For the past six decades, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for [UNRWA] has been helping hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and a number of Arab countries, providing them with various services, including jobs.
In recent weeks, UNRWA has come under attack from many Palestinians who fear that the international agency is planning to cut its services to the refugees.
UNRWA has in fact reduced some of its services to refugees – but only due to a $60 million budget deficit.
The reactions of both Hamas and the PLO show that neither party is willing to assume responsibility for the refugees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The two parties do not want to provide any services to the refugees, and want UNRWA to do the job for them. Their goal is to keep the refugees in their places so Hamas, the PLO and the rest of the Arab governments can continue exploiting their plight for political purposes.
The anti-UNRWA protests are aimed at extorting the agency and the international community into continuing to provide services and jobs to tens of thousands of Palestinians, exempting Hamas, the PLO and the Arab world from any responsibility.
Instead of threatening UNRWA, the PLO and Hamas should start thinking of ways to help the refugees to improve their living conditions and find jobs.
Instead of demonstrating in front of the UNRWA headquarters in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian refugees should be demanding that oil-rich Arab countries help them.
The latest anti-UNRWA protests began when Palestinians discovered one morning that the organization had officially changed its name and logo on its web site, dropping the words “Relief” and “Works.”
The new web site described UNRWA only as “The Palestinian Agency for Palestinian Refugees,” triggering a wave of protests, especially in the Gaza Strip.
Attempts by UNRWA officials to explain that the changes were only in the context of a redesigned web site on the 60th anniversary of the agency have since fallen on deaf ears.
Some Palestinians have even gone as far as accusing UNRWA of being part of a “conspiracy” to “liquidate” the problem of the refugees by preventing them from returning to the villages where they used to live inside Israel before 1948.
The protests and strong condemnations finally prompted UNRWA to restore its original name and logo.
But even that has not calmed down Hamas and the PLO, whose representatives continue to insist that UNRWA is conspiring to reduce its services to Palestinian refugees.
Hamas said that restoring the words “Relief” and “Works” to its official web site was “inaccurate,” and accused UNRWA of seeking to “mislead public opinion.”
Zakariya al-Agha, head of the PLO “Refugee Affairs Department,” said that the PLO rejects attempts to change UNRWA’s name or mandate.
Al-Agha said that the Palestinian refugees should not pay the price for UNRWA’s financial difficulties. “UNRWA and the Palestinian refugees are facing dangers and conspiracies by some countries,” he charged. “UNRWA should be increasing and improving its services to the refugees, and not reducing them.”
Why aren’t UNRWA and the wealthy Arabs improving the Palestinians’ housing and helping them find work?