According to a position paper published recently by an Israeli non-partisan NGO, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), is “actively being counterproductive to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The paper which was published by the independent political think-tank, the Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS), argues that UNRWA facilities have been used for terrorist activity against civilians, UNRWA employees often are members themselves in terrorist groups, raising sever doubt on UNRWA’s neutrality.

Additionally, the paper claims that UNRWA is financially and politically dependent on the continuation of the status-quo in the conflict and therefore is not motivated by an actual desire to solve the problems of refugees.

The paper was composed and researched by Lt. Col. Nir Naaman, currently a Doctoral Student at Bar-Ilan University, for IZS. He cites news articles from the last decade, UN resolutions, national and governmental databases and related academic literature as resources.

Citing instances in which UNRWA was allegedly “caught” turning a blind eye to terrorist activities or even being fully involved in such activities, dating as far back as 1968, when an UNRWA camp was used as a training base for the PLO, then still an official terrorist organization.

More recently, the paper mentions cases during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, when Hamas terrorists opened fire on Israeli troops from UNRWA facilities, stored ammunition and missiles in UNRWA schools and has been systematically employing active members of Hamas in Gaza. Thereby bringing political interests and terrorist activity into the UNRWA mechanism.

Giving at least 10 specific examples of cases which cast doubt on UNRWA’s partiality and show links between the refugee organization and Hamas, the paper concludes that its activities ought to be halted, at least in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and funds and duties be transferred to the legitimate Palestinian Authority and the International Refugee Organization (UNHCR).

Mr. Adi Arbel, Project Manager for the IZS, talked to Tazpit News Agency about the report.

“Our conclusion is that UNRWA causes more damage than good” Says Arbel. “In Gaza they have become a clear actor in the conflict rather than an impartial international relief organization”.

“The report presents proven factual cases,” said Arbel “it names names of UNRWA officials, teachers, full employees who have been directly linked to Hamas, who have been caught by Israeli authorities in the act”.

One of the cases cited by the article is a 2003 incident in which a number of Palestinians were arrested and convicted of throwing Molotov cocktails at an Israeli bus, and possession of explosive materials, turned out to be employed by UNRWA.

According to the paper, an FBI report was published this year claiming that dozens and maybe even hundreds of UNRWA employees are directly involved in terrorism. However, the alleged FBI report itself was not cited or presented in the position paper.

“Much data has been collected over the years by the Israeli security forces, as well as during previous military operations such as Pillar of Defense and Cast Lead, corroborating an existing link between the Agency [UNRWA] and anti-Israeli aggressive activity, especially terrorism.” Arbel told Tazpit, “Ever since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2006, the Agency has become a kind of executive branch of Hamas, employing many of the terrorist organization’s own people.”

Arbel explained to Tazpit News Agency that “as an organization which has developed a financial and structural dependence on their self-created definitions of refugee status, as well as their deep links with Palestinian political activists in Gaza, allegedly linked to terrorism, they are counterproductive to a solution of the conflict.”

“It has existed for 65 with the mandate to solve and relieve the refugees resulting from the war of independence [the 1948 war], however all it succeeded in doing is sustaining their refugee status indefinitely, perpetuating it. Even worse, they are de facto creating more and more refugees.”

According to international law, refugee status is granted to individuals displaced and unable to return home as a result of an ongoing armed conflict or disaster which puts them in mortal danger. The status is lifted with the return of the individual to his home or the naturalization and citizenship in a new location, it is not a hereditary status.

UNRWA has no definition for the term “refugee” in its founding charter, and has been able to define refugees in an ad hoc fashion for years, granting status to children and grandchildren of refugees and even people who have been accepted as citizens in other countries since.

Arbel demonstrated this point, “with UNRWA, one can be a great grandchild of a Jordanian Arab who arrived in Palestine in 46, then left in 48 to go back to Jordan, now has full Jordanian citizenship – and yet is still considered a Palestinian refugee with all that entitles.”

“They even receive benefits, and tax exemptions from the Israeli government. Did you know that UNRWA is absolutely exempt from excise tax in Israel? One of our future plans is to promote sanctions on UNRWA, take away their benefits and discounts they get from Israel, at least until they stop being partial and cooperating with terrorists, and using their schools for one sided education which perpetuates the conflict.” adds Arbel.

Christopher Gunness, director of Advocacy and Strategic Communication for UNRWA, spoke to Tazpit News Agency, responding to the IZS position paper.

“As for the missiles and munitions stored in our facilities during Protective Edge, the only reason they know about it is because it was us who discovered them, we released this information to the public to begin with. We were just as shocked and appalled by this discovery, acted with integrity and issued a strong press release on the matter.”

On the accusation of being knowingly linked to terrorist militant activity Gunness told Tazpit unequivocally “it’s nonsense, these claims are garbage. Just like any other organization our employees are held to certain standards. If there is suspicion against any UNRWA employees they are investigated, and if any violations are found immediate action is taken, up to and including termination.”

By Michael Zeff