UNRWA chief defends refugee criteria for millions of Palestinians

Palestinian schoolgirls attend a lesson inside a classroom at a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), at Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City September 3, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 03 September 2018

UNRWA chief defends refugee criteria for millions of Palestinians

  • State Department spokeswoman criticized UNRWA over its “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries”
  • UNRWA provides services to about 5 million Palestinian refugees

JERUSALEM: Millions of Palestinian refugees “cannot simply be wished away,” the head of a UN support agency said on Monday, hitting back at a US aid cutoff and allegations its work only perpetuates their plight.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) provides services to about 5 million Palestinian refugees across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza. Most are descendants of some 700,000 Palestinians who were driven out of their homes or fled fighting in the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation.
The growing refugee count was cited by Washington, UNRWA’s biggest donor, in its decision last week to withhold funding, and has potential ramifications for the Palestinians’ pursuit of a right of return to land now in Israel.
Successive Israeli governments have ruled out such an influx, fearing the country would lose its Jewish majority.
“I express deep regret and disappointment at the nature of the US decision,” UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl said in an open letter to Palestinian refugees and the agency’s staff in which he pledged its operations would continue.
Appearing to echo Israel’s view that descendants of the 1948 refugees should not share that status, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert criticized UNRWA on Friday over its “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described UNRWA on Sunday as “the refugee perpetuation agency” whose money “should be taken and be used to really help rehabilitate the refugees, whose real number is a sliver of that reported by UNRWA.”
But Krahenbuhl said “the protracted nature of the Palestine refugee crisis” was not unique. He said the children and grandchildren of long-displaced refugees in Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Congo and elsewhere are also recognized as refugees and assisted by the United Nations.

SCHOOLS OPEN
“No matter how often attempts are made to minimize or delegitimize the individual and collective experiences of Palestine refugees, the undeniable fact remains that they have rights under international law and represent a community of 5.4 million men, women and children who cannot simply be wished away,” he said.
The United States paid out $60 million to UNRWA in January, withholding another $65 million, from a promised $365 million for the year. Krahenbuhl said Gulf states had injected funds but UNRWA still needed more than $200 million.
In Lebanon on Monday, UNRWA opened its school year as scheduled. Studies in UNRWA-run schools in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip got under way on Wednesday.
Claudio Cordone, director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon, told Reuters that funds would last only until the end of the month but the agency would continue to raise money to ensure the schools remain open.
Washington’s move against UNRWA was the latest in a series of US and Israeli policy decisions that have angered Palestinians and raised international concern.
They include Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December, the moving of the US Embassy to the contested city in May and Israel’s adoption of a “nation-state” law in July that says only Jews have the right of self-determination in the country.


Palestinians, Arabs ‘must learn lessons of Naksa’

A Palestinian man facing Israeli soldiers waves a national flag during a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, near the town of Tulkarm on June 5, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 06 June 2020

Palestinians, Arabs ‘must learn lessons of Naksa’

  • Jordanian MP Kais Zayadin said that the biggest mistake Arab countries made was to trust that the occupying state would make peace and reach a lasting solution to the Palestinian cause

AMMAN: Leading Palestinian and Arab figures have used the 53rd anniversary of Naksa — the displacement and occupation of Arab territories that followed Israel’s victory in the 1967 war against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan — to highlight political mistakes made during and after the conflict.

Adnan Abu-Odeh, political adviser to Jordan's King Hussein and King Abdullah II, told Arab News that Arab countries and the Palestinian leadership had failed to understand the goals of Zionism.

“Governments that participated in the war were naive, expecting a repeat of the 1956 Sinai invasion when the US ordered an Israeli withdrawal. This was followed by the mistaken belief that we could liberate the land using guerrilla warfare," he said.

Anees Sweidan, director-general of foreign relations in the PLO, told Arab News that the Palestinian cause is undergoing a complicated phase where political opportunities are limited.

“The US bias towards Israel and absence of unity has put the Palestinian movement in a difficult situation. It is harder to generate external support and the financial crunch is causing much suffering despite the fact that we have made important accomplishments in the UN and Europe.”

Abdalqader Husseini, chairperson of the Faisal Husseini Foundation, said that the opportunities the anniversary offers should not be ignored.

“We need to realize that this is an illegal occupation that continues to dig deeper and escalate every day to the degree that the international community has lost interest and world conscience has become numb to Israeli practices. We in Jerusalem have not normalized with the occupiers and we have not accepted the new situation as an inescapable reality that we must accept.”

Jordanian MP Kais Zayadin said that the biggest mistake Arab countries made was to trust that the occupying state would make peace and reach a lasting solution to the Palestinian cause.

“We went to Madrid with hope, the Palestinian leadership went to Oslo with optimism that they could reach a phased solution that would lead to statehood. As we remember this Naksa, we must revisit the path that has allowed the occupying entity to steal our land and cause havoc to our people without any deterrence from the international community," he said.

They (Palestinian youth) personify the meaning of steadfastness for dignity, and they have the will to protect our heritage, our identity, and our holy places.”

Mahdi Abdulhadi, head of PASSIA thinktank

Nibal Thawabteh, director of the Bir Zeit University’s Media Development Center, said the biggest mistake since 1967 was focusing on politics and avoiding community development.

"We don’t have a strong sense of citizenship, some have become accustomed to religious Islam. We need to work more on the citizenship.”

Ahmad Awad, director of the Amman-based Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies, said there is a lack of acknowledgment of the reasons behind the Arab loss.

“Political, economic and cultural factors caused our loss, and we feel that most Arab countries have not learned this lesson. Instead of learning, we are going backwards, failing to defend their existential rights, shifting to isolationism as well as cultural and economic regression in our region."

Instead of looking backward, some Palestinians wanted to look forward.

Mahdi Abdulhadi, head of the PASSIA thinktank in Jerusalem, said that Palestinian youth who never felt the shock of the 1967 defeat but have seen the exposure of Arab regimes in the face of the "deal of the century" will prevail.

“They personify the meaning of steadfastness for dignity, and they have the will to protect our heritage, our identity, and our holy places.”

Lily Habash, a Exeter University political science graduate, told Arab News that things look different on the ground.

“The world is changing and Israel uses geopolitical and regional changes to its advantage,” she said.

Dangers today encourage despair but Palestinians will be steadfast in the long term, she added.

“Some say we need a savior to get us out of this dilemma but I believe we need to trust in ourselves and work on all fronts.”