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Monday, December 31, 2012

The "W" in UNRWA is as important as ever

UNRWA stands for the "United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East."

In the early days of UNRWA in the 1950s, a large part of its mandate was to work with Middle Eastern nations to find jobs for the refugees, the "Works" part of its title. UNRWA worked on some projects to build roads in Jordan and to create and market small handicrafts in 1950; and in 1953 they created a farming cooperative in Jordan for the refugees. In general, however, Arab nations did not support these works programs because they did not want to do anything to make the Palestinian Arab population permanent residents in their countries.

The refugees themselves also showed little interest in the programs because they were already getting free housing, medical aid, food and education from UNRWA.

By the late 1950s, UNRWA all but abandoned their attempts at finding decent, honorable work for the refugees, and the "W" in its name became anachronistic.

However, one accidental works program has become a "success," and that is employment at UNRWA itself.

Some 99% of UNRWA employees are Palestinian Arabs themselves, meaning that UNRWA employs about 29,000 Palestinian Arabs. The employees and their families do not regard these jobs as normal work; rather they regard them as yet another entitlement that the West owes them.

Which is why when UNRWA announced it would not be renewing the contracts of some workers, the camps are in a virtual uprising.

As Ma'an reports today:
Popular committee heads in West Bank refugee camps on Sunday threatened more protests against the UN agency giving services to the camps.

They wrote to UNRWA operations director Felipe Sanchez over the cutbacks which the UN agency says is necessary due to a drop in aid.

Protests have blocked off UNRWA facilities in the West Bank several times in recent weeks, after the agency announced it is unable to renew the contracts of 114 employees.

The popular committee chiefs wrote to Sanchez: "Dialogue is the shortest ways to solve the current problem and in case you insist on your policy of turning your back to refugees, we will announce a whole strike in all camps."

UNRWA says the layoffs are the "best possible choice."

"We wanted to avoid harming our services as a result of budget limitations," the agency said in a statement last week.
UNRWA had a choice of what to do with its budget shortfall - cut off services or let some employees go. They chose, reasonably, to keep the same level of service and to trim some of the fat.

But the Palestinian Arabs are not only willing to engage in violent protests to keep the jobs of a small number of people - they are willing to ensure that the services themselves are disrupted!

To be sure, they have protested just as vehemently when there were even mere rumors of service cutbacks in the past. However, the degree of these protests over some hundred jobs shows that Palestinian Arabs not only regard free food, shelter and medicine as their right, but employment as well.

UNRWA has managed to create a third and fourth generation of people in "refugee camps" whose sense of entitlement is supreme. It is the ultimate welfare state. The idea that people should work hard to succeed is utterly foreign to people who only find a sense of urgency when they protest that they deserve more.