One of the greatest obstacles to Israeli-Palestinian peace, and certainly the least acknowledged, is the perpetuation of the Palestinian refugee problem and the inflation of its scale by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
Gaza needs aid. Last year's conflict between Israel and Hamas left affected residents homeless, compounding already dire humanitarian challenges facing the Strip. Most of the damage occurred in a concentrated 3km zone adjacent to Israel, which launched strikes against Hamas in response to the group's firing rockets at Israeli civilian areas.
Amnesty International has it hands full in the Middle East at the best of times, and now it seems that they are busier still. Yet Amnesty still finds the time to deal with... the so-called "bullying and judicial harassment" faced by one Palestinian "rights activist", Nariman Tamimi. Yes, to Amnesty it seems that a Palestinian woman facing trial for entering a closed military zone during the weekly protests in Nabi Saleh is as much of a human rights violation and an injustice as the killing of protesters in Turkey and Egypt.
The twentieth century experienced some of the worst instances of population displacement in history: the 15 million ethnic Germans forced out of their homes in Eastern Europe after World War II; the millions of Muslims and Hindus fleeing the newly established states of India and Pakistan during the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947; the millions of Armenians, Greeks, Turks, Finns, Bulgarians, Jews, and Kurds, among others, driven from their lands and resettled elsewhere.
By contrast, the 600,000 Arabs who fled their homes in mandatory Palestine and the nascent state of Israel during the 1947-48 war have been kept in squalid camps for decades by their Arab hosts as a means of derogating Israel in the eyes of the West and arousing pan-Arab sentiments. And as if to add insult to injury, the UN Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), established in December 1949 as a temporary means for relieving the plight of the newly-displaced refugees, has transformed into a permanent organisation that has substantially exacerbated the problem whose resolution it was supposed to facilitate.
Five UNRWA employees have been killed in the Syrian conflict and shells have hit and damaged both an UNRWA health centre and an UNRWA school. However, UNRWA has only issued weak statements deploring the deaths and calling for "all sides must refrain from conducting the conflict in civilian areas..." This significantly contrasts with the condemnations and calls for war-crimes investigations that occurred when an Israeli shell struck outside an UNRWA school during the 2009 Gaza conflict. Analysts Asaf Romirowsky and Alex Joffe explore UNRWA's obvious "double standards".
After more than a year of brutal repression of anti-regime protest, the atrocities against civilians in Syria keep reaching new heights. Growing attention to the bloodshed and violence in that country by the international community and human rights organisations, even if tragically belated, could have been a hopeful sign that something might finally be done to put an end to the bloodshed. In reality, however, no such steps appear to be in sight.
The last sentence in Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth's introduction to the organisation's 2012 annual report, titled "Time to Abandon the Autocrats and Embrace Rights," reads: "It is a global responsibility to help see a positive conclusion to the Arab people's brave efforts to demand their rights, and to ensure that the toppling of one autocratic regime does not lead to its replacement by another." If one were to read the essay backwards, this could have been a very promising start. Unfortunately, reading the essay from beginning to end, it is hard to avoid a certain sense of cynicism and irony when reaching this concluding sentence. This is mainly because Roth's piece should have been titled "Time to Abandon Autocrats and Embrace Political Islamism".
The United Nations Relief and Works Administration (UNRWA) - set up in 1949 to look after the humanitarian needs of Palestinians - has long been the subject of controversy, with critics accusing it of deliberately perpetuating the refugee problem....
Now Israeli researcher Arlene Kushner has written, in the latest edition of Middle East Quarterly, a detailed compendium and deconstruction of many recent examples illustrating, in her words "The propensity for senior UNRWA staff to make inappropriate, incendiary, and highly politicized statements - in stark contrast to the organization's mandate."...
A new article at the Jerusalem Post offers an interesting example of what might be done if UNRWA's insistence that Palestinian refugees must never be resettled, but must stay in refugee camps until the conflict is over, could be bypassed.