UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency is a major obstacle to peace between Israel and its neighbors. The UNRWA Deputy Commissioner Leni Stenseth last month “offered condolences” on behalf of her agency for what Palestinians lost “in this latest Israeli aggression.”
In 2018, in contrast, Secretary Pompeo maintained that "most Palestinians under UNRWA's jurisdiction aren't refugees, and UNRWA is a hurdle to peace and should be dismantled."
Nonetheless, President Biden has resumed funding more than $400 million a year for UNRWA in spite of UNRWA’s ongoing cooperation with Hamas and other terrorist groups.
The Arab League rejected the 1947 two-state United Nations Palestine Partition Plan and threatened to annihilate any Jewish State. When Arab armies attacked Israel in 1948, Arab civilians fled out of fear, some were evicted in the heat of battle, and many others were told to flee by their leaders but to return after the Jewish state was destroyed. UNRWA was formed in 1949 to provide relief and work programs for people who fled Palestine. It was to be operational for only a year to assimilate refugees into their host Arab states, but the Arab states refused to do so..
The 600,000 Arabs who left in 1948 and their descendants, has grown to more than 5.7 million registered as refugees even though fewer than 20,000 of the Arabs who fled remain. Today, 2 million Arabs who did not flee are Israeli citizens.
After World War II, 15-20 million refugees were uprooted from their homes and displaced persons camps were established to assist refugee relocation. The assignment was completed by 1959. Unlike the UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) which was created in 1950 and other UN organizations designed resettle refugees created by conflicts (e.g., Pakistan and India, Turkey and Greece), UNRWA seeks to perpetuate their refugee status for political benefit.
UNRWA uses its $1B+ annual budget to perpetuate this multi-generational refugee status as a weapon against Israel for over 72 years. UNRWA incites millions to dream of overrunning Israel with a mass Palestinian influx. During the 2014 Gaza war, terrorist rockets were fired from UNRWA schools. In 2017 and 2021, Hamas terror tunnels were discovered under UNRWA schools in Gaza. UNRWA, the largest agency of the United Nations, employs 30,000 Palestinians including Hamas militants who indoctrinate Arab children to hate Jews and Israel and promote martyrdom.
UNRWA money from Western governments lines the pockets of the Palestinian Authority and are diverted to fund arms for terrorists. The agency's senior management has been accused of widespread misconduct, nepotism, and other abuses of power.
After the creation of Israel in 1948, 900,000 Jews were compelled to leave Muslim countries in which they had lived for millennia. They fled and left their property behind. No international effort was made to help them. Why? Over 600,000 homeless and penniless Jewish refugees were absorbed into Israel. Congressional Resolution 311 called for the international community to recognize the plight of the 900,000 Jewish refugees and called on UNRWA to resettle Arab Palestinian refugees who are denied citizenship and basic rights in Arab countries.
The UNRWA and Arab sponsored refugee narrative distorts the history of Israel/Palestine/Judea. The Jews maintained a presence in their homeland for over 3500 years and Jerusalem was always the heart of the Jewish nation. The Muslim Arabs invaded from Arabia and never created a sovereign state. During the late Ottoman Period (1810-1917) and then under the British Mandate (1919-1948) many Arabs immigrated to Palestine. The Jewish presence also expanded. The Ottoman Turk census of 1848 Jerusalem counted a Jewish plurality.
Unfortunately, in 1900, Arab terror and threats were a daily part of life. My grandmother, Sarah, remembered when in 1911 how her father Chaim Hirsch Eisenbach, at the foot of the Western Wall, saved the life of Rabbi Rachmastrivka, by shielding his bloodied body from Arab attackers. Violent mobs roamed the alleyways of Jerusalem responding to exhortations of local Imams to drive the Jews from the land.
Sarah married Shimon, who traced his ancestry back to the Shlah Ha’Kadosh, the scion of the Horowitz and Gotlieb families, who lived in Safad and died in 1690. These families lived in Jerusalem long before 95% of the Arab Bedouins and fellahin immigrated from Syria, Egypt, and Arabia. My mom’s parents lived in the Sheikh Jarakh neighborhood of Jerusalem and were often terrified by marauding mobs of Arabs.
They were finally driven out of Jerusalem and Palestine in 1927 and became Jewish Palestinian refugees. Others Jewish owner/residents of Sheikh Jarakh including my wife and her father, Professor Chaim Gevaryahu’s family were driven out in 1948 when the Jordanian Army occupied parts of Jerusalem. I could certainly declare per the UNRWA definition that our children and grandchildren are Jewish Palestinian refugees from Sheikh Jarrakh!
Chaim Eisenbach’s other 8 children remained in Jerusalem. They were there during the Arab pogroms of 1927, 1929, 1932, 1937, 1941, 1946, and suffered in the siege of Jerusalem when the Jordanian Legions attacked in 1948. The Old City of Jerusalem fell and long-term Jewish residents retreated to western parts of Jerusalem. Some fled the country and became Jewish Palestinian refugees. Many Eisenbach’s remained and today there are more than 10,000 Eisenbach’s in Israel. The Gotlieb’s and Horowitz’s are not far behind.
My dad’s family, the Rivlins and Reichmans, lived in Palestine for centuries, primarily in Safad and Jerusalem. My grandfather was the grandson of Joseph Rivlin aka Yosef Shtetlmacher, the “builder of settlements”. Joseph Rivlin founded eleven Jerusalem neighborhoods including Meah Shearim and Nahlat Shivah (“the settlement of seven”). In 1869, he and six friends joined together to build the first inhabited community outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Back then, Jerusalem’s Jewish community was growing and running out of space in the walled city.
Unfortunately, it was very dangerous for Jews to be found outside the walls after dusk. Arabs and Bedouin would attack any Jew found outside the walls. Thus, buying a plot of land and building thereon was fraught with danger. Many had tried but had lost their lives and properties. Not Rivlin, he purchased land several hundred yards outside the city’s walls. He built during the day and slept armed at night to protect his property. He was fearless and the local trouble-makers knew that it was best not to upset him. He built and others followed. That was back in 1869. Theodore Herzl, called the Father of Zionism by the secular, was nine years old at the time and did not know Dreyfus! But there was a dynamic Jewish community living under Ottoman rule.
Joseph Rivlin’s grandfather Hillel came from Vilna in 1809. The Gaon of Vilna had encouraged his students to establish a community in the desolate land of Israel before 1840. The Gaon had calculated that the beginning of the redemption period would commence by 1840 with the next phase to begin in 1990. He wanted his students to be there when the good times began. They arrived and encountered several ancient Jewish communities in Safad, Tiberias and Jerusalem.
Hillel’s descendants became leaders of the Ashkenazi Jewish community. Indeed, Rivlin was the head of the Ashkenazi community from 1860 until 1896 when he died. His family includes professors, diplomats and President Reuven Rivlin. His grandson Michael, my grandfather, married Rivka, the daughter of Yehoshua Meier Reichman, who back in the 19th century was a manager of the Bikkur Cholim hospital, the Etz Chaim School, and the largest Jewish neighborhood outside the Old City walls.
The Jewish majority in Old Jerusalem had never heard of the Zionist Congress or modern Zionism. They had lived there for generations.
Palestine was ruled by the Turkish Ottoman empire for over 400 years. After World War I, the victorious Allied Powers and the League of Nations divided up the region and created multiple Arab states and Palestine was set aside as an eventual Jewish State. In 1920, Arab pogroms were precipitated by the Haj Amin al-Husseini recurring lie that Jews were destroying the Al Aksa Mosque. My dad’s parents, fell victim to Arab terrorism and were driven out of their long-term family hometown of Jerusalem. They had witnessed too much violence, threats and humiliation from the local Arab population. As penniless Jewish Palestinian refugees they too sought safety and security in New York.
Other family members remained in Judea renamed Palestine by the Roman Emperor Hadrian (before any Arabs reached the land) and helped build a Jewish National Home. They read the Jewish newspaper called the Palestinian Post. Their bank was the Anglo-Palestine Bank. The stamps they used were labelled “Palestine” in Hebrew, English and Arabic.
The Jewish Palestinian refugees in my and other families built successful lives in foreign lands without UNRWA subsidies. Children, grandchildren, great grandchildren did not call themselves Jewish Palestinian refugees. By contrast, Arabs from Jewish Palestine had numerous Arab countries to host and support them. Jewish Palestinian refugees had no UNRWA. They worked hard to raise their families with pride and dignity in foreign lands away from Arab terrorists. They were not used as pawns by cynical ruthless regimes. It is a great misfortune that Palestinian Arab refugees and their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren have been confined to refugee camps by those who seek the destruction of Israel.
Hopefully, UNRWA will soon end and then, enlightened neighbors of Israel, some of whom have already entered into the Abraham Accords, will accept their Arab brethren and a path to genuine Middle East peace and prosperity will emerge.
Dr. Michael Wise is a founder and investor in numerous technology companies. He is a graduate of YU and holds a PhD .in Theoretical Physics from Brandeis U., is the author of Israel demography study (BESA).and has published numerous articles about Israel sovereignty and demographics in Judea and Samaria. [email protected]