The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was established to provide assistance to Palestinian refugees. The UNRWA defined a Palestinian refugee as someone who was normally resident in Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, and who lost their home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict and all their descendents without limit or exception.  (http://www.un.org/unrwa/refugees/whois.html)
While this UNRWA's definition of a Palestinian refugee would include the Jews of the Old City of Jerusalem, Kfar Etzion and other locations, there appear to be no Jewish refugees recognized by UNRWA.
All Palestinian refugees who are registered with UNRWA and are in need of assistance are eligible for help from UNRWA. In 2004, there were 4 million Palestinian refugees registered with the UNRWA.  (http://www.un.org/unrwa/genevaconference/press/comgen_speech.html)
UNRWA provides facilities in 59 recognized refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Together these camps house approximately one-third of all registered Palestinian refugees. It also provides facilities in other areas where large numbers of registered Palestinian refugees live outside of recognized camps. In order for a camp to be recognized by UNRWA, there must be an agreement between the host government and UNRWA governing use of the camp. UNRWA does not itself run the camp, but provides services to the camp.
Services provided by UNRWA include health care, schools, and distribution of food and clothing aid. The largest expenditure, amounting to almost half, is on education.
UNRWA is the largest agency of the United Nations, employing over 25,000; 99% of UNRWA's employees are locally-recruited Palestinians.  (http://www.un.org/unrwa/publications/pdf/uif-june04.pdf)
Annual funding for UNRWA is in the order of several hundred million US dollars, of which the majority comes from donor countries. A smaller amount comes directly from the United Nations. Contributions and pledges in 2003 totalled almost $440 million US dollars; the major contributors (based on 2003 figures) were the United States ($134 million), the European Commission ($94 million), the United Kingdom and Sweden.
UNRWA and Israel
Israel and UNRWA have found themselves in conflict many times since the agency's establishment. UNRWA have often accused Israel of interfering with its humanitarian work. In April 2004, UNRWA Commissioner Hansen claimed that Israel had imposed restrictions on the movement of agency staff, forcing them to temporarily suspend emergency food deliveries in the Gaza strip. He also raised concerns about UNRWA being charged fees for transporting goods through Israeli checkpoints. In addition, UNRWA have accused Israel several times of shooting at ambulances. In some cases, Israel has denied these, in others claimed that the measures were necessary for reasons of security.
On the other hand, Israeli officials have often alleged that, whether knowingly or not, UNRWA have aided Palestinian terrorist organizations, such as Hamas. Accordingly, Israel claims that UNRWA facilities, such as schools and ambulances are used by terrorists for the purposes of training and shelter. They have claimed that this provides justification for their restrictions on UNRWA. UNRWA has always denied such allegations and called them "baseless".
Israel also accused Peter Hansen, UNRWA's director, for "consistently adopted a trenchant anti-Israel line" which resulted in biased and exaggerated reports against Israel. Haaretz gives serveral examples:
Several months ago, Israel complained that Hansen had submitted exaggerated reports to the UN about the number of houses demolished by the IDF in Rafah. Recently, Hansen said that he was forced to send foreign workers employed by UNRWA out of the Gaza strip, because Israel had been harassing them. An inquiry later revealed that the decision to remove the workers had been motivated by fear of violence at the hands of Palestinian elements. Israel also complained to Annan following the publication of an article by Hansen in the International Herald Tribune in which he denounced Israel in harsh language.
In 2003, United States "Operations Support Officers" made random and unannounced inspections of 76% of UNRWA's West Bank facilities and 85% of UNWRA's Gaza Strip facilities to investigate claims of terrorist use of the facilities. They reported that no such uses had been detected. Nevertheless there is a continuing disagreement between the United States and UNRWA over whether UNRWA is doing enough to prevent relief being given to persons involved in terrorism.
In his October 3, 2004 interview with the CBC TV ( (http://www.cbc.ca/story/world/national/2004/10/03/unwra041003.html),  (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/484839.html)), Peter Hansen said that some of UNRWA employees are Hamas members. Hamas is designated a terrorist organization by the US State Department, the European Union and other states such as Canada, due to its involvement in suicide bombing against Israeli civilians.:
"Oh I am sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll and I don't see that as a crime," the CBC web site quoted Hansen as saying. "Hamas as a political organization does not mean that every member is a militant and we do not do political vetting and exclude people from one persuasion as against another." "We demand of our staff, whatever their political persuasion is, that they behave in accordance with UN standards and norms for neutrality".
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan's spokesman Fred Eckhard contradicted this statement, saying that the UN does not hire terrorists.
Annan agreed on October 4, 2004 to investigate claims that Palestinian terrorists are using UNRWA ambulances, though he supported the UN's initial finding that the claim was not true.  (http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1096870639425)
May 11, 2004 incident
On May 11, Reuters released a video documenting healthy armed Palestinians boarding a UN-marked ambulance (photo). Israel's Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz said that UNRWA's ambulances were used by Palestinian militants in order to smuggle some of the remain of IDF soldiers killed in Zaitoun neigbourhood in Gaza on May 11, 2004.  (http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/spages/427679.html)
UNRWA admitted that armed Palestinian boarded UN ambulance via gun-threated and claimed that there has been no evidence that this was condoned by UNRWA, implicitly or otherwise, and called the claims about the bodies "baseless"  (http://www.un.org/unrwa/news/releases/pr-2004/hqg15-04.pdf).
October 1, 2004 incident
On October 1, 2004, Israel again lodged accusations against UNRWA. The Israeli Defence Forces released UAV footage (http://www1.idf.il/DOVER/site/mainpage.asp?sl=EN&id=7&docid=34160.EN) and video (http://www1.idf.il/SIP_STORAGE/DOVER/files/7/34147.wmv) documenting what they initially claimed was a group of Palestinian militants load a rocket into UN-marked vehicle.  (http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/spages/483950.html) , video (wait to the end) (http://switch3.castup.net/cunet/gm.asp?ClipMediaID=40850&ak=6177920). Israel announced its inention to file a harsh complaint against UNRWA and demand that Danish diplomat Peter Hansen, UNRWA's head, be removed from office.  (http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-2984103,00.html)
Peter Hansen claimed that the footage was of UNRWA crew members carrying a stretcher into the UN ambulance. He said:
While the quality of the video clip is poor, its analysis shows beyond the shadow of a doubt that the object carried and thrown into the vehicle is not / cannot be a Qassam rocket.
Moreover, Hansen accused Israel in "baseless accusations" which put UNWRA's crew in "grave danger".  (http://www.un.org/unrwa/news/releases/pr-2004/hqg30-04.pdf),  (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/484003.html)
Israeli UN ambassador, Dan Gillerman dismissed UNRWA's reaction and blamed Hansen has "for years has expressed anti-Israeli, biased, unrestrained positions and statements".  (http://www.cbc.ca/story/world/national/2004/10/03/unwra041003.html) However, on October 5, Israeli General Yisrael Ziv admitted doubt over whether the object was a rocket-launcher or a stretcher.  (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3716930.stm),  (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3719432.stm). At the same press conference, Ziv claimed that 13 UN staff had been detained on terrorism charges - but it was later revealed that this figure covered detentions within the past four years, some of whom had since been released, whilst the UNRWA claimed to know of only one member of staff held in detention, and that this person had been in detention for the past two years.
On October 6, 2004, Israel retracted the accusations (http://www.reuters.co.uk/newsPackageArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=602558§ion=news), but did not offer an apology.
UNWRA and the Palestinian curriculum
In 1998, two years before the Al-Aqsa intifada, U.S. Congressman Peter Deutsch (D-FL) and other Congressmembers pressured the State Department to ask UNRWA to investigate evidence that Palestinian Authority school books used in UNRWA-run schools contained anti-Semitic statements. In response, UNRWA acknowledged that the books contained statements such as "Treachery and disloyalty are character traits of the Jews and one should be aware of them," but insisted that this phrase was not offensive because it described actual "historical events." In January 1999, the State Department confirmed to Congress that "UNRWA’s review did reveal instances of anti-Semitic characterizations and content in these host-authority texts." According to UNRWA’s web site, "UNRWA staff participated in the design and development of the Palestinian curriculum." (Weekly Standard, June 3, 2002)