Archive for the ‘quite a bit of well-deserved sarcasm’ Category

factsOn Sunday Ashraq al-Awsat ran an article alleging that the United States had pressed both the Mubarak and Morsi regimes to surrender the Sinai so that it could be used to relocate Palestinian refugees and create a Palestinian state.

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Towards the end of his tenure, ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak resisted pressures from Washington to cede Egyptian territory in the Sinai Peninsula to help create a Palestinian state, former senior members of Mubarak’s ruling party told Asharq Al-Awsat.

A former official from the National Democratic Party, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat that during the previous decade Washington pushed Cairo to allow large numbers of Palestinians to settle in the Sinai.

The official said Mubarak believed the move was the first step in a process designed to get Egypt to cede its own territory to create a Palestinian state. Egypt’s former president resisted the appeals, which he described as being “in the best interest of Israel,” the senior official maintained.

During a meeting chaired by Mubarak in 2007, the official quoted the former Egyptian president as saying: “Our main enemy is Israel, but we are fighting both the US and Israel. There is pressure on us to open the Rafah crossing for the Palestinians and grant them freedom of residence, particularly in Sinai.”

Mubarak claimed that the aim of the plan was to establish refugee camps on Egyptian territory to accommodate as many Palestinians as possible.

“In a year or two, the issue of Palestinian refugee camps in Sinai will be internationalized. Meanwhile, Israel will impose pressures on the West Bank in order to force large numbers of Palestinians from Gaza into Egypt,” the source quoted Mubarak as saying.

Mubarak said that once the Palestinian refugees were on Egyptian soil the UN would have requested “a new Oslo [accord]” in order to establish a Palestinian state stretching from Gaza to Sinai to which Palestinians in diaspora would have been welcome to return.

But the former president opposed the plan, insisting that “Egypt would remain a thorn in the project’s side.”

The same proposal was put forward when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in 2012, almost 18 months after the January 25 revolution that toppled Mubarak, a former security official told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Err, no—that  certainly didn’t happen. It is likely that the US pressed Egypt to relax restrictions at Rafah, and possibly even to treat Palestinian refugees better. The rest of it is one large fantasy. The only really interesting question is whether anyone in authority in Egypt ever believed it, or whether it is a more recent conspiracy theory born of the current levels of anti-American paranoia in the country (where many continue to believe that Obama is secretly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood).

In today’s issue of Haaretz (14 June 2012), Israel Harel presents a series of arguments as to “Why the world shouldn’t support UNRWA.” He makes a powerful argument against continued international funding for the organization—powerful, that is, until you realize that he has almost all of his facts wrong.

Five million Palestinians define themselves as refugees. They insist on festering away in camps, at the international community’s expense, while holding fast to their main dream: returning to the towns and villages from which their ancestors fled or were expelled.

Fact: Only 29% of refugees live in refugee camps. Refugees are also free to move in and out of camps, and do.

Their ambition to realize this dream – which is a major stumbling block to ever ending the conflict – is made possible by the unending aid they have received for more than 60 years now from the UN Relief and Works Agency.

Fact: As opinion surveys have repeatedly showed, receiving UNRWA services (or, indeed, being  refugee) is not a significant determinant of Palestinian attitudes to the “right of return.” Palestinian attitudes are far more deeply rooted in the national experience of forced displacement from their homes in 1948.

It isn’t just the first generation that is entitled to this aid, as is the norm for all other refugees the United Nations helps (though it aids only a minority of the world’s refugees ).

Fact: UNHCR also recognizes second and subsequent generation refugees (“derivative status”), in conditions where they are unable to avail themselves of state protection.

UN aid has raised generations of people who live a life of idleness and are educated toward vengeance, terror and eternal hatred for the Jews and Israel.

Fact: UNRWA largely provides education and health services, which increase employability. It does not provide social welfare handouts of the sort that would generate “idleness”—on the contrary, its social support services are largely limited to special hardship cases (comprising only 5.7% of all refugees) and food aid in Gaza (made necessary by Israeli-imposed trade restrictions). The UNRWA educational system—unlike the one that operated under Israeli control in the occupied West Bank and Gaza from 1967 to 1994—has a human rights component that promotes tolerance and respect for universal human rights.

UNRWA and the other aid agencies that fund the refugee camps’ education system are responsible for schools in which the educational ideal is to become a martyr, and which teach that Jews are the worst and cruelest people in the world. This education adjures its students not to rest until they have liberated Jerusalem and Jaffa, Haifa and Acre, Lod and Ramle, Ashdod and Ashkelon, Beit She’an and Be’er Sheva.

Fact: Not really, no. UNRWA’s curriculum is regularly reviewed by the donor community. It has no such content.

This, however, is the very heart of the issue: Only a reduction in this anti-Israel agency’s budget would curtail its activities and force masses of Palestinians to move from lives of stagnation and decay to productivity.

In Lebanon, government policy and historical legacies limit refugee opportunities—but this is hardly the fault of UNRWA, which has struggled to improve the condition of refugees there. In Syria, Jordan, and the West Bank there is little difference between socio-economic indicators for refugees and non-refugees. The idea that Palestinian refugees overwhelmingly live lives of “stagnation and day” and non-productivity is simply false. The vast major of households live off earned income, the same as everyone else.

Millions of genuine refugees, vulnerable to abuse and even murder, get no help at all. Only the Palestinians, who could rehabilitate themselves – just as millions of other refugees, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have done without any help from the UN – instead continue to fester, generation after generation, at the expense of the world’s taxpayers.

Fact: In fact, by most socio-economic indicators, most Palestinian refugees are relatively well-integrated into host societies. As Fafo researchers have reported, “Perhaps the most pertinent result of these surveys is that the data show small differentials in the main indicators of living conditions between the population of refugees living outside the camps and the host country population in these countries…. These camp refugees have lower incomes and poorer health and education levels than those outside the camps. However, camp refugees have better access to basic health and education services due to UNRWA’s presence. The latter point directly leads to the conclusion that the camp populations do not face homogeneously poor living conditions, nor do they constitute the main poverty problem in the host countries.” Political integration is another issue. However, even if UNRWA were to disappear tomorrow, it is extremely unlikely that Syria or Lebanon would respond by naturalizing Palestinian refugees in those countries, while in Jordan it is equally unlikely that the regime would reconfigure the foundations of political power to favour Palestinians. To blame the political marginalization of refugees in some host countries on UNRWA is at best naive, and at worst a deliberate distortion.

* * *

UNRWA faces difficult issues in the years ahead, faced as it is by limited donor support, a moribund “peace process,” a difficult regional environment and an expanding number of potential clients. As I have argued before, it is not clear that it can “muddle through” the next decade, conducting business as usual. Addressing these challenges, however, requires informed debate—not a fact-free rant from the pulpit of a newspaper editorial column.

While small demonstrations have been taking place in Gaza regarding cuts in UNRWA services, al-Jazeera and a nameless UNRWA employee have uncovered an even greater scandal: the Agency has apparently been circulating UN OCHA maps of the region that (and here’s the shocking part)… have the word “Israel” on them.

Anxious to get to the bottom of this conspiracy, we went to the map section of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs website and sure enough, the UN apparently actually uses the official name of UN member state Israel (which was formally recognized by the PLO in September 1993) when referring to… Israel. The particular map highlighted by al-Jazeera can be found here.

al-Jazeera—demonstrating that whatever its very valuable role in promoting the “Arab Spring,” it can still also often be the FOX News of Middle East journalism—headlines this as the “occupation of Gaza map” that has “adopted the Israeli position.” Personally, I wasn’t aware that Israel seeks to publicize its punitive economic stranglehold on Gaza, which is what the map actually does.

In the meantime, Ynet is apparently trying to usurp the Jerusalem Post‘s recent status as a leading publisher of silly op eds on the Palestinian issue and has published a piece by Moredechai Nisan calling for both permanent occupation of the West Bank AND moving all Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to Jordan, where they’ll transform Jordan into the Palestinian homeland. There’s no word on how the Jordanian government might feel about that one.

Nisan ends his piece by noting “Rhodesia after all became Zimbabwe and Cambodia became Kampuchea – so Jordan is Palestine.” Actually, Cambodia is STILL Kampuchea, “Kampuchea” simply being the Khmer name for Cambodia. As for the Rhodesia reference, one would have thought the analogy was more apt for the idea that it is somehow appropriate to try to permanently deny an indigenous majority their right of self-determination….

Apparently three op eds in less than a month from right-wing racist nutjob* Martin Sherman isn’t enough from the Jerusalem Post: yesterday they published a fourth, in which he again calls for paying Palestinians to leave the West Bank and Gaza, so that they could be resettled elsewhere and leave the place all tidy and Arab-free for Jewish settlement. What’s more, he suggests that the West should help pay for this ethnic self-cleansing (which he euphemistically labels the “humanitarian paradigm”):

The estimated cost of implementation is strongly dependent on the level of compensation and the size of the Palestinian population in the “territories,” which is the subject of intense debate.

A few years ago, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research conducted a survey on the level of compensation Palestinian refugees considered fair to forgo the “right of return.” If we take more than double the minimum amount specified by most polls as fair compensation for relocation/rehabilitation, and if we adopt a high-end estimate of the Palestinian population, the total cost would be around $150b. for the West Bank Palestinians (and $250b. if Gaza is included). This is a fraction of the US expenditure on its decade-long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have produced results that are less than a resounding success.

Spread over a period equivalent to the current post-Oslo era, this sum would comprise a yearly outlay of no more than a few percentage points of current GDP – something Israel could well afford on its own.

If additional OECD countries were to contribute, the total relocation/rehabilitation of the Palestinian Arabs could be achieved with an almost imperceptible economic burden.

Of course, it is all political fantasy of the most unrealistic and unhelpful sort. He attempts to buttress with distorted findings from the 2003 PSR refugee poll, which was neither about Palestinians leaving their ancestral homeland nor giving up the right of return, and which actually shows that only 1% of refugees in the West Bank and Gaza would consider monetary incentives to immigrate as their first choice, and that over 80% of those who might immigrate would hope to retain Palestinian citizenship.

Again, the issue here isn’t that “transfer” is a theme in Israeli political discourse (it has been since before the formation of the state), nor that a former member of Tzomet advocates it. Rather, it is the treatment of the issue as a somehow normal one in the pages of a contemporary center-right-but-mainstream Israeli newspaper.

*I was struggling for the proper academic term here, but I think this one captures it nicely.

* * *

It is no wonder, therefore, that the Jordanian have been eager to host the recently renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks in accordance with the Quartet’s call for a peace agreement in 2012—not only are they concerned about the absence of diplomatic progress and fearful of the domestic “Arab Spring” ramifications of continued stalemate, but in addition Amman has a perennial fear of  “transfer” (as well as its companion theme, “Jordan is Palestine”). The talks themselves, of course, will go nowhere: Daniel Levy and Leila Hilal are, if anything, being charitable when they noted this week that “Given the positions of the negotiating parties, their respective political realities, and their actions over the last months, the talks in Amman had the theater of absurd quality to them.” Rami Khouri gets it right too when he comments that  we are “starting the new year with failed old diplomacy”:

The good news about the Jordanian-hosted Palestinian-Israeli-Quartet meeting in Amman to explore possibilities for resuming Palestinian-Israeli direct negotiations is that former US Mideast specialist Dennis Ross is not there to guarantee failure with the pro-Israel tilt of the US delegation.

The bad news is that the meeting is likely to fail because the Ross approach to guaranteeing diplomatic failure with the pro-Israel tilt of the US delegation still prevails.

The implications of this for conditions in the Middle East are profound, and mostly negative. The continued attempts to restart negotiations, define parameters, develop confidence-building measures, establish deadlines and targets, and pursue a host of other dead ends have all failed over the past 20 years because they lacked the intellectual honesty and diplomatic evenhandedness that is required for success in such situations.

This is aggravated by the trend, over the past decade in Israel, which has seen a combination of rightwing messianic and super-nationalist militaristic groups dominate the current coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli politics in general. Their position that peace talks can continue while Zionism pursues its steady colonisation of Palestinian lands is preposterous in its own right, and a diplomatic deadweight that is apparently supported, or merely accepted, by the United States.

The Quartet of the United States, Russia the UN and the European Union, which is supposed to shepherd the negotiations to success, adds another layer of incompetence, crowned by Ross-like bias and a penchant for rhetoric, statements and meetings over action.

Conditions on the Arab side are not much more impressive than the Israeli, American and Quartet perspectives, given the lack of unity among Palestinians and the general diplomatic lassitude of the Arab world as a whole. So breakthroughs for a negotiated peace are not on the horizon. One thing is sure, however. The persistence of the Palestinian-Israeli and wider Arab-Israeli conflicts, with the current political attitudes of the United States, EU and the leading Arab powers, can only portend more conflict ahead.

It is right that concerned parties should try to restart diplomatic negotiations, as they have done in Amman this week, but this is an exercise in futility if it occurs on the foundation of the cumulative failures of the recent past. Sadly, this seems to be the case.

The new year is full of hope for many Arabs who taste freedom and democracy, but it has not yet ushered in a new, more honest and fair, approach to Arab-Israeli diplomacy.

Last month, the Jerusalem Post published a series of three articles by Martin Sherman, entitled  Notes to Newt (Part 1): Uninventing PalestiniansNotes to Newt (Part 2): Rethinking Palestine, and Into the Fray: Palestine: What Sherlock Holmes would say. As you might have guessed from the titles, in these he suggests:

  • The Palestinians are not a real people with an authentic nationalism, but rather “historically fictitious [and] politically fraudulent.” Here, of course, he is taking his rhetorical lead from Newt Gingrich’s mind-numbingly stupid comments on the issue.
  • Instead, Palestinians are simply generic Arabs, whose identity was manufactured as a weapon against Israel-an “artificially contrived invention.”
  • Because of this, the Palestinians have no real claim to rights of self-determination or an independent state. Rather, Israel should retain permanent control of the West Bank and Gaza.
  • But what of all those pesky indigenous pseudo-Palestinians that actually live in the occupied territories, forming the overwhelming majority of the population? Sherman suggests a sort of voluntary ethnic self-cleansing whereby Israel would offer “generous monetary compensation to effect the relocation and rehabilitation of the Palestinian Arabs residents in territories across the 1967 Green Line, presumably mostly – but not necessarily exclusively – in the Arab/Muslim countries.” (He proposes getting rid of UNRWA too, but that’s really a side issue to Sherman’s advocacy of an Arab-free Palestine.)

My point in highlighting this series is not to express surprise at Sherman’s views on the subject—after all, he is a former Secretary-General of the ultra right wing Tzomet Party in Israel, which has previously advocated the “transfer” of Palestinians from Palestine. I didn’t particularly want to waste time pointing out the very obvious political and moral deficiencies in his views—it is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, and in any case Hussein Ibish already did an excellent job of demolishing his arguments shortly after they appeared. I won’t even point to the supreme irony of Sherman himself originally being an immigrant to Israel from South Africa. (OK, well too late, I just did.)

Rather, I wanted to comment on the fact that the Jerusalem Post saw fit to publish this not once, but three times. Can you imagine a mainstream newspaper in the US featuring a series of op eds suggesting that the American government pay Blacks or Hispanics to leave the country (presumably on the basis of their ties to Africa or Latin America), so as to maintain White territorial supremacy? Or a major Canadian paper allowing a contributor to suggest that the “problem” of native populations in Canada be resolved by creating financial incentives for them to move to Russia (after all, they all came here via the Bering Land Bridge, didn’t they) and thereby create more space for immigrant groups? Not even a British tabloid would offer a member of the British National Party three opportunities to outline an equally repugnant demographic policy in the UK context , although it might hack their voicemail. If someone suggested that the Saudis pay Israeli Jews to leave Israel for their pre-1948 countries of origin, it would be widely labelled stupid and/or anti-Semitic (as indeed it would be).

The historical and demographic parallels are very poor ones, of course, but the racism inherent in Sherman’s piece is quite clear. That it apparently is considered acceptable (if marginal) discourse is—well, depressing.

And with that, happy New Year from the PRRN blog!

Fox vs Facts

Posted: August 10, 2011 by Rex Brynen in factcheck, quite a bit of well-deserved sarcasm, UNRWA
Tags: ,

There’s a bit of a tiff at present between the guardians of journalistic integrity at FOX News and UNRWA over a recent column by film-maker Ami Horowitz.

Horowitz doesn’t like the United Nations—indeed, he made a film criticizing the organization. Goodness knows there are all sorts of dysfunctions, frustrating inefficiencies, and outright scandals at the UN, but his catalogue-everything-done-wrong while ignoring both the stuff-done-right and the political context is misleading. Then again, it’s meant to be agitprop, not journalism.

The same could be said about his FOX News column, which distorts what the US contributes at the UN, and what it gets for this. UNRWA is cited as an example of UN evil in the following terms:

At times it seems as if the U.S. and the U.N. are at cross purposes.  For instance, we get the privilege of funding bodies that are outwardly hostile to U.S interests. We are funding nearly 30% of UNRWA, the Palestinian refugee agency, that employs terrorists and teaches its children to be maliciously anti-Israel, anti-Semitic and anti-American.

The notion that UNRWA teaches kids to be “anti-Israel, anti-Semitic and anti-American” is ludicrous, of course (especially given Israel’s quiet call for countries to increase their contributions). It rather exemplifies the quality of the piece overall, too.

UNRWA understandably objected and asked FOX to print a rejoinder.

Rejoinder to Fox News article

10 August 2011

The article by Ami Horowitz about the United Nations and in particular the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, on makes unsubstantiated and false allegations.

  • Far from being “outwardly hostile to US interests”, UNRWA’s work is grounded in the universal values that inform US foreign policy. Our programs are regularly audited by the US Government Audit Office to its satisfaction and this is a matter of public record: hardly a sign that we are hostile to US interests or that we use American money to “employ terrorists”.
  • Our school system including our text books are the subject of continual review. The last US-commissioned review by an American educationalist from Georgetown University found the UNRWA curriculum to be “peaceful”, and one in which “religious and political tolerance is emphasized”.
  • Israeli officials including government ministers have acknowledged the contribution to the peace and stability of the Middle East that UNRWA’s work provides: hardly a signal that we are “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic”.

So far, FOX has refused.

Ironically, in this regard FOX has shown even less professionalism than the right-wing Israeli network Arutz Sheva, based in the West Bank settlement of Beit El. Arutz Sheva recently published a fear-mongering op ed by anti-UNRWA activist David Bedein accusing UNRWA summer camps of teaching children “to take back their homes lost in 1948, by brute force, and to kill the Jews who took their homes from them”. He went on to say that “”Never Again” means never again to ignore the reality of an entity [UNRWA] whose “raison d’etre” involves the genocide of Jews.”

UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness immediately responded—and Arutz Sheva published his response:

The article by David Bedein “A Sealed Letter to My Daughter to Read At Auschwitz” makes the baseless allegation that UNRWA, a UN humanitarian organization, is seeking “to impose yet a (sic) Fourth Reich upon the Jews” and that UNRWA’s “raison d’etre involves the genocide of Jews”.  No evidence is produced for this staggeringly ignorant claim beyond a vague association with a website called Palestine Remembered with which UNRWA has no relationship whatsoever, neither is any evidence produced to prove this. UNRWA requests that this rejoinder is published in full pointing out the groundlessness of Mr Bedein’s allegations, the shoddiness of this politically motivated journalism, that the article is taken down and that a retraction and an apology are published.

The argument went to a second round then a third, with Bedein rather bizarrely blaming UNRWA for the activities of non-UNRWA organizations and websites, and UNRWA systematically refuting the allegations. Bedein then produced a picture of an allegedly nefarious refugee camp mural depicting a 1948 village in Palestine. Leaving aside that it wasn’t all that nefarious, UNRWA then pointed out that the mural wasn’t at a UNRWA facility or in a refugee camp at all, but rather at a PA school in a nearby village. Bedein then made further allegations, to which UNRWA replied:

UNRWA notes that no evidence has been produced to support the accusations made by Bedein. There is no evidence to support the accusation that UNRWA is an organization whose “raison d’ךtre is involved with the genocide of the Jews”. Neither has any evidence been produced showing that UNRWA has any formal association with the Palestine Remembered website. We furthermore note that no actual evidence has been produced to show that “right of return” activities have taken place in any UNRWA facilities, for which the Agency is responsible or that UNRWA is a part of “the international Right of Return campaign”. If actual evidence is produced UNRWA will examine the evidence and react as appropriate.

We’ll see if anything ever comes of Bedein’s alleged evidence. So far, his track record is pretty damn poor—although UNRWA officials met with him a few days ago, “despite repeated requests from UNRWA, no evidence was provided to substantiate either set of allegations.”

In the meantime, however, Arutz Sheva’s willingness to print rejoinders—even when they run counter to its avowed political preferences—suggests that even it has higher journalistic standards than the folks at FOX.

The PRRN blog must apologize to all of its readers for having accidentally mislead them as to the fate of the Great UNRWA Logo Conspiracy. We had though that the return of “Rwa” to the UNRWA website would have resolved the issue.

Apparently not.

What we failed to appreciate is that by revising its website header to mention that it is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA is apparently actually conspiring to mislead the public by cunningly responding to the protesters demands that it not conspire by not mentioning the “Relief and Works Agency” in its online logo.

Confused? Fortunately, Hamas makes the whole thing clear in an incisive analysis reported by al-Resaleh News:

GAZA, (– Hamas said Tuesday that UNRWA’s restoring the words “relief” and “works” to its official website was “inaccurate,” also calling the move “an attempt to mislead public opinion.”

The group added that the step, which was made after the name change caused public outcry, was part of a plot to evade moral responsibility concerning the Palestinian refugees.

Mushir al-Masri, who heads the Hamas bloc on the Palestinian Legislative Council, said in press conference that the Palestinian government and Hamas were making extensive contacts at home and abroad concerning the name change issue and have been consulting on subsequent steps.

He said that messages have been received from states that sponsor the UNRWA that they did not know about the change and that the move exceeded the powers vested in the body by the UN General Assembly.

The name change triggered massive protests in the Gaza Strip as Palestinians suspect the removal of “relief works” from the UN Relief Works Agency’s name came at a time when the agency’s budget was suspiciously sharply reduced.

“That is because the agency earmarked the budget for secondary matters and not key matters related to relief and works of the refugees,” Masri said.

Clearer now?

  1. UNRWA modified its online website header two years ago.
  2. Hamas and a few protesters (who apparently only just noticed) condemned this as an evil plot, and demanded that the logo include “Relief and Works Agency.”
  3. UNRWA did that.
  4. Hamas condemned UNRWA’s decision to do what was asked of it as an evil plot.

Really, we couldn’t make this up.

Coming soon: The “Where is the ‘…for Palestine Refugees in the Near East’ Part of UNRWA’s Official Name” Scandal.

Where’s Rwa?

Posted: July 12, 2011 by Rex Brynen in conspiracies, quite a bit of well-deserved sarcasm, UNRWA

As the Jerusalem Post reports today, UNRWA has decided to modify its website to placate protesters who felt that the apparent disappearance of the much-beloved Rwa (Reliefs and Works Agency) from the Agency’s online logo were part of a broader conspiracy to liquidate the refugee issue:

UNRWA restores Web name following Palestinian outcry

By Khalid Abu Toameh  07/12/2011 01:57

UN agency reinstates original name and logo after protesters slammed decision to drop “relief” and “works” from UNRWA website.

Following strong protests, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency on Monday restored its original name and logo to its official website.

The protests erupted after the agency recently dropped the words “relief” and “works” from its website, describing itself only as the “UN agency for Palestinian refugees.”

The change in the name and logo sparked fears among Palestinians that the agency has decided to cut its services to Palestinian refugees.

Representatives of the refugees and Hamas leaders accused UNRWA of being part of a “conspiracy” to liquidate the problem of the refugees and deny them the “right of return” to their homes inside Israel.

Last week Palestinians staged a demonstration in front of the UNRWA headquarters in the Gaza Strip in protest against the change of the name and logo.

Attempts by UNRWA officials and spokesmen to assure the Palestinians that the agency has not changed its policy or mandate fell upon deaf ears.

The agency tried unsuccessfully to explain to the protesters and the Hamas government that the changes were done as part of an effort to redesign and upgrade the website on the 60th anniversary of UNRWA.

In face of the growing protests, the agency decided to restore the old logo and name so they would include the omitted words.

The Jerusalem Post continues to incorrectly report that UNRWA had changed its name, which of course it hadn’t.

The offending UNRWA webpage header, modernized in order to help with the “branding” and fund-raising activities of the Agency, looked like this:

As you can see, poor Rwa is missing! Where could he have gone? Well, surprise! He’s back, and the website now looks like this:

So, you see, it’s a bit like one of those “Where’s Waldo?” puzzles, isn’t—or in this case “Where’s the Relief and Works Agency?”

Poor Rwa first went missing during the 60th anniversary of the organization in 2009-10, when this header was introduced:

When the anniversary came to an end, the “60 Years” part was replaced with “Peace Starts Here.” Rwa, however, must have missed out on the triumph of Middle East peace (as, indeed, did most of us), because he was still missing!

For a while in 2008, the website featured this somewhat funereal version of the logo, in keeping perhaps with the 60th anniversary of al-Nakba. However Rwa was fine, because there he was, right there on top!

Before that, in 2007, Rwa was wearing the more familiar UN-y blue:

In July 2006, you would have seen this logo on the website:

No Rwa there! However, if you looked carefully, you could find him hiding in the blurb on the right side of the home page. Clever Rwa!

UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) is a relief and human development agency, providing education, healthcare, social services and emergency aid to over 4.3 million refugees living in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and the Syrian Arab republic.

Back still further, in June 2002, the webpage logo looked like this:

..together with a similar blurb—except that there were only 3.9 million registered refugees back then, and Rwa was cunningly lurking in the blurb was on the bottom. What a cunning fellow!

In August 2000, the website had the same logo and blurb as in 2002, but with a different design that emphasized the 50th anniversary of the organization. Rwa was in the blurb then too.

In the interests of gender balance, the PRRN blog also feels that it should note that Rwa has a younger sister, Hcr. Hcr gets around rather a lot, and she has lots more friends.

What’s more, she’s missing from her website header too!

But she’s hiding somewhere on her home page! Can you find her?

* * *

The old versions of the UNRWA website are courtesy of the historical caches on the very useful Wayback Machine internet archive.



Damn, we spoke too soon. The Great UNRWA Logo Conspiracy continues

In the past the PRRN blog has revealed startling evidence of misdeeds by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. In our intrepid search for the truth, we revealed that the Agency is headed by an apparent clone of Dr. Evil, and that its real headquarters is a secret underground missile base. We blithely reported accusations that the Agency behaves like the KGB. This is on top of all the routine accusations that UNRWA is somehow responsible for Palestinian refugees being a little miffed about being forcibly dispossessed and displaced in 1948.

It is now apparent, however, that we’ve failed to adequately appreciate the truly perfidious evil that is UNRWA. Instead, it has fallen to Hoover Institution research fellow Michael Bernstam to reveal the true scope of the conspiracy. As he claims in a recent article in Commentary Magazine, “UNRWA has been one of the most inhuman experiments in human history.” (For those of you who guessed slavery, sexual oppression, Belgian colonial administration of the Congo, Nazism, Stalinism, or the killing fields of Cambodia or Rwanda, I’m sorry—you really don’t seem to understand how truly evil the provision of basic health and education services to refugees is).

UNRWA staff meet to plot their next fiendish education/primary health care/microfinance project.

But wait, there’s more! As Bernstam also reveals, UNRWA runs a “welfare-warfare state,” and “has become a terror-sponsoring organization.” He also claims that, through a process of natural selection, “the staff of UNRWA must ultimately converge with the terrorist paramilitary organizations”—a situation fully evident in the picture of an UNRWA staff meeting shown here (OK, so that’s not a real UNRWA staff meeting, but you would never know it from reading Bernstam’s piece).

Because of all this, Bernstam argues that phasing out the Agency is a prerequisite for peace:

The end of UNRWA would automatically nullify the pernicious issue of the right of return-cum-retake. It is unsolvable in the presence of UNRWA, because it implies the repopulation of Israel with millions of perennial paramilitary refugees. But once UNRWA is discarded, the refugee status expires instantaneously or after a transition period, and the right of return becomes a non-issue due to immediate and actually pressing needs.

Having read the piece, one might well come to the conclusion that UNRWA actually stands for “Underhanded Nogooders for Really Wicked Activities.” If that’s the case, the Agency really needs to get rid of that feel-good blue UNRWA logo and go for something darker and more conspiratorial. Faintly Cold War East European uniforms would be good too, for the Commissioner-General’s minions (any large evil conspiracy worth its name must have minions, of course). And for goodness sake, “Peace Starts Here” has got to go too! “KAOS starts here,” perhaps?

At the risk of once more retreading very familiar ground on this blog, let’s review the actual facts:

  1. Displacement and dispossession are central to the Palestinian national narrative because some 80% of the prewar Arab population of Israel was forced into involuntary exile by a nascent Israeli state claiming as its own justification a prior forced displacement some two millennia earlier. Had Arab host countries wished to integrate the refugees, and had the refugees wished to be integrated, perhaps some of that grievance and refugee identity would have faded. However, they didn’t—indeed, refugee resistance made early UNRWA integration efforts untenable—and Palestinian identity in the diaspora is firmly established. Even if UNRWA vanished tomorrow, that’s not going to change.
  2. UNRWA services have little or nothing to do with attitudes to the refugee issue, as evidenced by the fact that refugees who don’t receive Agency services, Palestinians who aren’t refugees, and even Palestinian citizens of Israel (who receive Israeli services) all have comparable views.
  3. UNRWA largely provides basic health and education services, none of which are associated with dependency—indeed, quite the opposite. The Agency’s Special Hardship programme supports those families who lack a primary income earner. Its microfinance program works on a repayment/cost recovery basis. Neither of these create dependency either—indeed, the latter programme is explicitly intended to reduce it. While many refugee shelters in camps might have originally been provided by UNRWA, most camps have evolved into vibrant if overcrowded urban spaces, where the overwhelming majority of housing activity is carried out through construction and improvements by the refugees themselves. Refugees are, with the partial and regrettable exception of Lebanon, free to move outside the camps—and most do.
  4. UNRWA does give one major form of welfare hand-out: emergency food aid in Gaza. This is entirely due to Israeli economic restrictions on the area, depressed refugee incomes caused by this, and consequent problems of food insecurity. The only other options would be i) for Israel to lift its restrictions, or ii) for Israel and the international community to allow growing malnutrition. I’m not sure which Bernstam would prefer, although the latter has a sort of Malthusian aspect to it that might appeal.

The issue of UNRWA and terrorism is more complex, and I’ll leave it to another blog post when I can give it more serious attention. Interestingly, however, Israeli officials increasingly see UNRWA as an important bulwark against the growth of Islamist radicalism in Gaza, and I’m told that they have been quietly urging some Western donors to increase their funding for that reason. The government of Jordan (no slouches when it comes to the fight against terrorism) certainly see UNRWA in the same role. So too does the government of Lebanon, which fought a violent and destructive battle against al-Qa’ida wannabes Fateh al-Islam in 2007, and which have also made it very clear to donors that they see UNRWA as an important part of their counterterrorism strategy.

In an op ed in the “Comment is Free” section of The Guardian online, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon argues that  “Jewish refugees must not be neglected in peace talks.”

The negotiations for a final status resolution to the Israeli-Arab conflict are not merely about the creation of two states for two peoples; they are about historic reconciliation, justice, peace and security. There is also the issue of redress, and the Jews who were forced out or expelled from Arab lands are deserving of that.

It’s a familiar argument, which I’ve addressed before. Among other things, in rejecting Palestinian refugee return Ayalon points to a March 2010 decision of European Court of Human Rights which dismissed any notion of an ongoing legal right of return for Greek Cypriot refugees displaced from Northern Cyprus in 1974. Of course, the Cypriot case is a bit of a double-edged sword, since others might point to Article 3 of the (failed) 2004 United Nations plan for a political settlement —the Annan Plan—which did provide for a limited right of refugees to return, within the context of a reunited, federal Cyprus.

That’s not what really caught my eye, however. Rather, I was struck by this:

It is also worth considering how deep-rooted the refugees were in their respective lands. British colonial officials in the early part of the 20th century estimated that the Arab immigration from neighbouring states into mandatory Palestine was “considerable”. CS Jarvis, governor of Sinai from 1923-36, said in 1937: “This illegal immigration was not only going on from the Sinai, but also from Trans-Jordan and Syria.”

So while many of the Palestinian refugees were newcomers and fresh economic migrants, the Jewish refugees by contrast were being pushed out of the lands that they had lived in for thousands of years, predating even Islam and the subsequent Arab invasion and occupation of the region, which placed on all non-Muslims a dhimmi or subjugated status. [emphasis added]

It would seem that Ayalon is asserting that the Palestinian refugees aren’t really Palestinian, or somehow not Palestinian enough.

Certainly, there was some Arab immigration from other former parts of the Ottoman Empire during the period of the British Mandate. Most would accept, however, that it represented only a rather small part of the Palestinian population. Moreover, one’s right not to be forcibly displaced and dispossessed doesn’t somehow require multi-generational presence, does it? This is especially the case, one might add, when the Section 1.C.3.1 of UNGAR 181—the November 1947 UN Partition Resolution that gave birth to the state of Israel—explicitly recognized all residents (legal or illegal, immigrant or locally born) as citizens. Had it not done  so, the large number of Jewish illegal immigrants in Palestine would have been stateless and without rights. Ironically, therefore, the logic of Ayalon’s effort to delegitimize Palestinian refugee claims would equally weaken Israel’s claim to statehood—which I’m sure was not his intention.

Of course, we’ve recently had some Palestinian Authority officials—with equally deep historical insight—arguing that Jews have no real historical or religious attachment to the Temple Mount or Western Wall. Sigh.

…none of which suggests that—left to the parties—a productive peace process is likely any time soon.