The Evils of UNRWA?

Posted: April 4, 2015 by Rex Brynen in factcheck, UNHCR, UNRWA

Well, David Bedein is at it again with his latest bizarre video, Children’s Army of Hamas. This time, however, he scores something of an own-goal, and accidentally provides a rather powerful argument for supporting UNRWA.

The most of the video shows a troubling phenomenon–the military training and indoctrination of Gazan children by Hamas.

However, Bedein then goes on to try to link these activities to UNRWA by interspersing clips from the training camps (which take place under Hamas auspices in Hamas-controlled facilities) with clips of Hamas officials saying positive things about UNRWA (which have nothing to do with military training camps whatsoever). Hamas statements, of course, will come as no surprise to either Israel or to donors—everyone is aware that the Agency needs a practical working relationship with Hamas to provide humanitarian services in Gaza, much as it needs a practical working relationship with the IDF to function in areas of the West Bank, or with the Syrian government and Syrian rebels to operate in Syria. Indeed, it is pretty much humanitarian assistance 101, and fully consistent with why the international community funds the Agency. Hamas also has to be careful about criticizing UNRWA, since the Agency enjoys a higher degree of social trust than does Hamas itself.

What is striking in all this is that Bedein’s video also implicitly highlights that while Hamas attempts to recruit children as combatants, UNRWA does not permit such activities at all—which is why he has to film non-UNRWA events and then try to smear the Agency with ludicrous guilt-through-association. Paramilitary activities and support for violence are prohibited by UNRWA in both its educational curriculum and in its facilities. UNRWA summer camps, which focus on issues of fun and human rights, have been regarded as a direct challenge to Hamas in this regard, since they attract children who might otherwise attend Hamas-linked activities. In short, were funding for UNRWA educational and youth activities to be ended and Hamas to take over all education, some 225,000 pupils would be subject to potential paramilitary indoctrination in Gaza schools. Given this, it is no wonder Israel has been asking donors to increase their support for UNRWA activities in Gaza.

In contrast to Bedein’s latest bizarre antics, some more serious criticisms of UNRWA are levelled by contributors to a special issue of Justice 55 (Winter 2014/15), the magazine of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists. These vary widely in quality. The magazine reproduces a couple of pieces by Bassem Eid that are simply so factually wrong that they further shred whatever residual credibility he might have once had.  Shabtai Shavit’s “A Tale of Two “Refugee” Organizations: UNRWA vs. UNHCR” is far more rhetoric than analysis. Articles by Alexander H. Joffe and Asaf Romirowsky reflect their well-known positions, but are at least sustained by some knowledge of the topic (even if I would disagree with most of their conclusions). James Lindsay, once again, emerges as one of the most thoughtful critics of the Agency.

Perhaps the most interesting piece of the lot is by Steven Rosen, who highlights the extent to which the government of Israel—despite its periodic complaints about aspects of UNRWA—continues to strongly support the Agency’s activities:

Deeply flawed as the agency is, Israel depends on UNRWA as an element promoting stability in the West Bank and Gaza, a vital strategic objective for the Jewish State.

The epicenter of Israel’s cooperation with UNRWA is Israel’s Ministry of Defense and the IDF, and specifically the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which has the day-to-day task of coordinating civil and security affairs in the West Bank and Gaza. COGAT attempts to maintain a good working relationship with UNRWA, mainly to help the agency perform its task of providing vital services to the Palestinian Arabs, services that the IDF might have to provide if UNRWA were suddenly removed

The Congressional Research Service reports that “Israeli officials … assert that UNRWA plays a valuable role by providing stability and serving as the eyes and ears of the international community in Gaza. They generally characterize UNRWA’s continued presence as preferable to the uncertain alternative that might emerge if UNRWA were removed from the picture.”

Israel’s dependence on UNRWA makes it leery of anti-UNRWA activity by its friends in Western countries. In January 2010, the president of Canada’s Treasury Board announced that the Harper government would redirect its Palestinian aid away from UNRWA and toward specific projects of the Palestinian Authority, much to the satisfaction of pro-Israel organizations in the country.[12] But six months later, in August 2010, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) reported that, “In discussions with … Israel …, Canada has been asked to resume funding the [UNRWA] General Fund.” A critic of the pro-Israel groups sneered, “The lobby is working in a vacuum with very poor information, pushing for actions that the Israeli government feels is not in its interest.”

On a final note, it is striking that none of the pieces in the magazine make any attempt whatsoever to assess Israel’s responsibilities in the refugee issue. After all, it was not UNRWA that forcibly displaced most of the non-Jews resident from within what became Israel in 1948, nor was it UNRWA that seized their properties and prevented them from returning (with lethal force, if necessary) on ethno-religious grounds. While most of the articles suggest that refugees be absorbed or resettled, there is almost no attention to the way 90% of all refugee situations are resolved in the modern era, namely through repatriation. Here again, it has not been UNRWA that has prevented return of refugees to Israel, nor their repatriation to the West Bank or Gaza—including hundreds of thousands of 1967 displaced persons whose repatriation has been agreed three times (in the 1978 Camp David Accords, the 1993 Oslo Agreement, and the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty) but never implemented. Israel has also indicated that it will not permit the current repatriation of Palestinians in Iraq and Syria who face severe threats of violence and deprivation.

For their part, neither Syria nor Lebanon have been willing to extend citizenship to Palestinian refugees resident there, while Jordan has been particularly anxious to keep additional Palestinians out of the country. (The PA/PLO hasn’t been enthusiastic about this either, a stance that I strongly disagree with. Hamas has welcomed refugees, but few can get to Gaza, or wish to do so.)

In short, the lack of durable solutions for these populations really can’t be laid at the Agency’s door, whatever its shortcomings.

Pierre Krähenbühl, Twitter champion

Posted: March 17, 2015 by Rex Brynen in UNRWA
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The Commission General of UNRWA is apparently something of a Twitter champion, according to this recent study by Twiplomacy:

In terms of average retweets per 100 followers Pierre Krähenbühl (@PKraehenbuehl), the Commissioner General of @UNRWA is by far the overall champion with 328 retweets per 100 followers thanks to a series of personal tweets he sent during the attack on Gaza in July 2014 which have been retweeted several thousand times.

They also note that “Very few leaders tweet themselves. Notable exceptions are Sir Suma Charkrabarti (@EBRDSuma), Rob Steele (@ISOSecGen) and UNRWA’s Pierre Krähenbühl (@Pkraehenbuehl) who tweet personal observations and are all worth following.”

Most-Effective-Heads-of-International-Organisations

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UNRWA has issued a useful infographic and update on the situation of Palestinian refugees in Syria:

In February 2015, Yarmouk and its surrounding areas continue to experience high levels of armed violence, which prevented distribution of humanitarian assistance by UNRWA. The Agency has not been able to complete a successful distribution since 6 December 2014. In addition, UNRWA has been unable to operate its temporary health point or provide residents with clean water and basic non-food items. The Agency continues to advocate for full, safe and uninterrupted access to Yarmouk and other areas that remain hard to reach or fully inaccessible. On 9 February, the Agency was able to visit Husseiniyeh for the first time in over 18 months. The visit constitutes an important first step in restoring UNRWA services, rehabilitating UNRWA facilities and in making the area habitable for returning civilians.

You’ll find the original pdf here.

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.

UNHCR, UNRWA, Palestinian statehood, and refugee status

Posted: December 30, 2014 by Rex Brynen in UNHCR, UNRWA

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Some of my recent comments regarding refugee status appear to have caused confusion among ideologues, so I thought it might be time for an end-of-year post to clear things up. Specifically, what would happen if UNHCR status rules were applied to Palestinian refugees?

1) It should be noted, for a start, that UNRWA only determines refugee status for service eligibility, not for the purposes of rights or protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention. To some extent, therefore, it is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. Palestinian refugees under the care of UNRWA are excluded from the Convention under Article 1 D. However, that same Article notes that such persons would be eligible for Convention protections if their situation is not otherwise “definitively settled in accordance with the relevant resolutions adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations.” In other words, the international community insisted on a multiple layers of protection for Palestinian refugees from the outset: UNRWA, the 1951 Convention in UNRWA’s absence, and a requirement that their situation be resolved in accordance with relevant UNGAR resolutions, meaning UNGAR 194 (1948).

2) It has been alleged that I claimed that “UNHCR and UNRWA definitions for refugees were virtually identical,” which is a (deliberate?) misreading of my position and the nuances of the international refugee regime. As I have argued many times before, it is my view that Palestinian citizens of Jordan—who are clearly able to avail themselves of the protection of a state—would not normally be eligible for UNHCR refugee status. (The Jordanians could, however, argue that the wording of the Convention rendered them eligible nonetheless under the terms of cessation clause of paragraph 2 of Article 1D.)

3) Palestinians in Syria and Lebanon are generally stateless, and would certainly be considered for multi-generational derivative refugee status in accordance with existing practice under UNHCR rules. Indeed, non-UNRWA, subsequent generation, stateless Palestinian refugees (i.e, those without citizenship and outside UNRWA’s area of operations) are quite regularly treated as Convention refugees by both UNHCR and Western countries. A case in point is Iraq, where UNHCR treated Palestinians there as refugees under the 1951 Convention:

Palestinian refugees in Iraq, being outside UNRWA’s area of operations fall within UNHCR’s competence by virtue of paragraph 2 of Art.1D of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

It should be noted that UNHCR also insisted that third country resettlement of such refugees should only be considered as an “exceptional humanitarian response and an option of last resort.” They urged that Palestinian refugees be permitted by Israel to repatriate to the West Bank and Gaza (Israel refused, while the PA was unenthusiastic). UNHCR also aserted that “resettlement should be seen as a temporary solution for Palestinians, without jeopardizing their right to return.”

4) Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are, de jure, citizens of the State of Palestine. Given this, do they therefore lose their refugee status or representation (or, more accurately, would they lose the former under UNHCR/Convention rules)? This concern was raised by some Palestinian refugee advocates at the time that Palestine applied to the UN for recognition as a state, and has also been raised by others as invalidating Palestinian refugee claims and status. However, despite UN recognition, in no way can Palestine be considered a de facto functioning state, able to provide protection for its citizens.

Therefore, no country—not even Israel—has seriously claimed that recognition of Palestine invalidates the refugee status of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza. Moreover, UNGAR 67/19 (2012) on the “Status of Palestine in the United Nations” explicitly invokes prior UN resolutions  (including UNGAR 194). The Israeli government in particular has no interest in pursuing this, since this would result in a termination of UNRWA services in these areas, severely destabilizing the PA while enabling Hamas to assume full control over the Gaza education system—something it has been anxious to avoid. Indeed, Israeli officials continue to urge donor countries to increase, not reduce, their financial support for the Agency in these areas.

Finally, it should be noted that debates over UNHCR vs UNRWA refugee eligibility are largely an irrelevant red herring. The refugee issue does not derive from UNRWA service eligibility rules, and Palestinian concern with return, repatriation, and refugee rights would not end even if the Agency were to disappear in a puff of blue smoke tomorrow. Moreover, if somehow—perhaps due to intervention by a herd of magical, fluffy flying unicorns, since there is no other imaginable way it would occur otherwise—UNRWA were dissolved, UNHCR would almost certainly treat most Palestinian refugees as refugees. Furthermore, the General Assembly would, with absolutely certainty, direct it to do so. Indeed, some years ago some Palestinian refugee activists favoured a shift of the Palestinian case from UNRWA to UNHCR for precisely that reason, feeling the latter had a much stronger protection mandate, was far more activist, and would more explicitly press for the refugees’ “right of return.”

And with that, best wishes to everyone from PRRN for a happy, peaceful, and rights-based New Year!

On December 1, the Jerusalem Post published a op ed by Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid regarding UNRWA. Eid, who made a brief reputation years ago as a critic of the Palestinian Authority, has not been considered much of a credible or influential figure in the human rights community for some time.

His op ed was very critical of the Agency:

I live in Jerusalem and was brought up in a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) refugee camp in Shuafat, a refugee camp like 58 other UNRWA refugee camps created for the sole purpose of keep Palestinian Arab people in “temporary” conditions, for 65 years, under the false pretense and specious promise of the “right of return” to pre-1948 villages that do not exist.

As a proud Palestinian, I must take responsible for what will happen to our people.

We can no longer deny our responsibility for the future of our people.

UNRWA, to continue its operation, depends on death and the visual suffering of five million Palestinians who continue to wallow in and around UNRWA facilities.

The more Palestinians suffer, the more power goes to UNRWA, which allows it to raise unchecked humanitarian funds and purchase munitions.

As you can see already, it isn’t a very well-informed piece. Take, for example, the bizarre claim that UNRWA uses donor money to “purchase munitions”—how on earth did that piece of extreme silliness get past a Jerusalem Post editor? It is also not the case that UNRWA does not promise a “right of return” to refugees. Such a promise, to the extent that it exists, is rooted in international human rights law and UN General Assembly resolutions.

One could go on picking holes in the Eid op ed for some considerable time. However, what was also striking was the extent to which his piece seemed to simply paraphrase points that were made back in October by perennial anti-UNRWA gadfly David Bedein in the right-wing Arutz Sheva news service.

  • Bedein, for example, called upon donors to “predicate assistance to UNRWA on 4 reasonable conditions”—which in the Eid op ed becomes “predicate future aid to UNRWA on reasonable conditions.”
  • Bedein called for donors to “[a]udit all funds which flow to UNRWA, which operates on a 1.2 billion USD budget.’ Eid repeats this almost verbatim: “[a]udit all funds allocated to UNRWA, which operates with a $1.2b. budget.”
  • Bedein proposes to “[i]ntroduce UNHCR standards to UNRWA, to encourage refugee resettlement.” Similarly, Eid proposes to “[i]ntroduce UN High Commissioner for Refugees standards to UNRWA, to encourage permanent refugee resettlement.”
  • Bedein calls upon UNRWA to “[c]ancel the current UNRWA curriculum, which now incorporates principles of Jihad, martyrdom and the right of return.” Sure enough, Eid does the same, calling for the Agency to “[c]ancel the UNRWA war curriculum, based on principles of jihad, martyrdom and right of return by force of arms.”
  • Bedein demands that the Agency “[d]ismiss UNRWA employees affiliated with Hamas, in accordance with laws on the books in the US, the EU, Canada, Australia and the UK.” Eid changes a few words, so this becomes “[d]ismiss UNRWA employees affiliated with Hamas, defined by the donor nations to UNRWA as a terrorist entity.

I suspect that Bedein would be quite flattered by this sort of quasi-plagiarism, since it clearly serves his political purposes. It raises the question, however, of whether there is some sort of deeper relationship between Eid and Bedein, and whether the former has been assisting the latter in his various fraudulent video documentaries about UNRWA (like this one and this one). If so, UNRWA may actually owe the pair of them a paradoxical “thank you,” since the evident malicious distortions in these reports have actually won UNRWA greater sympathy in some donor agencies.

Unfortunately, attention to Eid’s mistakes was temporarily derailed when UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness responded to his piece by appearing to call for a boycott of the Jerusalem Post:

I don’t think that the United Nations ought to get involved in twitter-fights, since they rarely make look you look objective, professional, or neutral. This was no exception, with the tweet causing a prompt, angry response in the Jerusalem Post and elsewhere in the Israeli and Jewish media:

What Gunness should not be doing… is launching an attack on a media outlet that supports free and open debate as well as a diversity of expression. Perhaps Gunness thinks that by singling out the Post for censure, he will endear himself to Palestinian extremists. He should know, though, that by calling for a boycott against the paper, he is betraying the basic principle of free expression and in the process undermining the very moral foundations that his own organization – UNRWA – is supposed to honor.

The Israeli government and local media should send an unequivocal message that Gunness’s boycott call is an unacceptable attempt to intimidate a reputable newspaper.

A precedent must not be set whereby critique is met with boycott.

Also riding to Eid’s defence was, of course, was none other than David Bedein.

Also, rather lost in the exchange was Gunness’ observation that the Jerusalem Post had hired as one of its journalists an alleged supporter of the banned Kahane Chai (Kach) terrorist group (and, incidentally, a former Bedein writing partner):

..although, once again, I don’t think that is a fight that ought to be waged by a UN official.

Today things come full circle, with an op ed by Chris Gunness himself in the Jerusalem Post (and kudos to the newspaper for offering him an opportunity to reply). Gunness doesn’t address the “boycott” controversy, but does do an excellent job of refuting some of the accusations levelled at the Agency:

One such criticism focuses on the notion that UNRWA in some sense endorses extremism.

This is an accusation we reject in the strongest possible terms. During the latest Gaza hostilities, it was UNRWA that came out proactively condemning militant groups that had placed rockets in our schools and which we had discovered during our own neutrality inspections. It is little reported, but our staff on the ground has received threats of abductions and violent retribution. As the conflict raged, UNRWA’s commissioner- general condemned the firing of rockets into Israel, not from the comfort of his office in Jerusalem, but from the battle zone itself, inside Gaza.

There is a related argument that UNRWA is in some sense anti-Israel. This is a notion we reject as groundless. Many of our stakeholders support us precisely because we oppose intolerance and discrimination and speak out against them as appropriate. No doubt in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, amid the appalling violence in Syria and in light of the wholesale denial of rights to Palestinians in Lebanon, maintaining staff neutrality is challenging, yet we take direct ownership of this issue. We have a plethora of procedures and systems in place for ensuring our staff understands why it is important to remain impartial.

Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that we pay a heavy price for working in such environments. Eleven UNRWA colleagues lost their lives during the conflict in Gaza, in addition to 14 in Syria since 2011, and one in the West Bank in 2013.

Meanwhile, you hear almost nothing in the media about our proactive programs to promote UN neutrality in the context of an increasingly radicalized Middle East. You rarely hear about thousands of UNRWA education staff members teaching human rights and conflict resolution as part of a discrete curriculum which we developed, promoting values based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

A related comment is that we allegedly promote the right of return for Palestine refugees in “UNRWA textbooks.” The fact is that we do not promote or prescribe specific political solutions and in reaffirming that the refugees have rights, we stipulate that the only solution to the conflict can be one acceptable to all the parties. As for text books, according to long accepted practice, we use the same books as host governments and local authorities.

This includes the schools administered by the State of Israel in east Jerusalem.

It is also alleged that UNRWA prevents people leaving refugee camps and somehow intentionally perpetuates the problem through the generations, unlike UNHCR, which, as our critics would have it, has a mandate to resettle refugees and never registers through generations. This is erroneous.

UNRWA does not run refugee camps, neither do we prevent people leaving them.

Our human development programs offer an escape from the grind of the camps, and incidentally only one-third of the refugees live in camps, a proportion declining over time thanks in no small part to social mobility nurtured by UNRWA. Moreover, UNHCR also registers children of refugees as refugees where their political plight remains unresolved.

UNHCR’s Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status states: “If the head of a family meets the criteria of the definition [for refugee status], his dependents are normally granted refugee status according to the principle of family unity.”

UNHCR’s Procedural Standards for Refugee Status Determination makes the same point.

These attacks are based on the notion that if you get rid of UNRWA, you get rid of the refugees. The logic of this runs contrary to international law and refugee best practice.

What perpetuates the refugees as an issue is the political failure to address their plight based on international law and the precepts of justice, in the context of a just and lasting settlement of the Middle East conflict. That is one reason why UNRWA constantly calls on the political players to take meaningful political action. We seek nothing more than our own closure, which will come when the political parties finally resolve the issue for which we were created.

Let us recognize UNRWA for what it is: a UN human development organization providing essential services to an increasingly desperate and perpetually displaced population that lingers in a state of political uncertainty. The United Nations General Assembly, which represents the international community as a whole, established UNRWA for a particular reason, namely to address the needs of Palestine refugees, and the General Assembly continues to renew our mandate in the absence of a just and durable solution of their plight.

Meanwhile, we continue to ask the political actors and the international community to address the future of this population through a just and lasting resolution that provides the dignity and sense of peace that all people deserve. Until that occurs, we will continue in our mission as defined and mandated by the UN General Assembly.

Hopefully that will now serve as the point of departure for a better-informed, less vitriolic, and more productive dialogue on UNRWA, donors, Israel, and the Palestinian refugee issue.

palestine_state_pic_6_1Asem Khalil (Birzeit University) has a thoughtful piece in a recent issue of Middle East Law and Governance 6 (2014), asking “Is Citizenship a Solution to the Palestinian Refugee Problem?”

In this paper, I first argue that, since the British mandate, citizenship regulations in Palestine contributed to dispossession of the rights of Palestinians, thus laying the seeds of the Palestinian refugee problem and its eventual consolidation. I then argue that citizenship regulations in host countries were exclusionary towards refugees in general, and Palestinians in particular, making it impossible for Palestinians to integrate in host societies. The so-called “Arab Spring” did not bring about any change in that sense. Finally, I argue that the narrative of statehood, although often separated from that of the “right of return”, constitutes but one narrative, and one from a com- pletely different angle than the narrative of a “right of return”, where the ‘just solution’ creates the possibility of establishing a homeland for Palestinians where they, and in particular the stateless refugees, can be converted into full citizens. What was part of the problem for refugees is presented as part of the solution. This discussion is very important in today’s Palestine, which was just recently accepted by the un General Assembly as a non-member observer state. The importance of that move is the official Palestinian insistence on the need for a state on the 1967 borders, and the willingness to accept the formula of a two-state solution. Discussion related to citizenship and refugee status, and the right of return, are all back at the center of political and legal discussions.

As of the time of posting the issue isn’t online yet at the Brill website, but will be so soon.

In his opening statement to the UNRWA Advisory Commission (currently meeting in Jordan), UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl highlighted the severe challenges facing both the Agency and Palestinian refugees:

…At our last meeting, I described the situation of Palestine refugee communities as unsustainable. Since then, the trends have become even bleaker. The pressures on Palestinians and Palestine refugees are immense and the threats to their lives, livelihoods or future are of such magnitude that hope is needed somewhere on the horizon. Hope – in this most unstable region – can only and must be brought about by resolute political action.

Half way through its seventh decade of existence and action, UNRWA is an illustration of what can and in many ways has been achieved for Palestine Refugees over this period but we are also a living reminder of what happens when no political solutions are found to address the underlying causes of an historic injustice.

Throughout my statement you will hear confirmation – if it was needed – of UNRWA’s profound commitment to serving the Palestine refugee communities today and in the future, consistent with the mandate, role, and responsibilities we have been given by the international community, specifically the UN General Assembly. You will also hear that we find impossible, year after year, to accept the failure to resolve the fundamental issues of occupation, blockade and conflicts that affect Palestine refugees so severely.

I call here for determined and structured political leadership by the international community in this regard. I do so because we are among the best placed to daily observe and highlight the human consequences and costs of the ongoing denial of dignity and rights of Palestine refugees. In that context, I am convinced that it is our responsibility both to provide services to the refugees and to advocate for an end to this intolerable reality….

You can read the full statement here.

WBreportcoverLast month the World Bank released a report on the performance of UNRWA education programmes in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jordan. The study’s findings suggested that the Agency was significantly outperforming the local public education systems in these areas (emphasis added):

Executive Summary

Palestine refugees are achieving higher-than-average learning outcomes in spite of the adverse circumstances they live under. Their education system—the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)—operates one of the largest non-governmental school systems in the Middle East. It manages nearly 700 schools, has hired 17,000 staff, educates more than 500,000 refugee students each year, and operates in five areas, including the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Contrary to what might be expected from a resource-constrained administration serving refugee students who continually face a multitude of adversities, UNRWA students outperform public schools in the three regions—the West Bank, Gaza, and Jordan—by a year’s worth of learning.

This study uses a mixed methods research approach, incorporating both quantitative and qualitative research to address the complexity of the research question and its exploratory nature, namely how do UNRWA schools continually and consistently outperform public schools? This study was prepared using the following tools, techniques, and data collection:

  • Econometric techniques were used to analyze learning achievement data, including international (TIMSS and PISA) and national student assessment data.
  • The Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER) tools and rubrics were used to assess different system components, such as teacher effectiveness, school autonomy, and student assessments.
  • Stallings classroom observations provided a structured method to compare teachers’ and students’ interactions.

Qualitative data collected through interviews captured the lived experiences of a sample of UNRWA students.

These tools were applied through a concurrent research process (Figure 1), constituted through a mixed methods research design that led to integrated findings.

It is important to recognize the methodological and practical limitations of this study to establish its relevance to other education systems and contexts of adversity. The UNRWA system covers five regions, of which this study examines three: West Bank, Gaza, and Jordan. Thus, the findings represent factors that appear to be working within a system, but they do not imply that the system as a whole is achieving positive results. That would require additional data collection and analysis for Lebanon and Syria. Nor do the findings attempt to negate or discount the incidence of falling standards in UNRWA schools in recent years. Moreover, the international assessment data point to UNRWA’s performance in relation to the public system in some of the host countries. But the data do not cover the inputs and processes in public school systems, which may differ from those in UNRWA schools, so they cannot be used to pass judgment on what these public systems may face.

WBUNRWAFigure8

When one controls for the lower socio-economic status of refugees, the results are quite striking—equivalent to one full year of additional schooling. Moreover, these results have been achieved at a lower cost per pupil.

The report identifies several reasons for this impressive performance:

This is achieved as a result of the way these schools recruit, prepare, and support teachers; because of instructional practices and pedagogy in the classroom; and because of school leadership, accountability, and mutual support. This has created a distinguished learning community centered on the student. Of note:

  • UNRWA selects, prepares, and supports its education staff to pursue high learning outcomes.
  • Time-on-task is high in UNRWA schools, and this time is used more effectively than in public schools.
  • UNRWA schools have a world-class assessment and accountability system.
  • UNRWA schools are part of a wider community and culture of learning that supports the child and ensures that the education received is meaningful and relevant.

The report also notes some narrowing of the performance gap in recent years. While it doesn’t assess the reasons for this, it seems likely that it is a product of both improvement in national educational systems and the Agency’s continuing budgetary crisis.

Previous TIMSS studies have shown the Jordanian and Palestian education systems to be at or slightly above the average for Arab countries. Many countries in the Middle East typically score relatively poorly on standardized international tests of math and science knowledge, in large part because of poor teacher training, outmoded teaching techniques and curriculum, and poor management.

Review: Bedein, UNRWA Goes to War

Posted: October 29, 2014 by Rex Brynen in factcheck, UNRWA

Israeli-American political activist David Bedein—who has long been on a personal jihad against UNRWA—has released his latest video criticizing the Agency. The Agency need not worry, however. UNRWA Goes to War is so filled with transparent lies and distortions that no one in the donor community is likely to take it seriously. See for yourself:

  • At 2:32, it talks about rockets found in closed UN schools. The rockets shown, however, are those seized by the Israeli navy in March 2014—the original picture of which has been carefully cropped by Bedein in the video to make it appear otherwise. The video fails to note that it was UNRWA that found the rockets, complained, and arranged as best it could for their disposal.
  • At 2:42 it talks about a booby-trapped building with an UNRWA clinic sign. The video fails to note that the IDF later confirmed that the building was NOT an UNRWA building, and that the soldiers involved had misidentified it as such.
  • At 2:53, the video shows alleged “UNRWA supplies” used to construct Hamas tunnels. In fact, no such supplies were used–what is shown is simply a discarded food bag that has been used to carry dirt. Israel has NOT alleged any use of UNRWA supplies in tunnel construction.
  • The video raises the frequently disproved allegations of violent anti-Israel bias in the textbooks used by UNRWA, an allegation that has been found to be baseless in investigations by the US and other governments.
  • The video makes frequent use of images taken from non-UNRWA facilities in such a way as to imply they are actual UN locations.
  • The teacher interviewed at 8:48 is not an UNRWA teacher, and the school itself is not an UNRWA school but a PA school in Jenin. Several of the kids (perhaps most or all) shown in the video are clearly not UNRWA students, since the school uniforms are wrong.
  • The video discovers that Palestinian refugee kids—who variously live under occupation or are subject to periodic IDF attacks, and whose families were forced from their original homes within Israel in 1948—don’t particularly like Israel. This will come as a surprise to precisely no one. Interviews are conducted with such kids in front of UN facilities in an attempt to link the UN to their views. One could interview Bedein in front of a mosque or fast food restaurant too, but that would hardly mean that Islam or McDonald’s endorses his views.

Strangely, there is no mention whatsoever of UNRWA’s human rights curriculum (introduced despite objections from Hamas), which stresses peaceful conflict resolution and universal respect for human rights. Nor does it mention Israel’s repeated statements of support for the Agency’s humanitarian activities and its requests to donors that they increase their funding of the Agency. Indeed, the UN more broadly (and UNRWA in particular) is now playing a key role in the importation of cement into Gaza for reconstruction–something israel would hardly have agreed to if it thought the Agency had been taken over by Hamas as Bedein suggests.


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