UN General Assembly expresses support for UNRWA’s work, calls for adequate funding

The cemetry of Rashidieh refugee camp in Lebanon. The camp lies only 10 kilometers from Palestine. On the horizon Ras Naqura, the northern part of Palestine. (Arjan El Fassed)


Speakers continued to express strong support for the humanitarian work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and called for the alleviation of its budgetary problems, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its consideration of the Agency’s annual report.

Many speakers also called on Israel to cease from measures which, they said, constricted the Agency’s ability to move staff and provide assistance.  The representative of Bangladesh said that those measures resulted from a policy of collective punishment, including unprecedented destruction of homes and property, curfews, incursions, restrictions of movement and denial of humanitarian access.  He said the Israeli army had destroyed buildings and equipment belonging to UNRWA, and school children had been killed in classrooms.  He demanded that Israel ensure unrestricted mobility and non-interference in the activities of the Agency.

Supporting UNRWA’s humanitarian mandate, Israel’s representative said that the extremely difficult conditions under which the Agency worked were caused by Palestinian terrorism, which had killed over 1,000 Israelis since 2000.  To make matters worse, terror groups had also abused internationally protected emblems such as that of the United Nations and the Red Crescent.  Seventeen UNRWA employees had been convicted or were under indictment for crimes including membership in terrorist organizations, possession of explosives and manufacture of bombs.

The Agency, he added, must end such abuses and promote its vital mission without politicizing and grandstanding.  In that light, his country was interested in further developing dialogue with the Agency.

The representative of the Netherlands, speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, condemned terrorism and said the Union recognized the right of Israel to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks.  He stressed, however, that the exercise of that right must take place within the boundaries of international law.

Concerned that refugees had been increasingly affected by the severe deterioration of the humanitarian conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, he appealed to the Israeli Government to stop all actions that aggravated the situation and restricted UNRWA’s work.  He also urged the Palestinian Authority to implement in full and without further delay the reform package agreed on with the international community in the framework of the Task Force on Palestinian Reform.  The Union, he said, reaffirmed its commitment to a negotiated two-State solution through the Road Map, the only way to a just and lasting solution to the problem.

The Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Peter Hansen, responded to issues brought up by the representative of Israel and welcomed further dialogue with that Government.

Also speaking this morning were the representatives of Japan, Malaysia, Morocco, Viet Nam, South Africa, Norway, Kuwait, Turkey, Sudan, Canada, Cuba, China and United States. A representative of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) also spoke. The observer of Palestine spoke in the exercise of the right of reply.

The Committee will meet again at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, 8 November to conclude its debate on UNRWA and take up the Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the OccupiedTerritories.

Background

The Fourth committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its consideration of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Statements

TAKEOMI YAMAMOTO (Japan) expressed his sincere hope for the recovery of Yasser Arafat.  He said the Middle East peace process was confronted with enormous difficulties.  At present, there was almost no prospect of the resumption of negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian sides.  He strongly urged the Israeli side to exercise maximum self-restraint and the Palestinian side to make the utmost efforts to control extremists.  He also appealed to the two parties to implement their obligations under the “Road Map” in good faith.  Regarding the Gaza withdrawal plan, he encouraged the Israeli Government to carry out a full and complete withdrawal in coordination with the Palestinian Authority as part of the Road Map’s implementation.

He said the construction of the “separation wall”, although intended to prevent intrusions of terrorists, not only negatively impacted the livelihood of the Palestinians but also prejudged the final status of the negotiations.  He expected that Israel would act appropriately, following the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.  In addition to its contributions to the Palestinian Authority, his country regarded its assistance to UNRWA as important complementary assistance for the Middle East peace process.  In January, the Government had announced a donation of $5.9 million to UNRWA, including $1.5 million to support emergency activities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  In March, it had contributed another 500 million yen to UNRWA’s Food Assistance Programme.  Since the Oslo Agreements, it had contributed more than $220 million to UNRWA’s budget.

RASTAM MOHD ISA (Malaysia) expressed appreciation to UNRWA and its Commissioner-General, Peter Hansen, for their work.  The UNRWA report contained very disturbing figures and incidents concerning the continuing deterioration in the political, economic and social situations in the occupied Palestinian territory, and its effect on the refugees.  In addition, the separation wall and other restrictions on movement imposed by Israel had severely hampered UNRWA’s efforts, and he called for the international community to prevail upon Israel to remove such restrictions.  He also stressed the pressing need to ensure the safety and security of UNRWA staff.

He welcomed UNRWA’s serious efforts to conduct an effective delivery of emergency assistance in cooperation with many United Nations units and the community of non-governmental organizations.  He also stressed the importance of a steady and predictable growth in contributions to the regular budget in the coming years, as well as an increase in emergency funding.  He called upon UNRWA to examine its emergency priorities and explore further options to widen its donor base.  He recognized that UNRWA was vital in forestalling a more alarming humanitarian disaster, and was an essential component in the struggle for peace in the Middle East.  Finally, he called malicious Israel’s accusation that an UNRWA ambulance was used to transport a Qassam rocket.

SAADIA EL ALAOUI (Morocco), expressing thanks to Mr. Hansen and UNRWA for their work, said that the situation of refugees had continued to deteriorate not only in the occupied territories but also in the host countries.  She described Israeli actions that worsened that plight in the territories, saying that international humanitarian laws should protect refugees from such actions.  She called upon Israel to allow UNRWA to do its work, and upon the entire donor community to increase funding to allow refugees to live decently, which was much harder because of Israel’s embargo and because of the wall it was building.

NGUYEN VAN BAO (Viet Nam) said that UNRWA’s activities were extremely important in light of the continuing deterioration in the political, economic and social situations in the occupied Palestinian territories.  The Palestinian economy continued to be severely depressed and over half of the Palestinian population continued to live below the poverty line.  Besides operational activities, the Agency had also pursued its internal management reform with a view to enhancing its overall efficiency.  It had organized its first major conference, stimulating partnerships and strengthening its relations with its stakeholders.

He said the report showed that the construction of the wall/fence, internal closures, curfews and other restrictions imposed by Israel in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip had led to severe mobility restrictions on the Palestinian population.  Those activities had also had an adverse impact on the ability of the Agency to carry out its humanitarian functions.  He was also concerned at the destruction of and damage to the infrastructures and facilities of the Agency.  It was, therefore, necessary to respect the integrity of the United Nations and the immunities of its staff, and to ensure safe conditions for staff members of UNRWA to perform their difficult tasks.

BONGIWE QWABE (South Africa) said the humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and Gaza was not the result of a natural disaster but a crisis imposed by Israel.  Israel policies included actions that were expressly prohibited in the Fourth Geneva Convention and that only served to encourage acts of retaliation.  She called on Israel to allow free passage of deliveries of essential goods and services to the Palestinian territory and to allow free movement of people to their places of employment.  She commended the Agency’s efforts to alleviate the plight of the Palestinian people and welcomed its efforts to promote income-generating activities.  However, UNRWA had been forced to suspend many of its normal operations because Israel denied United Nations personnel secure and unimpeded access into Gaza.

Paying tribute to the Governments of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria for their continued and valuable support to Palestinian refugees, she noted with concern the precarious financial situation of the Agency.  Her country was also concerned with the continued loss of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians as a result of suicide bombings and the excessive retaliatory use of force.  Expressing unwavering support for the struggle of the Palestinian people for the right to self-determination, she said the realization of that objective lay in a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.  She urged all parties to the conflict not to allow extremism and violence to derail any plans that would bring the peace process forward.

HANS JACOB FRYDENLUND (Norway) expressed deep concern that violence, humiliation and poverty was pushing the Palestinian population into a deep crisis.  The services and emergency aid provided by UNRWA played an indispensable role at such times, and it was necessary to provide it with adequate funding.  Norway had made additional contributions to the Agency and urged fellow donors to follow suit.  He was concerned that the cost of providing basic services in the occupied territories was rising sharply as a result of incursions by Israel, as well as the closure regime and the barrier.

In addition, he said that UNRWA and other humanitarian relief agencies must be guaranteed full access to all parts of the occupied territories.  He regretted that UNRWA had been targeted with unfounded allegations of misconduct and commended the Agency for its untiring efforts to assist the refugees under difficult and often dangerous circumstances.  Supporting also the work of the Working Group on Stakeholder Relations, he said that the Agency itself, the host countries and the many donor countries had a common interest in ensuring that the Agency maintained a high level of transparency and that it used its scarce resources as efficiently as possible.

MANSOUR AYYAD AL-OTAIBI (Kuwait) hailed UNRWA’s work in providing services and relief to those in its charge.  He was keenly aware of the difficulties under which the Agency was operating, but affirmed the necessity that it expand its services in all areas.  Kuwait would continue to support UNRWA through annual allocations.  The repressive policies practiced by Israel continued to violate the Geneva Conventions and to create more obstacles to humanitarian relief, including the arrest of UNRWA staff.  He said such practices must cease.  He called for UNRWA staff to obtain all the privileges of other such United Nations staff, and called on Israel to abide by its commitments and return to the road to peace.

MUSTAFA LEVENT BILGEN (Turkey) said he was seriously troubled about the unrelenting cycle of violence in the Middle East.  All diplomatic efforts had proved to be futile as both sides had dug deeper into their hard line positions.  The real tragedy was that the political, socio-economic and psychological toll fell on the innocent – the children, women and elderly – and on the segments of both societies who wished to attain peace and calm.  While unequivocally condemning all acts of terrorism, he was equally critical of the policies of destruction and excessive use of force as tools for collective punishment.  The Road Map provided the only viable solution to overcoming the stalemate.

He said, unfortunately, the report again depicted a dark picture, especially about the situation in the Palestinian territory, where delivery of services was hindered and infrastructure and installations funded by UNRWA were damaged.  Access had become a regular challenge for the Agency.   The Agency’s financial situation also remained a cause for concern.  Therefore, he endorsed the recommendations put forward in the report of the Working Group on the Financing of the UNRWA, emphasizing the responsibility of the international community to sustain the Agency’s services at an acceptable level.  He welcomed the recent decision of the Israeli Parliament to approve the withdrawal plan.  Full and complete implementation of that decision would have significance only if it was realized as a step towards achieving a comprehensive settlement of the conflict, based on the relevant United Nations resolutions.

ILHAM IZELDIN (Sudan) said the practices of the occupation forces, including persecution of defenceless people and killing and dispersion of civilians, as well as the policies of closures, had increasingly aggravated the suffering of the Palestinian people.  The construction of the separation wall also contributed to the misery.

The international silence vis-à-vis the Israeli crimes, particularly from the United States, only encouraged Israel to increase its policies of violence, as had been evidenced by the killing of children in their schools.  Sudan recognized the right of return of Palestinian refugees under General Assembly resolution 194 as well as the right to compensation.  It urged the international community and the United Nations to provide assistance to the Agency for further activities in the occupied Palestinian territories and the refugee host countries.

MUHAMMAD A. MUHITH (Bangladesh) applauded the work of UNRWA amidst Israeli measures of collective punishment, including unprecedented destruction of homes and property, curfews, incursions, restrictions of movement and denial of humanitarian access.  Concerned about the construction of the separation wall and restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities, he said those restrictions had had a serious impact on the ability of the Agency to move staff and humanitarian assistance.  The Israeli army had destroyed buildings and equipment belonging to UNRWA.  Even school children had been killed while they were in classrooms.  Those unlawful and inhuman measures pointed to a calculated effort to undermine the role and activities of the Agency.  He demanded that Israel ensure unrestricted mobility and non-interference in the activities of the Agency.

He said continued support of UNRWA was crucial to the survival of the Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.  The fact that the financial situation of the Agency had deteriorated further with the deepening of the Middle East crisis was a matter of concern.  In light of the worsening humanitarian situation in the occupied territories, he appealed to the international community to do its utmost to enhance contributions to the Agency.  Welcoming the fact that the Agency was continuing the promotion of income-generating activities through microcredit programmes, he said it was encouraging that, despite the continuation of economic decline, the programmes had been able to achieve self-sufficiency.

GLYN BERRY (Canada) lauded the work of UNRWA’s staff, particularly under the current security situation.  He also expressed concern over a grave deterioration of conditions in the Gaza Strip, which included the violent deaths of children.  He called on all parties to pay special attention to the protection and safety of children.  In addition, the safety of UNRWA staff, as well as their ability to do their work, remained priorities for Canada.

As one of the Agency’s 10 largest donors, his country’s commitment to UNRWA and the refugees remained steadfast, he said.  He welcomed the Agency’s commitment to implementing long-term internal reforms and encouraged the reform of various procedures to ensure the well-being of the refugees and greater accountability to donors.  In that regard, Canada was pleased with the creation of the Working Group on Stakeholder Relations and also pleased that UNRWA had reiterated to its employees the importance of working as impartial, international political servants.  Affirming that the only path to a peaceful future in the Middle East lay in a negotiated settlement, he said that Israel’s anticipated withdrawals presented new opportunities.  Consequently, he concluded, UNRWA’s role in humanitarian relief and social services remained essential.

DIRK JAN VAN DEN BERG (Netherlands), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said the Union had recently expressed its grave concern at the unprecedented cycle of retaliatory violence in Israel and the occupied territories.  The European Union condemned all forms of terrorism and called on the Palestinian Authority to take firm action against it.  Although the Union recognized that Israel had the right to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks, it stressed that the exercise of that right must take place within the boundaries of international law.  The European Union had also condemned the disproportionate nature of the Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip.  In addition, it had taken note with concern of the fact that refugees had been increasingly affected by the severe deterioration of the humanitarian conditions in the West Bank and Gaza.  Destruction of shelters and increasing malnutrition most severely affected women and children.

He appealed to the Israeli Government to show restraint and not to take action that aggravated the humanitarian and economic plights of the Palestinian people, and to take without delay measures in accordance with the obligations of the Road Map.  Reports about limitations on the freedom of movement of UNRWA staff were of particular concern.  In view of the recent serious allegations against UNRWA, without foundations, he expressed concern at the risk that an impression might spread among Israeli security personnel that UNRWA was not an impartial aid agency.  He called on the Israeli authorities to avoid action or prejudicial statements which might contribute to a climate of distrust against the Agency.

Welcoming the Agency’s commitment to reform and increased efficiency through the preparation of the Medium-Term Plan for 2005-2009, he said the European Union was aware of the extra costs of those plans.  It was also concerned about the financing gap that still existed in UNRWA’s emergency programmes.  The Union was the largest contributor to UNRWA and its policy was to increase support to Palestinian refugees throughout the region.  The Union urged Israel to reverse its settlement policy and to freeze all settlement activity, to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001 and to end land confiscations and the construction of the so-called security fence on Palestinian land.  It urged the Palestinian Authority to implement, in full and without further delay, the reform package agreed upon with the international community in the framework of the Task Force on Palestinian Reform.

The European Union reaffirmed its commitment to a negotiated two-State solution which would result in a viable, contiguous, sovereign and independent Palestinian State existing side by side in peace with an Israel living within recognized and secure borders.  The Road Map was the fundamental framework for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  He hoped that positive developments would soon be produced, leading to a fair, stable and equitable solution to the Palestinian refugees issue.

SORAYA ALVAREZ (Cuba) expressed hope for the early recovery of President Arafat and commended the work of UNRWA’s staff, which was becoming more significant by the day.  Regrettably, there seemed to be growing obstacles to a permanent solution because of Israel’s relentless aggression and repression; the situation of Palestinian refugees was growing worse.  In addition, the building of the wall and the Israeli incursions were further restricting the work of UNRWA.

She reiterated profound concern over the budgetary problems of UNRWA, saying that the response to recent appeals had been insufficient.  She supported UNRWA’s appeal for an increase in funding, and called for Israel to desist from its policies that hampered UNRWA’s operations.  She also described Cuba’s policy of solidarity that included fellowships for Palestinian refugees.

LIU JIA (China) commended the efforts of UNRWA, particularly under the current difficult conditions.  She hoped that the international community would increase its contributions to the Agency to relieve its budgetary difficulties.  As China supported the peace process for the Middle East, she reaffirmed support for the Road Map and the principle of land for peace.  Her country remained ready to strongly support the realization of the dream of a peaceful Middle East.

YOUSIF GHAFARI (United States) said that his country had demonstrated its enduring support for humanitarian relief efforts for Palestinian refugees by being the largest single contributor to UNRWA’s regular budget, as well as its emergency appeals.  He encouraged other countries to increase their contributions.

The United States, he said, had not supported some of the resolutions regularly introduced under the present agenda item because they went beyond the humanitarian concerns related to the important Agency.  For that reason, it had introduced a resolution during the fifty-eighth General Assembly that called for assistance to Palestinian refugees and expressed support for UNRWA (document GA/RES/58/95).  Last fall, progress was made in the Fourth Committee in consolidating resolutions under the agenda item and, consistent with such revitalization efforts, the United States had called on the General Assembly to place items on the agenda on two-year or three-year cycles when possible.

The priority this fall was to renew the UNRWA mandate for three years, he said.  It was unnecessary to adopt additional resolutions on UNRWA at this juncture.  For that reason, his country would not reintroduce the resolution of last year and would encourage the Committee to approve the resolution extending UNRWA’s mandate, deferring consideration of other resolutions until the sixtieth or sixty-first General Assembly.

MENAHEM KANAFI (Israel) said his country supported UNRWA’s humanitarian mandate and appreciated the extremely difficult conditions under which the Agency worked.  Despite an intensely difficult situation on the ground caused by Palestinian terror, Israel made a good faith effort to facilitate UNRWA activities.  It was in the best interest of all – first and foremost that of the donors – that the Agency maintain neutrality and impartiality at all times.  The UNRWA should promote its vital humanitarian mission without politicizing and grandstanding.  His country was interested in further developing important operational and diplomatic ties and dialogue with the Agency.

He said that, in support of the Agency’s humanitarian mandate, Israel had voted in favour of last year’s resolution 58/59.  It was only the cynicism of the Palestinian delegation and a handful of like-minded States that had prevented the resolution from being adopted by consensus.  Drawing attention to “years of exploitation of the refugees by Arab States, using them as a political playing piece, instead of finding a durable and just solution”, he said the blame for the economic plight of the refugees should be laid where it belonged — “the terrorists who have wilfully turned the homes and communities of the refugees into war zones”.  The Palestinian refugees had been abandoned, not by Israel but by most of the Arab world.

Israel had been waging a bitter war on terrorism since October 2000.  One thousand Israelis had been killed and 6,000 injured as a direct result of Palestinian terror attacks, he said.  Terror groups had abused internationally protected emblems such as the letters “UN” and the Red Crescent.  They had misused United Nations vehicles and ambulances for the transport of terrorists and weapons, and had taken refuge in United Nations installations.  Security, at times, unfortunately, demanded limiting certain activities, and UNRWA had agreed to that reality, he continued.  The Agency, however, had not yet done enough to meet the security challenges, according to a report of the General Accounting Office of the United States Congress.  Among other things, the report noted that UNRWA took no vetting action as to terrorist backgrounds of potential employees or beneficiaries.

The UNRWA officials had, at times, shown indifference to employing Hamas activists, even though Hamas had been added to the European Union terrorist organization list, he said.  Eight UNRWA employees had been convicted in the last three years of crimes, including membership in terrorist organizations and possession of explosives, among other things.  Nine UNRWA employees were currently under indictment for a range of serious crimes, including manufacturing of bombs.  He said Israel had raised concerns regarding the matter with the United Nations.  What was needed now was a will to challenge a Palestinian “pattern of behaviour”, which sought to provide protection and cover to the activities of terrorists preparing mines and escaping combat scenes.

He said speakers who found it difficult to separate the human needs and political considerations were wrong.  The Palestinian civilian population paid the price of that stance.  The suffering of the refugees could have ended 56 years ago had the Arab States truly been interested in a solution.  The suffering could end today, if the Palestinian side fulfilled its Road Map obligations, rejected terror and violence, undertook security and political reform and fought terrorism, as was required by the international community.  Israel remained committed to dialogue with UNRWA and facilitating its agenda.  He hoped that, in the foreseeable future, “humanitarian aid will no longer be necessary, in Gaza, the West Bank or, indeed, anywhere”.

ANGIE MAPARA, of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), emphasized the importance that her organization attached to UNRWA, and expressed satisfaction at the support given to the Agency at the recent Geneva conference.  At that conference, the Palestine Red Crescent (PRC) was a leading component of the IFRC’s delegation.  She described the close collaboration of the PRC with UNRWA, as well as the PRC’s provision of medical services and its promotion of humanitarian values and principles.

She hoped that the Geneva conference reawakened international attention to the serious problems faced by the refugees and would lead to increased recognition of the work done by UNRWA and related agencies.  As part of such a mobilization, the IFRC intended to enhance its relationships with UNRWA.  She hoped that the international community and UNRWA would continue to support the PRC and other organizations committed to building resilient communities.

Closing Remarks by Commissioner-General

PETER HANSEN, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, expressed, on behalf of his 25,000 colleagues, gratitude for the overwhelming and encouraging support expressed by delegations.

Regarding Israel’s statement, he said the speaker had often had a dialogue with the Agency and he hoped that the cooperation could be continued without “grandstanding and politicizing”.  However, there had been certain inaccuracies in Israel’s statement.  No candidate from Hamas’ “Islamic Bloc” had run in the election for the UNRWA teachers’ trade union – as was alleged — as the list did not specify any blocs.

He said several staff members had been arrested, going back to 2001.  Only in August 2004 had UNRWA been provided with partial documentation with respect to the conviction of five staff members.  Further partial documentation regarding six people had been provided on 17 October, in Hebrew.  Additional written evidence, including witness statements, for the six cases had been requested, and the Agency was still awaiting a response from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  No additional information regarding the remaining two cases had been received.

Once evidence was provided, he said, the Agency would take appropriate action, but it was not possible to take action regarding detections that had been held secret.  Noting that one staff member had signed a confession in Hebrew, a language he did not understand, he said he would like to see due process in the cases.  Out of 12,000 staff members in the territories, only a few had been indicted or convicted over a period of four years.

He welcomed the Israeli statement, which, he said, had been a great deal more conciliatory and productive and pointed to the necessary dialogue.  Without such dialogue, the Agency would not be able to carry out its humanitarian task.  In that case, the Government of Israel would not be able to cope with the massive humanitarian problems that were the responsibility of the occupying Power.

Right of Reply

FEDA ABDELHADY-NASSER, observer for Palestine, exercising the right of reply to Israel’s statement, said that Israel had again turned a humanitarian/political issue into an issue solely about terror.  The central issue was Israel’s legal obligations under international law.  Were it not for the Agency, Israel, as the occupying Power in the territories, would be completely responsible for the well-being of the Palestinians under its occupation.  The concern expressed by Israel for the plight of those refugees was the height of hypocrisy.  Their plight was caused by Israel’s policies, which had created the refugee problem and compounded it over the decades.  Israel violated international humanitarian law on a daily basis, and war crimes were being committed against the refugees, who were protected persons under the Geneva Conventions.  Killing, humiliation and suffocation made up the daily reality of the people in the occupied territories.  Without a just and lasting solution to their plight, that reality would not improve.

Related Links

  • BY TOPIC: Refugees
  • UNRWA