Archive for the ‘West Bank’ Category

Winter storms hit Palestinian refugee camps

Posted: January 12, 2015 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, UNRWA, West Bank

It’s been a cold winter for Palestinian refugees in Syria, Gaza, and elsewhere. Read more about the current situation at the UNRWA website.

At Haaretz (paywall) Mira Sucharov highlights mutual threat perception in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Of particular note: some 60% of Palestinians fear that Israel seeks to expel them from the West Bank and Gaza, a view undoubtedly born of the shared experience of forced displacement that has been such a central part of Palestinian national experience.
What is really fueling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
‘The Most Important Video About Israel Ever Made’ got it all wrong: It’s too easy to blame the Mideast’s problems on blind hatred and genocidal tendencies.

By Mira Sucharov | Jul. 16, 2014 | 11:52 AM

With the murder of the four teens, followed by Hamas rockets and Israeli missile strikes, regional players and interested parties outside Israel and Palestine are understandably looking to make sense of the tragic mess, both in its short-term and long-term variants. And in the age of social media, sound bites rule. One 5-minute video that has been circulating on Facebook purports to explain the overall Arab-Israeli conflict simply and concretely. Those who’ve posted it praise its concrete and “unemotional” tone. It is indeed simple and unsensational. The problem is, the explanation put forth is anything but supported by the evidence.

Called The Middle East Problem (and tagged by the Israel Video Network as “The Most Important Video About Israel Ever Made,”), the video has Dennis Prager asserting that the Middle East Conflict is the “easiest in the world to explain.” His explanation? “One side wants the other side dead.” Israel wants to live in peace, he continues, and even recognizes the right of the Palestinians to a state. (Ignore pesky detail revealing Bibi’s recent revelationthat he has no intention of allowing this to happen.) But “most Palestinians, and many other Muslims and Arabs,” Prager stresses, “do not recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist.”

The assumption that “they want us dead” (also known as the “they hate us” theory) is a key cause of what Israeli psychologists have described as a siege mentality characterizing Israeli society. Suggesting that “they hate us” also serves to trivialize the actual concerns and claims of the other side. Claiming that “they” do not recognize the right of Israel to exist ignores the mutual letters of recognition exchanged between Israel and the PLO in 1993. Most importantly, such “they hate us” statements are important motivators for keeping powerful actors stuck to the status quo

But let’s hypothesize for a moment that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is due to Palestinian hatred. How might we test this hypothesis? Right now the best data we have is polling, and the closest polling question I have seen in the last year or so is one that asked about mutual attitudes. What emerged is something quite different from mutual hatred and genocidal tendencies. Instead, what is really going on is a story of mutual fear, but especially on the part of Palestinians towards Israel.

Consider this: From a December 2013 survey conducted jointly by the Truman Institute at the Hebrew University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, most Palestinians (60%) believe that Israel’s goals are to conquer all of the land between the river of the sea and expel the Arabs. An additional 24% believe Israel wants to annex the West Bank without granting the Palestinians political rights. A minority on each side (37% of Israelis, and only 15% of Palestinians) considers the other’s territorial aims to be limited in scope

It is easy to say that the other’s acts of protest — sometimes violent, other times in the form of boycott and divestment or general civil disobedience — stem from hatred. It is much harder to sit and listen to the fears of the other and to examine one’s own actions to see how they shape those perceptions

In sum, when watching videos that may be “unemotional” in tone, but are certainly inflammatory in content, we need to think more soberly about what is hatred, and what might actually, instead, be fear. And we all know from everyday life that the solution to fear is not heel-digging and head-in-the-sand burying, but rather confidence-building and reassurance — in the form of meaningful negotiation leading to a dignified solution for all.

UNRWA has released a video highlighting the reasons for poverty among Palestinian refugees. It cites as the primary causes 1) high unemployment (due to labour restrictions in Lebanon, and the effects of israeli occupation in the West Bank); 2) Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and 3) the Syrian civil war.

Dheisheh Refugee Camp

Dheisheh Refugee Camp

The Institute of National Security Studies has published a paper on the Palestinian refugee issue by Kobi Michael, the former deputy director and head of the Palestinian desk at Israel’s Ministry for Strategic Affairs. In it he argues that, with permanent status issues impossible to resolve at the present time, there should be an increased focus on improving the humanitarian conditions of Palestinian refugees within the Palestinian territories:

A paradigm shift in the Israeli-Palestinian discourse, which will enable a more developed foundation for advanced negotiations toward a future agreement, is now necessary. Specifically, the discourse must shift from national rights to human rights, focusing on the humanitarian rights of the Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian Authority. Israel, with the backing of the United States and the international community, should launch a process built on the humanitarian drive to bring relief to the refugee population in the PA and transfer this obligation to the Palestinian  government, which would receive aid from Israel and the international community for the effort. 

His argument for doing so (from the point-of-view of Israeli interests) lies predominately in weakening Palestinian refugee claims of a right of return,  as well as improving the socio-economic context for future negotiations:

There is no question that a “Jenin Estates” or “Bethlehem Heights” project would become an economic and social engine in the PA’s economic, social, and infrastructure development. With appropriate, careful, and close input from the international community, it would also aid in developing the political infrastructure of the future Palestinian state. No less importantly, a move of this type would signal to Israel that there is a Palestinian willingness to soften, if not rescind, the demand for the right of return, without the Palestinian leadership having to declare at this point in time that it is willing to consider recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Such willingness could surface in due course, once a project of this type advances significantly. At the same time, the Palestinian Authority will gain additional territories in a manner that signals Israeli willingness for real territorial compromise in due course and improves PA territorial contiguity, as well as economic and political recovery.

For those same reason, Palestinians are likely to find in his proposals a recipe for undermining the inherent rights of the refugees, and reject it as completely unacceptable.

However, what may be most interesting about the INSS paper is not its precise recommendations, but rather what it says about Israeli policy capacity and knowledge on this issue—or rather the lack thereof. Regardless of one’s political or ideological position, this weakness ought to be a concern for everyone, for it undermines the prospects for future successful negotiations. Concern about shortcomings in Israeli knowledge of the issue refugee have often been raised to me in the past by US, European, Jordanian, and Palestinian officials. Such concerns have also been raised by former Israeli officials, including those intimately involved in negotiations and negotiation preparations. It was a point on which the overwhelming majority of the Israeli participants agreed at the Chatham House workshop on Israeli perspectives on the Palestinian refugee issue. Indeed, one Israeli government official once told me that, when tasked with preparing a background paper on refugees, they had found so little knowledge and understanding within government ministries that they were forced to depend in part on a Google search to find important information.

In particular, a close reading of Michael’s paper reveals a umber of very basic weaknesses.

  • He seems to be assuming that all refugees live in refugee camps. In fact, most don’t: only 29% of Palestinian refugees live in camps. In the West Bank and Gaza the numbers are 24% and 42% respectively.
  • He assumes that refugees are receiving exclusively UNRWA services. In fact, outside the camps, the PA is already the primary service provider to refugees.
  • He seems to be assuming that Palestinian refugees are substantially worse off than other Palestinians. However, this is generally not true. Certainly, conditions in the camps tend to be worse off than those outside the camp (although most are not “squalid”). This is not because refugees are some how trapped there in a cycle of poverty, though, but rather because the camps act as a sort of reserve of low-income housing, with individuals and families (especially in the West Bank) often moving out as their conditions improve. As Jon Hanssen-Bauer and Laurie Blome Jacobsen have noted in the link above, “studies of [refugee] living conditions show that their livelihoods have stabilized after three generations and their basic living conditions resemble those of the host country populations.” Moreover, “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.”

He repeated claims that the PA somehow “exploits [the refugees] misery,” but provides no evidence that they actually do this—because, of course, there is none. Indeed, the President of the PA is himself a refugee, while the most disadvantaged population in the West Bank is not refugees, but rather rural villages in the north and south.

The author’s understanding of the political dynamics of the refugee issue is equally weak. Any move to transfer responsibility for UNRWA service provision to the PA would undoubtedly be seen as an Israeli-international conspiracy to erode refugee claims (indeed, the very reason Michael proposes it). Refugees would also be worried about the erosion of service delivery standards. It would therefore spark a massive backlash in the West Bank and Gaza, to the point of imperiling the political stability of the PA. It certainly would be a massive political gift to Hamas.

Finally, the analysis shows a pretty stunning lack of appreciation for the magnitude of the task he is proposing:

New Palestinian cities can be established in Area C, which, with Israel’s agreement, would be transferred to PA responsibility, and Palestinian refugees can be rehabilitated there. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which over the years has evolved from a mechanism to resolve the Palestinian refugee problem to a participant in perpetuating their refugee status, would change its mission and become the international community’s representative for promoting this drive. UN aid and additional aid effort would be used for this purpose. Commercial and employment areas would be built next to the Palestinian cities, with the involvement of Israeli, Jordanian, and international developers, so that refugee rehabilitation would not be limited to housing solutions, but would include a comprehensive employment, education, and welfare package.

Rehousing and building new cities doesn’t come cheap: the cost of this would be in many of billions of dollars, at a time when there’s barely enough aid to keep the PA running, and certainly not enough aid money available to address the needs of refugees fleeing Syria. Indeed, virtually all serious studies of the refugee issue have recommended against wholesale “decamping” of refugee camps, even in the aftermath of a full peace agreement. Instead, while some new residential areas might be constructed, for the most part housing issues would be addressed through the dedensification and upgrading of existing refugee camps (which would, in the aftermath of an agreement, cease to be “refugee camps” and instead become normal urban areas—which, in many ways, is what they already are).

Finally, I think commentators who favour rehousing and the transfer of services to the PA overestimate the impact this would have on the strength of Palestinian political claims on the refugee issue. Certainly the polling evidence suggests that living in a refugee camps, receiving UNRWA services, or even refugee status has very little effect on Palestinian perceptions of refugee rights or the political importance they assign to the issue. That being said, Michael’s piece is more focussed on the signal it would send Israel, which is a somewhat different issue.

Just to reiterate: while I disagree with the political thrust of the INSS paper, my criticisms here have nothing to do with political differences. Rather, my comments have to do with the lack of basic understanding of this issue, and the extent to which it leads to poor policy analysis. That this sort of paper can—some 68 years after the birth of the refugee issue and after 22 years of the “peace process”—be written by a former official responsible for Palestinian issues and posted on the website of a major Israeli think-tank is really pretty shocking.


Bedein’s imaginary UNRWA “Camp Jihad”

Posted: August 23, 2013 by Rex Brynen in factcheck, Gaza, UNRWA, West Bank

In the last couple of weeks a documentary alleging anti-Semitic indoctrination at UNRWA summer camps has received wide circulation and comment (such as here and here). The video was produced by David Bedein, who has a remarkable history of producing rather fraudulent accounts of alleged UNRWA misdeeds.

UNRWA has now conducted an investigation, and found the allegations of incitement in the video to be “baseless”.

UNRWA Rejects Allegations of Incitement as Baseless: Statement by UNRWA Spokesperson Chris Gunness

22 August 2013
East Jerusalem

In recent days, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has been attacked after an Israeli film-maker released a film, “Camp Jihad,” alleging that UNRWA promoted anti-Semitism and incitement to violence in its ‘summer camps’. These false accusations have been repeated in various media outlets.

UNRWA has conducted a lengthy and detailed investigation into the film and we categorically reject the allegations it contains. The film is grossly misleading and we regret the damage it has caused to UNRWA and the United Nations.

The film-maker concerned has a history of making baseless claims about UNRWA, all of which we have investigated and demonstrated to be patently false.  It has long been the practice of the film-maker to show non-UNRWA activities and portray them as activities of UNRWA. He has done this again and we again reject his allegations. Our repeated rejection of his falsehoods is a matter of public record.

The main accusation in the film is that incitement is promoted during UNRWA ‘summer camps’. The ‘summer camp’ shown in the West Bank was not affiliated with or organized by UNRWA. The only UNRWA summer activities actually depicted are those shot in Gaza. However, our investigation of the film has revealed that absolutely nothing anti-Semitic or inflammatory was done or said in the scenes filmed in Gaza.

In addition, those interviewed in the film are presented with captions that identify them as UNRWA staff members. However, only one of those interviewed is an UNRWA staff member. The comment she makes does not violate UNRWA’s neutrality policy.

Some of the interviews filmed in the West Bank took place during the course of a third party’s activities inside what is indeed an UNRWA installation. However, UNRWA did not organize or manage these activities, and – here, too – none of the interviewees were UNRWA staff members. In addition, the interviews were organized by the film-maker and conducted with children, without parental consent, in an unethical, highly ‘leading’ manner, by a media organization he contracted.

We firmly condemn the anti-Semitic and inflammatory statements made during some of the interviews filmed in the West Bank, and we have suspended our relationship with the third-party organization, pending a review. However, we reject in no uncertain terms the allegations that UNRWA promotes incitement and the notion that UNRWA is responsible for the views expressed in the film.

UNRWA is committed to fostering human rights and tolerance, and teaches these values through the curriculum in its schools. UNRWA is one of the few organizations that has implemented human rights and conflict resolution training for millions of Palestine refugee children in the complex political environment of the Middle East for over 12 years.

– Ends –

Background information

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some five million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency’s General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at US$ 54.3 million.

For more information, please contact:

Christopher Gunness
UNRWA Spokesperson
Mobile: +972 (0)54 240 2659
Office: +972 (0)2 589 0267
Adnan Abu-Hasna
UNRWA Media Advisor
Mobile: +972 (0)59 942 8061
Office: +972 (0)8 288 7531
Frederick Swinnen
Special Assistant to the Commissioner-General
UNRWA Executive Office
+972 2 589 0775 (office)
+972 54 240 2734 (mobile)
+962 77 676 0082 (mobile)

factsThere are certainly some neutrality issues arising from the videos  that UNRWA needs to examine, including access to its facilities. This is a difficult challenge, however, since the Agency understandably wants its facilities to be of community service, and monitoring everything that everyone ever says inside an UN building is clearly impossible. UNRWA staff may also need to be more aware of the risks of having their statements or social media use distorted by those seeking to harm the Agency or the refugees it serves.

Interestingly, when FOX News covered the story (somehow missing UNRWA’s disavowal), the Israeli government offered an indirect defence of the Agency (emphasis added):

 “UNRWA is not perfect, but the truth of the matter is we don’t have a conflict with UNRWA; we have a conflict with the Arab world,” Paul Hirschson, of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told…

This almost certainly won’t be the first time Bedein distorts the facts as part of his crusade against UNRWA. Such efforts certainly resonate among those predisposed to dislike Palestinians, refugees, or the UN. They have rather less effect on most international donors, however—while none welcome the adverse publicity (donors are nothing if not negative-publicity-shy), they have come to know his  mendacious track record only too well.

UNRWA and the Israeli NGO BIMKOM have just released a new report regarding the ongoing forced displacement of Palestinian Bedouin in the occupied West Bank. UNRWA’s press release on the report reads as follows:

Jahalin-al-JabalUnprecedented study of Bedouin communities relocated by Israel in 1997 says their situation is unsustainable

28 May 2013


The first study of its kind about the transfer against their will of 150 Palestine refugee Bedouin families says that their situation has become socially and economically “non viable”. The joint UNRWA-Bimkom report analyses the consequences of the relocation which started in 1997 in order to expand the Ma’ale Adummim settlement, which, like all settlements is illegal under international law.

The study highlights the deterioration of the social and economic conditions of the Bedouin refugees transferred to Al Jabal village. The move to one central urban location has deprived these mobile pastoralist communities of social cohesion and is destroying their social fabric and traditional economic base.

According to UNRWA Spokesperson, Chris Gunness, “the Israeli authorities are currently considering plans to create a second centralised Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank”. “However”, says Gunness “the stark conclusions of this report may lead to a reassessment of this policy”.

The rural communities targeted to be transferred to the second village reject the move, stating it will irreparably damage their social fabric and their traditional economy, as in the case of Al Jabal. If implemented, such a move may amount to individual and mass forcible transfers and forced evictions contrary to international law.

Planning NGO, BIMKOM contends that the type of urban plans developed by the Israeli authorities for Al Jabal are not an appropriate solution: “The allocation of a small parcel for each family and the connection to minimal infrastructure can lead to significant harm to human rights. An appropriate plan should take into account socio-cultural aspects, provide subsistence and development opportunities, be developed with the villagers themselves and must be acceptable to them.”

Al Jabal village is next to the largest rubbish dump in the West Bank, where 700 tonnes of waste are disposed of each day. According to recent environmental studies, there are “high levels of toxic gases, which pose an immediate health threat to residents, but also cause internal and surface combustion at the dump site leading to explosions, land subsidence, surface fires and other safety hazards. High numbers of pests thriving off the site and its surroundings include rats, packs of dogs, cockroaches and flies, all of which pose significant health threats to livestock, the young and those of less robust health.

If the plan being considered by the Israeli authorities to relocate all remaining rural refugee Bedouin communities from the Jerusalem periphery to a second location – or other sites in the future – goes forward, the number of displaced people would be four times higher than the number relocated to Al Jabal. UNRWA remains concerned that more than six decades after they were first displaced from their homes, Palestine refugees continue to face the threat of displacement and loss of livelihood.

At the press conference that accompanied release of the report, independent refugee expert Prof. Dawn Chatty (Oxford University) noted “My message to the Israeli authorities is that under the laws of belligerent occupation, forcibly transferring a community to a rubbish dump could be a war crime In 30 years of studying Bedouin communities I have never come across anything as unacceptable as this”.

The full report can be found here.

In March 2010 the Heinrich Böll Stiftung (a “political non-profit organization striving to promote democracy, civil society, equality and a healthy environment internationally,” linked to the German Green Party) held a conference on the Palestinian issue in Berlin.

The historic event of the formation of Israel had, however, far-reaching consequences not only for the Jewish people and the yishuv, the Jewish community in the British mandate territory of Palestine, but also for the Arab-Palestinian people. Around 800,000 Palestinians had to leave their home during the 1948-49 war either because they were driven out or forced to flee. 170,000 stayed in Israel, became citizens of Israel and, with approx. 1.3 million, have become a minority in the Jewish state over the last 60 years. Since then, the refugees of the Nakba (“catastrophe”) and their children have lived in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in the Arab states of the Middle East and scattered throughout the entire world. Their numbers are estimated to be at least 4 to 5 million. Their day-to-day realities could hardly be more different. 2.4 million have lived for more than 40 years under Israeli occupation in the West Bank, 1.4 million under Israeli siege in the Gaza Strip, millions more live in the countries of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria next to Israel. In 2008, the UNRWA counted a total of roughly 4.6 million Palestinian refugees (this figure was 914,000 in 1950). Only a small percentage has managed to integrate. Others have started new lives, most of them in the Arab Gulf states, in Europe and North and Latin America.

The geographic and social fragmentation of the Palestinian people is essentially a result of the conflict in the Middle East. But a wide variety of other change processes – economic, social, gender-specific, political – have affected the societal development of the Palestinians over the last few decades and shape the reality of their fragmented existence. Because the political-diplomatic efforts for a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict are still dominated by the decades-long debate over a two-state solution which also finds its legitimacy under international law in the 1947 UN partition plan, it is time to take a closer look at the Palestinian people and their development, which is characterized by many contradictions, development over the last 60 years. Within the framework of a final status agreement, the goal will not just be to find a viable solution for the people living in the historic region of Palestine. The right of Palestinian refugees to return has been the subject of numerous UN resolutions. Thus, the extremely different realities of refugees will also be analyzed and their prospects for the future discussed.

Late last year the edited proceedings of that conference were published (in German). The volume contains contributions by leading experts on Palestinian and Middle East politics, and quite a few pieces on the Nakba, forced displacement, UNRWA and other refugee-related topics.

For those of you who read German, the full volume can be downloaded for free as a pdf here. For those who can’t, many of the original English-language conference papers can be found here.

h/t Michael Fischbach

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!

The World Bank has just released a very interesting study on poverty in the Palestinian territories, entitled Coping with Conflict: Poverty and Inclusion in the West Bank and Gaza. It has a number of interesting things to say about the distribution of poverty, the impact of Israeli occupation, Palestinian health, education, and nutritional standards (all well above expected averages for a developing country), the quality of PA social services (good in many sectors, although weaker targeting of social assistance), and a range of related issues.

The report also has some interesting observations between subjective and objective levels of poverty, noting that the difference between the two is quite substantial in the West Bank and Gaza (namely, some of those below the poverty line don’t consider themselves as the poor, and some of those above it do consider themselves poor). Refugee status appears to be one of those factors associated with a greater propensity to consider oneself poor:

5.43 In 2009 in Gaza, for instance, almost 20 percent of the population is below the poverty line but does not consider itself poor, while 7 percent are not poor but do consider themselves poor. In the West Bank, these percentages are 11 and 6, respectively. These figures are non-negligible. Overall, of all the subjectively poor in Gaza, one-third are above the poverty line, while in the West Bank, among those households who report themselves as poor, about half are above the poverty line.

What Characteristics Drive Households to have Contradictory Subjective and Objective Poverty Status?

5.44 Why do subjective assessments of poverty status differ so much from consumption based poverty measures? In the following analysis, we use a multinomial logit model to understand this question.

5.45 The results suggest that poor households whose heads have at least a secondary education are more likely to consider themselves not poor, especially in the West Bank. In both territories, non- refugee status, larger household size and having an employed head of household are all characteristics that make poor households more likely to not consider themselves as poor. Conversely, households who are above the poverty line with better educational attainment, employment, job security and larger families, are less likely to report that they are poor. Some characteristics are more important than others in each of the territories. Consistent with the higher returns to education in the West Bank as discussed in Chapter 3, education plays a more important role in poor households evaluating themselves as non-poor relative to Gaza. Not surprisingly, having a job is equally important in both regions and is strongly associated with a more favorable assessment of their poverty status. Refugee status is more pertinent in Gaza where non-poor refugee households are more likely to consider themselves as poor. Finally, poor households with larger families are more likely to report themselves as non poor in the West Bank, perhaps reflecting the greater potential for work opportunities in the West Bank relative to Gaza.

5.46 Taken altogether, these results are strongly suggestive of the dimensions that households value beyond consumption. Even when current consumption conditions are unfavorable, households value other dimensions such as education, non-refugee status, large families, and employment. These are important measures of broader capabilities and are important drivers of consumption poverty itself. In fact, these characteristics may be valued by households because of their very potential as mechanisms to move out of consumption poverty.

Why might this be? The report doesn’t say, but off the top of my head I can think of several possible explanations:

  • The study uses an income measure of poverty, not an asset measure. Refugee camp households (although not others) may feel that housing conditions are inferior, or that they don’t enjoy full asset ownership.
  • Refugeehood is associated with a general sense of deprivation, related back to Israeli property seizure and forced displacement.
  • The provision of UNRWA services to refugees is associated with a subjective sense of poverty, even if the objective effect of those services is to alleviate poverty.
  • Refugee camp residents share and identity that, in part, involves a sense of collective exclusion and disadvantage.

The effect is weaker in the West Bank than in Gaza, which suggests some weight be attributed to the “UNRWA service” and “refugee camp residence” explanations (since a far higher proportion of refugees live in refugee camps in Gaza). On the other hand, there are lots of other differences between the West Bank and Gaza that might explain that difference too.

Unfortunately the report doesn’t analyze whether camp residence has a stronger or weaker effect than refugee status, which might quickly clear up the mystery.

David Bedein of the “Israel Resource News Agency,” the “Center for Near East Policy Research,” and Behind the News in Israel has recently released the trailer for a new video (embedded later in this blog post) that purports to show various nefarious activities underway at a UNRWA summer camp in the West Bank. Given that the trailer is now doing the rounds in the blogosphere, and the full video itself is apparently being screened in a number of places (including Ottawa, Chicago, and Washington DC), it seemed appropriate to take a look.

It also seemed important to have a look given Bedein’s rather dodgy track record.  He has a long history of poorly researched attacks against UNRWA, including drawing analogies between the UN humanitarian agency and the mass slaughter of Jews at Auschwitz. Controversy also arose following the release of an earlier video by Bedein, For the Sake of Nakba, when it was revealed that he had written the script with Samuel (Shmuel) Sokol. Sokol is an apparent supporter of the violent racist group Kahane Chai (Kach), a designated foreign terrorist organization in the US, Canada, and most other Western countries. The top screen capture on the right shows Sokol’s role in writing the script of For the Sake of Nakba (click to enlarge), while the picture below it shows him posing with a weapon in front of  flag emblazoned with the slogan “Kahane tzadek” (“Kahane was right”).

While I haven’t yet seen the full video, the trailer  appears to show several things:

  1. Pictures of UNRWA facilities and background scenes at Aida and Dheisheh refugee camps near Bethlehem. camp. In interviews Bedein seems upset that refugees would erect a giant commemorative gateway to Aida featuring a key that symbolizes former homes within Israel. However, it doesn’t seem particularly surprising to me that refugees would do this (they are refugees, after all), and it has nothing to do with UNRWA which is not responsible for non-Agency installations.
  2. Palestinian kids excited at participating in UNRWA’s summer camps (0:25). Nothing controversial there—indeed, none of them mentions anything political at all.
  3. A street ceremony for a freed Palestinian prisoner (0:37). Although the film clearly tries to imply this is linked to the UNRWA summer camp, it clearly isn’t: even a cursory look at the video shows that the greeting has been organized by the local Fateh organization (hence all the yellow Fateh flags), and not by UNRWA (hence the complete absence of any UN insignia or officials whatsoever). It has nothing to do with UNRWA’s summer camps.
  4. Children playing at a school, and staff face-painting the children with Palestinian flags. While the video claims  ():55) that they are being painted with the “names of the villages they want to go back to,” the two children shown actually have “Palestine” and “Jerusalem” (al-Quds) painted on their faces—neither of which should be particularly controversial, given that for more than a decade the US-sponsored peace process has been all about establishing a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem. In any case, given the attachment to villages of origin among refugees, I wouldn’t find some face painting of village names objectionable—after all, everyone acknowledges that refugees were displaced from these locations in 1948. In any case, this does not appear to be an UNRWA school.
  5. Reference to UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (1:01). It is hardly surprising that refugees make reference to UN resolutions, however—and analysts of the peace process will know that even the Clinton Parameters of December 2000 and the Israeli refugee nonpaper at Taba in January 2001 made references to UNGAR 194 as well. Some of the children here appear to be painting the names of their family’s original villages. However, sources in the area confirm that this is not an UNRWA facility, and these events are not part of UNRWA’s summer camp.
  6. Outdoor activities on the theme of original villages (1:32). This part of the film provides no evidence that this is an UNRWA activity—you will note that none of the children or staff are wearing UNRWA summer camp garb.
  7. A cultural festival with a “right of return” theme (2:03), apparently at Bethlehem University. This is clearly nothing to do with UNRWA at all, although the video tries to imply otherwise.
  8. Interviews with young refugee activists (2:29) at the non-UNRWA event at a non-UNRWA facility. This clearly has nothing at all to do with the Agency, although the video attempts to mislead its audience once again by implying that this is somehow related to an UNRWA summer camp.
  9. A closing picture of an UNRWA building (2:51) in a obvious attempt to once again link UNRWA to the various non-UNRWA activities shown in the video. There’s nothing actually happening at the building, however—indeed, it is clear that unlike the rest of the camp, the Agency’s facilities are free from any sort of political murals, graffiti, or statements.

In short, the video, far from showing the evidence of highly politicized UNRWA summer camps that it claims to show, actually provides evidence of the reverse: unable to find anything amiss in UNRWA’s activities, Bedein has spliced in unrelated events organized by other entities, and tried to imply through editing and narration that they are taking place under United Nations auspices.

In fairness, of course, it should be noted that the analysis above is based solely on the trailer. Perhaps the full video shows something substantive —although if it does, it seems odd indeed that it wasn’t included in the shorter promotional version. If we get hold of a full version, we’ll take a critical but open-minded look.

In the meantime, UNRWA itself has issued a statement noting that had offered to review Bedein’s material for factual accuracy, but the offer was apparently declined:

UNRWA rejects latest accusations by Israeli filmmaker

Statement by UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness

19 September 2011

UNRWA has reviewed the “trailer” of the latest film by the Israeli filmmaker David Bedein and rejects its allegations. It shows political activities which it claims are taking place in UNRWA facilities but which are not.

For example, it alleges that UNRWA staged an event to celebrate the freeing from Israeli detention of a Palestinian. We reject this.

UNRWA invited Mr Bedein to a meeting on 8 August at which he committed to allowing the Agency to review and comment on his material. Mr Bedein has not honoured this agreement.

UNRWA stands by its robust efforts to promote the highest standards of neutrality. For more details see our neutrality factsheet (PDF).

Indeed, a look at the video trailer suggests why he might not want his material fact-checked….