Bassem Eid, a Palestinian human rights activist, has launched a campaign against the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), tasked with providing “assistance and protection” for five million Palestinian refugees around the world. In Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, UNRWA provides food, other aid and runs schools.
Eid said a recent study by well-known Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki shows that 70 percent of Palestinian refugees are seeking financial compensation rather than the “right of return” to their former homes in what is today Israel. He said that UNRWA, however, has an interest in perpetuating the right of return, in part, to justify its large budgets. These assertions are part of Eid’s blistering attack on UNRWA, which operates with a $1.2 billion budget from donor countries, including the United States.
“Palestinians in refugee camps are suffering, while UNRWA is gaining power and money,” Eid, who grew up in the Shuafat refugee camp in Jerusalem, told a small group of journalists. “In Gaza, you hear more and more voices saying that UNRWA is responsible for delaying the reconstruction of Gaza” after the heavy fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza last summer.
In an article in the Jerusalem Post earlier this month, Eid called for a five-point program to reform UNRWA including a call for an audit of all funds allocated to UNRWA and a demand that the organization dismiss employees affiliated with Hamas, which controls Gaza.
“Hamas has never denied that the majority of UNRWA employees are affiliated with Hamas and coordinate with the organization,” Eid said.
During the past summer’s fighting in Gaza, Israel accused UNRWA of allowing Hamas to use its schools to fire rockets at southern Israel, a charge UNRWA denied. Later, UNRWA found rockets in two empty schools and issued a strong condemnation.
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