The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has had a
mandate to assist Palestinian refugees in �Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the
occupied Palestinian territory� for the past six decades. For many refugees it
literally represents a lifeline, providing food, shelter, health care and
social services to the needy. It is also responsible for the education of some
During Israel�s recent attacks on Gaza, the agency hit the
front pages when its schools, ambulances and a food storage warehouse were
bombed, causing UNRWA officials to display understandable public outrage.
The agency�s Director of Operations in Gaza John Ging has
been particularly outspoken, calling for an investigation into possible war
crimes and blasting Israel�s blockade. He has also highlighted Israel�s misuse
of white phosphorus.
This is just the sort of talk Israel�s minions in the US can�t
stomach. As far as they�re concerned, UN employees should behave like the three
wise monkeys -- hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil -- even as they live
and work among a population deprived of everything most of us consider
essential to life, including freedom.
UNRWA staff members have been killed, its facilities
incinerated while tons of donor aid have gone up in smoke, but heaven forbid
anyone should criticise the perpetrator. Never mind the corpses of dead
children strewn around, the corpses of civilians piling up in the morgues and
more than 30,000 newly homeless.
For years, vocal and organised pro-Israel organisations have
been targeting UNRWA in an attempt to stem US funding for what they claim is an
agency that promotes extremism. They accuse UNRWA of hiring local employees
with affiliations to Hamas and other �terrorist� groups, ignoring the fact that
every new member of staff is first vetted by the Israeli authorities.
The massively influential pro-Israel US lobby, American
Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has tried its best to persuade
Congress to take up the issue, but nowadays it is reluctant to go head-to-head
with the Obama administration, whose recent grant of $13.5 million to UNRWA
hasn�t sat well with Israel�s cheerleaders, nostalgic for the Bush era.
Israel itself isn�t quite as enthusiastic, mainly because if
UNRWA was ever driven to pack up and leave, as the occupying power, Israel
would come under pressure to take over UNRWA�s current role. A new report on
the agency written by James G. Lindsay -- UNRWA�s legal advisor from 2002 until
2007, now a fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy -- warns
that any shortfall in US funding could be replaced by Iran or other countries
that do not have US/Israeli interests at heart.
Instead, Lindsay recommends that the US �should urge UNRWA
to limit its public pronouncements to humanitarian issues and leave political
speeches to the political echelons of the United Nations.� He further suggests
that the US should press UNRWA to disband its ambulance services in the West
Bank and Gaza, use only UN-approved textbooks in local schools and withdraw its
help from families who support �the criminal acts of their militant members.�
Lindsay also recommends that the US should insist on the appointment of UNRWA
commissioners who maintain a commitment to US objectives. In other words, UNRWA
should morph into a tool of US foreign policy, even though Washington currently
provides less than a fifth of the agency�s funding.
Naturally, Lindsay�s comments have gone down like a lead
brick with UNRWA officials, who no doubt see it as a betrayal by their former
colleague. The agency�s spokesman in occupied Jerusalem, Christopher Guinness,
says the report �misrepresents� UNRWA�s work, while Andrew Whitley, the agency�s
New York director, characterised it as an unhappy reminder of �the ladies of
the Place Pigalle in Paris.�
In fact, it is so ridiculously biased it can�t be taken
seriously. Unsurprising, perhaps, when one takes into account Lindsay�s
association with the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy
founded by a former research director for AIPAC, Martin Indyk. Moreover,
Lindsay�s wife, Robbie Hare, who is graciously acknowledged in his paper for
her input, has not only made aliyah (immigration) to Israel, her daughter has
served in the Israeli army. UNRWA might do well to avoid hiring legal advisors
with close family ties to enemies of Palestine.
While he had tried hard to inject credibility into his paper
by inserting minimal praise of his former employer and using understated
UN-type language to expound his criticisms, Lindsay�s core message is anything
but benign. He believes the agency�s role is more or less obsolete. He wants it
wound down, but not before it reclassifies Palestinian refugees outside the
Palestinian territories so that they will no longer be on UNRWA�s books and
will, subsequently, have no claim to any right of return. Instead, he wants
registered Palestinian refugees to be subsumed into Lebanese, Syrian and
It isn�t enough that Palestinians have been humiliated,
imprisoned, starved, bombed and deprived of their land for generations, now
Israel�s friends are out to discredit, reduce or remove the only international
body they can count on for their very survival.
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.