Israel Resource Review 8th July, 2002


Do UNRWA Schools Foster Violence?
Charles A. Radin
Correspondent, the Boston Globe

BEACH CAMP, Gaza Strip - The tall, whitewashed wall that surrounds the food distribution center of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency here is decorated with murals of exploding Israeli boats and burning jeeps.

Alongside the murals, boldly drawn Arabic calligraphy posted by the Islamic extremist group Hamas, which is dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state, praises a militant named Hamdi Arafat who died while killing Israelis.

Inside the distribution center, from which vast quantities of flour, rice, oil, and sardines are distributed to Palestinian refugees by the United Nations agency, unemployed men complain that the food aid does not go to those who need it most because the agency is corrupt - though not as corrupt, they quickly add, as the Palestinian Authority.

At the UN agency's Beach Elementary Boys School nearby, custodians have just finished stripping a year's layer of posters glorifying suicide bombers from the classroom. Exploding grenades, flaming machine guns, and the slogans of Hamas and Islamic Jihad festoon the outer walls. The UN agency's teachers, a custodian says, do not dare stop children from putting up the graffiti and posters.

Israelis and their American supporters cite such holy war images in and around the schools as evidence that the UN agency bears major responsibility for allowing the Palestinian camps to become strongholds of terrorism. Its defenders maintain that the relief agency is a force for moderation among Palestinians, and does what it can to control violent sentiment in the camps where it carries out its humanitarian work.

The UN agency is the dominant social institution in the camps, providing almost all food aid, education, and health services. Israeli officials and the agency's critics say it is inconceivable that the camps have become centers of militant activities without the knowledge, and perhaps the consent, of the relief agency.

"Bomb-making, indoctrination, recruiting, and dispatching of suicide bombers all are centered in the camps," said Alan Baker, chief counsel of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, after he returned last week from consultations in Washington and New York about the UN agency.

"It is not UNRWA's role to police the camps," Baker said, "but UNRWA functions in the schools and in society, and when it saw such developments and recognized they are in violation of Security Council resolutions, they should have reported this to the secretary general."

Security Council resolutions prohibit the use of refugee camps for military training and the manufacture and storage of weapons. Secretary General Kofi Annan refers to camps as protected areas that should not be used for any purpose that could put the refugees at risk.

Peter Hansen, the Norwegian national who has been commissioner general of the UN agency since 1996, says the assertion by Jerusalem and Washington that "UNRWA is condoning and supporting terror . . . is outrageous. There is no evidence to support it."

He dismissed media reports that the Israel Defense Forces found an agency facility in use as an arsenal in the Balata refugee camp in Nablus. "We do not have a warehouse in Balata camp," he said.

"We have done everything possible" to keep gunmen out of agency facilities, Hansen said. "Where we found gunmen have gained access, we protested strenuously to the Palestinian Authority and demanded that they do their job."

He also said that agency schools often are used as detention centers and sniper bases by Israeli troops operating in the West Bank.

"UNRWA demands that staff not engage in any political activity, and not glorify suicides," Hansen said. "We do our best to take down posters" that glorify the deeds of suicide bombers and gunmen. But, he said, "I'm not saying there's never been a teacher who has given vent to deeply felt sentiments in contravention of our regulations. You can't separate people from their political feelings."

Regarding allegations that incitement to hatred is condoned in agency schools' curricula, Hansen said: "We have to use the curriculum of the host country. Here in Gaza, that is the Egyptian curriculum. In the West Bank, it is Jordanian. We have done what we can to make up for some of the phraseology, which I admit is not to my liking. You should be able to talk about a Jew without saying `dirty Jew."'

Hansen was dismissive of the tributes to bombers painted on the walls of the UN agency's compounds: "We have so many more important things to do than look to the outside appearance of the facilities."

But to the Israelis and to many Palestinians, the good work of the agency does not excuse what they see as a go-along-to-get-along policy toward corrupt Palestinian politicians, a policy they say leads the agency to tolerate profiteering on food supplies that are supposed to be free, and to turning a blind eye to extremist elements.

In the Beach Elementary Boys School, posters in the corridor lionize Sultan Abdul Hamid bin Abdul Maggid, who told Zionism's founder, Theodore Herzl, that "if you pay me the world in gold . . . I will not accept you in Palestine because I am serving God, the Islamic nation, the nation of Mohammed."

School maps show only Muslim cities; Tel Aviv and Nazareth do not exist. During the school year, the walls are papered with portraits of suicide bombers, which are stripped off during vacations only to be replaced as soon as the students return.

"The students bring the pictures of the martyrs and suicide bombers - a lot of pictures - and the teachers feel they cannot tell them to take them down," says Khaled Abu Daya, a longtime construction worker in Israel who is a part-time custodian on a meager agency salary. "The students will oppose them and call them collaborators.

"The students here are too young for these things," he said.

Abu Daya and many others interviewed on a recent general food distribution day were upset by what they saw as corruption in the UN agency that parallels the corruption of the Palestinian Authority.

"My neighbor has a Mercedes, his sons have jobs, and he receives rations from UNRWA as a hardship case," Abu Daya said. "He has bought land, he has built a house, and he still is listed as a hardship case," entitling him to free supplies of flour, rice, and other foodstuffs over and above what ordinary refugees receive.

Inside food distribution compounds, outside their gates, and at nearby stores, the coupons Palestinians use to claim emergency food aid made available through the UN agency by international donors are bought and sold. The food itself, in packages clearly marked "not for resale," is openly resold.

Faez Abu Amri, a temporary food-distribution worker for the UN agency, says that "90 percent of the people who are getting this food aid do not need it," while the truly needy get less than they should have.

"I see people with boats, stores, and jobs" who get the food and resell it, or sell their food coupons, he said.

Israelis see the UN agency's tolerance of armed militants in the camps and its policy of distributing food to all registered refugees, no matter how prosperous they may have become over the decades, as indicative of an agency that is not fulfilling its mission either for refugees or for the international community.

"Sometimes you create something that cannot stop itself," says Eliezer Sandberg, parliamentary leader of Israel's Shinui Party. "That is UNRWA. What they do does not contribute to solving the problem of the refugees."

Nevertheless, Baker, the Foreign Ministry official, says Israel "feels the continued functioning of UNRWA is important. . . . UNRWA has all the infrastructure and facilities to make a major contribution to bringing Palestinians out of this culture of violence."

Charles A. Radin can be reached at

This article ran in the Boston Globe on July 8, 2002

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Israel's Designation of Land for Jews:
The "Afirmative Action Policy of the Jewish People"
David Bedein

The media has missed the context of the Israel cabinet decision to restrict residence in some communities to Jews.

Israel is quietly and systematically clearing land to prepare for massive Jewish immigration from the world over.

Israel has recently upgraded its efforts to facilitate the immigration of Jews from France, now affected by an outbreak of wave of anti-semitism, and from Argentina, now affected by economic disaster, and from certain isolated parts of the former Soviet Union.

And there are other parts of the world where Jews are consideration emigration to Israel, in small numbers or en masse.

Israel expects that the current trickle of immigrants might become a tidal wave at any moment.

That is the purpose of Israel: To welcome Jews from the world over, even if these Jews arrive without a penny to their name.

Israel builds cities and towns from scratch, to accommodate Jews to the one Jewish state that is ready to absorb Jews, no matter how many, at any given time.

The July 2002 Israeli cabinet decision to designate communities for Jews followed the 1998 "Burg/Sharon plan" which was adopted by the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government, where the Israeli government designated that government owned lands in the Galilee and Negev regions would be allocated to the Jewish Agency for Jewish development. Throughout the years, Israel law has directed the Jewish Agency to raise funds from Jews around the world and then to lease land to the Jewish Agency for the specific purpose of settling Jews.

That plan was adopted when Avrum Burg, now speaker of the Knesset, was the chairman of the Jewish Agency and Ariel Sharon, now prime minister of Israel, was the Israel Minister of Infrastructure.

All this occurs as Israel's Arab Bedouin population in the Negev also demands those same state-owned lands in the Negev that have been allocated for Jewish development.

According to Zvi Zammeret, the director of the Ben Zvi Institute In Jerusalem, the Arab Bedouin population in the Negev has quintupled in this generation, growing from 25,000 to 150,000 in less than 35 years. The Arab Bedouins have used the National Security Institute Child Allowance system that provided some funds for children under18 as a way to support large families in a bigamous society that encourages Arab men to have multiple wives and produce many children.

Israel must therefore find a way to develop new housing for its Arab Bedouin population, who have demonstrated loyalty to The state of Israel and who have served in the Israeli army since the genesis of the Jewish state.

Israel faces a tougher challenge in Galilee.

The "Association For Recognition of Forty Arab villages", supported by local Israeli Arab groups, along with Saudi Arabia and the New Israel Fund, has spearheaded vocal opposition to the transfer of state-owned lands for Jewish development in the Galilee.

They claim the right to rebuild Arab villages that had been displaced there in 1948, whose residents fled to Lebanon and Syria during the 1948 war.

Arab refugees and their descendents from the Galilee have been languishing in "temporary" UN refugee camps ever since, inculcated with the idea of "Right of Return" to villages that no longer exist, rather than being resettled permanently in Lebanon and Syria.

Simply put, they claim that land registered under Arab ownership from before 1948 must be transferred back to Arab ownership .

All this occurs at a time when the million UN Arab refugee camp residents in Lebanon and Syria make plans to return en masse to the Galilee region.

If Israel were to recognize the "right of return", that would set a precedent to all 531 Arab villages and neighborhoods that were abandoned in 1948, and pose a challenge to land ownership for the vast majority of Jews in Israel.

Besides which, the influx of one million hostile Arabs in the Galilee would pose a severe security challenge to Israel.

The "Right of Return" campaign will now gather momentum and use the slogans and tactics reminiscent of the civil rights movement in the US and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.

That campaign will claim that Israel's designation of land for Jews and its refusal to recognize the "right of return" as a "human right" would transform Israel into a racist state.

In 1978, when I worked as the US representative of the Israel Association of Social Workers, encouraging immigration to Israel for Jewish social service professionals, I appeared on a panel with the Rev. Jesse Jackson at the international conference of the Council of Social Welfare, which that took place that year in Los Angeles.

Jackson characterized the Zionist endeavor to seek Jewish immigration as a "racist" endeavor.

I countered by couching Zionism as the "affirmative action policy of the Jewish people" , as a policy for Israel to create incentives for a people to go home after a difficult 1,900 year exile.

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