|Israel Resource Review
||7th October, 2005
Incorporate UNRWA into UNHCR
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Since the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees was established 55 years ago, the number of Palestinians registered on its dole has expanded exponentially. What was originally intended as a temporary agency has become a vast entitlement program, feeding, housing and clothing tens of thousands of people and providing free medical care and other services.
Today, the Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, or UNRWA, accounts for 2% of the U.N. budget. By contrast, a total of 3% of the U.N.'s budget is allocated to the agency tasked with addressing the needs of all the rest of the world's refugees and internally displaced persons, the High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR.
While some of this assistance to Palestinians may be used for its intended purpose, great concerns exist with respect to the integrity of UNRWA's operations, concerns that have only increased since Israel unilaterally disengaged from Gaza last month. With the Middle East going through an unprecedented period of change, it is time that UNRWA's archaic independent status be rescinded and that Palestinian refugees like all other refugees be placed under the purview of UNHCR.
For years, many in Congress have been concerned about the possibility that UNRWA has been negligent about, and perhaps even complicit in, the utilization of its facilities and personnel by terrorist organizations in the West Bank and Gaza. Indeed, former UNRWA Commissioner General Peter Hansen has openly admitted that members of the terrorist group Hamas were on the UNRWA payroll "I don't see that as a crime," he told a Canadian television station last year. Hansen was subsequently removed for making such comments, but questions remain about links between UNRWA and terrorist organizations and individuals.
To begin with, American law requires that federal contributions to UNRWA be made conditional on the refugee agency taking all possible measures to assure that no part of the American contribution will be used to furnish assistance to any refugee who has engaged in any act of terrorism. Yet UNRWA has repeatedly stated that it has never been given any mandate to administer, supervise or police the refugee camps, or to have any jurisdiction or legislative power over the refugees or the areas where they live.
UNRWA has consistently stated that the responsibility for ensuring that American dollars do not end up in the wrong hands has remained with the refugees' host countries. But the Palestinian Authority is not a recognized sovereign government, and as currently structured and operated, the P.A. creates an atmosphere conducive to the manipulation of UNRWA facilities to promote incitement and violence.
And possible links to terrorist organizations are far from being UNRWA's only fault. UNRWA operates with an outdated mandate, as the most cursory comparison with the U.N.'s other refugee agency reveals. Whereas UNHCR limits its coverage to refugees themselves, UNRWA extends its aids to all descendants who meet its geographical requirements, even those born two generations after the Palestinians rejected the U.N. partition plan in 1947. Furthermore, UNRWA's archaic practice of maintaining thousands of refugees on its payroll diverges significantly from the current practices at UNHCR, which employs only administrative staff and contracts out services.
In an effort to address some of these issues, the House of Representatives twice adopted the United Nations Reform Act of 2005, both as free-standing legislation and as part of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act. This bill contained language on UNRWA funding, as well as provisions I drafted relating to U.N. offices, commissions and other entities that focus exclusively on the Palestinian agenda. These provisions require that the secretary of state report to Congress on the U.N.'s elimination of such duplicative entities and efforts, and that proportional American contributions to the U.N. be withheld until such changes have been implemented.
I want to stress that while we are not debating the efficacy of extending humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians, we can no longer support or justify the existence of UNRWA as an entity that at best prolongs, and at worst exacerbates, the difficulties faced by those in the Middle East. Not only the United States, but also the international community, cannot and must not be complicit in both UNRWA's repeated incitement of and support for terrorism and its general policies that only perpetuate the refugee problem.
Calls to reform, in particular by Congress, have clearly gone unheeded by this refugee agency. For more than 50 years, UNRWA personnel have consistently avoided taking any responsibility for their operations and have failed to exert oversight over what is taking place in the institutions run by their agency.
They have been able to do so in part because the 1951 Refugee Convention, the international law laying out the rights accorded to refugee populations, has enshrined the Palestinian refugee issue as distinct from all others. The convention is deemed inapplicable to all those "persons who are at present receiving from organs or agencies of the United Nations other than the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees protection or assistance" which for the last half century has meant the Palestinians.
I would propose that in a post-Gaza-disengagement environment, when the issue of U.N. reform is at the forefront, it is time for the Refugee Convention's inapplicability to Palestinians to be reconsidered. It is time for UNRWA's separate status to be rescinded, and for UNRWA to be integrated into UNHCR Gaza first.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, chairs the Middle East and South Asia subcommittee of the House international relations committee.
This was published in the Forward Newspaper in New York on September 30, 2005
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Report #8, State of Gush Katif, Northern Gaza and Northern Shomron Communities
URGENT NEWS ON SHIRAT HAYAM HOTEL IN ASHKELON
Commissioned by Israel Resource News Agency
and the Center for Near East Policy Research
URGENT NEWS ON SHIRAT HAYAM HOTEL IN ASHKELON
Friday afternoon: Just when it appeared that the problem was solved, the Disengagement Authority apparently did not reach an agreement with the hotel after all, as a result of which, according to Israel Radio on the PM news, it has cut off electricity, and will not be providing food for the residents of Gush Katif on Shabbat. At the time of this writing, close to Shabbat, an in-house Bdoloch spokesperson could not be reached. Aaron Farjun, who moved from the hotel to a caravan in Nitzan a few days ago, said, "Now everyone will see who the Disengagement Authority is. This country is governed by criminals." Only a hotel secretary was available to talk, and she said, "They've closed the hotel because they [the Disengagement Authority] didn't extend the contract. I don't know what the people will do." It is half an hour before Shabbat.
Holocaust Survivors Looking Forward, from Neve Dekalim to Meitar
Miriam and Yehuda Gross, both 83 years old, live in Meitar now, near Be'er Sheva, near a married son. They lived in Neve Dekalim for 18 years.
They were both from Hungary. Yehuda spent the Holocaust in a work camp. Miriam was sent from one concentration camp to another, also spending time in Aushwitz.
They met and married after the war, and came to Israeli in 1957 with five children. A married daughter, Yehudit Tzveig, lived with her family in Ganei Tal, also in Gush Katif, and Miriam also had married grandchildren in Gush Katif.
The breaking point for them came a week before the 17th of Tamuz.
Miriam: "We saw what they had done to the [Palm Beach] hotel, how they took the people out. The whole area was full of soldiers and policemen, it was such a terrible sight. We had gone to visit our daughter Yehudit in Ganei Tal, and we could hardly go home. I said Yehuda, It's not for us, we've gone through too much, this is not for us." Then our son, who lives in Meitar, said there was a house there, so we moved here; the children helped us so in one day everything was in place.
"In Neve Dekalim, we walked around a week among the boxes. We're here now. Nothing helps; it hurts, but I always look forward, I wanted us to rehabilitate ourselves. It isn't bad here, but the 18 years in Neve Dekalim were the most beautiful time of my life; I never felt so at home as I did there. It was a beautiful period. And see what a nice story I had a Poinciana tree, and there was a reporter there and an Israeli photojournalist, Shaul Schwartz, with whom we became friendly. I told him that what hurts the most is leaving that tree.
"One day he came to visit me here in Meitar and said, 'I have a surprise for you." He had extracted and brought me that tree, and two other palm trees as well, and he brought people to replant them by my house in Meitar. I didn't know what to do, I was so emotional.
"I also became friendly with Yair Ettinger from Haaretz, a wonderful boy, and he wrote exactly what I said. He lived by us for some months. Shaul Schwartz said he made a film about us and will edit it in New York. They loved us there. Not just them - everyone. We were the oldest couple there and I had such a good connection with the young people around me. I'll have that nowhere, no matter how nice the people are here, but the connection there, doesn't exist anywhere else."
Regarding compensation, Miriam says, "We got some of it, but the bureaucracy with the Disengagement Authority was a nightmare. We brought all the paperwork we needed at one time, and then for a whole month they asked for more, and for more
fortunately I have a son and a daughter-in-law who are attorneys and they helped me. The Disengagement Authority gave us such heartache, as if they wanted to make it as difficult as possible. But now we've received some of the compensation. I thought, maybe they don't want us to really leave? It's as if they didn't appreciate the fact that we left early. We had many mixed feelings, but we have to get over it and go forward. When a person is sad, all the desire for life is over. We have to find joy and do the best we can. I love people, I love everyone."
G'did Community Sent from Neve Ilan Hotel to Decrepit Hotel in Tiberias for Rosh Hashana
The community of G'did, currently living in the Neve Ilan Hotel, was told that they have to vacate the premises for Rosh Hashana.
The hotel arranged for them to be sent to a hotel in Tiberias. A spokeswoman for Gdid told us, "Some of the rooms were okay, but others were filthy, disgusting. Dirty dishwater ran in front of the hotel entrance. Three women fainted inside. The air conditioner in the 'synagogue' caught fire. Some people slept in the hotel lobby to escape from the terrible rooms.
They say they contacted the media but nobody wanted to "spoil the Rosh Hashana atmosphere." Chaim Altman of the Disengagement Authority said, "I knew nothing about the problems with the hotel in Tiberias."
More on the Gdid community and Neve Ilan in the next report.
Toby Klein Greenwald
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