Asaf Romirowsky on UNWRA and the Weird Reality of the “Palestinian Refugees”

Last week Dr. Asaf Romirowsky delivered in Toronto a lecture on the topic: ‘PALESTINIAN REFUGEES’, UNRWA, AND THE ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT. He was invited to Canada by the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (CIJR). Other than having degrees in the field of the Middle Eastern studies (Dr. Romirowsky serves as an Acting Executive Director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East), he has traveled extensively in Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Tunisia, Israel and the Palestinian Territories and is recognized as a leading authority on the United Nations Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA) and on Middle East politics in general.

It is important to point out his qualifications and experience, because when dealing with the “Palestinian refugees” you enter a parallel universe, based on deception, in which nothing is what it seems. It is difficult to figure it out without a qualified guide.

The event was preceded by a small reception, which turned into a lecture – Dr. Romirowsky was asked so many questions about the current situation in the Middle East that he had to speak for nearly an hour. In the beginning of the main lecture he was introduced by Prof. Sally Zerker.


Dr. Asaf Romirowsky and Prof. Sally Zerker

In the video below you’ll be able to see the whole presentation, but for those who don’t have time to watch, I’ll provide the main points.

The problem of the “Palestinian refugees” emerged during the war in 1948 when the Arabs from the neighbouring countries invaded Israel and tried to destroy it. As a result, about 650,000 to 700,000 Arabs, who lived there, became refugees. The majority were advised to leave by the Arab military until Israel is destroyed.

That didn’t work out the way the Arabs expected, so the refugees were accommodated in camps in several countries around Israel. Initially, the American Quakers dealt with the problems of those refugees. However, by the early 1950’s the Quakers realized that the Arab countries had no intentions to resettle the people in the camps.

The UN created another organization to deal specifically with the problem – the United Nations Refugee and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). That started a chain of bizarre events. Not only didn’t UNWRA resolve the refugee problem; what’s worse, under its “guidance” the number of those refugees mushroomed to about 7 million.

The massive increase came from the odd definition adopted by UNWRA. They consider a “Palestinian refugee” every Arab, who has lived in the area from 1946 to 1948 (including the temporary workers). Under the usual definition, the number of those original refugees by now has dwindled to about 30,000. However, that is not the case in UNWRA’s world – they also count as refugees the descendants (including the adopted ones), regardless of where in the world they live.

Nowhere else in the world are the children and grandchildren of refugees treated as refugees. The main UN refugee agency, UNHCR, which works with all other displaced people in the world, does not consider the refugee status something that can be inherited.

There is a method to that madness. The “Palestinian refugee” problem is kept alive for several reasons, stated Romirowsky. First of all, it maintains the odd Palestinian identity as a wronged people of refugees, which keeps the conflict flaming for generations. Then the Arab countries also keep the situation as a constant (albeit deceptive) reminder that there are millions of people displaced by Israel.

And last, but not least, UNRWA itself is a big part of the problem, though that fact rarely gets enough attention. It employs about 30,000 people, as opposed to UNHCR, which works with many more refugees, yet manages to do it with only around 6,000 employees. The majority of UNRWA’s staff are Palestinians, which naturally creates anti-Israeli sentiments. The agency supports the Palestinian agenda. It is not uncommon to find in its school textbooks calls to violence; often the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel is rejected. UNWRA also supports the Palestinian “Right to Return” concept, which demands that the millions of “refugees” return to Israel before starting negotiations.

UNWRA is a large cash cow, which distributes billions of dollars provided by the rich members of the UN and other sources of donations. They even provide salaries to people from Hamas. That appalling corruption has continued for decades, yet, according to Romirowsky, very few countries have taken notice.

The notable exception is Canada, which defunded UNRWA due to the lack of accountability and transparency. At the same time, the United States and the European Union continue to provide money year after year. The U.S. contribution is about $230 million, but recently Sen. Mark Kirk has demanded more accountability for those funds. Faced with that scrutiny, UNRWA went ballistic, noted Romirowsky.

The problem persists and it is very unlikely that the UN would resolve it.

© 2013

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