Mr. Peter Hansen, the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief Works Agency, in a NYT op-ed on July 30, 2002, “Easing Palestine’s Humanitarian Crisis”, and in an IHT op-ed on July 31, 2002, correctly writes that “something must be done for ordinary families in the West Bank and Gaza.
Hansen, however, does not address the question as to whether the UNRWA policy of maintaining Arab refugees “and their descendants” in the squalor of refugee camps – under the premise and promise of the “right of return” to homes and villages that no longer exist, instead of resettling them in humanitarian conditions, is not in itself part of the problem of these “ordinary families”.
All other refugees around the world attended to by the U.N. fall under the mantle of the High Commission of Refugees, which works diligently to see that refugees are resettled (not necessarily in their place of origin) with all due speed. Only Palestinian Arab refugees have been maintained in ostensibly temporary camps for over 50 years. Hansen himself is on record as having said that “this is their whole life.”
This policy has fomented Palestinian unrest and raised expectations in a way that is a definite factor in the rise of terrorism. Astonishingly, Israel was prevented, by a U.N. General Assembly resolution in December 1985, from moving refugees who had fallen under their jurisdiction into permanent housing that had been built for them. So political were the goals of the U.N. that they preferred to see the refugees themselves suffer. And to this day that situation pertains.
Hansen’s statement that UNRWA “is committed to ensuring that its installations remain free of militant activity” stands in contradiction to what UNRWA public affairs spokesmen have told our agency, which is that UNRWA knows full well that the forces of the PLO and Hamas maintain an armed presence in the UNRWA camps throughout the West Bank and Gaza. “Battle for the Holy Land”, aired by PBS in April, 2002, showed arms caches located in UNRWA camps throughout the West Bank. P.A. minister Ghassan Khatib remarked to CNN on February 28th, 2002, that every young man in the UNRWA Balata refugee camp now had his own personal weapon.
Hansen’s statement that “its 22,000 staff members do not allow their political beliefs to interfere with their duties” stands in contradiction to the fact that Hamas openly controls the UNRWA teachers’ union. Hansen’s assertion that UNWRA “has produced school materials promoting tolerance, nonviolent conflict resolution and human rights”, stands in contradiction to what the UNRWA director of curriculum development had told our agency, which is that UNRWA has reinstated the books which Israel had deleted in 1967 because of Israel’s determination that these books promoted hatred and war against the Jewish state. UNWRA schools use texts that have maps of the Middle East with Israel missing.
This fall, 38 donor nations of UNRWA convene to consider the renewal of funding for UNRWA and of the UNRWA mandate itself. It will be instructive to see if the congresses and parliaments of the contributing nations of UNRWA take a closer look at UNRWA at this time.