational programming, including UNRWA textbooks that deny any Jewish historical connection to the land of Israel and erase Israel from the map, and teachers who incite anti-Semitism and jihadi terrorism.


Whether or not the UNRWA education provides what Palestinians need is also an open question. The UN’s most recent internal audit for UNRWA questioned UNRWA’s overall effectiveness, and especially criticized UNRWA’s insufficient provision of “economically viable skills” to enable Palestinians to climb out of poverty.

UNRWA is a Partisan Entity with Close Ties to Hamas  

While The New York Times misleadingly portrays UNRWA as a neutral entity which “has never been involved in peace negotiations” and serves a basic role of “providing a safe space for civilians,” the reality is that UNRWA is at the heart of the conflict:


For an ostensibly neutral U.N. agency to have such close ties to a terrorist organization should be shocking, but these facts are in line with the U.N.’s own internal audit of UNRWA which found UNRWA to have deficient oversight for its facilities.


Sadly, although the U.N. was founded on principles of maintaining international peace and security, as reflected in the UN Charter, in the case of UNRWA, it does just the opposite—exacerbates the conflict.

UN Watch