UNRWA's Role in Supporting the Palestinian People

Garnering decades of support from Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) provides vital services to millions of Palestinian refugees in the Middle East. Indeed, the U.S. covers a full third of the UNRWA budget.

Here’s how our support is making a difference.

UNRWA Education Programs

Accounting for more than half of the UNRWA budget, one of the agency’s most important roles is providing education to more than 500,000 children through a network of schools across Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. UNRWA schools have maintained gender parity since the 1960s, reaching generations of Palestinian children with a curriculum centered on UN values of tolerance, gender equality, human rights, and nonviolence.

UNRWA’s curriculum has been scrutinized many times over decades and results are always the same. A 2018 GAO report on education in the West Bank and Gaza — with a particular focus on Palestinian Authority (PA) textbooks — affirmed UNRWA’s commitment to education centered on UN values, outlined UNRWA’s scrupulous textbook review process, and noted that State Department officials acknowledged the various studies on the absence of anti-Semitic content or explicit incitement to violence in PA textbooks.

Moreover, a World Bank study showed that UNRWA students outperform their non-refugee peers on national and international standardized tests by a margin equivalent to more than one year of learning.

The Vital Role of Palestinian Aid

UNRWA provides a number of other vital services, as well, including medical care, microfinance, and emergency food assistance. In fact, UNRWA has helped reduce the average infant mortality rate from 127 deaths per 1,000 live births in the 1960s to less than 25 deaths per 1,000 livebirths in the 2000s.

Without the agency, Palestinian refugees would entirely fall under the responsibilities and financial onus of host countries, including Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon. And the fact is, the extent of services provided by UNRWA would not be easily replaced by host countries. Palestinian refugees who live in poverty and rely on the agency for education, healthcare, humanitarian aid, and other critical forms of support would fall through the cracks. This could lead to greater social and political instability in the region, with extremist groups like Hamas likely filling the aid gap.

Countering the Myths

Given that the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict generates strong opinions from both those directly impacted by the crisis and individuals worldwide, misinformation about UNRWA is widespread.

Specifically, UNRWA does not promote anti-U.S. or anti-Israel ideas and provides valuable humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians, which is why the U.S. has been its biggest backer for decades.

Nevertheless, in 2018, the Trump Administration cut off U.S. contributions to the agency. This left core UNRWA programs on a perpetual knife’s edge, at a time when Palestinians in Gaza, Syria, and Lebanon faced sharply deteriorating humanitarian conditions due to ongoing conflict, severe economic challenges, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Biden Administration reversed the ban on UNRWA funding in 2021.