his week I had the opportunity of listening to Bassem Eid, a Palestinian Arab human rights activist reveal facts concerning UNRWA and the continuing scandal of its refugee policies.
He also revealed his thoughts and observations on how after 66 years the world is still willingly duped into inaction as donor funds are funneled into endless black holes.
Bassem is described as not only a human rights activist but also as a political analyst, commentator on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and internal Palestinian Arab politics. In addition he is an Arab affairs commentator for Israel TV and the founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. Interestingly enough he ended up with his family in the Shuafat refugee camp in north Jerusalem when they were deported there in June 1966 by the Jordanian occupiers of East Jerusalem. Note that this took place one year before the 1967 war and that the authorities doing this relocation of Palestinian Arabs was the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, these days portrayed as the champions of human rights and religious freedom.
Today he no longer lives in a refugee camp because his family decided to take their destiny into their own hands and instead of wallowing in victimhood and misery, they purchased land elsewhere in the Jerusalem area and built a house there. Bassem maintains close contacts with residents of his former camp as well as other refugee camps run by UNRWA in Lebanon, Jordan and Gaza.
His devastating indictment of UNRWA is irrefutable because he can speak with unchallenged authority gained by first hand experience and continuing monitoring of the situation. He has lifted the lid on an ongoing scandalous situation which the rest of the world prefers to ignore and the Palestinian Authority happily encourages. After all, as he points outs, if the refugee problem was to be solved in a similar manner to that of all other refugees looked after by the UN High Commission for Refugees then the PA would be out of business and the hordes of well remunerated employees of UNRWA would be out of a lucrative job. Instead the refugees are kept in miserable conditions, promised a right of return to places which no longer exist, are indoctrinated with venomous anti-Jewish/Israel poison and manipulated as political pawns in an ongoing campaign to destroy the Jewish State.
According to Bassem, UNRWA must be reformed. It is not necessary to eliminate it but it must instead be completely purged of its current corrupt practices and devote its energies in resettling and rehabilitating. Under the weird definition employed by UNRWA, the Arab refugees have multiplied from some 700,000 in 1948 to 6 million today. Textbooks used in UNRWA schools teach hatred and delegitimisation so that each succeeding generation becomes even more dedicated to murdering Jews. Bassem recounted how shocked he was when talking to 7-year-old children at some UNRWA schools as these youngsters told him that they had been taught to hate Jews and that only by murder and martyrdom could Israel be “liberated.” When he himself had attended such schools as a child, nothing of this sort had been taught so the question is asked why now? The answer is very simple. Hamas has taken control of the teachers’ union and the workers in the camps are Hamas members and supporters.
His solution to this situation? Break the grip of Hamas and liberate the refugees from the corrupt hands of the Palestinian Authority. In addition compel UNRWA to present properly audited accounts so that donor nations can see where there donations are going. Make this agency improve the living conditions of the refugees instead of keeping them in poor conditions. According to Bassem the vast majority of the refugees (70% in his estimation), given a free choice would opt for financial compensation and relocation to permanent housing elsewhere. However as Arab countries and even Palestinian Arab communities in PA controlled areas refuse to contemplate these refugees being resettled amongst them and as the PA and Arab League continue to use these unfortunate people as pawns in a campaign to destroy Israel, the problem persists and grows larger with each passing day.
Donor nations, including Australia and New Zealand, instead of demanding reform of UNRWA and its complete break with terror groups, prefer to ignore the situation and rather swallow assurances issued. These denials from UNRWA fly in the face of evidence collated by experts and presented to Parliamentarians in various countries.
But then what can one expect when the Europeans have just declared that Hamas, a terror group dedicated to the murder of Jews and Israelis are in fact not terrorists? This amazing conclusion explains why the EU as well as the UN and its agencies are irredeemably morally bankrupt and as far as Israel is concerned should never be considered as authoritative arbiters of our destiny.
I asked Bassem why the Arab refugees are treated differently to all other refugees in the world. His answer was succinct and summed up the true situation we face. He replied because Israel was involved – in other words when it comes to Israel a double standard prevails.
Nothing new for most of us here but nevertheless instructive when it comes from a former Arab refugee dedicated to fighting for human rights in an area which does not want to acknowledge the meaning of the word. I can only wish him continued good health and may he stay safe while he pursues his objectives which would ultimately benefit all in the region and bring genuine peace.
Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel and is J-Wire’s correspondent in the region.