Israel Resource Review 18th November, 2005


Canada urged to help resolve Palestinian refugee debate
Paul Lungen
Staff Reporter, Canadian Jewish News

Canada is uniquely positioned to change the terms of debate about Palestinian refugees and push for their resettlement, an Israeli researcher says.

As the second-largest funder of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Canada could urge Palestinian refugees to give up on their so-called "right of return" to land in what is now Israel, said David Bedein, head of the Israel Resource News Agency and an old hand at detailing what he calls abuses at UNRWA.

"Imagine if Canada took a role in trying to convince Palestinians not to want to return," Bedein said in an interview with The CJN from New York.

He noted that at $10 million per year, Canada is second only to the United States in funding UNRWA. As well, Canada, which will also provide a further $6 million for job creation and micro-credit lending in Gaza as announced in September also chairs the refugee working group, the international body charged with resolving the refugee problem.

Using its leverage to urge Palestinians to pursue resettlement would do more for them than encouraging them to hold out in refugee camps for a "right" they will never exercise, Bedein suggested.

And for Canada to do so would only require that it apply the same principles of refugee resettlement that the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) operates under, he added.

Earlier this month in New York, Bedein presented a study about UNRWA to international reporters who cover the UN.

The report, UNRWA, A Hard Look at an Agency in Trouble, was prepared by the Center for Near East Policy Research under the supervision of Bedein's Israel Resource News Agency. His briefing, Bedein said, was meant to give reporters the tools they need to better understand the controversial issues concerning UNRWA particularly its intense politicization (in favour of the Palestinians), its employment of Hamas personnel and its misuse of its facilities to support attacks against Israel.

At around the same time Bedein was meeting with reporters, the UN began a review of the agency's work and various international figures pronounced on the agency's efficacy.

Israel's deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Silvan Shalom met with newly appointed UNRWA commissioner general Karen Koning AbuZayd and said he felt an improvement in the atmosphere.

Shalom suggested that in the aftermath of the Gaza disengagement, UNRWA ought to transfer its education, health and employment functions to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Such a transfer could strengthen the position of the PA and weaken Hamas' efforts to replace UNRWA.

In the United States, Margaret Scobey, the United States' ambassador to Syria, told the UN General Assembly that UNRWA's humanitarian assistance to Palestinians was a stabilizing force in the region.

"UNRWA has an important role to play in supporting the efforts of the Palestinian Authority" and of international organizations, with the goal of "launch[ing] economic recovery and development in Gaza and the West Bank," JTA reported the ambassador as saying.

That's likely not the kind of endorsement Bedein would find palatable. He said UNRWA has kept Palestinian refugees in a state of dependence while prolonging their suffering. The UNHCR, whose mandate is to assist all other refugees worldwide, is able to successfully settle people so they can get on with their lives. "Their job is to resettle people as fast as possible and with as much dignity as possible," he said.

Unlike the UNHCR, UNRWA makes no attempts at permanently resettling Palestinian refugees, he said. On the contrary, the agency has adopted Palestinian nationalists' claim that those people displaced from pre-1948 Israel will someday recover their residences. UNRWA bases that approach on UN Resolution 194, passed shortly after Israel became an independent state.

Bedein suggested that is a one-sided interpretation of the resolution which anyway does not have the force of law since it also requires returning refugees to live in peace. Those who do not return can receive compensation. UNRWA ignores those aspects of the resolution, he said.

In a written response to CJN queries, Marie-Christine Lilkoff, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Canada, said that "UNRWA provides essential services to over four million Palestinian refugees. Its work is supported financially by donors that include the United States, U.K. and the European Commission. The United States alone provided more than $127 million to UNRWA in 2004. Its work is also supported (although not financially) by Israel, which recognizes the critical role that UNRWA plays.

"While it is widely known that the relationship between the previous [UNRWA] commissioner general and Israel was a difficult one, the relationship between the current ComGen and Israel is known to be very positive. Israeli officials have frequently expressed support for the assistance Canada provides to UNRWA.

"Canada's commitment to UNRWA remains strong, and we are working closely with other donors, including the United States, to support the organization as it continues to reform its programming and management mechanisms and procedures."

Lilkoff did not respond to questions concerning the alleged infiltration of UNRWA by Hamas.

"The vast majority of the 25,000 employees of UNRWA are themselves refugees and they are frequently themselves associated with terrorist groups," the report UNRWA: A Hard Look at an Agency in Trouble alleges, adding that UNRWA facilities are used by terrorists and terrorists receive UNRWA benefits and assistance.

Other findings in the report include:

UNRWA accepts as refugees the great-grandchildren of those who lost there homes in 1948. The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees does not define refugees' descendants as inheriting their status;

UNRWA refugee totals are inflated.

The UNRWA education system employs PA textbooks, which presents an entirely negative image of Israel and denies Jewish links to the Holy Land.

UNRWA won't suspend aid to known terrorists because of intimidation.

UNRWA's budget per refugee in 2005 is almost $100 (US). UNHCR's budget per refugee in the same year is around $65 (US).

In a statement to the special political and decolonization committee earlier this month, AbuZayd said she had met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and "he emphasized that the disengagement from the Gaza Strip has not changed the status of Palestine refugees within the strip, as the refugee issue is one to be dealt with in final status negotiations."

UNRWA has defended its activities in a Web document titled Setting the Record Straight. The agency asserts it does not run the refugee camps, but merely provides humanitarian and other services. The agency denies any of its installations have been turned into bomb-making factories.

It also states it "is not in the business of hiring terrorists. It has in place very strict standards of conduct, and it expects all of its area and international staff members to adhere to them" to perform their duties fairly and refrain from political activities that might reflect on the agency impartiality and independence.

UNRWA says its staff union "is not staffed by representatives of any militant or political group or party" such as Hamas.

As to the contention that UNRWA perpetuates the refugee problem, Setting the Record Straight states a solution will require a political settlement. "UNRWA was established to cater to the humanitarian needs of the refugees pending such a political settlement. Removing UNRWA from the scene would not cause the refugee problem to disappear, but it would lead to untold suffering and hardship."

Following the Oslo accords, UNRWA prepared to hand over its services to the PA but with the collapse of the peace process, the need was seen for UNRWA to continue providing its services, the document states.

This piece ran in the November 17th, 2005 issue of the Canadian Jewish News

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UNRWA: A Roadblock to Peace?
Suzanne Gershowitz
Researcher, American Enterprise Institute

Now that Israel has withdrawn from Gaza, leaving Arab governments and their intellectual apologists in the West without a scapegoat, attention is finally turning to the real problems that are plaguing the Palestinian Territories. A consensus is emerging that the next step toward solving problems like Gaza's 50% unemployment rate would be to open the borders into Israel, a view voiced recently both by the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and the Quartet's chief representative, James Wolfensohn. But they, and like-minded diplomats, are missing the point. The chief impediment to Palestinian economic development is not Israel or its border policy. A central barrier undercutting Palestinian development is misguided U.N. policy encouraging dependency over self-sufficiency and a culture of victimization over one of responsibility.

The tendency of the United Nations and Western governments to throw money at the Palestinians does little good if the money ends up in the wrong place. In recent years, Washington has disbursed $100 million a year to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, known in the U.N. alphabet soup as UNRWA. Last month, the agency issued an emergency call for yet more money. "The emergency programs which UNRWA is delivering in the West Bank and Gaza are directed at the most basic requirement of allowing people to subsist today in hope of a brighter future tomorrow," it said.

This request provides a golden opportunity for the White House to re-evaluate its strategy. The international community has long relied on UNRWA to help cure the ills of Palestinian refugees. But writing a check to UNRWA has never accomplished much; the agency has little to show for its budget. It has bungled development efforts even as it has expanded its mandate. Founded in 1948 as a temporary agency to settle Palestinian refugees, it has morphed into the United Nations' largest refugee operation - even greater than the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. UNRWA is the largest U.N. agency in the Middle East.

Rather than solve the refugee problem, UNRWA has exacerbated it. While a refugee is usually defined as a person who lives outside his or her country of residence, UNRWA has embraced a far more expansive definition: any descendant of a person whose "normal place of residence was Palestine" in the two years before Israel's independence.

Any Palestinian in Gaza or the West Bank would not be a refugee according to the traditional definition, but to UNRWA it is irrelevant that most Palestinians either live in historical Palestine or have become citizens of Jordan. Not even the grandparents of many UNRWA "refugees" lived in the towns to which the agency still promises their return. As a result, UNRWA's count of refugees has ballooned from roughly 800,000 in 1953 to more than four million today. It counts three-quarters of Gaza's residents as refugees. Rather than promote settlement, self-sufficiency, and industry, UNRWA embraces welfare and dependency, subverting prosperity along the way.

UNRWA is a liability for other reasons. By granting its employees U.N. immunity status, it undercuts their accountability. Too many UNRWA workers have abused their diplomatic privilege to engage in or encourage terrorism. Television crews have filmed UNRWA employees escorting armed Palestinian fighters in U.N. vehicles. Agency-operated - and, by extension, America-funded - schools decorate their classrooms with flags and banners celebrating terrorist groups. In 2002, the Israeli army uprooted a terrorist network that operated within and around UNRWA facilities. Not only did UNRWA employees fail to report the co-option of their facilities, but three years later the agency has still not held the administrators in question to account.

Israel's disengagement from Gaza has provided new momentum for peace. Whatever one's opinion of the efficacy of unilateral disengagement, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's actions unilaterally undercut status quo diplomacy. The White House should make a similar clean break with tradition. In June 2002, President Bush declared that "a Palestinian state will require a vibrant economy, where honest enterprise is encouraged by honest government." If he is serious about bringing "liberty [to] the rocky soil of the West Bank and Gaza," he should unilaterally disengage from UNRWA. The agency does not have a record to justify its requested 30% budget increase this year, nor does its record justify its existence.

The funds that the United States disburses to UNRWA would be better spent promoting independent Palestinian organizations and private-sector growth. There is no need for an UNRWA middle man. It is time for the president to realize his vision instead of subcontracting it those who stand against it.

This piece ran in the New York Sun on November 14th, 2005

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Amir Peretz: Sign of a Social Revolution in Israel?
David Bedein

By David Bedein


The election of an Israeli Moroccan union leader, MK Amir Peretz as the new chairman of the Israel Labor Party, in which he ousted veteran Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, could best be described as the most dramatic development in Israeli politics since the surprise victory of Menachem Begin in the Israeli elections of 1977. He is the first Sephardic Israeli, the first development town Israeli to achieve such a position. His victory, in a sense, represents the culmination of what in the early 1970's was known as the Israeli Black Panther Movement, which had one clear and simple goal: Placing working class Sephardic Jews into the leadership of the political system of Israel, a goal that all the major parties resisted despite the fact that close to 60% of the Israeli population is now of Sephardic origin. The other significance of Peretz victory was that at a time of economic boom in Israel, as evidenced by Israel's dynamic stock exchange, now worth upwards of three billion dollars, the struggling second Israel has felt left out, and the strength of that electorate was suddenly felt with Peretz's victory.

Lova Eliav, one of the founding members of the Labor Party, also welcomed the results. "After we settled people in the 1950s in shacks, in transit camps, in tents and temporary housing, I hoped that the day would come in which out of that second generation of transit camp residents would raise an authentic leader-and that is what's happened today." Eliav also allowed himself to wax nostalgic, and said that in his opinion, "Eshkol and Sapir, with whom I worked in the 1950s, are gazing down at us from above and are happy along with us."


Peretz grew up in a transit camp in the western Negev which eventually became the development town of Sderot.

His father worked in a factory in Kibbutz Ruhama and his mother was a housewife. His family suffered from want, and little Amir, from a young age, aware of the injustice around him and even published a social protest booklet along with a friend.

In the IDF, he served in the Paratroopers Brigade as ordnance officer. In 1974 he was badly wounded in the aftermath in the Mitleh in Sinai. For a year he was confined to his bed, afterwards to a wheelchair, until regaining the use of his legs, contrary to his doctor's prediction.

When he was released from the hospital, he decided to realize his dream-he bought a plot in Moshav Nir Akiva and became a moshavnik. He began to grow vegetables and flowers, while still in a wheelchair.

During this period he also established a family. Amir married Ahlama and they had four children, Ohad, 26, Shani, 23, Yiftah, 17 and Matan, 15.

In 1983 his friends in Sderot called on him to lead them in the elections for the local authority. And so, at age 30, he decided to run in the Sderot elections as a representative of the Labor Party. He won the elections and for the next five year was the mayor.

In 1988 was elected to the 12th Knesset on the Labor Party List and since then he has been a Knesset member continuously. In the Knesset he mainly addressed social economic issues and was even the chairman of the Labor and Welfare Committee and chairman of the Health Committee.

In 1994 Peretz was elected chairman of the main department of the Histadrut-the professional unions department.

In December 1995 he was elected the chairman of the new Histadrut. Three years later he was again elected, in personal elections, to the position of Histadrut chairman by a large majority and in May 2002 he was elected to the position for the next five years.

Just before the 1999 Knesset elections, Peretz formed the workers' Am Ehad party. The new party, which led a social line, won two seats in The 15th Knesset. The faction joined the government when the unity government was formed early this year.

In the elections for the 16th Knesset, his party won three seats. Last year his party merged with the Labor Party, and Peretz returned to his party.

His English?

At the ceremony in memory of Yitzhak Rabin this week, Peretz had difficulty with a series of words in English and sounded like someone whose teeth were about to shatter.

From time to time, giggles were heard from the back of the room, and when he uttered the words "Thank you very much" with no mistakes, everyone seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.

Peretz also chose to recount some details of his personal life. "I was born in Morocco and grew up in Israel. . During my army service as an IDF officer I was severely wounded and spent two years in hospital. I left in a wheelchair and swore that the next war in which I fought would be a war for the sake of peace." During this part, polished or not, he received cheers.

On a more sober note, however, Israeli Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Yuval Steinitz said that Amir Peretz is entirely unfit to be prime minister. "Let him show me one essay that he wrote. He has no governmental experience. He has no academic or military experience. He does not have even the minimal qualifications to lead the country. His election was real chutzpa. It is scary that someone like him, with no experience, should presume to lead Israel," Steinitz said.

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Homeless in the homeland
Lila Hanft
Staff Reporter, Cleveland Jewish News

Calling Ehud Zinar intense is like calling the Negev dry.

Whippet-thin and darkly energetic, Zinar is a man on a mission, touring North America, speaking to community leaders, clergy and school children about his former hometown, Netzarim, in Gush Katif, Gaza. Armed only with a cell phone, rental car, and short film about Netzarim's evacuation, Zinar is here, in part, to bear witness to the Gaza strip evacuation ("deportation" is the word he prefers). He's also sharing with North American Jews his neighbors' experiences as evacuees and their hopes for a new town of Netzarim to be built in the desert.

The last of 21 towns evacuated from the Gaza Strip, Netzarim residents opted to leave together, as a community. Begun as an army outpost in 1972, Netzarim boasted 80 families comprised of 600 people on the day of evacuation.

"We wanted to leave with dignity," Zinar says. They also wanted to remain a community, to support one another through this unprecedented disruption of their lives. "Our big problem with the disengagement was that the government wasn't ready," reports Zinar. "Our main problem with the government is that they're not interested in relocating us as a community."

The government's decision to work with evacuees as individuals rather than as communities has been widely criticized by several Israeli non-governmental organizations, including the Israel Legal Forum, the social service agency Lema'an Achai, and Jewish Family Services, Israel. According to a report compiled by Arlene Kushner for the Israel Resource News Agency, The Disengagement Authority, SELA, insisted on negotiating compensation only with individual families and refused requests from leaders of Gush Katif communities to allow the Israel Legal Forum to negotiate on their behalf as communities.

In the weeks since the disengagement, it has been widely acknowledged that the Israeli government was ill-prepared for moving the more than 8,000 residents of Gush Katif. A shortage of hotel rooms led to cases in which whole families with several children were moved into one hotel room, with mattresses on the floor, Kushner writes.

No government-provided social workers were available to assist with the trauma of relocation. As a result, distraught, angry, confused and depressed evacuees were left to struggle with pragmatic issues such as where to do laundry and how to access their belongings, which the government put into storage for them.

To put the evacuation in perspective, Zinar compares it with government plans to relocate a "safari zoo." The animals are to be relocated over the course of five to eight YEARS," says Zinar. "But the government's deportation of the citizens of Gush Katif took place in five to eight DAYS."

Although Netzarim residents were opposed to evacuation, now that it has happened and their homes and synagogue are gone, they "still want to contribute to the state of Israel," Zinar says. To that end, they're embracing a mission to the southwestern Negev where they hope to rebuild farms, homes, and businesses. "It's the middle of nowhere, by the Egyptian border."

Families from Netzarim are gathering in the city of Ariel where, with the help of faculty from the College of Judea and Samaria, they are working with the government on a solution that will keep the original community together. Preserving Netzarim's social, educational, and municipal framework will help reduce the trauma that former residents will experience in the coming months, say mental health experts.

The personal toll of the evacuation is still unfolding, notes Zinar. As displaced settlers prepared to spend the High Holidays in hotel rooms, student dormitories, tents and caravans, psychologists working with the refugees reported widespread depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. According to a study conducted by the University of Haifa, nearly all the evacuees, including children, feel pessimistic about their safety and future.

Which is why Zinar's first stop in Cleveland was The Hebrew Academy in Cleveland Heights to thank Rabbi Simcha Dessler and students in grades 1-6 for the New Years cards they made for the children of Netzarim.

Hearing that 350 children from Netzarim had been evacuated to Ariel and would be staying there in trailers though the High Holidays, "our school immediately went to work, creating original L'shanah tovah cards with a message in Hebrew to the children," explains Rabbi Dessler, educational director.

"Regardless of where one stands on the disengagement plan, our message to the children (of Netzarim) is that their struggle is our struggle, and their pain is our pain. We'd like to share the burden, to lighten their load, if we can."

To contact Zinar and the Netzarim Development Fund, e-mail or call 212-933-9537 (U.S.) or 972-54-6366-256 (Israel).

This piece appeared in the Cleveland Jewish News on November 18th, 2005

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