Israel Resource Review 16th June, 2005


PA Media Reflecting Internal Strife
Dr. Michael Widlanski

June 16, 2005

Background Analysis-up front

There are several strong messages at the edges of the press reports in the Palestinian Authority (PA) which do not always find themselves in the headlines but which is becoming a constant presence in small headlines, additional comments and cartoons:

  • The regime of Mahmoud Abbas-Ahmad Qreia is in serious trouble because of the sharp increase in internal Palestinian violence. Press reports included a four-person murder (from one family in Gaza) and two brothers in Nablus in four days.

  • The Hamas organization is gaining credibility with American and British interlocutors-on the way to full recognition. [A Hamas spokesman again today said his organization had contacts with EU officials.]

  • Abbas himself is sometimes seen, but rarely felt.

For days and weeks, the Palestinian radio and television consumer hears only Qreia lambasting Israel, while Abbas is seen through a kind of diffused lens taking foreign trips. Palestinian leader Abbas's presence-underscored by a television interview last week and major photo montage reviews of his meetings etc-is not really felt. For many days, one sees only canned pictures of Abbas who then has an angio-plasty operation [not announced ahead of time]. Then there is a sudden flurry of Abbas in an unscheduled PBC interview which is apparently not distributed in written form by Abbas's own news service.

It is a strange set of phenomena especially in a regime which controls the press: an authoritarian regime with increasingly little authority-even in its own eyes.

There is almost a wistful regard of. Yasser Arafat. This comes both from Abbas and the people he is supposed to govern. Arafat is the source of legitimacy for Abbas, his successor, but he is also the missing symbol for the Palestinian people.

Abbas tells Israeli and Western observers that he wants a non-violent resolution of Palestinian claims against Israel, but his television service runs a photo-montage of Arafat extolling the Pan-Arab leadership of late Egyptian president Gamal Abdul-Nasser famous for fighting Israel and the West. The montage [see PBC below] features shots of Palestinian Fedayeen fighters attacking Israel, crawling under barbed wire etc.

The picture on the screen is violence, and the picture in our heads is a headless Palestinian leadership in search of a message.

When Abbas was prime minister in 2004, he claimed he got no support from Arafat who kept him [Abbas] off television.

But now that Abbas controls Palestinian television-and radio and newspapers-we still see and hear the message of violence, the periodic hate-sermons from the mosques. It could be that focusing on shootings from gangs in Gaza and Nablus is the way for Mahmoud Abbas again to blame someone else, but this time it cannot be Arafat.

PBC Television

Immediately after the nine o'clock morning news round-up (Thursday June 16) PBC ran a film montage tribute to two late Arab leaders: Yasser Arafat and Egyptian President Gamal Abdul-Nasser.

The montage featured Arafat extolling the Egyptian leader who led the Arab world to war against Israel, and it was interspersed with film footage of Palestinian Fedayeen fighters infiltrating and attacking Israel.

Voice of Palestine Radio

PA State radio concentrated on the death of a Palestinian in Israeli custody in a Galilee police station (V.O.P. 4 p.m. Thursday) as well as Israeli orders to confiscate territory said to be owned by the Jahilin tribe of Bedouin east and north of Jerusalem.

V.O.P. and PBC also covered remarks by Dr. Abbas in conference in Qatar where he stressed that the Palestinians had made a "strategic choice" for peace which was being intentionally squelched by Israel

From Palestinian newspapers Al-Ayyam: This newspaper for second time this week reports that PA Prime Minister Qreia is threatening to resign if internal Palestinian violence cannot be controlled.


Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda: Headline and picture similar to Al-Quds

More from Palestinian newspapers:

Due to problems on its web site, Al-Ayyam was unavailable on line for several days. Below is a recap of a few days of its main features

Al-Ayyam June 15, 2005-QREIA': 'WE SUPPORT DETERRENCE TO PUT AN END TO SECURITY CHAOS, AND WE WILL SUSPEND GOVERNMENT IF ANARCHY CONTINUES' (underneath is a picture of Mahmoud Abbas visiting Bahrain) TOP-OF-PAGE-PICTURE: Picture shows girl in close-up held by other members of her family angry at being held at checkpoint before visit to relatives at Israeli prison

Other Feature: Ayyam reports on four killings in one family on main street in Gaza.

Al-Ayyam June 14, 2005--- Saddam Hussein is the focus of the top-of-page picture and off-lede story on the front page: Saddam Hussein represents himself in front of court for second time. [Story raises possibility of illegal interrogation techniques, while also setting forth Saddam's admission of mass murders in town north of Baghdad in 1982 after his motorcade was attacked. Note-This story was also featured in slightly less prominent form in other Palestinian papers-evidence of continuing Palestinian interest in the former Iraqi leader--MW] MAIN STORY: ABBAS HEAD MEETING OF EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF PLO IN RAMALLAH-PLO CALLS FOR WASHINGTON TO TRANSFORM ITS POSITIONS INTO ACTIONS AND FULL WITHDRAWAL FROM [GAZA] STRIP

Al-Ayyam June 13, 2005 (main story)
GAZA:DEATH SENTENCES CARRIED OUT AGAINST FOR CIVILIANS FOR MURDER, KIDNAPPING AND THEFT-In keeping with solidifying the rule of law and end to anarchy. [top of page picture shows policemen guarding Gaza police headquarters where executions took place without prior notice]

Report compiled by Michael Widlanski Associates.
Commissioned by the Center for Near East Policy Research.
[Permission to quote or reprint from article conditional on citing Michael Widlanski or Michael Widlanski Associates.]
Dr. Michael Widlanski is a specialist in Arab politics and communication whose doctorate dealt with the Palestinian broadcast media. He is a former reporter, correspondent and editor, respectively, at The New York Times, The Cox Newspapers-Atlanta Constitution, and The Jerusalem Post.

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With UNRWA's Mandate Up for Renewal on June 30th

Should the UNRWA Mandate be Revised?
Arlene Kushner

There are over 21,000,000 refugees in the world: Some 17,000,000 in various places, for whom UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees) has responsibility, and some 4 million Palestinian Arab refugees, for whom UNRWA (UN Relief and Work Agency) is responsible.

One set of definitions and rules applies to the 17 million, and another to the Palestinian Arabs.


In the course of the Israeli War of Independence in 1948-49, about 550,000 Arabs fled Israel and moved into neighboring regions: Gaza, under Egyptian control; Judea and Samaria, under Jordanian control; Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Many required immediate relief, which the Red Cross provided.

On December 8, 1949, the UN General Assembly (GA) established UNRWA, which was to provide relief and works programs for the Palestinian Arab refugees.

The Arab bloc was greatly influential in drafting the resolution; it passed, however, because of the support of non-Arab members of the UN. With this, a precedent was set then regarding accommodation to Arab wishes in the matter of the refugees.

UNRWA began operations in May 1950 as a temporary agency. The Arab bloc, however, was set on thwarting a resolution to the problem. They had not been able to destroy Israel by military means. They now employed UNRWA as their weapon of choice and, in the process, turned the refugees into political hostages.

The refugees might have been readily assimilated into surrounding Arab populations. Yet the Arab nations refused (and still refuse) to permit their full absorption, and, with the exception of Jordan, have denied them citizenship.

The refugees' proper place, they insisted, was back where they had come from. When UNRWA's mandate was drawn up, the Arabs - in order to promote their goal of destroying Israel from within - pushed through a "particular" reference to paragraph 11 of General Assembly resolution 194. Its lead sentence includes this:

"…the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date…"

Ever since, this phrase has been offered as the basis for the claim that Palestinian Arab refugees have a right to return to Israel. In point of fact there is no such right. The General Assembly is simply not empowered to confer "rights." GA resolutions have no standing within international law - they are merely recommendations. What is more, even if there were such a right, the Palestinian Arab refugees would be barred from exercising it, for at no point have their intentions in seeking to enter Israel been peaceful.

One year after UNRWA's founding, another refugee agency - UNHCR - was founded by the UN General Assembly, in large part because of the millions of refugees from World War II who still required attention. A UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, adopted shortly after, formed the binding basis for the functioning of UNHCR; a 1967 Protocol expanded its parameters. The Convention, with the Protocol, is considered the only "universal instrument of international refugee law." Some 50 million refugees have been helped by UNHCR to "restart" their lives.

UNRWA might have been enfolded into UNHCR. The Arab states, however, would not tolerate this. Ultimately the Convention exempted those refugees who were under the protection of another UN agency (read UNRWA). Thus was the current situation set into place: the sole international agency dedicated to one group of refugees was permitted to continue independently.

. Two Agencies: Their Divergence  UNRWA was mandated to provide its beneficiaries with humanitarian services until they would be able to return to Israel. UNHCR was mandated to provide international protection for refugees and work towards durable solutions for them.

UNRWA does not consider any permanent solution for the Palestinian Arab refugees except repatriation. UNHCR is actively involved with facilitating resettlement, as necessary, so refugees can get on with their lives with a sense of permanency.

UNRWA's focus is on providing welfare assistance, education and health care. UNHCR's first concern is protecting refugees and safeguarding their legal rights - basic material assistance is given only as necessary and with the assumption that hosting countries, as able, will cooperate in providing for refugee needs.

The Palestinian Arabs provided for by UNRWA are the only refugees in the world to have guaranteed health care, basic education, and welfare benefits. In the course of providing humanitarian and social services, UNRWA has developed an extensive bureaucracy with one staff person per 164 refugees, compared to one staff person per 2,803 refugees in UNHCR. UNRWA annually spends some 50% more per refugee than is spent, on average, on other refugees ($99/refugee, as compared to $64/refugee).

In contrast with UNHCR, which must abide by the Convention, UNRWA was granted enormous latitude when it was established; it has set its own definitions and guidelines. Of particular note: UNRWA's 1) definition of refugees and 2) hiring practices.

1) The Convention definition says a refugee is someone who:

"…owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted . . . is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country, or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it."

UNRWA defines refugees as:

"…persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict."

The concept of "habitual residence" is lacking here: not everyone who had lived in the land for two years prior to Israel's founding had habitually lived there. The development of western Palestine in the years prior to the establishment of Israel drew Arabs seeking work from the surrounding countries. The definition thus embraces as "refugees" a good number of transients.

The UNRWA approach to refugee status allows many others to be included who would be excluded by the Convention regulations.

UNHCR removes the status of refugee from anyone who has acquired a new nationality that affords protection. UNRWA continues to count such persons as refugees until they are "repatriated" to Israel. Thus hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in Jordan and possessing full Jordanian citizenship continue to be classified by UNRWA as refugees. (In the period July 1, 2003 - June 30, 2003, UNRWA spent $72.2 million on refugees in Jordan.)

 UNHCR makes no mention of descendants of refugees. UNRWA grants refugee status to the patrilineal descendants of refugees, now entering the fourth generation.

UNHCR works diligently to reduce the world population of refugees. UNRWA has done the reverse. By providing an expansive definition of refugee, it originally inflated the numbers on its rolls; by declining to exempt those who subsequently acquired citizenship elsewhere, it sustains large numbers. Most significantly, by counting successive generations, it expands the numbers on its rolls. The Palestinian refugee problem, as it stands, is a growing problem. UNRWA now claims over 4.1 million refugees; no other population has sustained the status of refugee for as long as these Palestinian Arabs have.

2) UNHCR does not hire from within its client population. UNRWA has some 24,000 persons in its employ. With the exception of about 100 "internationals" in executive positions, they are all Palestinian Arabs, the vast majority registered as refugees. UNRWA claims employing refugees ensures more sensitivity to the problems of those receiving assistance. However these employees are vulnerable to conflict of interest. Because of the volatility of their situation, they are vulnerable as well to extortion.

It is difficult to justify this situation of underlying disparities for different refugee populations:

Palestinian Arab refugees receive greater material assistance and more services than other refugee populations. While certainly not all are affluent or comfortable, relative to the situation of other refugees they are doing extraordinarily well. Those in the 59 camps maintained by UNRWA live in stone houses, rent free. Some of these homes are quite respectable and some are more than "merely" respectable. Fine schools, women's centers, youth centers, day care centers and more are found in refugee camps - which in fact are more like urban neighborhoods than "camps."

It is not greater merit among the Palestinian Arab refugees that justifies this special care.

The justification for the more extensive care given the Palestinian Arab refugees is implicit within the mandate of UNRWA.

As UNHCR seeks to provide refugees with opportunities for getting on with their lives, the care it provides is considered temporary: countries absorbing them will be responsible for schooling, health care and more. However, by design, UNRWA denies its clients permanency through resettlement. According to the logic of UNRWA, if Israel is going to refuse to allow the refugees to return, and if the refugees do not "belong" anywhere else, then UNRWA must establish a long-term functioning bureaucracy that tends to them in place of a state.

Only with changes in the underlying premise of the UNRWA mandate would it be possible to secure some equity between levels of care for the Palestinian Arab refugees and all others.

There is in addition a highly damaging corollary to the basic premise of the UNRWA mandate: that beyond simply maintaining refugees until they can achieve "return," there is the need to actively promote it via various policies and practices. UNHCR seeks to assure refugees of their right to settle permanently elsewhere. Palestinian Arab refugees have been neither advised of nor accorded such a right.

The irony here is enormous: A genuine right accorded within recognized international law is denied these refugees, while much is made of another "right" that is ostensibly their due but which in fact does not exist within international law.

The registration numbers originally assigned by UNRWA to refugee families included a five-digit code of origin in "pre-1948 Palestine." As reported by BADIL, an organization promoting return, "the village structure, as it existed prior to the 1948 war, has . . . been preserved by . . . the registration system." Additionally, the camps were set up according to villages left in 1948, with neighborhoods and even roads named after these villages. .

The message of the on-going programs designed to promote return - offered by UNRWA staffers and others working with UNRWA- is consistent: The day will come when you will be able to return, as is your due. Only Israel prevents you from doing so now. These programs have included bus tours to see homes left behind in 1948 and lessons within UNRWA schools intended to keep awareness of the "homeland" uppermost in the minds of the students.

In addition, UNRWA attempts to sustain a sense of impermanency in the refugees, so they will be motivated to seek "return" as a way of acquiring a sense of belonging.

Repeatedly over the years there have been opportunities for groups of refugees to move into permanent housing, and almost always they have been blocked. In 1985, Israel attempted to move refugees into 1,300 permanent housing units that had been constructed near Nablus with support from the Catholic Relief Organization. In this instance (as in several similar instances) the UN intervened. A General Assembly resolution was passed, indicating that:

" . . . measures to resettle Palestine refugees . . . constitute a violation of their inalienable right of return . . . "

It should be noted that Israel did not require of the refugees that in order to move into new housing they relinquish their "right" to return.

The plight of the Palestinian Arab refugees:
They have been floating in a state of unending impermanency for over 50 years, for the most part, stateless and deprived of a sense of belonging in the places where they live. Instead of being taught to think about putting down roots where they are or in another country, they are encouraged to have unrealistic expectations regarding a "return" that is never going to happen. What is more, they have been led to believe that they are being deprived by Israel of what is rightfully theirs - a repatriation that would take them out of their misery, provide them with dignity, and give them permanency. It is the frustration, the sense of not being able to achieve what they believe they are entitled to, that is most difficult for them to contend with.

The disparity between the dream they have been fed and the reality of their lives generates despair, and ultimately rage.

Thus it is that the refugees are drawn to the extremist religious ideology and the violent techniques of Hamas; the UNRWA camps are hotbeds of terrorist activity.

This has been thoroughly documented, beginning with Operation Defensive Shield - mounted in the spring of 2002 in response to a wave of horrendous terror attacks. As the IDF entered into the UNRWA refugee camps, they were found to be riddled with small-arms factories, explosives laboratories, Kassam-2 rocket manufacturing plants, and suicide-bombing cells. Alan Baker, speaking as Chief Counsel of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, stated, "Bomb-making, indoctrination, recruiting and dispatching of suicide-bombers are all centered in the camps."

An intelligence report released in December 2002 provided additional information regarding what had been uncovered regarding the links between UNRWA and terrorism:

A number of wanted terrorists were found hiding inside schools run by UNRWA; a large number of youth clubs operated by UNRWA in the camps were discovered to be meeting places for terrorists; and an official bureau of Tanzim was established inside a building owned by UNRWA.

The report detailed arrests by the IDF of UNRWA employees and individuals who had utilized UNRWA equipment and facilities. From another more recent source have come details of other arrests and convictions of UNRWA employees by Israeli military courts: for throwing firebombs at a public bus; for possession of materials that could be used for explosives; for transferring chemicals to assist a bomb-maker.

Yet, where a connection between UNRWA staff and terrorism is concerned, these reports just touch the surface.

On July 6, 2001, the Hamas movement convened a conference in an UNRWA school in the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza; the school administrators, teachers and students participated. The students were addressed by Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Saheil Alhinadi, representing the teaching sector on behalf of UNRWA, praised Hamas student activists who carried out suicide attacks against Israel.

IDF Colonel (ret.) Yoni Fighel, a former military governor in the territories, has stated "As long as UNRWA employees are members of Fatah, Hamas, or PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine], they are going to pursue the interests of their party within the framework of their job…Who's going to check up on them to see that they don't? UNRWA? They are UNRWA."

Hamas-affiliated workers control the UNRWA union in Gaza. Within the teachers sector of the union all representatives are Hamas affiliated; Hamas candidates fully constitute the union's executive committee as well.

An organization called Islamic Bloc, which is ideologically connected to Hamas and calls itself a "Jihad' organization, has been charged with furthering the goal of Hamas within the schools and preparing the next generation for the liberation of Palestine.

Video has captured UNRWA ambulances being used to transport terrorists and firearms;there are reports of terrorists shooting from UNRWA clinics.

The evidence of UNRWA association with terrorism goes on; it is considerable.

UNRWA, however, rather than confronting the problems and dealing with them, has stonewalled and justified. UNRWA's Deputy Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd, in response to the charge of terrorism in the camps, told The Jerusalem Report, in August, 2002, that "We just don't see anything like this. These things are not visible to us." When (recently retired) Commissioner-General Peter Hansen submitted to the General Assembly his mandated annual report for the period of July 1, 2001 to June 30, 2002 - which covered the time of Operation Defensive Shield - he never mentioned, even in passing, what had been exposed. A little more than a year ago, Mr. Hansen speaking at a conference at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute indicated that charges of terrorism are " . . . all made up to delegitimize UNRWA's work."

After 55 years, UNRWA, the unique and autonomous agency dedicated to care of the Palestinian Arab refugees, must be judged a failed institution. The latitude accorded it by the international community simply has not worked to positive ends.

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