The new UNRWA head has lots of challenges ahead. Here are 15.

A view of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency building in Rafah in the Gaza Strip on July 26, 2018. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

by David Bedein

The appointment of Swiss diplomat Phillipe Lazzarini as the new head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency is a window of opportunity for donor nations, which oversee UNRWA policy, to demand a reform of the agency. This is especially true regarding its schools, which for the past 20 years have used the Palestinian Authority curriculum to indoctrinate Palestinian Arab children to conquer all of Palestine by force of arms, a goal hardly appropriate to a UN agency.

Here are 15 policy challenges which the new UNRWA commissioner will now have to grapple with.

1. UNRWA textbooks which do not match UN values of peaceful reconciliation. The agency has introduced a new schoolbook which features Dalal el Mugrabi – whose terror squad commandeered a bus and murdered 38 passengers, including 13 children – as a role model for UNRWA pupils. In the new UNRWA text, Dalal is portrayed in full terror garb, followed by a lesson plan which presents her life story for adulation and emulation. In another new text, UNRWA pupils are taught to chant and sing a poem which encourages children to “exterminate the usurpers” after the Arabs return to control of Palestine. The new commissioner could confiscate such textbooks.

2. UNRWA contracts for exclusive use of Palestinian Authority schoolbooks in Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem and Gaza. Like all UN agencies, UNRWA is supposed to run schools based on the UN slogan “Peace Begins Here.” PA education, however, runs schools based on the ideology of the Palestine Liberation Organization: Conquest of Palestine by force of arms. The new commissioner can cancel the UNRWA-PA contract.

3. UNRWA schools are adorned with posters and murals of “martyrs” who died while murdering Jews. The new UNRWA commissioner can order the removal of all violent images in agency facilities.

4. El Kutla youth clubs in UNRWA schools inspire pupils with the mantra of the armed struggle from a young age. The new UNRWA commissioner can order El Kutla clubs to cease and desist from violent incitement.

5. Military parades frequent UNRWA premises. The new commissioner can order an end to military parades in any UNRWA facility.

6. Hamas terror groups present candidates to lead the agency’s teachers and workers unions. The new UNRWA commissioner can demand that any agency employee who runs on a “Hamas ticket” be barred from the payroll. Even the UN defines Hamas as a terrorist organization.

7. Nakba events are scheduled again for this May 15, the day when the PLO mourns the defeat of the Arab armies that invaded Israel in 1948. These rallies call for violence. The new UNRWA commissioner can issue a directive to refrain from any call to violence at the Nakba ceremonies in UNRWA facilities.

8. Popular Gazan singer Mohammad Assaf, claiming to be “UNRWA Youth Ambassador,” whips up crowds to violence. The new UNRWA Commissioner can issue a policy statement that the agency dissociates itself from Assaf and his message.

9. Memorial Events for Arabs killed in the act of murder occur in UNRWA schools. The new UNRWA commissioner can cancel such ceremonies.

10. Fiscal Transparency. With a flow of $1.2 billion in donations from 67 nations and 32 NGOs, much of which arrives in cash, the new UNRWA commissioner must ensure that all funds and equipment are used for humanitarian needs – and not stolen, transferred to the hands of terror groups or sold on the open market. The time has come for a new UNRWA commissioner to put an end to cash payments, which makes donor transparency nearly impossible.

11. Export of UNRWA school texts. Using the diplomatic pouch of donor nations, the agency exports schoolbooks promoting the “right of return” and the replacement of Israel with “Palestine.” The New UNRWA commissioner can put an end to this.

12. Obfuscation of the UNRWA financial situation. Following the United States funding cutback of $365 million in August 2018, the agency announced that all U.S. funding had been replaced by increase of funds from Germany, the UK, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Norway. Ever since the U.S. cutback, however, UNRWA issues statements which attribute its financial difficulties to the U.S. cutback. At no time has UNRWA ever specified how it spends its budget. The new commissioner could immediately publicize an accounting of expenditures.

13. Non-recognition of Israel on the map. UNRWA distributes world and regional maps which obliterate Israel and replace all Israeli locations with Arab names. Should Israel, a UN member in good standing, not appear on a map issued by a UN agency? The new UNRWA commissioner can now make it his business to ensure that all maps show Israel.

14. Fake News: Jews cause COVID-19. For the past few months, official PA sources have swamped the public domain with statements that Israel spreads COVID-19. The new UNRWA commissioner can ensure that the PA personnel who dominate the agency’s payroll never utter such a statement.

15. Arms training summer camps. For the past 20 years, thousands of UNRWA students aged 9 to 16 have participated in summer camps that feature arms training with live weapons. With summer now approaching, the new UNRWA commissioner can act to curb arms training of “child soldiers,” which flies in the face of UN resolutions that protect the health and well-being of children.

The writer is head of Israel Resource News Agency at the Center for Near East Policy Research, located at Beit Agron in Jerusalem. He has provided news coverage of UNRWA since December 1987, assisted by a team of Jewish and Arab journalists. CNEPR has produced 24 short films shot on location, along with two books and hundreds of news articles.