United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East

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United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East
UNRWA-logo.jpg
UNRWA logo
AbbreviationUNRWA
Formation8 December 1949
PurposeHumanitarian
Region servedWest Asia
Commissioner-GeneralPierre Krähenbühl
Parent organizationUnited Nations
BudgetUS$1.23 billion (2010–2011)[1]
Websitewww.unrwa.org
 
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United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East
UNRWA-logo.jpg
UNRWA logo
AbbreviationUNRWA
Formation8 December 1949
PurposeHumanitarian
Region servedWest Asia
Commissioner-GeneralPierre Krähenbühl
Parent organizationUnited Nations
BudgetUS$1.23 billion (2010–2011)[1]
Websitewww.unrwa.org

Created in December 1949, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is a relief and human development agency, originally intended to provide jobs on public works projects and direct relief for 652,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes during the fighting that followed the end of the British mandate over the region of Palestine.[2]

It also provided relief to Jewish and Arab Palestine refugees inside the state of Israel following the 1948 conflict until the Israeli government took over responsibility for Jewish refugees in 1952.[3]

In the absence of a solution to the Palestine refugee problem, the General Assembly has repeatedly renewed UNRWA's mandate, most recently extending it until 30 June 2017.

Today, UNRWA provides education, health care and social services to the 5 million registered Palestinian refugees, including survivors from the 1948 and 1967 wars and their descendants.[4] Aid is provided to Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, as well as those in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It is the only agency dedicated to helping refugees from a specific region or conflict, and is separate from UNHCR,[5] (1950), the UN Refugee Agency, which is the only other UN agency aiding refugees, responsible for aiding all other refugees in the world.

History and mandate[edit]

1948 Palestinian exodus
Man see school nakba.jpg

Main articles
1948 Palestinian exodus


1947–48 civil war
1948 Arab–Israeli War
1948 Palestine war
Causes of the exodus
Nakba Day
Palestine refugee camps
Palestinian refugee
Palestinian right of return
Present absentee
Transfer Committee
Resolution 194

Background
Mandatory Palestine
Israeli Declaration of Independence
Israeli–Palestinian conflict history
New Historians
Palestine · Plan Dalet
1947 partition plan · UNRWA

Key incidents
Battle of Haifa
Deir Yassin massacre
Exodus from Lydda and Ramle

Notable writers
Aref al-Aref · Yoav Gelber
Efraim Karsh · Walid Khalidi
Nur-eldeen Masalha · Benny Morris
Ilan Pappé · Tom Segev
Avraham Sela · Avi Shlaim

Related categories/lists
List of depopulated villages

Related templates
Palestinians


UNRWA was established following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War by the United Nations General Assembly under Resolution 302(IV) of 8 December 1949. This resolution also reaffirmed paragraph 11, concerning refugees, of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (1948), adopted and passed unopposed, supported by Israel and the Arab states, with only the Soviet bloc and South Africa abstaining.[6] UNRWA is a subsidiary organ of the United Nations General Assembly and its mandate is renewed every three years.

UNRWA has had to develop a working definition of "refugee" to allow it to provide humanitarian assistance. Its definition does not cover final status.[7]

Palestine refugees are defined as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”

UNRWA services are available to all those living in its area of operations who meet this definition, who are registered with the Agency and who need assistance. The descendants of Palestine refugee males, including adopted children, are also eligible for registration as refugees. When the Agency began operations in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, some 5 million Palestine refugees are registered as eligible for UNRWA services.[8]

UNRWA provides facilities in 59 recognized refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and in other areas where large numbers of registered Palestine refugees live outside of recognized camps. 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 camps, has no police powers or administrative role, but simply provides services in the camp. Refugee camps, which developed from tent cities to settlements indistinguishable from their urban surroundings, house around one third of all registered Palestine refugees.

Organisation[edit]

UNRWA is the largest agency of the United Nations, employing over 25,000 staff, 99% of which are locally recruited Palestinians.[9][10]

UNRWA's headquarters are divided between the Gaza Strip and Amman, Jordan. Its operations are organised into five fields – Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, West Bank and Gaza. UNRWA's Commissioner-General is Swiss national, Pierre Krähenbühl, who succeeded Italian national Filippo Grandi on 1 April 2014.[11] The Commissioner-General is responsible for managing UNRWA's overall activities. In each area where UNRWA operates there is a Director in charge of distributing humanitarian aid and overseeing general UNRWA operations. The "public face" of UNRWA is spokesman Chris Gunness.

Funding[edit]

Most of UNRWA's funding comes from European countries and the United States.

In 2009, UNRWA’s total budget was US$1.2 billion, for which the agency received US$948 million.[12] In 2009, the retiring Commissioner General spoke of a $200 million shortfall in UNRWA's budgets.[13] Officials in 2009 spoke of a 'dire financial crisis'.[14]

In 2010, the biggest donors for its regular budget were the United States and the European Commission with $248 million and $165 million respectively. Sweden ($47m), the United Kingdom ($45m), Norway ($40m) and the Netherlands ($29m) are also important donors.[15] In addition to its regular budget, UNRWA receives funding for emergency activities and special projects.

In 2011, the United States was the largest single donor with a total contribution of over $239 million, followed by the European Commission’s $175 million contribution.[16]

According to World Bank data, for all countries receiving more than $2 billion international aid in 2012, Gaza and the West Bank received a per capita aid budget over double the next largest recipient, at a rate of $495.[17][18]

In 2013, of the total of $1.1 billion was donated to UNRWA, $294 million was contributed by the United States.[19]

Operations[edit]

Services provided by UNRWA include health care, education, relief and social services and micro-credit loan programmes. In the following, UNRWA's own descriptions of itself are summarized.

Education programme[edit]

UNRWA operates one of the largest school systems in the Middle East.[20] It has been the main provider of basic education to Palestinian refugee children since 1950. The education programme is UNRWA's largest area of activity, accounting for half of its regular budget and 70 per cent of its staff. Basic education is available to all registered refugee children free of charge up to around the age of 15. In the 1960s UNRWA schools became the first in the region to achieve full gender equality.

Half the Palestine refugee population is under 25. Overcrowded classrooms containing 40 or even 50 pupils are common. Almost three quarters run on a double-shift system – where two separate groups of pupils and teachers share the same buildings, thus reducing teaching time. The school year is often interrupted by conflicts and children are often marked by trauma. In the face of these challenges, there are some remarkable achievements.

Key 2014 figures

UNRWA also operates nine vocational and technical training colleges, two educational science faculties and two teacher-training institutes.

UNRWA schools follow the curriculum of their host countries. This allows UNRWA pupils to progress to further education or employment holding locally recognised qualifications and fits with the sovereignty requirements of countries hosting refugees. Wherever possible, UNRWA students take national exams conducted by the host governments. Pupils at UNRWA schools often out-perform government school pupils in these state exams.

Not all refugee children attend UNRWA schools. In Jordan and Syria children have full access to government schools and many attend those because they are close to where they live.

Relief and social services programme[edit]

In Palestinian refugee society, families without a male bread winner are often very vulnerable. Those headed by a widow, a divorcee or a disabled father often live in dire poverty.[21]

These families are considered "hardship cases", and constitute less than 6% of the people served by UNRWA.

UNRWA provides food aid, cash assistance and help with shelter repairs to these families. In addition children from special hardship case families are given preferential access to the Agency's vocational training centres, while women in such families are encouraged to join UNRWA's women's programme centres. In these centres, training, advice and childcare are available to encourage female refugees’ social development.

UNRWA has created community-based organizations (CBOs) to target women, refugees with disabilities and to look after the needs of children. The CBOs now have their own management committees staffed by volunteers from the community. UNRWA provides them with technical and small amounts of targeted financial assistance, but many have made links of their own with local and international NGOs.

Health programme[edit]

Since 1950, UNRWA has been the main healthcare provider for the Palestinian refugee population.[22] Basic health needs are met through a network of primary care clinics, providing access to secondary treatment in hospitals, food aid to vulnerable groups and environmental health in refugee camps.

Key figures 2014

The health of Palestine refugees has long resembled that of many populations in transition from developing world to developed world status. However, there is now a demographic transition.

People are living longer and developing different needs, particularly those related to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and chronic conditions that require lifelong care, such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer. A healthy life is a continuum of phases from infancy to old age, each of which has unique, specific needs, and our programme therefore takes a ‘life-cycle approach’ to providing its package of preventive and curative health services.

To address the changing needs of Palestine refugees, we undertook a major reform initiative in 2011. We introduced the Family Health Team (FHT) approach, based on the World Health Organization-indicated values of primary health care, in our primary health facilities (PHFs).

The FHT offers comprehensive primary health care services based on holistic care of the entire family, emphasizing long-term provider-patient relationships and ensuring person-centeredness, comprehensiveness and continuity. Moreover, the FHT helps address cross-cutting issues that impact health, such as diet and physical activity, education, gender-based violence, child protection, poverty and community development.

Medical services include outpatient care, dental treatment and rehabilitation for the physically disabled. Maternal and child healthcare (MCH) is a priority for UNRWA's health programme. School health teams and camp medical officers visit UNRWA schools to examine new pupils to aid early detection of childhood diseases. All UNRWA clinics offer family planning services with counselling that emphasises the importance of birth spacing as a factor in maternal and child health. Agency clinics also supervise the provision of food aid to nursing and pregnant mothers who need it and six clinics in the Gaza Strip have their own maternity units. Infant mortality rates have for some time been lower among refugees than the World Health Organisation's benchmark for the developing world.

UNRWA provides refugees with assistance in meeting the costs of hospitalisation either by partially reimbursing them, or by negotiating contracts with government, NGO and private hospitals.

Environmental health services The UNRWA Environmental Health programme

controls the quality of drinking water, provides sanitation and carries out vector and rodent control in refugee camps, thus reducing the risk of epidemics.

UNRWA Microfinance Department[23][edit]

UNRWA's Microfinance Department (MD) aims to alleviate poverty and support economic development in the refugee community by providing capital investment and working capital loans at commercial rates. The programme seeks to be as close to self-supporting as possible. It has a strong record of creating employment, generating income and empowering refugees.

The Microfinance Department is an autonomous financial unit within UNRWA, established in 1991 to provide microfinance services to Palestine refugees, as well as poor or marginal groups living and working in close proximity to them. With operations in three countries, the MD currently has the broadest regional coverage of any microfinance institution in the Middle East. Having begun its operations in the oPt, it remains the largest non-bank financial intermediary in the West Bank and Gaza.

Key Figures - cumulative as of 2014:

Emergency operations[24][edit]

UNRWA takes a wide variety of action to mitigate the effects of emergencies on the lives of Palestine refugees.

Particularly in the West Bank and Gaza (occupied Palestinian territory (oPt)) there has been ongoing intervention made necessary by e.g. the 1967 war as well as the first and second intifadas, and - not least - the 2014 Gaza war.

Up until this point, the reconstruction work at Nahr el-Bared Palestine refugee camp in Lebanon has been the largest reconstruction project ever undertaken by UNRWA. This work started in 2009, and was made necessary when the camp was destroyed in the fighting between the Lebanese Armed Forces and Fatah al-Islam in 2007.

UNRWA evaluates the ongoing conflict in Syria as one of the most serious challenges ever. UNRWA supports Palestine both refugees displaced within Syria and those who have fled to neighbouring countries within the UNRWA areas of operations.

Services range from supplying temporary shelter, water, food, clothing, blankets - to temporary job-creation - to help for re-building. There is extensive cooperation with other international NGOs and local actors.

Infrastructure and camp/settlement improvement[25][edit]

About one-third of the 5 million refugees registered with the Agency live in recognized camps/settlements in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. To date, UNRWA has participated in re-building 5,223 Houses in Nahr el Bared in Northern Lebanon and has initiated a recovery and reconstruction plan for Gaza including clinics, schools, and housing units. Special funding has been provided by Saudi Arabia, Japan, the Netherlands, and the United Arab Emirates.

Praise[edit]

UNRWA has received extensive public expressions of praise and appreciation. This has likely contributed to the agency's mandate continually being renewed, most recently in June 2014, and to its considerable success with fund-raising from a very wide sponsor base.

In the time frame 1998–2009 some of the most notable praise and appreciation has been expressed by the Nobel Peace Laureates Mairéad Corrigan Maguire[26] and Kofi Annan,[27] by the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations,[28] by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon[24], and by representatives from the European Union,[29] the United States,[30] the Netherlands,[31] Japan,[32] Bangladesh,[33] Cyprus,[34] Jordan,[35] Ghana, and Norway, among others. In 2007, the Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations described his country as a "strong supporter" of UNRWA, which acts as "a safety net" for the Palestine refugees, providing them with "immediate relief, basic services and the possibility of a life in dignity."[36] The same day, the Representative of Iceland praised the fact that

"despite times of exceptional hardship and suffering in the region, UNRWA has been able to deliver substantial results. On the humanitarian front, UNRWA played a central role in easing the suffering of both refugees and Lebanese civilians during its emergency operations in Lebanon and on the Gaza Strip. Under often life-threatening conditions, UNRWA's staff showed relentless dedication to the Agency's responsibilities."

In 2007 Gershon Kedar, Israel's delegate to the fourth committee, confirmed Israel's support for the UNRWA: "My delegation wishes to inform the Committee that despite our concerns regarding the politicization of UNRWA, Israel supports its humanitarian mission, and will continue to work in a spirit of dialogue and cooperation with the agency under the leadership of its Commissioner-General, Karen Honing AbuZayd."[37]

In 2011 UNRWA agreed to be assessed as a multilateral organisation by The Multilateral Organisation Performance Assessment Network (MOPAN).[38]

MOPAN is network of donor countries with a common interest in assessing the organisational effectiveness of

multilateral organisations. MOPAN was established in 2002 in response to international fora on aid effectiveness and calls for greater donor harmonisation and coordination. Today (2011) MOPAN is made up of 16 donor countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, The Netherlands, Norway, Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. ... MOPAN assessments provide a snapshot of four dimensions of organisational effectiveness (strategic management, operational management, relationship management, and knowledge management). MOPAN does not examine an organisation’s development results.

[39]

The MOPAN report evaluated a number of criteria positively. In UNRWA's response,[40] the agency was pleased to note that "many of the challenges highlighted in the report reflect challenges within most, if not all, multilateral organisations."

UNRWA's continuously updated "press room page" refers to many articles and statements supportive to the agency. [41]

All in all, it must be said that UNRWA achievements are considerably despite operating under difficult conditions.

On many occasions UNRWA buildings have been caught in battles between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants resulting in the deaths of several employees.

The amount and variety of humanitarian assistance needed has been affected greatly by the tightening of the closure regime since the Second Intifada in the former Israeli-occupied territories, chiefly Gaza.[42]

For many reasons its refugee load has increased much faster than its budget. The 1967 war created additional refugees. In addition, the descendents of refugees are also within UNRWA purview; with all generations included, there are about five million people who are eligible for UNRWA's services.

The number and complexity of tasks have also increased. UNRWA's original mandate does not require resettling refugees or transferring responsibility to the Palestinian Authority. Although the UN mandate is renewed every three years, resettling and transferring have never been added to the mandate.

Criticism and controversies[edit]

After 65 years, UNRWA may have become a nation and sub-culture unto itself. As Emanual Marx and Nitza Nachmias pointed out in 2004:

Most of the criticism concerns the UNRWA showing the pathology of “aging”, including symptoms of inflexibility, resistance to adjust to the changing political environment and refusal to phase out and transfer its responsibilities to the Palestinian Authority.[43]

UNRWA has initiated a reform program based on organizational development to improve efficiency in 2007.[44]

As mentioned in another section, UNRWA has participated in a 2011 review of its internal practices. No follow-up can be identified.

In addition to challenges within internal operations, there are some more difficult issues which have been pointed out especially, but not solely, by Israel and pro-Israel groups.

UNRWA has been accused of hiring known militants, perpetuating Palestinian dependency, demonizing Israel, and funneling money from Western governments to line the pockets of the Palestinian Authority and purchasing arms for terrorists. [45][46]

Although there are interplays, the issues can be grouped as follows:

Mandate-related controversies[edit]

The mandate itself - including the definition of refugees

The UNRWA definition is meant solely to determine eligibility for UNRWA assistance. However, some argue it serves to perpetuate the conflict.[47][48][49][50][51] Under General Assembly Resolution 194 (III), of 11 December 1948, other persons may be eligible for repatriation and/or compensation but are not necessarily eligible for relief under the UNRWA's working definition. Thus a person who is not qualified or who has ceased to qualify for the benefits afforded by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, may still qualify for assistance as a refugee by the UNRWA definition.

Gazan MBA student, Rana Baker, speaking from a highly Israel-critical point of view, has concluded

By absolving Israel and the Palestinian governments of responsibility, UNRWA is actually sustaining the sorry state of the Palestinians [52]

UNRWA and the "right of return"

Critics of Israel say it should allow the refugees to return, which some say is stipulated in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 302 which Israel supported, which would make UNRWA redundant. Defenders of UNRWA respond that it is the stateless status of the Palestinians under British mandate in 1948 that made it necessary to create a definition of refugee based on criteria other than nationality.

Israel responds that settling so many people within Israel – most of whom never lived in that part of Mandate Palestine – would be fatally disruptive to the country.

Compromise proposals stress giving at least some refugees the option of living in Israel or receiving compensation – plus international aid to resettle as many people as possible in the host countries (including the Palestinian Authority).[53] [54] [55]

An interplay with the refugee problem created when some 800,000 Jews were displaced from Arab countries is sometimes discussed. For example,

In 2000, President Bill Clinton stated on Israeli television that he sought to explore "a fund which compensates the Israelis who were made refugees by the war, which occurred after the birth of the State of Israel. Israel is full of people, Jewish people, who lived in predominantly Arab countries who came to Israel because they were made refugees in their own land." [56]

Solutions tying together both streams of refugees may not need to involve much money; many observers stress the important of international recognition of suffering. [57]

Creating dependency rather than resettling refugees

Although UNRWA's Mandate is only Relief and Works,[58] the Wall Street Journal Europe edition, published an op-ed by Asaf Romirowsky and Alexander H. Joffe in April 2011 saying that despite UNRWA's "purported goal, it is hard to claim that the UNRWA has created any Palestinian institutions that foster a genuinely civil society. Ideally the UNRWA would be disbanded and Palestinians given the freedom – and the responsibility – to build their own society."[59]

Critics of UNRWA say that the present definition gives Palestine refugees a favored status when compared with other refugee groups, which the UNHCR defines in terms of nationality as opposed to a relatively short number of years of residency.[60] For example, journalist Arlene Kushner stated that:[61]

other refugees worldwide are tended to by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, which works under the guidelines of the Convention on Refugees of 1951. Only UNRWA and its Palestinian Arab protégés stand apart from this: UNRWA is the only agency that is dedicated to a single group of refugees and establishes its own rules for them. The High Commission is mandated to help refugees get on with their lives as quickly as possible, and works to settle them rapidly, most frequently in countries other than those they fled. UNRWA policy, however, states that the Palestinian Arabs who fled from Israel in the course of the 1948 war–and their descendants!–are to be considered refugees until they return to the homes and villages they left more than half a century ago (which actually no longer exist).

James G. Lindsay, a former UNRWA general-counsel and fellow researcher for Washington Institute for Near East Policy published a report for WINEP in 2009 in which he criticized UNRWA practices.[62] One of his conclusions was that UNRWA’s failure to match UNHCR’s success in resettling refugees "obviously represents a political decision on the part of the agency" and "seems to favor the strain of Palestinian political thought espoused by those who are intent on a 'return' to the land that is now Israel".

In 2010 John Ging, head of UNRWA Gaza, had stated that he was disappointed in Linday's criticisms of UNRWA for failure to resettle refugees. Ging argued that there is "no basis to say that it is UNRWA’s decision because our mandate is given to us. I agree that it is a political failure, but we don’t set up the mandate, we are only the implementers".[63]

In 2011, UNWRA spokesman Chris Gunness wrote

Palestinian refugees continue to be refugees because the issues which caused their exile remain outstanding. Only by addressing in a just and durable fashion the underlying causes of conflict – and by doing so in accordance with international law and the rights of refugees – can the refugee issue be laid to rest. This is the responsibility of the parties and international political actors. It is wishful, cynical thinking to suppose that Palestinian refugees can be made to "go away" by dispersing them around the globe or by dissolving the Agency established to protect and assist them pending a just and lasting solution to their plight.

—Chris Gunness, UNRWA Jerusalem spokesman, 30 August 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-gunness/unrwa-beyond-the-myths_b_941669.html

Execution-related controversies[edit]

Not being able to protect Palestinian refugees in host countries

Asem Khalil, Associate Professor of Law at Birzeit University, and Dean of the Faculty of Law and Public Administration, has focused on human rights issues for Palestinians in host countries.[64][65] After systematically documenting the human rights situation for Palestinians in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, he concludes:

The point this approach is stresses, I believe, is not that UNRWA is not necessary or that Palestinian refugeehood is not unique and special, but rather that UNRWA is not currently capable of ensuring necessary protection for Palestinian refugees, and that host Arab states cannot use the uniqueness of Palestinian refugeehood to continue upholding discriminatory laws and policies towards Palestinian refugees. ...

The global financial crisis may result in decreasing international funds to UNRWA, and UNRWA may be pushed towards reducing its services. Such a scenario will be felt by Palestinian refugees in particular ways, seeing the absence of alternative sources of income and the restrictive laws and policies that exist in some host countries. UNRWA is a main service provider for Palestinian refugees in host countries. It provides jobs for thousands of refugees, education, health care, and various other services that are extremely valuable and necessary.

... The issue at stake here is that UNRWA is not enough, but the alternative is not the replacement of UNRWA by UNHCR, rather the enhancement of the protection role of UNRWA, or the extension of protection mandate of UNHCR to Palestinian refugees besides (not instead) existing agencies dealing with Palestinian refugees ...[65]

Textbooks not preparing Palestinian youth for a future in peace

In 2005 Nathan Brown, Professor of Political Science at George Washington University, wrote a short but comprehensive review article about textbooks used by Palestinians, focusing especially on changes starting in 1994.

The Oslo agreements resulted in the dismantling of the Israeli office responsible for censorship of textbooks. Administration of the education system for all Palestinian students in the West Bank and Gaza was taken over by the Palestinian Authority (PA). Other Palestinian schools administered by UNRWA in neighboring countries were unaffected. With the end of UNESCO monitoring of the books, UNRWA moved to develop supplementary materials to teach tolerance in the schools it administered.[66]

It is the PA textbooks used in UNRWA schools in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem that have been most extensively studied. The following discussions cannot be generalized to UNRWA schools elsewhere.

In the beginning, the PA used books from Jordan and Egypt. In 2000 it started issuing its own books. Nathan Brown investigated the differences between the new PA books and the ones being replaced[67]

Regarding the Palestinian Authority's new textbooks, he states:

The new books have removed the anti-Semitism present in the older books while they tell history from a Palestinian point of view, they do not seek to erase Israel, delegitimize it or replace it with the "State of Palestine"; each book contains a foreword describing the West Bank and Gaza as "the two parts of the homeland"; the maps show some awkwardness but do sometimes indicate the 1967 line and take some other measures to avoid indicating borders; in this respect they are actually more forthcoming than Israeli maps; the books avoid treating Israel at length but do indeed mention it by name; the new books must be seen as a tremendous improvement from a Jewish, Israeli, and humanitarian view; they do not compare unfavorably to the material my son was given as a fourth grade student in a school in Tel Aviv".

Brown has pointed out that research into Palestinian textbooks conducted by the Centre for Monitoring the Impact of Peace in 1998 is misleading, because it evaluates the old books; and in 2000, its research mixed old and new books. [67]

In 2002, the United States Congress requested the United States Department of State to commission a reputable NGO to conduct a review of the new Palestinian curriculum. The Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) was thereby commissioned by the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the US Consul General in Jerusalem to review the Palestinian Authority's textbooks. Its report was completed in March 2003 and delivered to the State Department for submission to Congress. Its executive summary states: "The overall orientation of the curriculum is peaceful despite the harsh and violent realities on the ground. It does not openly incite against Israel and the Jews. It does not openly incite hatred and violence. Religious and political tolerance is emphasized in a good number of textbooks and in multiple contexts."

IPCRI's June 2004 follow-up report notes that "except for calls for resisting occupation and oppression, no signs were detected of outright promotion of hatred towards Israel, Judaism, or Zionism" and that "tolerance, as a concept, runs across the new textbooks". The report also stated that "textbooks revealed numerous instances that introduce and promote the universal and religious values and concepts of respect of other cultures, religions, and ethnic groups, peace, human rights, freedom of speech, justice, compassion, diversity, plurality, tolerance, respect of law, and environmental awareness".

However, the IPCRI noted a number of deficiencies in the curriculum.

The practice of 'appropriating' sites, areas, localities, geographic regions, etc. inside the territory of the State of Israel as Palestine/Palestinian observed in our previous review, remains a feature of the newly published textbooks (4th and 9th Grade) laying substantive grounds to the contention that the Palestinian Authority did not in fact recognize Israel as the State of the Jewish people. ...

The Summary also states that the curriculum asserts a historical Arab presence in the region, while

The Jewish connection to the region, in general, and the Holy Land, in particular, is virtually missing. This lack of reference is perceived as tantamount to a denial of such a connection, although no direct evidence is found for such a denial." It also notes that "terms and passages used to describe some historical events are sometimes offensive in nature and could be construed as reflecting hatred of and discrimination against Jews and Judaism."[68]

The US State department has similarly raised concerns about the content of textbooks used in UNRWA schools. In its 2009 Human Rights report, the U.S. State Department wrote that after a 2006 revision of textbooks by the PA Ministry of Education and Higher Education, international academics concluded that books did not incite violence against Jews but showed imbalance, bias, and inaccuracy. The examples given were similar to those given by IPCRI.[69]

The Centre for Monitoring the Impact of Peace was re-constituted as The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE) and seems to have improved the quality of its work. It has published a number of evaluations of PA textbooks[70] The latest evaluation from 2011[71] concludes that the situation had not significantly improved, and that there were in fact many examples of incitement to hatred and demonization of Israel.

In 2013 the results of a rigorous study, which also compared Israeli textbooks to PA textbooks, came out. The study was launched by the Council for Religious Institutions in the Holy Land, an interfaith association of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders in Israel and the Occupied Territories. The study was overseen by an international Scientific Advisory Panel and funded by the United States State Department[72] The Council published a report "Victims of Our Own Narratives? Portrayal of the 'Other' in Israeli and Palestinian School Books". [73]

Most books were found to be factually accurate except, for example, through presenting maps that present the area from the river to the sea as either Palestine or Israel. Israeli schoolbooks were deemed superior to Palestinian ones with regard to preparing children for peace, although various depictions of the "other" as enemy occurred 75% in Israeli, and in 81% of Palestinian textbooks.[74]

The study praised both Israel and the Palestinian Authority for producing textbooks almost completely unblemished by "dehumanizing and demonizing characterizations of the other". Yet many troubling examples were given of both sides failing to represent each other in a positive or even adequate way. And the problem was more pronounced in PA textbooks.[75]

Harsh critics of PA textbooks give similar examples, but weight them more heavily than IPCRI, the U.S. State Department and The Council for Religious Institutions in the Holy Land do. In addition, the critics point to subtle examples not picked up by these studies.

Dr. Arnon Groiss is perhaps the strongest academic critic. He had in the past conducted an independent research of Palestinian, Egyptian, Syrian, Saudi Arabian, Tunisian and Iranian schoolbooks between 2000 and 2010 and was thus apointed to be a member of the Scientific Advisory Panel for the study from The Council For Religious Institutions in the Holy Land. He criticized the study and its results for the following:[76]

Groiss concluded that "the main question, namely, to what extent is this or that party engaged in actual education for peace, if at all, has not been answered by the report itself."

All in all there seems to be broad agreement that there is continual improvement in the textbooks used by UNRWA - but very strong disagreement about whether the improvement is sufficient. In response to a critical report[62] written in 2009 by former UNRWA general-counsel James G. Lindsay, fellow researcher for Washington Institute for Near East Policy John Ging, head of UNRWA Gaza, said: "As for our schools, we use textbooks of the Palestinian Authority. Are they perfect? No, they’re not. I can’t defend the indefensible."[63]

Being compromised by members of and sympathizers with Hamas's Islamist agenda[edit]

In April 2013 Palestinian journalist, Hazem Balousha, summed up years of tension between UNRWA and Hamas

Agency in Gaza faces increasing difficulty in carrying out its work, as the Hamas-led government claims some of its activities are not in line with the Strip’s Islamic culture and values ... [77]

Hamas has even gone as far as using violence, threatening UN staff in Gaza, the former UNRWA chief in Gaza, John Ging, having survived two assassination attempts.[78]

Hamas sympathizers employed in and dominating UNRWA unions in Gaza

Peter Hansen, UNRWA's former Commissioner-General (1996–2005), caused controversy in Canada in October 2004 when he said in an interview with CBC TV:

Oh I am sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll and I don't see that as a crime. 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.[79][80]

Hansen later specified that he had been referring not to active Hamas members, but to Hamas sympathizers within UNRWA. In a letter to the Agency's major donors, he said he was attempting to be honest because UNRWA has over 8,200 employees in the Gaza Strip. Given the 30 to 40 percent support to Hamas in Gaza at the time, and UNRWA's workforce of 11,000 Palestinians, at least some Hamas sympathizers were likely to be among UNRWA's employees. The important thing, he wrote, was that UNRWA's strict rules and regulations ensured that its staff remained impartial UN servants. However, he was retired from United Nations service against his will on 31 March 2005.[81][82][83]

James G. Lindsay, a former UNRWA general-counsel and fellow researcher for Washington Institute for Near East Policy published a report for WINEP in 2009 in which he criticized UNRWA practices.[62] One of his conclusions was that UNRWA is not ousting terrorists from its ranks:

UNRWA has taken very few steps to detect and eliminate terrorists from the ranks of its staff or its beneficiaries, and no steps at all to prevent members of organizations such as Hamas from joining its staff. UNRWA has no preemployment security checks and does not monitor off-time behavior to ensure compliance with the organization's anti-terrorist rules. No justification exists for millions of dollars in humanitarian aid going to those who can afford to pay for UNRWA services.[62][84]

In 2013 Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan Dahoah-Halevi, senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs,[85] asserted that 'the UNRWA workers union has been controlled in practice by Hamas for many years'. This assertion was backed up by the results of the 2009 and 2012 elections [86]

In 2009 Hamas won a teachers union elections for UN schools in Gaza [87]

John Ging, the Gaza head of operations for the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, said in a letter dated 29 March 2009 that employees must not "be under the influence of any political party in the conduct of their work." [88]

In 2012 Hamas "Professional List" again won a Staff Union election in UNRWA. The Professional List is led by senior Hamas activist Suheil Al-Hind. More than 9500 UNRWA employees in the Gaza Strip participated; this represented more than 80% turnout despite Fatah's boycott of the election. The professional list won three UNRWA workers groups: the employees’, teachers’, and services’ unions.[89] [90][91]

Struggling with and often capitulating to Hamas' demands in schools, summer camps, and sports in Gaza

Schools

Hamas has interfered with curriculum and textbooks in UNRWA schools.

For example, in 2009 it caused UNRWA to suspend a decision to introduce Holocaust studies in its schools.[92]

One of UNRWA's flagships has been gender-equality and integration. But Hamas militants have firebombed UNRWA mixed-gender summer camps,[78] and in 2013 Hamas passed a law requiring gender segregation in schools for all pupils nine years of age and older in Gaza.[93]

Elhanen Miller, Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel, wrote in February 2014 that Hamas was "bashing" UNRWA's human rights curriculum, saying that it included too many examples and values foreign to Palestinian culture and had too much emphasis on peaceful resistance rather than armed resistance. In this case UNRWA refused to be swayed. Spokesman Chris Gunness:

UNRWA has no plans to change its education programs in Gaza... human rights are taught in all UNRWA schools from grades 1 through 9, discussing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

UNRWA’s education system takes as its basis the curriculum taught by the PA and so we use PA textbooks in preparing children in Gaza for public examinations ... In addition, we enrich our education programs in Gaza with an agreed human rights curriculum which has been developed with the communities we serve: with educationalists, parents groups, teachers associations, staff members and others. We have done our utmost in developing these materials to be sensitive to local values while also being true to the universal values that underpin the work of the United Nations.[94]

However, after a few days, UNRWA consented to suspending the use of the books pending further discussions with Hamas [95]

Camps and sports

Hamas has denounced UNRWA and Ging, accusing them of using their summer camps to corrupt the morals of Palestinian youth. Hamas also advised UNRWA to reexamine its curriculum to ensure its suitability for Palestinian society, due to the mixing of genders at the camps.

In September 2011 it was reported that, under pressure from Hamas, UNRWA has made all its summer camps single-sex.[92]

Hamas has its own network of summer camps and the two organizations are regarded to be vying for influence with Gazan youth.[96] Islamic Jihad has also run summer camps since 2013 [97]

UNRWA did not fund its own summer camps for summer 2012 and summer 2014. Hamas is now the direct provider of summer activities for about 100,000 children and youths. [98]

In 2013, UNRWA canceled its planned marathon in Gaza after Hamas rulers prohibited women from participating in the race.[99]

In 2013, Israeli media outlets aired a video documenting UNRWA-funded summer camps where children are being taught to engage in violence with Israelis. The video airs speakers telling campers “With God’s help and our own strength we will wage war. And with education and Jihad we will return to our homes!” A student is also shown on camera describing that “the summer camp teaches us that we have to liberate Palestine.”[100] UNRWA denies that the video shows UNRWA summer camps.

UNRWA facilities being abused by Hamas terrorists

In 2003, Israel released to newspapers what the New York Times called a "damning intelligence report". Citing interrogations of suspected militants, the document claims that UNRWA operations being used as cover for Palestinian terrorists, including smuggling arms in UN ambulances and hosting meetings of Tanzim in UN buildings.[101] UN officials responded, according to the NY Times, by saying that it is Israel that has "lost its objectivity and begun regarding anyone who extends a hand to a Palestinian as an enemy."[101]

The Israel Defense Forces released a video from May 2004, in which armed Palestinian militants carry an injured colleague into an UNRWA ambulance, before boarding with him. The ambulance driver requested that the armed men leave, but was threatened and told to drive to a hospital. UNRWA issued a plea [25] to all parties to respect the neutrality of its ambulances.

On 1 October 2004, Israel again lodged accusations against UNRWA. The video documentation was not convincing, and the Israeli military changed some of its earlier statements and conceded the possibility that the object could have indeed been a stretcher, but did not offer the apology Hansen had demanded.[102][103][104]

The Israeli Army circulates footage taken on 29 October 2007 showing three militants firing mortars from UNRWA boys’ school in Beit Hanoun, Gaza. The militants were able to enter due to the fact that the school was evacuated at the time because of the war.

On 4 February 2009, UNRWA halted aid shipments into the Gaza Strip after it accused Hamas of breaking into a UN warehouse and stealing tonnes of blankets and food which had been earmarked for needy families.[105][106] A few days later, the UN resumed aid after the missing supplies had been returned.[107]

On 5 August 2009, the IDF accused Hamas of stealing three ambulances that had just been transferred through Israel to the UNRWA. The UNRWA spokesman denied the claim.[108] A week later, Hamas confirmed it confiscated the ambulances due to bureaucratic reasons. A UNRWA spokesman also confirmed this but soon retracted this admission and denied the incident, even publicizing a photo it claimed was of one its officials with the ambulances.[109]

On 7 January 2009, UNRWA officials alleged that the prior day, in the course of the Gaza War, the Israel Defense Forces shelled the area outside a UNRWA school in Jabalya, Gaza, killing more than forty people. The IDF initially claimed it was responding to an attack by Hamas gunman hiding in the compound, but upon reexamination, said that an "errant shell had hit the school." Maxwell Gaylord, the UN humanitarian coordinator, stated that the UN "would like to clarify that the shelling, and all of the fatalities, took place outside rather than inside the school.[110]

UNRWA has consistently rejected the allegation that militants used the Agency's installations during the Gaza war in 2008–2009. http://www.unrwa.org/etemplate.php?id=356 These accusations have been published by some media outlets, although they are sometimes retracted. In 2012 when on two occasions, Israel Channel Two TV, the most popular network in Israel apologised and issued a retraction of these allegations. http://www.unrwa.org/etemplate.php?id=1399 see also http://www.unrwa.org/etemplate.php?id=1477

During the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict, UNRWA spokesmen reported in July that weapons were found in three vacant UNRWA schools which had been closed for the summer.[111][112][113] UNRWA strongly condemned the activity as a "flagrant violation of the inviolability of its premises under international law" and UNRWA staff were withdrawn from the premises.[114] It appears, however, that UNRWA returned weapons to the local government – meaning Hamas.[115]

In another incident in July 2014, three Israeli soldiers died from a booby-trap in an apparent UNWRA clinic. Subsequent information indicates that the building was not registered with UNRWA, but it had an UNRWA sign on it. The UNRWA sign on the building therefore may have been stolen and placed there by someone, perhaps seeking to protect the building.[116]

Investigations and calls for accountability and/or reform[edit]

Many critics of UNRWA recognize that UNRWA's registered refugees need massive help. They realize that the agency needs support - with more oversight and coordination with the Palestinian Authority. And they believe that disbanding UNRWA at this time or in the very near future is not a relevant goal.

Writing in the Middle East Monitor in April 2012, Karen Abu Zayd - a former Commissioner-General of the UNRWA (2005–2009) argued that "UNRWA needs support not brickbats".[117] She concludes

...even those who scrutinise it most closely and challenge it most severely are those who also ensure that its programmes receive adequate funding. They, like others who view the agency more positively, realise that UNRWA makes a major contribution to stability in the Middle East.

Writing in the Times of Israel 31 July 2014 [118] David Horovits concludes in his analysis that although Israel has many complaints against UNRWA, it is not interested in abolishing it. Already at that point, less than four weeks into the 2014 war, there were 225,000 displaced persons within Gaza - and nobody to help them in a major way except UNRWA. And Horovits notes:

Israel takes into account that UNRWA, like all international organizations operating in Gaza, is being closely watched by Hamas for signs that it is not sufficiently critical of Israel.

Credible calls for accountability and/or reform tend to follow this line of reasoning, as exemplified below.

2004 Investigation by the United States Congress The United States government financed a programme of "Operations Support Officers", part of whose job is to make random and unannounced inspections of UNRWA facilities to ensure their sanctity from militant operations. In 2004 the US Congress asked the General Accounting Office to investigate media claims that taxpayer's dollars given to UNRWA had been used to support individuals involved in militant activities. During its investigation, the GAO discovered several irregularities in its processing and employment history.[119]

James G. Lindsay On the basis of his 2009 analyses for WINEP, referred to in previous sections, former UNRWA general-counsel James G. Lindsay and fellow researcher for Washington Institute for Near East Policy [62] made the following suggestions for improvement:

UNRWA should make the following operational changes: halt its one-sided political statements and limit itself to comments on humanitarian issues; take additional steps to ensure the agency is not employing or providing benefits to terrorists and criminals; and allow the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), or some other neutral entity, to provide balanced and discrimination-free textbooks for UNRWA schools.[62]

Andrew Whitley, director of the UNRWA representative office at UN headquarters in New York, said: "The agency is disappointed by the findings of the study, found it to be tendentious and partial, and regrets in particular the narrow range of sources used".[120]

UNRWA's Jerusalem spokesman Chris Gunness stated that UNRWA rejects Lindsay's report and its findings and claimed that the study was inaccurate and misleading, since it "makes selective use of source material and fails to paint a truthful portrait of UNRWA and its operations today".[121]

In response to the criticism of his report from UNRWA, Lindsay writes:

Despite repeated requests from the author, the agency declined to identify the alleged weaknesses on the grounds that “our views—and understanding—of UNRWA’s role, the refugees and even U.S. policy are too far apart for us to take time (time that we do not have) to enter into an exchange with little likelihood of influencing a narrative which so substantially differs from our own.” Thus, the paper has not benefited from any input by UNRWA, whether a discussion of policy or even correction of alleged errors.[122]

Canadian redirection of funds from UNRWA to specific PA projects In January 2010, the Government of Canada announced that it was redirecting aid previously earmarked to UNRWA "to specific projects in the Palestinian Authority that will ensure accountability and foster democracy in the PA." Victor Toews, the president of Canada's Treasury Board, stated, "Overall, Canada is not reducing the amount of money given to the PA, but it is now being redirected in accordance with Canadian values. This "will ensure accountability and foster democracy in the PA." Previously, Canada provided UNRWA with 11 percent of its budget at $10 million (Canadian) annually.[123][124] The decision came despite positive internal evaluations of the Agency by CIDA officials.[125] The Canadian decision put it very much at odds with the US and EU, which maintained or increased their levels of funding. Some suggested that the decision also cost Canada international support in its failed October 2010 effort to obtain a seat on the UN Security Council.[126]

Documents obtained from the Canadian International Development Agency revealed that even the government of Israel opposed the Canadian move, and had asked Ottawa to resume contributions to UNRWA's General Fund.[127]

UNRWA Reform Initiative An initiative to reform UNRWA was announced by the Center for Near East Policy Research in March 2014.[128]

The Center carries out investigative journalism and research in cooperation with a wide variety of organisations and researchers, such as The Middle East Forum, which has published an entire issue of Middle East Quarterly discussing the challenges facing UNRWA.[129]

The main thrust of the UNRWA Reform Initiative is to present documentation of problems with UNRWA to sponsor nations and organisations with the aim of increasing sponsor demands for accountability.

2014 call for US investigation In August 2014 US Senators demanded an impartial investigation into UNRWA's alleged participation in the 2014 Gaza-Israel conflict, accusing UNRWA of being complicit with Hamas.[130]

Members of the United States Senate are demanding an independent investigation into the role of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency during Israel's most recent war in Gaza with Hamas.

...While the letter does not call on the State Department to cut aid, the senators write that the American taxpayers "deserve to know if UNRWA is fulfilling its mission or taking sides in this tragic conflict." ...Responding to the letter, a State Department spokesman said that the UN is taking "proactive steps to address this problem," including deploying munitions experts to the strip in search of more weapons caches. "The international community cannot accept a situation where the United Nations– its facilities, staff and those it is protecting– are used as shields for militants and terrorist groups," State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez told The Jerusalem Post. "We remain in intensive consultations with UN leadership about the UN’s response." ...

"There are few good solutions given the exceptionally difficult situation in Gaza," Vasquez continued, "but nonetheless we are in contact with the United Nations, other UNRWA donors and concerned parties— including Israel— on identifying better options for protecting the neutrality of UN facilities and ensuring that weapons discovered are handled appropriately and do not find their way back to Hamas or other terrorist groups." [131]

Relations with Israel[edit]

After Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in the June 1967 Six-Day War, Israel requested that the UNRWA continue its operations there, and agreed to facilitate them.[132] Since then the relationship has been characterized as "an uneasy marriage of convenience between two unlikely bedfellows that has helped perpetuate the problem both have allegedly sought to resolve."[132]

UNRWA has been criticised by the Israeli government and politicians for alleged involvement with Palestinian militant groups, such as Hamas. Israel has stated that Peter Hansen, UNRWA's former Commissioner-General (1996–2005) "consistently adopted a trenchant anti-Israel line" which resulted in biased and exaggerated reports against Israel.

UNRWA has also lodged complaints, for example:

Al-Aqsa Intifada 2000– allegations of Israeli interference with UNRWA operations During the Al-Aqsa Intifada, which started in late 2000, UNRWA often complained that Israeli road closures, curfews and checkpoints in the West Bank and Gaza have interfered with its ability to carry out its humanitarian mandate. The Agency has also complained that large scale house demolitions in the Gaza Strip have left over 30,000 people homeless. Israel justifies the demolitions as anti-terrorism measures.[133]

November 2002 allegation that an Israeli sniper killed UNRWA employee In November 2002 Iain Hook, a British employee of UNRWA, was shot and killed by an Israeli military sniper while working in the Jenin refugee camp, during an operation to locate a Palestinian militant suspected of masterminding a suicide bombing which had killed 14 people earlier in 2002. Peter Hansen, the head of UNRWA at the time criticized the killing: "Israeli snipers had sights. They would have known who the two internationals (non-Palestinians) were. They did not dress like Palestinians."[134]

2014 Israel–Gaza conflict

During the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict there have been many accusations by Israel, and many rebuttals by UNRWA. For example Israel's Channel 2 claimed in a report that an UNRWA ambulance was used to transport militants. It later retracted that claim, after being confronted with "incontrovertible evidence", in the words of UNRWA.[135]

Israel damaged or destroyed a number of UNRWA facilities claiming that they were used for war purposes and thus legitimate targets. Pending investigations are expected to reveal the extent to which this was justified.

UNRWA schools and personnel were in the line of fire during the war - even when 200,000 people were staying in UNRWA schools being used as shelters.

During one of the many ceasefires in the war, UNRWA announced nine UNRWA staff members have been killed by Israel raids on UNRWA schools.[136]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]