Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘UNRWA

 

UNRWA rejects US bid to remove its mandate

Head of UN agency rejects US proposal for countries hosting Palestinian refugees to take over food aid services.

The head of UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl , the United Nations agency that has supported Palestinian refugees for 7 decades, has rebuffed a US proposal to have host countries take over the services it provides across the Middle East.

The suggestion, from US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt at a UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday, that UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, should be effectively dismantled was the latest US attack on an agency that began operations in 1950.

Formerly UNRWA’s largest donor, the US cut off its roughly $300 m annual donation in 2018, deeming its fiscal practices “irredeemably flawed”, stoking tensions between the Palestinians and US President Donald Trump‘s administration.

“We need to engage with host governments to start a conversation about planning the transition of UNRWA services to host governments, or to other international or local non-governmental organisations, as appropriate,” Greenblatt said after the Security Council was briefed by UNRWA chief Pierre Krahenbuhl.

Asked at a Gaza news conference on Thursday about Greenblatt’s remarks, Krahenbuhl said UNRWA’s mandate was a matter for the entire UN General Assembly to consider, not by “one or two individual member states”.

“Therefore, Palestinian refugees should remember that the mandate is protected by the General Assembly, and of course, we will engage with member states to ensure what we hope is a safe renewal of that mandate,” Krahenbuhl said.

Strong backing in UN General Assembly

UNRWA’s mission is due to come up for renewal later this year in the General Assembly, where support for the agency has been traditionally strong and the United States would likely face an uphill battle to change or cancel its mission.

Greenblatt said UNRWA was “currently running on fumes, surviving on a surge in foreign donations in 2018”, and it was time for the international community to address the needs of Palestinians in refugee camps in a sustainable way.

He said it was time to hand over services assured by the UN agency to countries hosting Palestinian refugees and NGOs.

The logic behind US humiliation of the Palestinians

Marwan Bishara
by Marwan Bishara

Greenblatt said the US had given six billion dollars in aid to UNRWA since it was founded in 1949 “and yet, year after year, UNRWA funding fell short”. (US tax payer pay Israel $6 billion each year in direct and indirect aids and loans)

More than half of the two million Palestinians living in the besieged Gaza Strip, under Israeli blockade, receive food aid from UNRWA.

“We need to be honest about the situation. UNRWA is a band-aid and the Palestinians who use its services deserve better,” Greenblatt said.

Since Trump assumed office in 2017, Palestinians have grown concerned that he intends to bring about UNRWA’s demise.

US ally Israel says the work of UNRWA only perpetuates the plight of Palestinians.

“Year after year, Palestinians in refugee camps were not given the opportunity to build any future; they were misled and used as political pawns and commodities instead of treated as human beings,” Greenblatt told the Security Council.

Krahenbuhl however, rebuffed Greenblatt’s criticism at a conference in Gaza saying UNRWA cannot be blamed for stalled peace efforts.

OPINION

Palestine: Diary of an UNRWA kid

Ramzy Baroud
by Ramzy Baroud

“I unreservedly reject the accompanying narrative that suggests that somehow UNRWA is to blame for the continuation of the refugee-hood of Palestine refugees, of their growing numbers and their growing needs,” Krahenbuhl said in response to a question about Greenblatt’s comments.

“The fact that UNRWA still exists today is an illustration of the failure of the parties and the international community to resolve the issue politically – and one cannot deflect the attention onto a humanitarian organisation.”

UNRWA says it provides services to about five million registered Palestinian refugees across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied West Bank and Gaza, and that it safeguards and advances their rights under international law.

Most are descendants of about 700,000 Palestinians who were driven out of their homes or fled in the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation and claim a right of return to the lands they left.

Israel has ruled out such an influx, fearing the country would lose its Jewish majority. Palestinian leaders reject settling refugees in host countries, saying their presence there should be considered temporary.

Palestinians in host countries complain of restrictions on jobs and benefits there.

Note: the current Trump administration is doing its utmost to bury the Palestinian identity and rights under an old carpet

This Long Journey to refugee-hood status:

Chronology of Palestinian Displacement and Dispossession

Andrew Bossone shared UNRWA‘s album on the Palestinian transfer in 1948 Nakba .
'‎Between 1920 and 1948, the area of historic Palestine is ruled by the British government as part of the League of Nations mandate system. On 29 November 1947, the Second Session of the United Nations General Assembly approves the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states by 33 votes to 13, with 10 abstentions and one absent. The Arab leadership (within and outside of Palestine) opposes the plan, arguing that it violated the rights of the majority of the people of Palestine.<br /><br /><br /><br />
© 1949 UN Archives Photographer Unknown</p><br /><br /><br />
<p>كانت فلسطين التاريخية خلال الفترة الواقعة بين 1920 وحتى 1948 محكومة من قبل الحكومة البريطانية كجزء من نظام الوصاية لعصبة الأأمم المتحدة. وفي 29 تشرين الثاني 1947, قامت الجلسة الثانية للجمعية العامة للأمم المتحدة بالموافقة على تقسيم فلسطين إلى دولة يهودية وأخرى عربية وذلك بواقع 33 صوتا مقابل 13 صوت وامتناع 10 أصوات وغياب صوت واحد. وقامت القيادات العربية (داخل فلسطين وخارجها) بالاعتراض على الخطة وجادلت بأنها تنتهك حقوق الأغلبية من سكان فلسطين.الحقوق محفوظة لأرشيف الأونروا. المصور غير معروف، 1949.‎'
'‎Due to the increasing violence that followed the failure of the partition plan and the end of the British Mandate in Palestine, more than 700,000 thousand Palestinians flee their land that was to become Israel on 15 May 1948. The flight becomes known as the Nakba, meaning catastrophe in Arabic. In this photograph, a convoy of trucks carries refugees and their belongings from Gaza to Hebron in the West Bank.<br /><br /><br /><br />
© 1949 UN Archives Photographer Unknown</p><br /><br /><br />
<p>بسبب العنف المتزايد الذي أعقب فشل خطة التقسيم وانتهاء الانتداب البريطاني في فلسطين، هرب أكثر من 700,000 فلسطيني من أراضيهم التي أصبحت أرض إسرائيل في 15 أيار 1948. وقد أصبحت تلك الهجرة تعرف باسم (النكبة). وفي هذه الصورة تبدو قافلة من الشاحنات وهي تنقل اللاجئين وأمتعتهم من غزة إلى الخليل في الضفة الغربية.الحقوق محفوظة لأرشيف الأونروا. المصور غير معروف، 1949.‎'
'‎Palestinians begin fleeing in late 1947, but the bulk leave or are driven from their homes between April and August 1948. By the autumn of 1948, a humanitarian disaster of immense proportions has taken shape, with more than 700,000 people in flight.<br /><br /><br /><br />
© 1948 UN Archives Photographer Unknown</p><br /><br /><br />
<p>بدأ الفلسطينيون بالفرار في أواخر العام 1947، إلا أن الغالبية منهم غادروا أو تم إجبارهم على مغادرة منازلهم بين نيسان وحتى آب من عام 1948. وبحلول خريف العام 1948، كانت قد بدأت ملامح كارثة إنسانية ذات أبعاد هائلة بالتشكل بوجود أكثر من 700,000 شخص هارب.الحقوق محفوظة لأرشيف الأونروا. المصور غير معروف، 1948.‎'
'‎The lives of Palestine refugees are turned upside down; they are faced with disease, overcrowding, lack of food and water and life in unfamiliar places. Many are left with only what they can carry on their backs; they lose homes, land, family, their whole lives.<br /><br /><br /><br />
© 1948 UN Archives Photographer Unknown</p><br /><br /><br />
<p>انقلبت حياة لاجئي فلسطين رأسا على عقب، وواجهوا الأمراض ونقص الغذاء والماء واختبروا العيش في أماكن غير مألوفة ومكتظة. والعديدون منهم كانوا قد تركوا بيوتهم ولم يحملوا سوى ما كان باستطاعتهم حمله على ظهورهم، وفقدوا بيوتهم ومزارعهم وعائلاتهم وحياتهم بأكملها.الحقوق محفوظة لأرشيف الأونروا. المصور غير معروف، 1948.‎'
UNRWA added 25 new photos to the album: ‎الرحلة الطويلة | The Long Journey‎.

A Chronology of Palestinian Displacement and Dispossession

With their initial catastrophic displacement in 1948, Palestine refugees became – and remain to this day – a scattered people awaiting a just solution.

Since UNRWA began operations in 1950, photographers have documented every step of their long journey.

This selection is a chronology of dispossession; it tells the story of one of the longest lasting cases of forced migration in modern history.

© UNRWA Photos

This video demonstrates how Israel practised blackmailing procedure to be recognized as a State, by a single vote, in 1948.

Israël a été créé grâce à la corruption et au chantage à l’ONU

Voici une vidéo retraçant le vote à l’ONU de la création d’Israël en 1948, pendant lequel tous les moyens ont été engagés pour corrompre et menacer les nations qui ne voulaient pas voter en faveur de cet État.

NB : veuillez nous pardonner de la piètre qualité sonore de la video

 

 

 

 

What refugees think of aid agencies?

LONDON, 5 March 2015 (IRIN) – Aid agencies are partial, unaccountable and potentially corrupt, and they fail to meet refugees’ most pressing needs.

These are just some of the criticisms emerging from a series of new focus groups with refugees and others who receive aid across the Middle East.

What refugees really think of aid agencies?

By Louise Redvers

Concerns included a lack of consultation about people’s needs, a failure to protect the most vulnerable, confusion over which agency was responsible for what, duplicated aid, as well as instances where help was perceived to be withheld or prioritised due to political or religious affiliation.

Photo: WHSA refugee in Lebanon describing her feelings towards aid agencies. – See more at: http://www.irinnews.org//report/101197/what-refugees-really-think-of-aid-agencies#.VQGwIULfK-L

“When you decide to help someone you have to remove all their affiliations and simply treat them as humans,” noted one female youth leader from Palestine.

“Humanitarian organisations need to provide information about their services because it is not humane to respond to refugee information needs with ‘I don’t know’,” added a female refugee in Yemen.

The interviews conducted in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Yemen were commissioned by the organisers of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), ahead of this week’s consultation for the Middle East and North Africa, held in the Dead Sea.

Reality Check

“Some of the comments were quite damning and I think it is a bit of a reality check for the humanitarian system,” said Reza Kasraï, Middle East and North African regional representative for the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), an NGO consortium, which conducted the focus groups in partnership with the WHS Secretariat.

Details of the interviews – conducted between November 2014 and February 2015, with a mix of men, women, youth and community leaders – have been compiled in a report shared with aid organisations, donors and government officials attending the WHS meeting in Jordan and online.

The observations make uncomfortable reading for both national and international aid agencies operating in a region where large communities of Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian refugees, as well as other migrants, are living in a mix of camp and community settings.

When you decide to help someone you have to remove all their affiliations and simply treat them as humans

For a UN document, the stakeholder report is unusually candid, but its tone reflects ongoing efforts by the WHS secretariat to promote dialogue around sensitive issues rarely openly discussed within the sector.

Using a 10-point scale (where 10=high and 1=low), interviewees gave an average rating of 3 when asked if they thought aid groups were meeting their priority needs.

Asked if they were treated with respect and dignity, respondents across the 5 countries gave an average ranking of 3.5 out of 10; and the question of whether aid organisations considered refugees’ opinions received an average score of 2.5 out of 10.

Nadine Elshokeiry, a humanitarian affairs officer with the UN’s Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa (ROMENA) and who assisted with the focus groups, told IRIN: “It is clear that people do not feel they are getting as much support as they want and that many organisations are not doing enough to communicate with [the] affected populations they are trying to help.”

But she added: “While there were some strong comments, we feel this is a very constructive criticism and it gives us something very useful to work on in terms of how the humanitarian system can improve its response.”

In addition to the 35-page WHS report, IRIN has also been shown country-specific reports on the focus groups in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and Lebanon.

Accountability

Elshokeiry said the focus groups had shown that many people didn’t distinguish between different aid organisations – seeing them all as part of one wider system.

Because there is not always clear information about who is doing what or where aid is coming from, especially where local partners or intermediaries are involved, I think this creates a perception of a lack of accountability,” she said, noting a need for agencies to do more to communicate with the people they are trying to help.

“We feel this is a very constructive criticism”

In OPT, accountability – or a perceived lack thereof – was a major complaint among those interviewed. Many accused international and national aid agencies of favoritism towards certain groups of people and expressed concerns about aid being subject to corruption.

The participants’ biggest issue was the lack of accountability and transparency of humanitarian organisations,” the write-up noted. “… This also raises participants’ suspicions of the possibility of corruption in humanitarian aid.”

And it adds: “… There is a perception that project budgets are not spent appropriately, but are spent on high-visibility activities, such as repainting building walls and paying for media coverage.

In Gaza, distributions are said to happen in schools or other places that will be covered by the international media.”

Although few aid organisations were identified by name, participants in the Palestinian focus group, study seen by IRIN, directly criticised UNRWA – the UN agency for Palestine refugees.

The criticisms included:

1. A vague mandate;

2. refusal to delegate responsibilities to other organisations;

3. funding shortages that have affected quantity and quality of the services in schools and primary health clinics in camps; and

4.  cumbersome bureaucratic procedures and slow decision-making processes.

“Funding shouldn’t be based on the donors’ agenda but serve the beneficiaries”

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness acknowledged agency services have been subject to “cutting and erosion” but he told IRIN: “Going back to the 1950s, UNRWA has had a significant budget deficit year on year and this has had an impact on everything: buildings and infrastructure are crumbling, computer services taken for granted in most organisations are just not there, the list goes on.”

And he added: “Alongside the austerity brought on by the funding gap, our major departments have undergone root and branch reform which has led to efficiencies and this much is widely acknowledged by our donors.”

Who is the priority?

The perception that humanitarian organisations prioritised donors’ views over those of affected populations was a recurring theme in several of the focus groups.

“Given the fact that Palestine is under occupation and there are chronic problems in Gaza, donors and organisations are still unable to work on sustainable projects and all the solutions are shortterm with no longterm impact,” noted one Palestinian youth from the West Bank. “The funding shouldn’t be based on the donors’ agenda but serve the beneficiaries,” he said.

In Lebanon, some interviewees complained about uneven or duplicated aid distributions, blaming a lack of co-ordination between agencies. They called for more income-generating opportunities to break the cycle of dependency on handouts.

“Significant corruption and nepotism existed in the distribution of aid,” the report said, with interviewees referring to “accounts of incidents of favoritism within UN agencies for certain ‘connected’ families, especially with regards to resettlement assistance”.

And in Yemen, Eritrean refugees recounted experiences of feeling humiliated and lacking dignity due to humanitarian organisations’ perceived preferential treatment of the Somali refugees compared to other refugees from Arab countries.

The main report noted that “experiences of humanitarian co-ordination are largely bleak”; refugees complained about having to pro-actively seek out different organisations and re-tell their stories due to limited referral systems between aid groups.

“People need to be given a choice over what kind of humanitarian assistance they receive”

Choice and Dignity

Lack of choice about what specific aid people received was another theme.

“Affected people consulted in the region seldom felt that their priority needs were met,” the main report said. “This finding was supported by stakeholders who highlighted how affected people at times sell the in-kind assistance they received and use the funds to purchase other goods or services.

“To truly put people’s needs at the heart of humanitarian action, stakeholders argued that people need to be given a choice over what kind of humanitarian assistance they receive,” it added.

Dana Sleiman, spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Lebanon – one of the leading UN agencies helping Syrian refugees – told IRIN: “We are aware of the report and welcome any additions to the discussions on how to further improve humanitarian assistance here in Lebanon.

“UNHCR staff, the Lebanese government and our partners are in constant contact with refugees throughout the country, listening to their concerns and providing a massive range of support as most refugees arrive here having lost everything.”

ICVA’s Kasraï said the WHS presented a unique opportunity to carry out a wider systemic consultation, rather than looking at individual agencies or contexts.

“It is quite unusual to get this sort of feedback ,” he said. “I think sometimes humanitarian organisations, including donors, UN agencies and NGOs, can get into a bit of a bubble, using their own language and talking amongst themselves in a jargon that isn’t always understood by the people they are trying to help.”

lr/jd/ha

*This article was updated on 7 March 2015 to remove a quote suggesting that this was the first time the WHS had conducted focus group interviews ahead of a regional consultation.

– See more at: http://www.irinnews.org//report/101197/what-refugees-really-think-of-aid-agencies#.VQGwIULfK-L

 

Not at your service: Palestinian refugees

“Are you enjoying filming our misery? Film: it’s fine, you are like the others. You show up in the camp, film, leave, and we are still here.”

But we want to tell the world about your story… And we reply with the same sarcasm: “how much are you getting paid to tell the world our story?”

Moe Ali Nayel posted on The Electronic Intifada this May 17, 2013 “Palestinian refugees are not at your service”

Throughout my time working as a fixer with international journalists, I never understood why people on the sidewalks of the camps’ busy streets always regarded our “humanitarian” mission with skepticism.

Earlier this year, I came to understand this skepticism of Palestinian refugees in camps in Lebanon.

It was a gloomy day and clouds condensed above Sabra, a shanty town adjacent to Beirut’s Sports City stadium, overlooking the Palestinian refugee camp Shatila. (The camp that experienced the Israeli/Phalange massacreof civilians, mostly women and children, for two nights and two days in 1982.)

We walked through a maze of narrow alleys in Sabra, led by Abdullah, a young Palestinian from Syria, doing relief work for his fellow Palestinian refugees who fled violence in Syria and who were now seeking safety all over Lebanon.

I had been hired as a translator for a human rights professor from Harvard University who was working on a project regarding the situation of Palestinian refugees from Syria who have fled to Jordan and Lebanon.

Walking through the dim damp alleyways of Sabra, Abdullah led the way. The Harvard professor and her two students were heading to meet a Palestinian refugee from Syria who had agreed to meet us.

Scene of alley in Shatila refugee camp

Palestinian refugees have seen little benefit from the many researchers who have visited their camps. (Mohammed Asad / APA images)

“We are not here to talk about her son”

“We are going to meet a woman from Yarmouk,” said Abdullah, referring to the Palestinian refugee community near the Syrian capital. “She fled two weeks ago with her injured son who needs urgent medical care. I hope you’ll be able to aid the poor woman.” Abdullah grabbed my elbow, encouraging me to make sure I translated his announcement to the Harvard team.

At the end of a narrow alleyway we stopped at a pile of shoes by the steps of a small apartment; the heap of shoes indicated the many people who were inside. While we added our shoes to the pile the professor and her students murmured: “We are not here to talk about her son, we just want to ask about her experience fleeing from Syria to Beirut.”

And: “fine let’s just give her a quick five minutes to talk about her son and we’ll move on.” The professor decided on the matter and looked at me as to include me in this decision since I was the translator and would be introducing the team and mediating the interview.

Crammed into the tiny apartment of Mariam, a Palestinian refugee who was sheltering two families from Yarmouk, we all sat and sipped on Turkish coffee waiting for Um Muhammad.

Cigarettes were lit, breaking an awkward silence, but when the Harvard team coughed and complained the cigarettes were politely put out.

The silence was broken by Um Muhammad who came rushing in, apologizing for being late, trying to catch her breath while thanking us extensively for the great humanitarian work she thought we were doing: “God bless you and may he give you strength for the charitable work you are doing.”

Introductions and shy small talk were made, while in the background the professor set the scene for her trainees. Questioning would go in turns and each woman carried her list of already prepared questions, the kind used in human rights classrooms.

It became clear to me that the Harvard team led by the professor were here to conduct training sessions on how to document human rights violations in the Middle East. Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria as a training topic.

Um Muhammad, a woman in her late 40s, covered her head with a beige scarf and wore an ankle-length burgundy trench coat. A mother of four, she was born in Beirut’s Burj al-Barajneh camp. She fled to Yarmouk camp in Syria during the 1980s when, as she puts it, “being a Palestinian was enough to get a person in trouble.”

Human rights kit

Um Muhammad smiled politely, trying to hide her agony, and her eyes betrayed the distress and lack of sleep. In mid-December while her youngest son was playing with his friends next to their school in Yarmouk, the Syrian regime’s MiG fighter jets dropped bombs a few meters away from them, she said. A piece of shrapnel hit the 14-year-old boy on his head.

Um Muhammad rushed her son to a government hospital in Damascus: “they wanted me to sign a paper stating that my son was injured by the terrorists but I refused and told them the terrorists don’t have MiGs. Instead I grabbed him and went running to a field hospital in Yarmouk but they were only able to clean his wound and couldn’t perform surgery.”

“I brought him to Lebanon and I have been running around trying to find anyone who can pay for his surgery or treat him,” she added. “But it’s the same response I keep getting, from UNRWA [the UN agency for Palestine refugees] and the political factions in the camps from Fatah to Hamas: ‘we don’t have funds.’

It’s been almost one month since his injury. Pieces of shrapnel are still stuck inside his skull, his health is deteriorating each day; now, he’s starting to lose his speech.”

A Harvard student in her early 20s with a stern manner, ready to take her human rights course from theory to practice, sat opposite Um Muhammad. Her human rights kit was out: a long list of questions laid out, voice recorder turned on and set on the coffee table, different color markers deployed, a bundle of papers next to us on the couch.

The student organized her tools, gave a nod to the professor and the round of human rights questioning started. Her quick-fire questions started with the basics: name, age, marital status, number of children and place of residency in Syria. Human rights documentation training was now in action.

I was told that for accuracy purposes questions need to be repeated more than once to see whether people are telling the truth:

Why did you come to Lebanon?

How long did it take you from your house to the border?

Try to remember exactly how long the trip took you.

How did you get to the border? Did you take a taxi, a car, or a bus? What kind of car? How much did you pay?

Who paid your visa fees to Lebanon?

Where did you get the money from?

Um Muhammad answered and re-answered but she was trying hard to recall details as her mind was not in full focus on her experience while fleeing.

“Try to remember”

“Tell us how long it took you to get from Yarmouk to the hospital the day your son got injured,” one said.

Um Muhammad struggled to be exact as she replied, “The hospital was not far and there were Syrian army checkpoints on the way but they let us pass, so it took us between 20 to 30 minutes.”

“Tell us exactly how long it took you,” the trainee insisted, keen on the minutiae for her records. “Was it 20 or 30 minutes? Try to remember, and how long you waited at the checkpoint. Five minutes? Ten minutes? Try to remember.”

As this routine continued, Um Muhammad’s answers became more vague and troubled, the students desperate for details. I was told to translate that they were from Harvard and they are here to document her experience so it was important for her to remember.

After a two-hour marathon of questions, Um Muhammad shot me looks of astonishment throughout, as if her words were not credible enough for them. As she was made to repeat her answers over and over, she sighed and went on. At one point, answering politely, but tired of the tirade of questions, Um Muhammad lit a cigarette and told me “I cannot remember those minute details ya khalti,” addressing me as an aunt would a nephew.

Smoking ban

“Please tell her to put out her cigarette.” Um Muhammad didn’t need me to translate this one, she instantly noticed the grimaced looks.

The persistent human rights student, here only to conduct her by-the-book interview in the presence of her evaluating professor, continued with her tiring and condescending questioning.

“Tell us: when you got to the Lebanese border crossing how did you know which window you had to go to.”

“There was a window for Lebanese travelers, a window for Syrians, and a window for foreigners this was the one where Palestinians were getting entry permits,” she replied.

“But how did you know this particular window was for Palestinians?”

“It was not the first time I came to Lebanon — I already told you that I was born here and one of my daughters lives here so we visit Lebanon often.”

“When you are at the Lebanese border crossing how do you figure out which window to go to? Was there a sign you read? What did the sign say?”

Um Muhammad looked at me, confused.

“You can’t just talk to her”

The conduct of the student was neither easy nor graceful, papers were shuffled, questions fired. Um Muhammad answered and re-answered in the hope of getting to the part that she came for: to tell her story and find aid for her injured son.

Um Muhammad’s growing frustration became hard to miss: she grabbed at her pack of cigarettes then let go, smiling at us as she remembered that she couldn’t smoke.

Finally, losing her polite manner, she interjected: “I want to talk about my son. I need to tell you the story I’m here for.” She was cut short as her host Mariam arrived with another round of coffee.

Here I took my chance, while the coffee was being served, to tell Um Muhammad about a doctor I know from Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp, a reputable orthopediatrician who I thought Um Muhammad should go to, who treats people for no charge.

The human rights trainee, who couldn’t understand our Arabic and seemed to feel as if she was being excluded, suddenly snapped: “What’s going on? You can’t just talk to her without telling me. What are you talking to her about? I need to know everything that is being said,” interrupting my conversation with Um Muhammad. Further awkwardness filled the air in the room.

Not what they came for

By now, Um Muhammad had lost any remaining patience after three hours of questioning.

Can I talk about my son now?” The question hung in the air, followed by silence and uncertainty from the Harvard team.

It was decided that to bypass her story they would give her “five minutes to tell her son’s story quickly and move on to questions.”

As Um Muhammad told a story of humiliation and anguish, we listened and nodded. My precise translation here seemed unnecessary: I was told to sum it up. This was not what we came for.

No one came to help any one here, it seemed, this was just a professor training her students, the picture now clear for all. Once Um Muhammad’s story was done and she had noticed that the team were not interested, she leaned forward and asked how we could help. The students kept silent, looking at their professor to rescue the awkwardness left by their disconcerted silence.

The professor spoke: “We will include your son’s story in part of the study we are doing, and it will be published by Harvard.” Then, the professor asked me to tell anxious Um Muhammad that Harvard is an important university and when the report was published many people would read it.

Um Muhammad politely smiled, grabbed her bag, looked at me and said: “That’s it?” Her disappointed face was hard to ignore, although she kept smiling and asked: do they still want to ask anything? Yes, there were more questions now that her son’s story was told, came their reply.

The refugee dilemma

After two more questions, a weary Um Muhammad began fidgeting in her seat shaking her legs nervously; she answered with a defeated tone while grabbing her handbag, positioning herself to get up and leave.

The rookie eyes of the Harvard students didn’t notice her signals of departure. I asked Um Muhammad to get going and she asked me if there is “anything at all that these girls can do to help my son.” I apologized and told her not to waste her time with them.

This has been the Palestinian refugees’ dilemma since 1948: watching groups of people from across the globe stroll through the misery of their camps and and then leave. Making their personal plight and stories available to writers and advocates is for them a way to induce change and action and to advance their moral cause around the world.

But humanity is the key here. To tell stories and conduct research, one would do well to remember that refugees deserve our sensitivity when dealing with their hardships.

It’s been 65 years and Palestinians in the camps are still clutching onto whatever crumbs of hope or aid they can. But ultimately they are left awaiting the day they can return to the place where their dignity and humanity can be restored: Palestine.

Moe Ali Nayel is a freelance journalist based in Beirut, Lebanon. Follow him on Twitter: @MoeAliN

There are currently over half a million Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.  They settled in refugee camps during three major phases:  First, they settled in refugee camps after the “Independence of Israel”, a State recognized my a single and simple majority vote in the UN in 1948, and second, after the 1967 preemptive Israeli war against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, and third, after the defeat of the Palestinian resistance by the Jordanian monarchy in 1971. 

Already, one hundred thousand Palestinian refugees got the Lebanese nationality, not included in the half a million previously mentioned.  Those who got the Lebanese nationality are of three categories:  First, the mostly Palestinian Christians, in order to re-establish sectarian “balance” when the Maronite Christian Presidents of Lebanon had vast authorities before the Taif Agreement in 1989, and second, Palestinians originating from Lebanon such as those who lived in Northern Israel and the Seven Villages and are mostly from the Islam Chiaa sect, and third, the wealthy and business men Palestinians such as the families of Baidass, Sabbagh, Khoury, Nemr, Nahoum, Faress, Nasr, Kattan, Yutajy, Freij, Gharghour, Oweida, Irathy, Saba and many other families.

It appears that the refugees inscribed in the UNRWA, those residing continuously in Lebanon, number around 200,000 or 5% of the total estimated population in Lebanon.  The remaining Palestinians had managed to settle or work abroad with Lebanese travel documents.

Recent statistics show that over 92% of Palestinian refugees want to return to their Homeland, Palestine.  That is a case closed:  the UN resolution #198 of 1948 guarantees the right of Palestinians to return to Palestine and there is no way to cancel or drop that civic and human right accorded to all refugees who were forced to flee under duress and genocidal treatments.

The US, European Union, and Russia are demanding that the Palestinian refugees drop the right to return before extending compensations.  This is an impossible political condition that cannot be satisfied.  The UN should compensate immediately every adult Palestinian and Palestinian families in refugee camps (without any clause pertaining to dropping their rights for return) so that they decide what to do with that money.  Every State around the world, especially the US and European States, will welcome rich Palestinians capable of owning real estates or establishing businesses.  After two years of paying taxes and valid residency papers, the immigrated Palestinians would be having a recognized citizenship.

Since Israelis are entitled to dual citizenship then, it should be so to Palestinians.  For the time being, the UN institution of UNRWA has been caring for the Palestinian refugees in matters of education, health, and survival food since 1948.  The UNRWA budget has been cut frequently while the number of refugees has been increasing dramatically.  Currently, the  UNRWA budget is half a billion dollars; the portion allocated to the refugees in Lebanon is just $70 millions. 

There is a heated debate in Lebanon on how to securing the civic and human rights of the refugees.  There are less than 60 types of jobs that Palestinians are entitled to applying for; and they are denied owning properties, though rich Arabs and foreigners can purchase and own properties. 

The Lebanese have no jobs, no electricity, no potable water, no health coverage for more than 50% of the population, public education neglected for over 30 years, and things are going to hell.  I am pretty sure if Palestinian refugees would consider bartering their UNRWA facilities for a Lebanese nationality card then, most Lebanese would gladly relinquish their stupid cards that are more of a problem than a privilege.

 The UN should establish an international fund to aid and support the Lebanese government improve the infrastructure in the refugee camps and providing health insurance.  Palestinian kids are suffering from diseases due to bad health environment.  The education facilities are deteriorating in the camps.  Camps are becoming hotbeds of insecurity to all the youth not finding an outlet to development and assuring the minimum level of dignity.

The working force in construction, gas stations and sanitation are filled by Syrians, Egyptians, and Bangladeshis.  In-house maids and outside are from Philippines, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Madagascar… May be Lebanese and Palestinians should be allocated quotas to work alongside the foreign workers. 

If Lebanon enjoyed an economic and financial boom in its first 30 years of its independence it is mainly because of the flux of Palestinian wealth and knowhow.  Many English-speaking Palestinian refugees worked in the Arab Gulf States and supported their families in Lebanon.  They also made a qualitative development for the American University of Beirut and taught there and constituted the prime English tributary to our economy and finance.

If Lebanon had ever been tad of a State, it would have sustained its financial standing and maintained a modicum of sovereignty.  The Palestinian Resistance Organization (PLO) became a State within a State and even more powerful and more organized since 1972.  The dollar changed for just two Lebanese pounds because of the hard currencies that the PLO poured in our economy; it is currently 1,500 LL


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2020
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