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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

All you need to know about UNRWA

A former UNRWA legal advisor, James Lindsay, just wrote a report detailing the problems with UNRWA with specific recommendations. His history and analysis of the organization look to be spot on. While he finds few specific examples of UNRWA employees engaging in terrorism, he details the political tilt that UNRWA has been showing towards Hamas based on their statements. For example:
In 2008, UNRWA issued comparably fewer calls for engaging Hamas. Instead, it has focused on criticizing the Israeli blockade of Gaza (which targets all items except humanitarian aid).64 In this regard, the agency echoes the Hamas view of the conflict with Israel. For example, when UNRWA ran out of fuel supplies in late April–early May 2008, it implied that its shortage was caused by the Israelis (who were blocking deliveries to Hamas but not to UNRWA) rather than by Hamas’s actions (which included allowing demonstrators to prevent delivery of fuel to UNRWA as well as intimidation of the Petrol Station Owners Association, which subsequently refused to distribute fuel delivered to Gaza by Israel).65 This propensity to echo Hamas views extends to other issues as well. As mentioned earlier, Commissioner-General AbuZayd has referred to Qassam rockets being fired at Israeli civilians from Gaza as a response to Israeli military incursions.66 Regarding the resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem, UNRWA’s sympathies are not with resettlement or “repatriation” to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, but with “repatriation” to Israel.67 And in May 2008, during an interview with Iranian Press TV, Commissioner-General AbuZayd reportedly proclaimed that Hamas was “free from corruption” and “more popular than ever.”68 Even if true in the sense she meant—by “corruption,” she was presumably referring to theft for personal gain—her claim demonstrated something of a disconnect from earlier reports that Hamas was stealing fuel and items intended as humanitarian assistance.69
Lindsay is harshly critical of UNRWA's prolonging of the "refugee" problem and has specific suggestions to reduce it, as was the original purpose of UNRWA.

The entire report is available for download.

Melanie Phillips goes into much more detail on more recent criticism of UNRWA, including UNRWA denials that Hamas steals aid (a fact touched upon in Lindsay's paper as well, from early 2008.) Phillips is much more negative than Lindsay; Lindsay strikes me as a bit more fair in his criticism. Even so, UNRWA was quite upset at his paper, as he writes in his epilogue - yet they refused to detail any supposed mistakes when he sent it to them last year. (YNet also seems to exaggerate Lindsay's claims.)

It is notable that AP reported today on a UNRWA teacher specifically advocating violence and terrorism to his eight year old students:
In one classroom Saturday, when UNRWA schools reopened, a Palestinian teacher was filmed asking children about their trauma during the war. The unidentified teacher then told the children that Palestinians have to "wage war against them (Israelis) until they leave their land," and asked her students, aged about 8, how they should react.

Two children in the class suggested hurling stones or rockets back at Israel. "Okay," the teacher said, apparently summing up her class' position. "We throw rockets at them, we throw stones at them," she said.