Tag Archives: Palestinian refugees

UNRWA AND PALESTINE REFUGEE RIGHTS – New Assaults, New Challenges

By Francesca P. Albanese (Published in Institute for Palestine Studies, November 2018)

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Francesca Albanese

Although most Americans may not be aware of President Trump’s assault on the U.N. agency responsible for the Palestinian refugees, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) — those of us who keep our attention focused on Israel & Palestine have been watching his Administration’s pronouncements this year with a mixture of alarm, disgust and disdain.

In her monograph (available here) Francesca P. Albanese has clearly summarized Trump’s actions vis-a-vis UNRWA and the Palestinians, spelled out how his actions are contrary to historical facts and international law, and concluded with a commonsense recommendation: if the U.N. General Assembly believes that UNRWA needs to be reformed, then bring it up for discussion within the framework of UN rules and procedures. The United States and Donald have no authority (much less competence) to unilaterally reform any U.N. agency.

It’s very unlikely that anyone in the current U.S. Administration will take the time to read or digest Albanese’s points, but I’m going to forward it to members of Congress (especially the new ones taking office in January) because their staff needs to have this information in their arsenal. It might come in very handy when drafting speeches or arguments against Donald’s destructive notions of reforming UNRWA.

Access and read her full monograph here.

And today is always a good day to make a tax-deductible donation to UNRWA-USA to help provide critical mental health services to Palestinian refugees in Gaza.  Check out my fundraising page here. Thank you.

Francesca Albanese is a human rights lawyer (LL.M, SOAS) who spent 12 years working in the field of human rights, including with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and more recently with the UN Agency for Relief and Work of Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Her legal expertise includes research, policy advice and capacity building on various human rights issues -mainly in Asia and the MENA region. This includes the protection of refugees and migrants,  interaction with the international human rights system, the establishment of national human rights institutions and mechanisms for the prevention of torture.

 

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UNRWA’s flawed business model

Americans who have advocated for Palestinians’ human rights in Congress and elsewhere have experienced personal threats, intimidation and much worse over the years. James Zogby’s description of those battles filled me with gratitude that there were (are) Americans who have never given up fighting for justice for Palestinians. (The Struggle For Palestinian Rights: Then And Now, August 4, 2018)

In several significant ways the Palestinian reality, whether under occupation or in exile has worsened in recent years, taking a horrific toll on both Palestinian lives and aspirations. Although US politicians may now feel comfortable mouthing support for a “two-state solution,” it is difficult to imagine how such a solution can be implemented. It is even more unlikely that some of the same elected officials who say they support two states would consider taking the tough positions to force Israel to end the occupation in order to allow a viable Palestinian state to come into being. Their profession of support for two states, therefore, appears to be hollow and designed more to side-step their responsibility to address Israel’s abuse of Palestinian human rights and justice.

Nevertheless, I remain more optimistic than I was 40 years ago. The developments that have occurred have had a profound impact. The situation may be more difficult, but the movement for Palestinian rights is stronger, larger, more diverse, and more deeply committed to justice. There is new energy and new hope that we are turning a corner in our ability to secure justice for Palestinians. James J. Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute.

I wish I could find hope in this political environment.  Last week, the Trump Administration announced it’s ending US support for UNRWA, the UN agency created to assist the Palestinian refugees when the State of Israel was created.

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What this means is that overnight, UNRWA has lost 1/3 of its budget. What this means is that Palestinian children may not be attending UNRWA schools this year. What this means is that the Palestinian engineers, doctors and other professionals working for UNRWA may join the unemployment rolls and will not be able to provide services to refugees.

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the business model and fiscal practices of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) made it an “irredeemably flawed operation.”

“The administration has carefully reviewed the issue and determined that the United States will not make additional contributions to UNRWA,” she said in a statement.

Nauert added that the agency’s “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years.”

Now the US considers human rights through the “business model” lens rather than through the lens of internationational human rights.

Let’s put this in perspective for Americans who don’t follow these things as closely as they should.

First, no one wants to be a refugee less than a Palestinian. 

I’ve heard many Zionists argue that Palestinian refugees are just beggars who don’t know anything besides living on handouts from the international community. Those same Zionists have never met or talked with a Palestinian, as I have, and so they’re uninformed (to put it mildly). Using their same logic, one might argue that Israelis are just beggars who don’t know how to survive without the largesse of US aid to the tune of over $38 billion over the next 10 years.  U.S. taxpayers have given much, much more $$ to Israel since its creation 70 years ago than it has given to the Palestinians who were involuntarily and forcibly removed from their homes, businesses and villages to make way for the new state of Israel.  The “refugee” status is not one of their own making.

From a business model perspective, the state of Israel is a “flawed operation.”

Second, the State of Israel (not UNRWA) is responsible for the growth in the number of Palestinian refugees.

The Trump Administration argues that UNRWA has an unsustainable business model because the growth of the number of refugees is unsustainable.  Now Trump wants to change the definition of who qualifies as a refugee. The UN and international community count those Palestinians who were displaced from the region in the 1948 and 1967 wars, as well as their descendants—even if they possess the citizenship of the Arab country to which their ancestors fled—as refugees.

In fact, no one wants to go out of business and become obsolete more than the folks at UNRWA. Just ask them, as I have. The failure of the State of Israel to reach an agreement with the Palestinians and end the occupation has resulted in the growing refugee crisis. Rather than use carrots and sticks to force Israel to come to terms with reality and end its occupation, thereby resolving the refugee crisis, the U.S. government has enabled this “unsustainable business model” to grow and flourish. Shame on Congress. Shame on President Trump and all of his predecessors.

Third, the newly created State of Israel supported the creation of UNRWA to focus on the needs of Palestinian refugees.

Jonathan Cook, a British writer and freelance journalist living in Nazareth, Israel spells out the history of UNRWA succinctly:

UNRWA was created to prevent the Palestinians falling under the charge of UNHCR’s forerunner, the International Refugee Organisation. Israel was afraid that the IRO, formed in the immediate wake of the Second World War, would give Palestinian refugees the same prominence as European Jews fleeing Nazi atrocities.

Israel did not want the two cases compared, especially as they were so intimately connected. It was the rise of Nazism that bolstered the Zionist case for a Jewish state in Palestine, and Jewish refugees who were settled on lands from which Palestinians had just been expelled by Israel.

Also, Israel was concerned that the IRO’s commitment to the principle of repatriation might force it to accept back the Palestinian refugees.

Israel’s hope then was precisely that UNRWA would not solve the Palestinian refugee problem; rather, it would resolve itself. The idea was encapsulated in a Zionist adage: “The old will die and the young forget.”

President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu will not make the “problem” disappear by changing the definition of “refugee” or by blaming UNRWA for failing to solve the “problem” or by reframing the refugee crisis as an “unsustainable business model.”

Human rights are not grounded in business practices. Security is not won or maintained with weapons and armaments. Refugees are not numbers, they’re our neighbors.

Please donate to my UNRWA fundraising campaign. Donations are tax-deductible and will be used to support critical mental health services for Palestinians in Gaza.

Gaza boys flag beach

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The Great Return March

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Many Americans know that the United Nations called for the creation of the State of Israel following a U.N. vote A/Res/181(II) in November 1947.

Some Americans may be aware that the actual founding of the State of Israel occurred on May 14, 1948 in Tel Aviv when David Ben Gurion stood up before the Jewish People’s Council gathered at the Tel Aviv Museum and read a declaration. 

Ben Gurion

 

I bet few Americans have a clue that under international law, and Resolution A/Res//194 (III) (adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 11, 1948)  the Palestinian refugees have the right to return to their properties, homes and businesses in what is present-day Israel.

Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible;

Haaretz columnist Uri Avnery claims the Palestinian right of return is not such a complicated issue, (Oct. 18, 2017 article) but nothing strikes dread into the hearts of Israeli leaders (and perhaps many Israelis) more than the thought of millions of Palestinians pouring across Israel’s undefined borders. The demographics challenge, they fear, would be insurmountable for their Jewish state. Israel now wants Trump to remove the ‘right of return’ from the negotiating table. (January 2018 article).

The Palestinians are planning to put the ‘right of return’ front and center — on every dining room table in Israel, every board room in executive suites, and in the heart of the Knesset. The Great March

Beginning Friday, March 30, Palestinian refugees will begin 46 days of non-violent action entitled “The Great Return March”.

 

The “Great Return march” is a popular Palestinian peaceful march, where the participants (men, women, children, elders, families) will start marching from the Palestinian communities in the occupied territories (Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Jerusalem) and from (Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt) to their homes from which they were forcibly displaced in 1948.

From the Coordination Committee:

The organizers of this march and their participants will never use any means of violence, and will only be limited to a peaceful march in accordance with the truce plan, bearing in mind that this march will be totally peaceful and doesn’t involve harming or threatening any country or using any means of violence.

It should be noted that the implementation of the Great Return march will be carried out peacefully in accordance with the rules of international law and in line with the UN resolutions on the return of the Palestinian refugees and other relevant international resolutions on the Palestinian issue.

In other words, the march will for the first time, employ the popular dimension to effectively compel the Israeli occupation state to the international resolutions and recommendations that it denies and refuses to implement, which over the past decades has constituted a clear threat to international peace and security.

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 From the 2016 Great March of Return.  VERSO

The Legal Basis for the Great March of Return:

The UN Resolution 194 of the third session, issued on 11 December 1948, constitutes the international legal basis for the great return march, especially that it clearly called for the return to be allowed as soon as possible to refugees wishing to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbors, and compensation should be paid for the property of those who decide not to return to their homes, and for every missing or injured person … “as well as international laws, especially which organize the legal framework for refugee rights, and the universal human rights principles that obligate the international community (States – International Organizations ) to help refugees return to their land and ensure their human dignity.

Based on the foregoing, we inform you of the Palestinian refugees intention to realize the right to return to their homeland in a peaceful and legal manner, under the legitimacy of the United Nations and the international community and with a legal reference based on international humanitarian law, international human rights law and United Nations resolutions relevant to the Palestinian cause.

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United Nations General Assembly

Call for Support and Assistance:

We expect the Israeli occupation forces to use excessive and lethal force against the unarmed participants in the great return march. To avoid casualties, and based on the rights granted to civilians in the occupied territories under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which the occupation state signed and its Additional Protocol I of 1977, and under the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court, which incorporated certain acts considered to be war crimes, the most important of which were: “deliberately directing attacks against civilians, civilian sites, personnel or facilities for humanitarian assistance functions as well as the deliberate launching of a military attack that may result human and material losses,” we urge you to exert pressure on your governments and force them to:

  • Exert sufficient political and diplomatic pressure to pressure the Israeli Occupation to respect human rights and prevent them from resorting to the use of excessive force or the implementation of any crime or violation.
  • Compel the Israeli occupation state to comply with General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1948 as one of the conditions for its acceptance as a member of the United Nations at the time.
  • Obligate the Israeli occupation state to adhere to the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was issued on December 12, 1948, and was one of the conditions of its acceptance as a member of the United Nations, where the second paragraph of Article 13 states that everyone has the right to leave any country, including his country or to return to his country.
  • Obligate the Israeli occupation state to implement the International resolutions relating to the return of the Palestinian refugees, including the UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967, and all relevant resolutions as an inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, most important of which is Resolution 3236 of 22 November 1974, which in paragraph 2: “Reaffirms also the inalienable right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted, and calls for their return”.
  • Compel the Government of the occupation, as a State party to the Refugee Convention and Protocol, to not detain migrants and asylum-seekers, and not to criminalize asylum-seekers for irregular entry.

I’ll be writing more about this very important action as it unfolds. This week, I’m sending a letter to my two U.S. Senators and Congresswoman with a copy of this blog post, making them aware of The Great Return March. I’m also writing a letter to my local paper and will try to tie this action to something local so that they’ll print it.

Bravo to the Coordination Committee.  These future leaders of Palestine give me hope, just as the youth in America give me hope.

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I am standing with UNRWA

President Trump has decided to cut funding to the U.N. agency that supports Palestinian refugees from $350 million in 2017 to $60 million.

I’m standing with UNRWA. I’m condemning this US Administration. My members of Congress are going to hear loud and clear “restore the funding for Palestinian refugees NOW!”. #FundUNRWA

Statement of Commissioner-General:

Not for the first time in its proud history, UNRWA faces a formidable challenge in upholding its mandate – an expression of the will of the international community – and preserving key services like education and health care for Palestine Refugees.

Today, the US government has announced a contribution of $60 M, in support of our efforts to keep our schools open, health clinics running, and emergency food and cash distribution systems functioning for some of the world’s most vulnerable refugees. While important, this funding is dramatically below past levels. The total US contribution in 2017 was above $350 M.

Since UNRWA began its operations in May 1950, every US administration – from President Truman onwards – has stood with and provided strong, generous and committed support to our Agency. The US has consistently been UNRWA’s largest single donor, something we sincerely thank the American people for, and countless American decision-makers – presidents, members of Congress, diplomats and civil servants, who embodied the commitment of assisting a vulnerable people through UNRWA.

Funding UNRWA or any humanitarian agency is the discretion of any sovereign member state of the United Nations. At the same time, given the long, trusted, and historic relationship between the United States and UNRWA, this reduced contribution threatens one of the most successful and innovative human development endeavors in the Middle-East.

At stake is the access of 525,000 boys and girls in 700 UNRWA schools, and their future. At stake is the dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees, in need of emergency food assistance and other support in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. At stake is the access of refugees to primary health care, including pre-natal care and other life-saving services. At stake are the rights and dignity of an entire community.

Olive harvest and children

The reduced contribution also impacts regional security at a time when the Middle East faces multiple risks and threats, notably that of further radicalization.

In addition, the US government has consistently commended our high-impact, transparency and accountability. This was reiterated, once again, during my latest visit to Washington in November 2017, when every senior US official expressed respect for UNRWA’s role and for the robustness of its management.

 

Faced with the responsibility to preserve operations while now confronted with the most dramatic financial crisis in UNRWA’s history, as Commissioner-General, I am today:

• Calling on the Member States of the United Nations to take a stand and join UNRWA in saying to Palestine Refugees that their rights and future matter.

• Calling on our partners – the host countries and our donors including those in the region – to rally in support and join UNRWA in creating new funding alliances and initiatives to ensure Palestine Refugee students continue to access education in our schools and the dignity of Palestine refugee children and their families is preserved through all our services.

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• Calling on people of good will in every corner of the globe where solidarity and partnerships exist for Palestine Refugees to join us in responding to this crisis and #FundUNRWA to ensure that Palestine Refugee girls and boys can stand strong.

• Launching in the next few days a global fundraising campaign to capture the large-scale commitment to keeping our schools and clinics open throughout 2018 and beyond.

At this critical time, I also turn to:

• Palestine Refugees in all of our fields of operations and say: we are working with absolute determination to ensure that UNRWA services continue.

• the students in our schools for example in Aleppo and Damascus, Syria, in Burj El Barajneh and Rashidieh, Lebanon, in Zarka and Jerash, Jordan, in Jenin and Hebron, West Bank, in Jabalyia and Khan Younis, Gaza, to the boys and girls in all Palestine refugee camps and communities, I say: the schools remain open so you can receive your cherished education and remain confident that the future also belongs to you.

• the patients in our clinics, the recipients of our relief, social services, micro-finance and other forms of support, I say you will receive the care and assistance to which you are entitled.

• UNRWA’s full-time 30,000 professional and experienced staff – doctors, nurses, school principals and teachers, guards and sanitation laborers, social and psychosocial workers, administrative and support staff: be at your duty stations to serve the community with the same dedication and commitment that you have always shown. This is a moment for internal cohesion and solidarity. Times are very critical but we will do our utmost to protect you.

We see a Middle-East where conflict, violence and polarization remain ever present and impact the lives of millions of people. We observe a world in which anger reigns, not trust; a world in which power frequently rules, not justice; a world in which what divides is often valued more than what unites, includes and brings together.

The state of the world and the situation of Palestine Refugees is however far too serious and important, to allow ourselves to indulge in pessimism or despair. UNRWA stands for hope, for respect of rights and for dignity. When things are difficult, our determination grows. When the way seems lost, we invest all our energy in search of new paths, keeping our eyes on the horizon and looking for different solutions.

I recall the profound responsibility assumed by the international community of states to assist the Palestine refugees, until a just and lasting solution is found to their plight and the Middle East can finally put this cruel conflict behind it. I also give homage to people of good will around the world who have shown solidarity with Palestine Refugees when they need it most. Now more than ever, the refugees need your support.

Let us draw our strength from the Palestine Refugees who teach us every day that giving up is not an option. UNRWA will not give up either. I ask you to stand with us.

Change Things

I am standing with UNRWA

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