by Barry Rubin, Asaf Romirowsky and Jonathan Spyer
3rd part of 6
Bibliography and footnotes in part 6
CHAPTER TWO: UNRWA AND TERRORIST GROUPS
When the Arab world was pursuing the "quest for
"Palestinians and Palestine finally meshed in 1967, following the vacuum and disarray that occurred following the collapse of the Arab armies in the June War....The Palestinians claimed to be "wresting control" of their cause from the Arabs, forming their own liberation organization, and becoming azhab el-kadiya, literally, the owners of the problem. Suddenly
From the 1960s onward it was Yasir Arafat who almost single-handedly made the refugees the symbol of Palestinian nationalism and the source of the Arab-Israeli conflict. As Barry and Judith Colp Rubin wrote in their biography of Arafat, the Palestinian leader, "wanted to establish the PLO's irrevocable legitimacy. This was, Arafat explained, based on four pillars: armed struggle, popular support, keeping a broad coalition, and backing from other Arabs." Arafat knew that if UNRWA offered any way of solving the refugee problem it would most likely be the beginning of the end of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. As Rubin notes "he [Arafat] insisted that always 'the Palestinian dreamt of return' [emphasis added]"
Thus, UNRWA could not be allowed to follow the usual course of resettling the refugees in the countries where they lived (including the many in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan), or move them to other states where they could become full citizens, or even improve their conditions by removing them from the camps. Such normal solutions to refugee problems were seen as threatening to liquidate the only acceptable alternatives of suffering or a full return to what would be –– or could soon become –– a new Palestine stretching from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean Sea.
For example, when
As historian Kenneth Levin writes,
"The Israelis sought to alleviate the squalid living conditions in the camps. They built new housing units outside the camps for residents and also provided building lots, infrastructure and subsides for those who wished to build their own houses, with, in either case, ownership being transferred to the residents... It is noteworthy, however, that the PLO and the Arab states vehemently opposed these housing programs, perceiving the provision of better living conditions to the refugees and their descendents as undercutting both the push for these people's return to Israel and their efforts to recruit them into the PLO cadres."
Thus, while on the surface UNRWA appeared to be an agency whose mission was to solve the Palestinian refugee problem, its real job was to perpetuate it. While the group did materially improve the lives of its wards by its providing jobs for some, education for many, and welfare for all, it also sharply limited how far this process would go. Individual Palestinians might move into Jordanian or Lebanese society or emigrate to the West, escaping the UNRWA system. But collectively they would continue to be subject to that cycle forever.
This did not mean, however, that UNRWA was universally admired among Palestinians. They recognized, albeit in a somewhat distorted manner, that UNRWA was bad for their development because of its smothering welfarism. Thus, Palestinian activist Edward Said wrote:
"The ambivalence of Palestinian feeling toward UNRWA is a complex subject...One should remember first of all that it did not take long for the refugees to become (as they have remained) a highly politicized group. As against the explicit national self-consciousness in its Palestinian wards, UNRWA stood for a nonpolitical paternalism represented by doled-out food, clothing as well as medical and educational facilities. UNRWA's charitable concern for the Palestinians' political disaster seemed reducible to sterile figures-how many mouths to feed, how many bodies to clothe and treat, etc. I think it is correct to say that the Palestinians living in the political cocoon that UNRWA was supposed to be providing could not determine whether he would ever break through into genuine self-determination."
Said was at times critical of the PLO leadership for its failure to unleash even more revolutionary energy among the Palestinians. In this passage he claims that the politicization was spontaneous and self-generated, rather than understanding how the UNRWA situation developed it. Still, he indicates how UNRWA stifled initiative and change. For Said, this was negative but for the PLO leadership it was positive, ensuring the refugees would remain dependent on it for leadership and not find some individual, entrepreneurial, materialistic alternative to waging a long-term revolution.
Hazem Zaki Nuseibeh, in his 1982 book Palestine and the United Nations states that the,
"Palestinian people are one of the most hardworking, conscientious and proud people in the world. They would be the happiest people on earth if the UNRWA operations, which they deeply appreciate, were to be terminated tomorrow –– provided the other part of the equation, namely the implementation of their inalienable right of return to their homeland, [emphasis added] were likewise and simultaneously to be fulfilled. But to leave the dispossessed Palestinians in limbo, in their greatest hour of need, can only be described as a crime against humanity, for which the powers which had wrought this catastrophe upon them must bear the most colossal responsibility, ethically, morally and legally."
But, of course, it has been the Palestinian leadership itself and the Arab states which have promoted the policy of leaving them in limbo. Simultaneously, these forces have blocked any other solution to the problem and complained about the resulting situation. The "powers which had wrought this catastrophe upon them" and thus been guilty of "a crime against humanity" are precisely those who exploit the situation.
As Robert Bowker writes, "Palestinian Authority and PLO officials dealing with UNRWA were anxious to underline the importance they attached to the agency's on-going role." This is because their priority was never on building a successful Palestinian state but rather on building a successful Palestinian revolution. The former approach might have put the stress on the development of an infrastructure based on a thriving economy and contented people; the latter approach required making sure that there is no end to the refugee problem and suffering. The goal was not to motivate people to work hard and be productive so they could generate wealth or good services but rather to motivate people to go out and kill and be killed.
Governments, notably those of
In 1976, for example, the Lebanese government accused the PLO of violating the many accords that have been concluded with them in order to limit their presence and military activities in
"The Palestinians acted as if they were a state within the State of Lebanon, flagrantly defying the laws of the land and abusing the hospitality of its people... The PLO steadily increased the influx of arms into Lebanon...They transformed most, if not all, of the refugee camps into military bastions around our major cities, in the heart of our commercial and industrial centers, and in the vicinity of large civilian conglomerations."
The Lebanese government also issued a letter from the deputy prime minister repeating these grievances, including the fact that the PLO had smuggled heavy weapons into the camps and taken over the UNWRA offices. It was well-known in the camps that the PLO, not UNRWA, ruled them. While foreign officials of UNRWA repeatedly denied this fact it was an obviously hollow claim on their part.
It is important to understand that the use of UNWRA to promote –– indirectly and more –– and recruit for terrorist activities has global implications. The Palestinian case served as a model for other terrorist groups. As the RAND-St. Andrews Chronology of International Terrorism states, "The number of organizations engaged in international terrorism grew from only eleven in 1968 (of which just three were ethno-nationalist/separatist organizations, the remainder radical Marxist-Leninist, or left-wing groups) to an astonishing fifty-five in 1978)...all [the ethno-nationalist/separatist movements] seeking to capitalize on the PLO's success." That UNRWA became a de facto extension of the PLO and Fatah, now Hamas in
For years the UN refused to respond to its critics and did not admit that the UNWRA camps were entirely run by the PLO. If this situation was never discussed it could hardly be remedied. Only very occasionally was what everyone in the camps, Palestinian and foreign employee, knew confessed by the UN.
In October 1982, for example, UNWRA released a detailed report describing how the "educational" institution at Sibliun near
In October 2004, then UNRWA's Commissioner General, Peter Hansen publicly admitted for the first time that Hamas members were on the UNWRA payroll, adding, "I don't see that as a crime. Hamas as a political organization does not mean that every member is a militant and we do not do political vetting and exclude people from one persuasion as against another."
Consequently, Congressman Eliot Engel and a bipartisan group of 37 members of Congress called on the secretary of state to pull
The fact is, however, that taxpayer money in countries where Hamas was legally defined as a terrorist organization, like the
An element of this indoctrination and control is that the refugees themselves, or at least their organized "representatives" ostensibly endorse the strategy of keeping their own lives more miserable than they need be. As Shaul Mishal writes of
"The refugees opposed the Jordanian settlement policy and that of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) because they saw it as detrimental to the return to
In practice the matter is not so simple, of course. Many individual refugees have opted out of the camps, especially in
Supporting the Hamas Platform
Hansen's view that Hamas was a normal political organization whose doctrines did not interfere with the governance and education of Palestinians has continued. This has been true even when Hamas has committed violence against other Palestinians and Fatah. When the organization seized
Columbia University Professor Rashid Khalidi has stated that UNRWA employs, "members of different political groups such as...Hamas and Islamic Jihad, without reference to their belonging to a specific group." If presented as an example of non-discrimination in employment due to someone's private political views, this might seem palatable. But these are not only terrorist groups but also revolutionary organizations imposing discipline on their members and with clear aims. Thus, a teacher who is a member of Hamas does not merely read the group's newspaper and vote for it but teaches students in the classroom a specific extremist ideology, advocating violence and terrorism, anti-Semitism, and so on.
Television crews have filmed UNRWA employees escorting armed Palestinian fighters in UN vehicles.
As Yoni Fighel, a former Israeli military governor, asked, "Who's going to check up on them to see that they don't [do so]? UNRWA? They are UNRWA."
A graphic demonstration of this issue was the death, in May 2008, of Awad al-Qiq. He had a long career as a science teacher in an UNRWA school and then had been promoted to run its
There is no telling how many other Qiqs there are among UNRWA employees but there is no chance that any of them will be rooted out by the agency..
Barry Rubin, Asaf Romirowsky and Jonathan Spyer
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