The UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) was founded in 1949 as a temporary organisation to settle Arab refugees after Arab countries declared war on Israel in 1948.

Another temporary organisation that was formed soon after was UNKRA (United Nations Korean Reconstruction Agency) with the mandate to settle refugees from the Korean conflict. The reasons for these two temporary organisations was that at the time, the UN refugee agency was predominantly preoccupied with refugees from Europe, so the presumption was that a temporary organisation could help settle refugees from other conflicts.

Indeed, the approximate 2 million Korean refugees, (three times more than the refugees from the Israeli Arab conflict at the time) were settled within 3 to 4 years with a third of the budget provided to UNRWA, and we can see the result in South Korea today.

The Arab refugees themselves (today called Palestinians) refused resettlement, due to the understanding that if they resettled, the Jewish state would become a reality which they refused to accept. Therefore, since its early days UNRWA was hijacked by the Arabs in order to become a Palestinian organisation for their own agenda – to oppose the partition plan for two states – one Jewish and one Arab.

The Arab countries refused attempts to close UNRWA, as their motivation was to leave a question mark over the existence of the Jewish state. Due to other interests, such as the cold war and access to oil in the Middle East, Western countries appeased the Arab lobby and kept UNRWA, assuming it would not cause any harm.

History has proven them wrong.

The organisation maintains the concept of “refugees” in perpetuity, and the illusion of return, and that the Jewish state is temporary and one day the Arab refugees will return to it. It has raised new generations that see themselves, from childhood, committed to “Free Palestine from the river to the sea”, that is not to have a peaceful state alongside Israel, but in fact one state at the expense of Israel. This ideology provides fertile ground for terrorist organisations.

UNRWA has a list of registered refugees. It is important to note, they are not called refugees but “registered refugees” because they know that they are not real refugees according to any international standard. It also has a list of the real refugees of 1948 but refuses to disclose it – a truly questionable act for an international organisation expected to be transparent and accountable to the international community.

UNRWA provides Palestinians separate privileges that no other refugees are entitled to. Refugees from all other conflicts supported by UNHCR are resettled… In fact if they only wanted to, UNRWA can declare today that they achieved their goal as all the refugees are settled.

40% of the 5.8 million registered refugees live in the Gaza strip and Judea and Samaria under the governance of Palestinian leadership; many of them are middle class doctors, lawyers, teachers & business people. According to the Palestinians themselves they live in Palestine yet according to UNRWA they are registered as refugees from Palestine. The same Palestine that according to their aspirations will be freed and replace the Jewish state.

Another 40% of the 5.8 million registered refugees are Jordanian citizens who mainly live outside the permanent neighbourhoods that are wrongly called “refugee camps” – they are middle and upper middle class that would not be considered as refugees under any international standards.

The remaining one million or so registered refugees are listed in Syria and Lebanon. Even though most of them have left these countries, UNRWA has not deregistered them, even when they became German, Swedish or Australian citizens. In UNHCR, if you have citizenship or protection of a third country, you are no longer considered a refugee. If the Arab refugees of the 1948 conflict had been treated under the same standards as the Polish, German, and Ukrainian refugees, they would not have remained refugees after one generation. UNRWA did not want that, as their agenda is to undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state.

Another absurd exception unique to Palestinian refugees is that the next generation automatically receives refugee status. Normally, refugee status ends after one generation, unless you are a Palestinian, which is how we ended up with fourth and fifth generation registered Palestinian refugees.

Many Palestinians are capable people who deserve better lives. They deserve a society and leadership that harnesses their energy and skills to build a prosperous society, instead of inciting hatred and calling for the destruction of Israel. Because UNRWA funds health, education, and social welfare that the Palestinian government could, it frees their public resources to build tunnels, obtain weapons and plan terrorist attacks on Israelis.

Considering the above and recent evidence for a large number of UNRWA employees endorsing and actively participating in the atrocities, UNRWA has lost any legitimacy and credibility it might have had. Not only is it not fulfilling its original mandate to settle refugees, but it supports the ongoing refugee status and enables incitement and the execution of extremism and violence. If we have any chance for a better relationship between Palestinian and Israelis, it has to start with changing the minds and hearts of people. UNRWA is an obstacle for this change.

The above is based on extracts from a talk by Dr Einat Wilf at the Knesset committee and an AJN article referring to Hillel Neur from UN Watch. For more detailed insight refer to the book: “The War of Return: How Western Indulgence of the Palestinian Dream Has Obstructed the Path to Peace”, by Adi Schartz and Einat Wilf and relevant research papers at

Ayal Marek
President ARZA
Co Vice President UPJ