Do you know where Amjad Hanawi is?
If you answered yes, then you can provide information to the US State Department; or t the Israel Ministry of Justice. Neither of them have a clue.
For those readers not familiar with the case, both U.S. and Israeli intelligence fingered Hanawi as one of the two murderers of David Boim, a sixteen year-old American/ Israeli citizen who was murdered on May 16, 1996 while waiting for a schoolbus near his Beit El Yeshiva, en route to his home in Jerusalem. After shooting Boim, Hanawi took refuge in the Palestinian Authority, where presumably he expected to receive better treatment than if he remained in an area under Israeli jurisdiction.
Yet according to State Department officials, Hanawi guessed wrong; the PA locked him up.
Last month, Kol Yisrael news, the Israel state radio newsreel, reported that while on leave for a Muslim holiday, Hanawi, perhaps thinking that the PA was not that concerned with keeping him in jail, decided not to return. Upon hearing the report, David's mother, Joyce Boim, wrote the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, inquiring if her son's killer was still behind bars. In a briefly worded statement, the US embassy consul assured Mrs Boim that the Palestine Authority had assured the US consul in Jerusalem that Hanawi remained imprisoned.
The story should have ended there. However, the US State Department has been unable to provide any documentary evidence that Hanawi is in fact in jail or that he ever was in jail. A US consular official involved in the case commented that she did not even know which jail Hanawi was in, although she said her Palestinian counterparts had assured her that Hanawi was locked up. When asked if she could provide any records that would prove this assertion, such as an arrest report, a police file, or prison photograph, she declined. Instead, she suggested contacting someone within the P.A., since, she said, this was their concern. The press spokesperson for the US consulate in Jerusalem also could not to provide any documentary evidence of Hanawiís incarceration, stating that the State Department has been in touch with people in the P.A. on this issue.
When the P.A. was contacted, the P.A. justice and police spokespeople said that they also could not provide any information concerning Amjad Hanawiís arrest, nor could they provide reporters with visits to the various PA jails to check out the matter first hand.
The US consulate officials responded rather nonchalantly to this development, saying that all countries have their own policies of releasing documents to the press.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government has refused to issue any statements on the whereabouts of Hanawi. Spokepeople from the Justice Ministry, Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry, Army, and Police all pointed in different directions, saying they did not possess any information on the subject. A spokesperson from the Prime Ministerís office, sounding curiously like my State Department contact, said that Hanawi was the PA's responsibility, not theirs.
Since the beginning of the Oslo process, Israel has made 37 requests for the transfer of killers from the P.A. to Israel. So far the P.A. has refused to honor any request, stating it prefers to try them themselves, even though this is a violation of the Oslo agreement. Of the 37 suspects, ten are now serving in the Palestinian Preventive Security Forces, despite the fact that Palestinian courts convicted each one of them of attacks against Israelis.
According to Likud Knesset member Michael Kleiner, the current government - learning from the former governmentís experiences - has dramatically lowered its expectations about the P.A.ís willingness to comply with Oslo and hand over terrorists. However in the case of David Boim, the government has not even taken the first, elementary step of asking for Hanawiís arrest. Israel and the United States now appear not only reluctant to pursue this matter, but eager to prevent the public from discovering what happens to Palestinians who kill Israelis.
In early June, David Boimís father, Stanley Boim, issued his first public statement since his son's murder, blaming the Israeli government for failing to take any action in the case.
On July 9, 1997, Stanley and Joyce Boim are being given a hearing at the Israel High Court of Justice. The Boims are suing the Israel Minister of Justice and demanding that he order the arrest of the man who murdered their son. As they say to friends and family alike, what happened to their family could happen to anyone, and that unless the Israeli government raises an objection, such a hit and run murder could become a precedent.
While the Israel Ministry of Jutsice gives the impression that it has done everything in its power to pursue the matter, the facts are otherwise. No request has been made by the state of Israel for the arrest of Amjad Hanawi. Moreover, the current Israel Minister of Justice has added no names to the lists of wanted killers that were submitted by the previous Israeli government. The spokesperson for the current Israel Minister of Justice could give no explanation why, for example, the ministry has not asked for the arrest of Muhammad Deif, the Gaza-based Palestinian Hamas leader who planned the abduction and murder of Nachson Wachsman in October, 1994.
Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel's Minister of Justice, has stated on countless occasions that he will resign his position and call for an end to the Oslo process if the PA refuses to arrest and hand over killers of Jews who have taken refuge in the Palestine Authority. Yet PA Minister of Justice Freich Abu Medein has made it clear that the PA will arrest none of these killers, let alone hand them over. And Palestine Police Commander Nassir Yusef has told me that he is under direct orders from Yassir Arafat not to arrest Muhammad Deif.
Is that why HaNegbi has not acted?
The Refugee Dilemma: A Day in the UNRWA Arab Refugee Camps
Iyad Qadi, a Ramallah resident who fought against Israel during the intifada riots of the late '80s through early 90s, returned to the Palestinian refugee camps that raged so violently in those years - this time in a different capacity, as assistant public information officer for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
At Ramallah's Jelazoun camp, lifetime inhabitant Ali Shereka, 26, complains about the camp's dire conditions - the overcrowding, the filthy air and littered streets. Convicted and jailed between 1989-91 for throwing Molotov cocktail bombs at Israeli soldiers, Shereka, now an Arabic language instructor, warns of a renewed intifada.
"By being in the camps, we show people outside the country that we are not living free and not living in peace," says Shereka, sitting outside his brother's butcher shop, a hole-in-the-wall with flies swarming the hanging carcasses. "We are living in misery."
Qadi affirms this line of thinking. "Palestinians strengthen their claim to a right of return," he says, "by staying in the camps."
Qadi offered to show me the camps. Shortly after leaving UNRWA's Jerusalem field office, we reach the Shuwafat camp in eastern Jerusalem, sandwiched between Jewish neighborhoods' Newe Ya'aqov and French Hill. "You feel very near the situation, then you understand very well what's going on," he tells me of his exposure to the volatile refugee issue, now on the agenda of the Oslo peace process.
We pass what he terms a "flying checkpoint" where three armed Israeli soldiers are inspecting passing vehicles. "I believe this checkpoint has to do with the land agents issue," he said, alluding to the recent attempted kidnappings of Palestinian land dealers from this camp. (Palestinian Authority Justice Minister Freih Abu Medein declared that the punishment for selling land to Jews is death).
"They deserve to be killed," Qadi claimed, "but it should be through a decision of the courts, not by youths in the streets."
In Shuwafat, Jerusalem's little known Arab refugee camp, occupants hold city identity cards that provide them access to jobs in Israel. With lower unemployment - less than half of the inhabitants work - this camp is apparently better off than others. UNRWA supplies housing, schooling, health care and other services to the approximately 8,000 residents.
Started in 1950 as a "temporary relief program," UNRWA now runs 18 refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Employing a staff of 22,000, 99 percent of whom are Palestinian, the agency spends more than $700 million annually - the United States, the largest contributor, kicks in $64 million a year - on 3,308,133 registered Palestinian Arab refugees in the West Bank and Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. A third of the refugees live in the camps.
[Over the years, UN officials say, thousands of registered refugees have passed away and still receive stipends.]
Shuwafat's population growth has strained the camp's existing boundaries - the area is jammed with dilapidating concrete buildings, often housing more than a dozen people per unit. Paradoxically, that's precisely the way residents want it.
"The refugees' main concern," Qadi declared, "is to show the whole world that they are still living in the camps, that their situation is very terrible." In one schoolhouse, a classroom, with potholes in the floor, is so filled with desks that children must climb over them to get to the blackboard.
Essentially, the camp inhabitants want to remain in limbo until a final settlement on refugees is reached with Israel. "Their main goal is to implement United Nations resolution 194," said Qadi, claiming the internationally-backed resolution entitles "three million" refugees, including those from 1948, 1967 and descendants, to repatriation rights to pre-1948 Palestine. Still in the books, 194 makes no mention of compensation, only the right of return.
"If three million refugees were to return, Israel would not be Israel anymore," Qadi said, grinning. "For Israel, this is bullshit, but the refugees believe this is their right."
At a workshop on refugees last April in Jericho, hosted by PA Municipality Minister Saeb Erakat, camp officials rejected a government recommendation to expand the camps, fearing that they would merge with adjacent cities and become part of the current Palestinian entity. The camp refugees also refused a proposal to vote in the next PA municipal elections.
"By voting, they were afraid of being considered part of the country," said Qadi, who attended the meeting. "They see this as the first step in supporting Israel's claim - that there is no refugee issue."
Entering the 7,000-member Jelazoun camp, we pass a one-room UNRWA home that has seemingly been spackled to the side of an older structure, which is deteriorating like most at the camp. Down the street is an exception - a privately funded, two-story home with a $2,000 satellite dish on the rooftop.
Nearby, PLO and Hamas graffiti adorns the front wall of the local UNRWA office. "Fatah, Hamas, the Popular Front - all are very strong here," Qadi said. This camp was extremely active during the intifada, undergoing curfews for as long as 40 days. "In various camps, Fatah and Hamas have their own clubs, their own social activities in which they focus on the poorest in the camps," he said. "It's a way to gain support for their political parties." The agency is aware of this activity, he added, but "UNRWA can't act as a police. It's not in the UN mandate to interfere."
Around the corner, locals are vegetating outside the butcher shop, sweaty and swatting bugs. Ali Shereka tells me he lives with 14 people, including wife, mother, two brothers and their wives, and seven children. Chatting amiably with a half dozen friends, Shereka senses a calm before the storm. "If Israel continues its present policy," he predicted, "there is going to be another intifada very soon."
Muhammad Shereka, Ali's brother and the butcher, says he feels victimized by all in authority - Israel, the PA and UNRWA, all of whom he claims do nothing for the camps. "The big fish eat the small fish," he says. "The little man, he can't get nothing."
One resident tells me that he'd leave the camp if he had the money - pessimistic that he will ever return to Palestine. "Israel has to give us the West Bank and Gaza, but we can do nothing about the '48 border because the politicians don't want to talk about it," he lamented. "(PA Chairman Yassir) Arafat gave it up."
The crowds ears perked when one man asked me, matter-of-factly; "Are you with the Mossad?" (as if I'd tell him if I was) He said Israeli secret agents have infiltrated this camp to identify "security threats." Qadi claims Israeli soldiers routinely raise havoc in the camps, at times rolling in with tanks and throwing tear gas cartridges through windows. "The peace process has not changed the way Israeli soldiers think towards the Palestinians," he said. "They are still ready to kill anyone easily, to harass anyone easily, for silly reasons. It's a daily problem." Last year, UNRWA sent a protest letter to Israel's civil administration after soldiers "harassed" residents at the Fawa'ar camp outside Hebron, where two suspected suicide bombers lived. On lesser occasions, Qadi said, the Palestine Liberation Army police force has arrested Hamas militants in the camps.
Headed back towards Jerusalem, we make a final sweep past the Ama-ari camp, which blends into the West Bank city of El-Birah. There is no fence and members run a few private businesses that are like any in El-Birah. With overcrowding in this camp too, Qadi fears that inhabitants might seek apartments elsewhere in the city. He looks me sternly in the eyes and says: "It is a very serious and dangerous problem if people start to think about moving out of the camps."
Qadi, who makes frequent tours for the press, conveys a clear message. People stay in the squalor of refugee camps to advertise the fact that they remain the proverbial fly in the ointment of the peace process. Even if Arafat were to get control of the entire West Bank and Gaza, Qadi makes it clear that the refugees' demands would press onward.
Following is a sidebar to the story by Shawn Cohen about UNRWA and the Palestinian refugee camps. The sidebar includes complimentary information that will be useful to readers in understanding this crucial issue. The sidebar is prepared by David Bedein, media research analyst at the Beit Agron Press Center in Jerusalem. Bedein has covered the UNRWA camps or the past ten years with the help of two Palestinian Arab correspondents.
What you need to know about U.N.R.W.A.:
Like many other UN relief agencies, UNRWA was founded in the midst of a refugee emergency that occurred in the wake of war. The UN organized UNRWA as a special relief agency that was mandated to tend to the needs and establish "temporary refugee shelters" for the estimated 650,000 Palestinian Arab refugees who abandoned their homes and villages during the War for Israel independence in 1948. This occurred at a time when 450,000 Jews left their homes in the Arab countries and emigrated to Israel, while more than 600,000 Jews arrived from war-torn Europe to the new land of Israel.
By the mid-1990's, the UNRWA camps operated on a $320 million annual budget, providing services as incentives for Palestinian Arabs to remain in the camps - free education, free health services, free housing, free electricity and free water. The budget is broken down as follows: 57% education, 19% health, 9% welfare payments, and 10% for transportation services
UN Resolution 194 that established UNRWA was written in both contexts: to help Palestinian Arab refugees and to keep them there as refugees. No clause allowed for any permanent solution except for repatriation. These two tenets of 194, re-enacted every two years, remain very much alive.
Many people were surprised when the US state department, in the midst of the Oslo peace process, issued countless statements that supported the status quo of the refugee situation and the absolute right of Palestinians to return to the property that they left in 1948. Indeed, an emergency resolution of the UN general assembly in 1985 dealt with Israeli violations of 194, when Israel launched its first major effort to make housing improvements in the camps. Thirteen hundred homes were built for Arab refugees in Gaza and in the Nablus region, with funds raised by Israel through international relief agencies. These housing initiatives followed a two year study conducted by a special task force of the Israeli government in the early 1980's that recommended an ambitious program to rehabilitate the housing and sewage facilities in all UNRWA refugee camps.
However, The UN resolution that was enacted on December 16, 1985 against Israel violations of 'temporary refugee shelters' transformed the hills of new homes just south of Nablus into ghost towns that remain uninhabited to this day, with an UNRWA guard who watches to make sure that no Arab refugee will ever move in.
Throughout 1986 and 1987, the Israeli government initiated wide ranging discussions about the necessity to take unlilateral action to address the issue of Palestinian refugee squalor. Besides being a humanitarian embarrassment, the camps were quickly becoming a potential powderkeg. UNRWA officials had their own "explanation" as to Israel's programs for improvement: UNRWA officials issued weekly memos to the refugee residents that the Israeli government was making plans to "exile them once again."
It was no coincidence that the intifada riots broke out in the UNRWA refugee camps in December, 1987. There is widely circulated opinion within the Israeli intelligence community that the intifada broke out as a direct result of a program that was about to be implemented, calling for the massive overhaul and improvement of camp conditions.
Indeed, the Palestinian Arab rebellion was openly organized on UNRWA premises. Under the terms of a special UN resolution that was passed in February, 1988, UNRWA was allocated $21 million to hire special R.A.O.'s ( refugee affairs officers) to protect the local population from Israeli forces. Israeli security reports issued in 1989 and 1990 accused UNRWA personnel of using UNRWA vehicles to faciliate violence , by blocking roads, providing surveillance of IDF facilities, and actually instigating riots .
Palestine Authority officials today openly acknowledge that the intifada leadership was made up almost entirely of UNRWA personnel.
Indeed, it was the RAO's operating popular committees that decided who will get aid/assistance, it was the RAO's who issued frequent memos on "starvation" in the camps, and it was the RAO's who organized the Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine to take over the UNRWA workers union that comprises more than 18,000 employees of UNRWA.
It is therefore no surprise that UNRWA schools are decorated with Hamas and PFLP graffitti along with pictures of machine guns spread over a full map of Palestine. In Jerusalem, it was the RAO's who organized the people in two Jerusalem-based refugee camps to refuse Jerusalem muncipal services .
As a matter of policy, the new Palestinian Authority refuses to provide for any kind of housing aid to the UNRWA camps, since these camp are temporary Palestinian "shelters" where Palestinian Arab refugees are mandated to dwell until they realize their "right of return".
At a time when the matter of Palestinian refugees enters into the next stage of the Oslo peace process, Arab refugees who live in camps throughout the Middle East have had their hopes raised that they are returning to the homes and villages that they left in 1948. On a recent visit to Palestinian refugee camp, a lifetime resident and school teacher told me that "people laughed at us a few years ago when they said we are going to have our own Palestinian Liberation Army here. Now people laugh at us when we say that we're going back to the village that we left in 1948."
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