Thursday, December 10, 2009

UNWRA chief fails to acknowledge Jewish plight

A vacuous article on the plight of Palestinian refugees by the outgoing commissioner for UNWRA on the Guardian's Comment is Free site is the trigger for this excellent critique from HonestReporting. As a counterpoint, HR invokes the forgotten case of the more numerous Jewish refugees from Arab countries, who received no UNWRA help. Isn't time for UNRWA's chief to do some soul searching and look beyond blaming Israel? (With thanks: Niran)

Writing in The Guardian, Karen AbuZayd, the outgoing commissioner general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) calls to address the Palestininan refugee question. While apportioning responsibility to Israel, she fails to acknowledge the fate of Jewish refugees in 1948, her own organization's role and the neglect of Palestinian refugees by their own leadership and fellow Arab states.

AbuZayd states:

Make no mistake, not a single conflict of contemporary times has been resolved, no durable peace achieved, unless and until the voices of the victims of those conflicts were heard, their losses acknowledged and redress found to injustices they experience. The precedents of recent peacemaking efforts and the methodology of contemporary conflict resolution affirm that giving high priority to resolving dispossession and the plight of refugees is a necessity, an international obligation and a humanitarian imperative.

While UNRWA may be concerned solely with the plight of Palestinians refugees (more on this definition later), how can AbuZayd make the above statement without reference to the Jewish refugees who were forced to flee from their homes in Arab countries after the creation of the State of Israel? As Avi Beker writes:

Although they exceed the numbers of the Palestinian refugees, the Jews who fled are a forgotten case. Whereas the former are at the very heart of the peace process with a huge UN bureaucratic machinery dedicated to keeping them in the camps, the nine hundred thousand Jews who were forced out of Arab countries have not been refugees for many years. Most of them, about 650,000, went to Israel because it was the only country that would admit them. Most of them resided in tents that after several years were replaced by wooden cabins, and stayed in what were actually refugee camps for up to twelve years. They never received any aid or even attention from the UN Relief And Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, or any other international agency. Although their plight was raised almost every year at the UN by Israeli representatives, there was never any other reference to their case at the world body.

Referring to an April 2008 US House of Representatives resolution on Jewish refugees, Lyn Julius argues that it:

is about recognition, not restitution, although Jewish losses have been quantified at twice Palestinian losses. Such resolutions could lead to a peace settlement by recognising that there were victims on both sides. Thus justice for Jews is not just a moral imperative, but the key to reconciliation.

While AbuZayd appears to place responsibility for the Palestinian refugee problem on Israel and others in the international community, what of UNRWA's own role?

Unlike the millions of refugees around the world who are the concern of the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), only the Palestinians have their own dedicated UN agency. While other refugees (including Jewish refugees from Arab lands) are successfully integrated and absorbed into other countries, why do Palestinian refugees still exist over 60 years after Israel's creation? As Lanny Davis writes:

UNRWA's definition of the refugees to whom it devotes its time and attention are well beyond the original 900,000 Palestinian refugees who were identified in 1950. Today the number served is over 4.5 million. Why? Because UNRWA has defined its mission to serve the descendants of the original 900,000. This means grandchildren or even great-grandchildren of the original Palestinian refugees are the focus of UNRWA's attention — in refugee camps located in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza. (Some might ask: Why haven't the Saudis, with all their oil money, contributed to finding homes for the great-grandparents, parents, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original Palestinian refugees over these 60 years?)

Read article in full


Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

what's just as bad is that this same Ms Abu Zayd led a demonstration on the Shimon haTsadiq plot in Jerusalem, demanding that Israel bring the former Arab tenants back to the house from which they had been legally evicted and remove the Jews. Ms Abu Zayd made no mention of the violent attacks on the Jewish residents of the Shimon haTsadiq Quarter in December 1947 which drove them out of their homes and made them the first long term refugees of the war. Instead, she claimed that the area was "occupied" and that therefore Israelis had no right to live there. Thus she exhibited anti-Jewish racism. Her false legal interpretations fit current EU and US policy.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

of course, she was not concerned with legal ownership of the Shimon haTsadiq plot which is vested in the Sefardic Community Committee. The head of this committee was shown on Israeli TV.

Anonymous said...

she is also interviewed here:

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Here is a negative comment about a piece by a professor, no less, on the guardian "comment is free" site.

It has to do with alleged liberalization of the press in Syria.

Ephron said...

The author of this article asks how Abu Zayd can focus on just the suffering of the "Palestinian" (i.e.. Arab Palestinian") refugees, while not also making reference to the Jewish refugees that were also driven from their homes.

Well, as the author points out, Jewish refugees from Arab lands have often been successfully integrated and absorbed into other countries.

On the other hand, for a variety of reasons Arab Palestinians often have not been successfully integrated in other lands, still don't have the benefit of their own state and have remained for decades mere negotiating pawns of other Arab (and Persian) interests in the region.

So quite reasonably, it is refugees in inhospitable circumstances the UN will focus on, rather than making sure its press releases and interviews remind people of the brutal treatment of Jews in the region.

As you know, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency's job is mostly to help feed, clothe, and shelter people and only partly to issue press statements on proportionality of suffering and responsibility for causing that suffering.

And, of course, refugees in areas of global political interest will get more interest (and better funding) than in, say, deeper Africa.

And a democratic state that is a haven for dispossessed Jews (and a solid Western ally in an oil-rich region) will get more interest (and better funding and provision of armaments) than in, say, deeper Africa.