This article examines the origins of the unique schooling system for Palestinian refugees run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Examining developments c. 1950–57, it illuminates the programme’s beginning and explores the objectives of those behind it. Using archival evidence from numerous international welfare organizations and testimonies from refugees themselves, this article argues that the parties providing education and the refugees receiving it often had conflicting objectives that were highly politicized on both sides. Despite the comparatively greater power and resources of the United Nations, the Palestinian refugees were able to make use of their limited leverage in order to shape the education system as they preferred. The UNRWA education programme thus serves as a revealing case study for explaining developmental aid to refugee populations and its inevitable intersection with politics.
Oxford University Press