Friday, April 25, 2008

I mentioned on Wednesday that the UNRWA in the West Bank went on a planned 3 day strike - stopping food distribution and other services - in response to attacks and threats on UNRWA personnel by Palestinian Arabs.

And these events were not mentioned, as far as I could tell, on the UN or UNRWA websites (although their concurrent suspension activities in Gaza in response to fuel shortages were mentioned.)

Why does the supposedly neutral UNRWA go out of its way to mention anything that can be blamed on Israel and downplay things that Palestinian Arabs do to them?

I emailed the UNRWA three times - first to their public information office, then to their West Bank PR office, and finally to Christopher Gunness, who is also one of the UNRWA's press liaisons:
Dear Mr. Gunness:


I read in Palestine Today Wednesday morning that UNRWA is closing its offices in the West Bank in protest from being forced to close earlier this month by protesters. I could not, however, find any press release from UNRWA concerning this, nor about the protests earlier this month reported in PNN.

Can you please comment on what is happening and any background information you might have? I originally sent the email to the main public information office 24 hours ago, and then to the West Bank PIO last night, but received no response.

Thank you,

Elder of Ziyon
Here is Gunness' response in its entirety:
HI there,

There had been problems but these have now been avoided for the time being.

Chris
That's it. Nothing specific, no confirmation of what I had mentioned, no pointers to any press releases I might have missed - nada.

To the UNRWA, violent attacks by the people they are meant to help are embarrassing events that should never be mentioned to the public because the UNRWA is emotionally invested in making sure that the Palestinian Arabs appear purely as victims and never - never - as being partially responsible for their own problems.

Their website contains megabytes of information about the 1948 "nakba" but to find out the real source of their problems nowadays one must decipher doublespeak that is buried deep within. For example:
With more than 9,000 people crammed into an area 650 meters by 200 meters, Neirab camp near Aleppo has a population density that sadly rivals Gaza. Most of the population lives in small one-room shelters. Depending on the time of day, these tiny rooms may serve as living rooms, salons or bedrooms.

Um Hashem, Neirab resident, outlines in gestures how six people can sleep in twelve square metres: four people lay sideways across the room. Meanwhile, Um Hashem lies lengthways, clutching her two-month-old son.

It has been close quarters in Neirab camp since the first Palestine refugees fled their homeland to Syria in 1948, where they were put up in abandoned WWII barracks. Originally, each barrack in the former British and French military base housed sixteen families. With successive generations the camp population increased, however the size of the camp has stayed the same. To address overcrowding, an infrastructural overhaul has become necessary.

In Phase I of the Neirab Rehabilitation Project, UNRWA built new shelters for Neirab refugees in the nearby camp of Ein el Tal, which does not suffer from the same overcrowding. This phase is drawing to a close with 300 families relocating to new shelters. Their decampment will provide additional space for the refugees still residing in Neirab.

Volker Schimmel, UNRWA Project Officer for the Neirab Rehabilitation Project, insists that although the living conditions of Palestine refugees in Neirab must be improved considerably, the project is not calling into question their right of return. "We want to allow Palestinians to live in dignity," he states. "Choosing not to live in misery does not mean that they will forfeit their right of return."
In English, this last paragraph means that any UNRWA attempts to build better housing for Palestinian Arabs in camps has been roadblocked for 60 years by "Arab leaders" who think that happier Palestinian Arabs may lead some of them to not want to destroy Israel quite as much, which reduces their usefulness considerably. The UNRWA doesn't even try to pressure Arab governments to allow PalArabs to become citizens any more - they abandoned that decades ago, unlike the UNHCR, which is actually dedicated to reducing the number of refugees under its care.

The UNRWA might have its private frustrations with the Palestinian Arab leaders who fight tooth and nail against the welfare of real-life Palestinian Arabs, but it will only publicly blame Israel.

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