Op-Ed: What is UNRWA Doing in Gaza?
Rabbi Prof. Dov FischerThe writer is rabbi of the Young Israel of Orange County, member of the...
Jews simply do not do windows or war crimes.
Here we go again. Twelve years ago, I published an op-ed article in The Weekly Standard on almost these identical issues and questions, when the focus lay on the UNRWA and the “refugee camps” of Jenin. How, I asked, can there be “refugee camps” in Jenin if Yasser Arafat and his PLO were busy claiming that Jenin is their “Palestine”?
How can the “Palestinians” of “Palestine” be deemed to be “refugees” if they live in their claimed homeland? And yet they are on the welfare rolls of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
How can that make sense? Displaced Jews from North Africa, once they called Israel their home, were not “refugees” anymore but “olim chadashim” (new immigrants). The same with Jews who have come to Israel, whether by volition from America and Canada or by compulsion from Ethiopia and Eastern Europe. Yes, many begin in a Merkaz Klita (Absorption Center). But not in a “refugee camp.”
How can someone be a “refugee” in his own home? One is a refugee “from” a place, not when he is home — assuming the home is his.
Indeed, as a matter of international law, only someone who has been banished from his homeland can be called a “refugee” in the first place. Not his child. Not his cousin. Like gravity — that is the law.
So twelve years ago, a United Nations commission — that aimed at investigating mythical “Jewish war crimes” when Israel defended herself from terror and uprooted terror cells in Jenin — was rejected by Israel and backed down from coming. Now the United Nations is back at it again, aiming to send another of its anti-Jewish witch-hunting gremlin panels to find new “Jewish war crimes.”
There is virtually nothing else that the United Nations seems to do. No war-crimes investigations in Syria (110,000 murdered, some by poison gas and chemicals) or in Iraq, where Christians are getting crucified by ISIL and Al Qaeda thugs and cutthroats, even as other Christians are being exiled from their homes of a thousand years on pain of death. No war-crimes peeks around eastern Ukraine to figure out who murdered the passengers aboard a simple civilian airliner and then would not even allow Dutch officials to access the corpses of the slaughtered. Rather, another farcical search for blood in matzah, four months since last Pesach and eight months before the next.
These things get so foolish that they defy reason. In a celebrity-thirsty world that just lost Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall, the U.N. came up with the insane notion of asking actor George Clooney’s fiancée to be one of the only three people in the whole entire world trusted to look for the bloody matzah, to find imaginary Jewish war crimes against humanity. The woman is a brilliant attorney, not just “arm dressing,” and she hates Israel. But there are so many brilliant attorneys throughout the world, and at least some of them hate Israel, too, while others can be paid to hate Israel very persuasively. Yet the U.N. opted for George Clooney’s girl friend to be at center of the blood-in-the-matzah search. Why?
Why? Because the notion of searching for Israeli war crimes against humanity in a military theater from which a rogue polity of thugs and gangsters — aka Hamas in Gaza, “Palestine” — has been firing more than 3,000 rockets aimed solely at civilian population centers, from Sderot to Tel Aviv and Haifa, while protecting their own rockets and launchers with civilian human shields and hiding their rockets in United Nations schools accrues to such a farce that it would be comical if it did not actually impact us as Jews. It would make a great off-Broadway play. Something like “Rhinoceros” or a “Theater of the Absurd.” Indeed, so absurd that Franz Kafka would have shied away from penning it. It would give absurdity a bad name.
So they pick George Clooney’s brilliant lawyer girlfriend to be one of the big three. It is hard not to like Clooney. He was great in “E.R.,” a long-running American television drama at a hospital. He was so much fun in the Coen Brothers’ “O Brother Where Art Thou?” And always great in all those “Oceans” movies. Even those of us who do not abide his left-wing politics love him in movies and on TV. He’s too much fun to boycott, divest, or sanction. And, until he gets married, women dream of him. So what could be finer than having George Clooney’s girl friend go with another Israel-hater or two and search for some blood-soaked matzah, thus placing Clooney on the side of the Blood Libel?
But the United Nations underestimated two factors: first, even if she does hate Israel, the girl friend really is smart. Too smart to get suckered into playing the witch in the witch hunt, and casting Clooney into the midst of some kind of “Oceans 1948” where the rest of his stellar career is stained and punctured forever by association with a Blood Libel and “The Hunt for Red Matzah" — because that is what this U.N. hunt is about: accusing Jews of being the war criminals of humanity, the poisoners of the wells, the bakers of the blood-soaked matzahs, the perpetrators of the war crimes that Jews recoil from more than do any other people on earth.
Jews argue with each other. Jews bewail the investments they wanted to make but were prevented by their spouses, and that now would have had them ensconced on “Easy Street.” But Jews simply do not do windows or war crimes.
England bombed Dresden to shreds. In three days, England sent in 722 heavy bombers and America 539 bombers. They rained nearly 4,000 tons of incendiary bombs on that one city. More than 25,000 were killed in three days. The bombs were calculated to set off unimaginably devastating fires that would suck the oxygen out of the Dresden air, suffocating or incinerating men, women, and children.
One Dresden eyewitness account:
“It is not possible to describe! Explosion after explosion. It was beyond belief, worse than the blackest nightmare. So many people were horribly burnt and injured. It became more and more difficult to breathe. It was dark and all of us tried to leave this cellar with inconceivable panic. Dead and dying people were trampled upon, luggage was left or snatched up out of our hands by rescuers. The basket with our twins covered with wet cloths was snatched up out of my mother's hands and we were pushed upstairs by the people behind us. We saw the burning street, the falling ruins and the terrible firestorm.
"My mother covered us with wet blankets and coats she found in a water tub. We saw terrible things: cremated adults shrunk to the size of small children, pieces of arms and legs, dead people, whole families burnt to death, burning people ran to and fro, burnt coaches filled with civilian refugees, dead rescuers and soldiers, many were calling and looking for their children and families, and fire everywhere, everywhere fire, and all the time the hot wind of the firestorm threw people back into the burning houses they were trying to escape from. I cannot forget these terrible details. I can never forget them.”
America wiped out more than 100,000 Japanese civilians overnight in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. War crimes? During the years, America has borne the rare shame of a My Lai in Vietnam, an Abu Ghraib in Iraq, an occasional soldier who goes haywire in Afghanistan or somewhere and kills a dozen innocents on an all-night personal rampage. Yet, all Americans justifiably take great pride in America’s overall excellence of morality, distinguishing and punishing the few shameful outliers.
But to find even that outlier immorality amid the Israeli Defense Forces is virtually inconceivable. The IDF is cooked differently. Its moral purity is so striking that, because of the dramatic reality that Jewish soldiers — unique among warring armies — do not rape their enemies’ women, the world’s Jew-haters, including some Leftist Jewish crazies within Israel, even have penned masters theses arguing that the striking absence of rape proves some kind of Jewish racist anti-Arab repulsion. That, somehow, the lack of rapes proves that Jews do not consider Arab women worthy of being raped. The Search for Blood in the Matzah and poison in the wells.
So Clooney’s fiancée outsmarted the U.N. fools who thought she could be manipulated into becoming the Witch of the Witch Hunters, and it may well be assumed that Clooney’s own advisors, friends, and publicity people helped him realize how a brilliant woman was going to be manipulated simply because she and he are in love. So she is out.
Yet, for Americans, perhaps our attention should focus on other questions, too: Why, in the first place, is the United Nations running “refugee camps” for people who claim to be living in their own land? How can a “refugee camp” under U.N. auspices exist in a world center for recruiting and training suicide bombers, murder-tunnel diggers, and rocket launchers? And why is the United States essentially bankrolling these camps when wealthy Arab oil sheikhdoms barely contribute?
According to U.N. records, the United States finances more than one-fourth of the cost of operating the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In 2000, for example, the United States pledged $89,560,000 towards the $337,014,742 total that UNRWA raised from all nations and sources in the world. By comparison, Saudi Arabia pledged $2,500,000 — less than 1 percent of the UNRWA total and a minuscule fraction of the American contribution. Oil-rich Kuwait pledged $2 million. Syria pledged $37,209. Egypt pledged $10,000. Iraq and Libya apparently had difficult years or their tax advisers told them they did not need the deductions — they pledged nothing, although Iraq then was sending bounties of $25,000 each to the families of suicide bombers.
In 2013, the United States again pledged more than one-fourth of the cost of operating the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The pledge included $130,000,000 towards the UNRWA $550,000,000 core program and another $160,000,000 for additional UNRWA projects totaling a U.S. commitment of nearly $300 million in 2013.
The European Commission was right behind: $120,000,000 for the core program and another $96 million for the other projects, coming to over $200,000,000 from a continent that includes such financial powerhouses, with money to burn, like Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain (PIGS).
By comparison, Saudi Arabia pledged $2,037,981 --less than half of 1 percent of the UNRWA total core program and a minuscule fraction of the American contribution. Oil-rich Kuwait pledged its annual $2 million. Syria pledged $305,217 for the core program. Egypt pledged $15,000 — less than some people in America give at shul for Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur. Russia gave only $2 million. Oil-rich anti-Israel Venezuela gave $11,745. Moslem Pakistan gave $10,000. Qatar — John Kerry’s friend of Palestine — gave $1 million. Sultan Erdogan’s Turkey gave $1,275,000. Iraq and Libya apparently had difficult years yet again; they pledged nothing. Oh, and “Palestine” pledged $6,841,219 for the UNRWA to care for the “refugees from Palestine” who live in places that include Gaza and “West Bank, Palestine.”
Do you see why Kafka would sue if this were described as Theater of the Absurd? It does not even reach absurd. It is more properly comparable to a different production, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” where inmates take over an insane asylum. But at least there, a nurse stopped them. Here, no Nurse Ratched.
The UNRWA is a subsidiary of the United Nations. Its commissioner-general, appointed by the U.N. Secretary General, is the only head of a United Nations body authorized to report directly to the General Assembly. The UNRWA was founded by Resolution 302(IV) of December 8, 1949, and to this day remains unique within the world body as a relief agency assigned to serve only one class of people.
All the world's other refugees are lumped all together in a separate agency, served by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). UNHCR now claims to serve the needs of more than 10.4 million refugees and over the years has served bonafide refugees in 120 countries ranging from the Balkans, Colombia, West Africa, and Chechnya to Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Timor, and the Horn of Africa. Palestinian Arabs alone are under the aegis of their own internationally funded welfare program, UNRWA.
Originally, 65 years ago, the UNRWA was responsible for serving “750,000 Palestinian refugees.” Today, as the “refugees” have died out and disappeared, the UNRWA has grown faster than an American “federal entitlement program,” somehow now serving “5 million eligible Palestinian refugees.” At this remarkable growth rate, the UNRWA will be serving 30 million or 40 million “eligible Palestinian refugees” in another 65 years.
Locally recruited "Palestinian refugees" make up 99 percent of UNRWA's staff in the 58 refugee camps that UNRWA operates in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, and the land of Judea and Samaria that the Arab world calls "the West Bank." The majority of UNRWA camps and nearly 60 percent of their residents are in the three Arab countries, the remainder in the areas administered by the Palestinian Authority and by Hamas.
According to the UNRWA, it is the main provider of basic social services in all those camps. 66,000 “refugees from Palestine” living in Gaza, “Palestine” at the Nusseirat camp. 87,000 at the Beach (or Shati) camp. 34,000 at the Bureij camp. 21,000 at Deir al-Balah camp. 110,000 at Jabaliya. 72,000 at Khan Younis. 24,000 at Maghazi. And 104,000 at Rafah refugee camp. All “Palestinian refugees” living in Gaza, the land they call the home to which they have returned — “Palestine.”
Is this not objectively, dispassionately insane? And Christian European countries with wobbly finances pay for this while the richest oil countries and Arab oil sheikdoms toss in some pushka (collection box) change?
Under the UNRWA's auspices, the number of refugees it serves has grown from 914,000 in 1950 to more than 3.8 million in 2002 to 5 million today. The people are not refugees, but the program has taken on a life of its own, funded more than 25 percent by American taxpayers who would go through the roof and under the tunnels of Hamas Gaza if they had a clue where their taxes were going, while several Arab and anti-American oil-exporting countries contribute less than the cost of a shul Kiddush. Thus, the overwhelming majority of its population are the children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren of those who first were placed in UNRWA camps in 1950.
Meanwhile, between 1947 and 1950, approximately 750,000 Jewish refugees were driven from Arab countries in the Middle East. There was no United Nations agency to serve their health, educational, and social needs. So they were absorbed directly into the Israeli polity, and their offspring bear no indicia of refugee status. Rather, they are the very builders and fabric of Israel. They do quite well without being on United Nations welfare — and maybe that is part of the secret of success.
This makes no sense. In a time when U.N. fact-finding commissions are all the rage, here is a subject for American congressional fact-finders to consider investigating: Why are we Americans throwing away $300 million in tax dollars every year — billions in the past decade alone? A question to ask lovingly of American Congressional representatives and of United States Senators who are Israel’s friends and who are capable of launching a full investigation of the UNRWA fraud: O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Rabbi Dov Fischer is author of General Sharon’s War Against Time Magazine (Steimatzky: 1985). His political commentaries have appeared on the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, National Review, Los Angeles Times, and in other major American publications. He formerly was Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review, is an adjunct professor of law at two prominent American law schools, and is Rav of Young Israel of Orange County, California.