On January 13, 2010, I wrote an article published in the Jerusalem Post in which Vic Toews, then president of Canada’s Treasury Board, (now Canada’s Minister of Public Security) announced that Canada was not going to give untagged core funding to the general operating account of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) in 2009 for such items as education, but was going to fund food aid only. Toews clarified that Canada did not reduce its overall amount of aid to UNWRA but allocated it all to food aid, rather than to education, health etc.
Now, almost 6 months later, I want to inform the readership of the Winnipeg Jewish Review, what the “fall out” has been from that decision.
It’s safe to say that UNWRA itself has been very displeased with Canada’s decision. On January 17, 2010, an article in Israel National News by Hana Levi Julian reported that UNWRA was protesting the Canadian government’s decision to reduce its core funding. (http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/news.aspx/135553 ) In it, Chris Gunness, the Jerusalem-based UNRWA spokesman, said B’nai Brith’s allegations that Hamas had infiltrated were “baseless.” Gunness said, “If these baseless allegations were even halfway true, do you really think the US and [European Commission] would give us hundreds of millions of dollars each year?”
According to Israel National News, Gunness also claimed that it is in Israel’s interest to maintain a strong UNRWA, “contributing to the peace and stability of this region – a fact recognized by the Israeli government which regularly praises our work,” he said. “There are groups who seem to think that if UNRWA were de-funded and disappeared, the refugees would disappear too. This is a deluded fiction.”
On January 21, 2010, Ma’an, the leading Palestinian newspaper published an article out of Bethlehem regarding Canada’s decision in which a dissatisfied Gunness said, “We hope Canada sees the sense of continuing donations to the general fund,” noting that the funds “focus on the provision of health, education and prosperity projects”
By the end of January 2010, the website of the Palestine solidarity Network (http://psnedmonton.ca/2010/01/29/action-canada-cuts-aid-to-unrwa/ ) was asking its readers to “Please take 30 seconds to help restore Canadian aid to UNRWA in this action call from Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.” The website said,
“Last week, the Harper government quietly announced that after decades of support, Canada was ceasing aid to the [UNWRA]…… The Harper government’s decision represents a cruel break from Canada’s traditionally supportive and humane position vis-à-vis the Palestinian refugees.
In January 20, 2010, Lee Bertiume of the Ottawa based Embassy Magazine, quoted officials in the offices of both CIDA Minister Bev Oda and Treasury Board president Vic Toews that confirmed that Canada’s $15 million will now be spent specifically on food aid instead of being “untagged” core funding that supplemented UNRWA’s general fund.
Bertiume’s article, titled “Outcry erupts as Canada starts to move away from Palestinian refugee agency” (http://embassymag.ca/page/view/outcry-01-20-2010 ) noted that critics of the Harper government’s position say that UNWRA “provides an alternative to Hamas”, and “The argument is that taking core funding away from UNRWA will simply force Palestinians to rely on such groups. NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar said that is why Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Canadian parliamentarians in Ottawa last year to continue supporting the agency.”
Interestingly enough, not long after my article was published in the Jerusalem Post, UNWRA began advertising in Ha’aretz, asking readers if they had “ misUNnderstood” UNWRA. When a reader clicked on the ad going to the UNWRA website, the reader received information explaining that UNWRA was not anti-Israel, and didn’t encourage extremism in its schools, etc.
In February, Gunness advanced his case through The Jordanian Times. (http://www.jordantimes.com/?news=24138 ) In an article in that publication on February 2010, UNRWA again “called on Canada to resume its financial support to the agency’s general budget’, noting that in 2009 Canada “decided to redirect its core funding to UNRWA into food security programmes for Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”
“This is a shame as our General Fund supports our mainstream human development work – educating people, young people and we hope, making them believe in a prosperous, dignified, stable and peaceful future. So we hope that Canada will see the sense in supporting not just our emergency work, but beyond that.”
He added that UNRWA faces a massive deficit that threatens its core services in education and health, adding: “We face a $50 million shortfall even on our much reduced budget. And we need a further $50 million if we are to deliver services of the quality which we would like.”
The article also said that, “Gunness rejected media reports that the decision was apparently taken due to concerns within the Canadian government about the lack of transparency and accountability regarding UNRWA’s expenditures.”
“We have accountability and transparency, which all UN agencies have. Indeed our oversight procedures have been strengthened by our reform programme known as organizational development,” Gunness said.
On February 7, 2010 Heather Robinson, a former Senior Writer for the New York Daily News, published an article very critical of UNWRA’s educational program in the Huffington Post. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/heather-robinson/will-40-million-us-tax-do_b_452681.html ) Robinson wrote,
“Perhaps the U.S. should follow Canada’s lead.”
“In recent years, watchdog organizations have shined a light on the content of books in schools in the Palestinian territories – and what they illuminated was a consistent pattern of propaganda denying Israel’s right to exist, dehumanizing Israelis and Jews, and lacking any concrete perspective that would point towards a nonviolent resolution of the conflict, such as a two-state solution. UNRWA schools use the same text books as those that are used in Palestinian schools run by the Palestinian Authority – and by Hamas.”
In her lengthy piece, Robinson interviewed Itamar Marcus, from the Palestinian Media watch who gave examples showing that the new textbooks in UNWRA schools (which are also used in PA and Hamas schools), “do not acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and, perhaps even more chilling, are laden with content that romanticizes suicide martyrdom to children.”
“ In response to an e-mail including excerpts of the verses Marcus quoted to me exemplifying and asking why the U.N. is using books that extol jihad martyrdom to children, Whitley responded that he would have to ‘check with our education colleagues to see if those quotes are accurate’.”
In an article published in the Huffington Post February 15, 2010, only one week after Robinson’s article, Daoud Kuttab praised UNWRA and explained that in 2009, only “1.5 percent” of UNWRA’s 2009 budget was provided by Arab donors.
Kattab said “the reason for Arab reluctance in supporting UNRWA was “that Arabs feel that the solution of the refugee issue is allowing them to return and therefore western countries (which many countries hold responsible for the prolongation of this issue) should bear the brunt of the budget of UNRWA.”
In writing this, Kattab has arguably affirmed the extremism of Arab governments in continuing to maintain that Palestinian refugees ought to be allowed to return en masse to pre-67 Israel.
On March 5, 2010 the Palestinian newspaper Ma’an published a piece entitled “Canada’s Aid Politics Fuel Palestinian Division” by Jesse Rosenfeld, a journalist based in the Middle East who criticized Canada’s decision to defund UNWRA, and even accused Canada of helping to foment Palestinian dis-unity by supporting the building of a police force that would help the Palestinian Authority subdue its Hamas rival. (http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=265973 )
Rosenfeld referred to my article in the Jerusalem Post (that was also published in the Winnipeg Jewish Report, the website I edited prior to the Winnipeg Jewish Review). As Rosenfeld wrote:
“Canada’s decision to cut core funding to the agency effectively scraps Canada’s historic support for UN Resolution 194, which supports the right of return for all Palestinian refugees of 1948….
“This is not simply an example of Stephen Harper’s diplomatic posturing for Israel.”
In an article subsequently reprinted in the Jerusalem Post, Treasury Board President Vic Toews told the Winnipeg Jewish Report that there was no cut in funding – just a reallocation to the PA judicial system, to bring aid in line with ‘Canadian values.’
“Evidently, Canadian values include funding a police force responsible for a two-and-a-half year campaign of political arrest and torture aimed at West Bank Palestinians involved in anti-occupation activities, primarily from the rival Hamas movement…”
“The redirected aid will bolster the western-backed Mahmoud Abbas, President despite the expiration of his term in January 2009 or 2010, depending on how you read the election law. Supporting Abbas means supporting his program of security coordination with Israel and training PA security personnel by American Lieutenant General Keith Dayton.”
In fact Rosenfeld appears to blame Canada for being responsible for fueling Palestinian disunity (as if the Palestinians weren’t capable enough of fueling their own disunity).As Rosenfeld wrote:
“In its historical involvement in the Middle East, Canada used to use quiet humanitarian assistance to rebuild what Israel destroys. Now, Canada’s most powerful foreign policy tool is being used to join Israel fueling a bloody Palestinian fracture.”
On May 12, 2010, Jordan’s Ambassador to Ottawa complained that Canada still hadn’t explained exactly why it stopped providing direct budgetary support to the UNWRA in another article by Lee Bertiume in Embassy Magazine. (http://www.embassymag.ca/page/view/un-05-12-2010 )
Bertiume wrote that the decision to not provide core budget support to UNWRA in practical terms, meant that “Canada was no longer giving money on an ongoing basis to help [UNWRA] pay the salaries of its 30,000 staff members, build schools and health clinics, and provide text books, medical equipment and other necessary supplies.”
“It started last year, February last year,” Mr. Barto said. “We heard rumours that this was coming, and at that time we tried to move and we discussed it with CIDA and other government officials but there were no clear answers. And I believe, up to now there’s no clear answer.”
“The Canadian government, through CIDA, has been donating a lot of money for UNRWA,” he said. “Unfortunately the problem is that money is going to emergency cases and other things, but not to the regular budget of UNRWA.”
What emerges from all of this is that Canada’s decision to cut funding to UNWRA’s operating budget appears to be very unpopular with Palestinians, Jordanians, and UNWRA itself, and all have voiced their objections repeatedly in the media.
Will this pressure Canada to resume its support of UNWRA’s general budget?
Finally, one day after my article on Canada’s new policy regarding UNWRA was published in the Jerusalem Post, Father Raymond de Souza, a Christian priest in Bethlehem, wrote an article in support of Canada’s decision to focus allocating money towards building the Palestinian Justice system. Father de Sousa wrote that it may be that Canada’s approach in not funding “general operating budgets” would “allow for more flexibility than designated donations,” and will bear “more fruit in the long run.” (http://www.nationalpost.com/opinion/columnists/story.html?id=46e9e1e0-0b0e-4258-8deb-9829ddd274cc&k )
He then went on to write about problems during student elections at Bethlehem University, which were ‘completely partisan.’ He complained that “Student elections here are partisan, and competing groups were jockeying to see who could exercise control over the university. Those who might control admissions or other policies would be able to reward their supporters and use the university to strengthen their support. A proper university cannot be run that way.”
Editor’s note: In an upcoming article, we will soon report on a new investigative film on UNWRA, titled “FOR THE SAKE OF NAKBA.” The Center for Near East Policy Research, working with the Middle East Forum Education Fund, has recently produced an investigative film that exposes the radical indoctrination that is occurring in UNWRA refugee camps and in the UNRWA /Palestinian Authority education system. UNRWA students are taught that all of Israel is occupied Palestinian land and that only through violence can the “liberation” of Palestine be achieved, according to the film.