Tuesday, November 2, 2010

the remarkable UNRWA

UNRWA (UN-ruh), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, is an agency dedicated to helping the millions of Palestinians who have been displaced by the coming of Israel. UNRWA maintains 53 refugee camps for 4.7 million people scattered across Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the occupied territories (West Bank and Gaza) as seen on this map.

As Israel continues to oppress, attack and displace Palestinians, UNRWA continues the decades long effort to provide basic humanitarian services such as education, medical care and even recreation for children. It isn't an easy job and the camps are not nice places, crowded as they are with the descendants of those forced from their homes in 1948. These are the people that Israel absolutely refuses to allow to return. They are a living reminder to the world of human cost of the foundation of Israel.

Though rarely making headlines, UNRWA occasionally breaks into the news. Such was the case during Operation Cast Lead, the 2008/09 Israeli attack on Gaza that included the bombardment of the UNRWA school in the Jabalya camp with white phosphorous that killed 42 people (14 children), the attack pictured here.

Just last month, Israel refused the entry of construction materials for five new UNRWA schools in Gaza. It's reported that 40,000 children in Gaza are not attending school as a result of the lack of facilities. Overall, UNRWA operates 691 schools with 483,000 pupils (50% female) under a comprehensive educational program

Money is always a problem. Some countries give generously and you can too.

In the United States, there are some people who revile the UN and insist that the US should not be a part of it. Yet, it is one of the few places that America can in a very small way compensate for the huge gifts of money and weapons we give to Israel. Throughout the world, the agencies of the United Nations operate to provide a last refuge for people who have lost everything to conflict. Though the UNRWA is dedicated to the Palestinians, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the United Nations Fund for Population Assistance (UNFPA) operate worldwide to ease the very difficult lives so many face and about which too many Americans are unaware.

1 comment:

  1. I do not think that most who are "pro-Israel" in a standard sense consider that the Israeli government has been relying on the United Nations and European Union, these preventing what would otherwise be a brutal social collapse. No one provided such aid to the Warsaw Ghetto.

    But it would be wrong, I think, to say that those in the refugee camps outside the occupied territories (Gaza under siege) are waiting to return to their historical homes. Arab states housing these camps would not let them disperse if they tried. In fact, the Palestinians in Lebanon engaged directly in that long civil war. And recall the Jordanian assault on what amounted to, in their view, an autonomous armed force in their territory. The Israeli Independence War never fully played out. It is still going on, in slow motion, in lives in slow motion. What others have fully done in times past Israel could not do; UN relief bailed Israel out of our inevitiable ending to war.

    As much as I dislike Israeli policy and blindness over many decades, I also feel that this land has not been allowed to follow the war game to its end. In this sense it is something somewhat novel. The issue is not just Israel, or displaced and trapped Palestinians, but also how civilization will now deal with what once was a rather common past of victory and destruction, in smaller (or not)scale.

    I end with what may be seen as an obscenity. Golda Meir is reported to have said that "we will never forgive the Arabs for what they made us do their children." What was done, is still being done.

    Perhaps we have to forgive the Arabs. Perhaps we will someday have to forgive terrorism too. Humanity fails to conform to our cookie cut outs.