Israeli MK Yair Lapid (‘centrist’ Yesh Atid party) asks UNRWA Spokesperson Chris Gunness questions (posted on his Facebook wall yesterday, 5th of July), referring to Gunness’scritique of yesterday’s two “punitive” house demolitions in Qalandia refugee camp in the West Bank.
I decided to answer each and every one myself (I’ll present it as Q&A between “Lapid” and “Me”).
Lapid: UNRWA Spokesperson Chris Gunness harshly criticized our decision to demolish the homes of two terrorists who last December stabbed two Israelis to death at the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem.
I have one question for Mr. Gunness:
What does this have to do with you?
Me: Mr. Lapid, it happens to be that Mr. Gunness is Spokesperson, Director of Advocacy & Strategic Communications for UNRWA. When you demolish houses, you are committing a war crime. As Gunness already points out in his critique (did you actually read it?), “Punitive home demolitions are a form of collective punishment which are illegal under international law. They inflict distress and suffering on those who have not committed the action that led to the demolition and they often endanger people and property in the vicinity”. The demolitions affect many other family members. Here, they are targeting refugees, already under the auspices of UNRWA, so of course it is a concern of Gunness. Israel may say that the welfare of the refugees are not its concern, but they should be. As Gunness also notes, “under international humanitarian law it [Israel] has an obligation to protect the occupied people and provide services”. Gunness is picking up the slack for you. It is very much to do with him.
Lapid: Actually I have another one:
Who asked you?
Me: As Gunness again already noted in his critique, “UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight”.
So you see Lapid, UNRWA was asked by the international community, the UN, to take care of the people whose lives were shattered by the ethnic cleansing your country committed in 1948, the plight of which you have never really cared about. Gunness has thus been asked by the international community to take care of those whom you terrorize through your “deterrence”.
Lapid: UNRWA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. Its role is clear. It is meant to help Palestinians find work and if they can’t find work then to assist them with food and medication.
That’s it. It doesn’t have another role. There is nothing in UNRWA’s mandate which justifies intervention in security matters. There is nothing in Chris Gunness’ past which qualifies him to give us advice on how to protect ourselves.
Me: Mr. Lapid, as already quoted, the UNRWA is also there to protect people – which you attack. Do I really need to elaborate?
Lapid: And if we’re already speaking Chris, here are another few questions:
Why doesn’t the State of Israel appear on maps in UNRWA schools?
Me: UNRWA is obliged to run the curriculum of the state or authority under which it works. Until 1967 this was Jordan (West Bank) and Egypt (Gaza). Since 1994 (with the creation of the Palestinian Authority), there has thus been a merging of UNRWA curriculum under the PA. Thus we must look at the UNRWA curriculum as part of the PA curriculum. In a report commissioned by the USA Department of State, [pdf here] (covering both UNRWA and other Palestinian schools, note that UNRWA schools are about 13% of Palestinian schools), the conclusion regarding maps in Palestinian textbooks was this:
“(58%) had no borders within the area [historical Palestine], no reference to Israel and referred to the entire area as Palestine”.
But look at this, Mr. Lapid: Out of 258 Israeli textbook maps that the report covered, in 196 cases the texts (75%) “did not indicate any borders (i.e., line, color or other demarcation) between Israeli and Palestinian areas, although borders were indicated between Israel and neighboring countries (e.g., Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria) and the labels Palestine or Palestinian Authority did not appear anywhere on the maps. Since these maps are presented as maps of Israel, the absence of borders between Israel and Palestine and the absence of the label Palestinian Authority can be seen as implying that the Palestinian areas are part of the State of Israel. In the State system, 65% of the maps do not have borders and in the Ultra-Orthodox systems 95% of the maps do not have borders”.
So, Mr. Lapid, it’s time to look in the mirror once again.
Lapid: If you condemn violence, why were you silent when it became clear that an UNRWA building was used as a hiding place for a terror tunnel used to kill three Israeli soldiers?
Me: I suppose you are speaking about the July 30th 2014 incident? This one. Well, the Times of Israel says that “the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the military unit that implements government policies in the Palestinian areas, later said that the clinic in Abu Daka, outside Khan Younis, was last registered as a sensitive location three years ago, ‘and it hasn’t been since.’…The spokesperson said the site had not been registered then as belonging to UNRWA, leading to speculation that, perhaps, militants stole the sign and tacked it on the door, posting it as a security umbrella under which a tunnel could be dug.”
In any case, Mr. Lapid, these are not “terror tunnels”. You have just mentioned a case of engagement with military – and that is what these tunnels have been used for, exclusively so – military engagement. Military resistance to occupation falls under provisions of international law, and is not terror.
Lapid: Why are the Palestinians the only ones in the world allowed to pass down the status of refugee from one generation to the next? Why can someone be born in Qatar, live in a villa in Paris, hold a Spanish passport and still be considered a Palestinian refugee?
Me: Gunness answers this quite thoroughly in another document [link here]: “Questions raised about the passing of refugee status through generations stem from a lack of understanding of the international protection regime. These questions serve only to distract from the need to address the real reasons for the protracted Palestinian refugee situation, namely the absence of negotiated solution to the underlying political issues…UNHCR‘s Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for determining Refugee Status provides in paragraph 184: ‘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.’…In effect, refugee families everywhere retain their status as refugees until they fall within the terms of a cessation clause or are able to avail themselves of one of three durable solutions already mentioned — voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement in a third country.”
As a “refugee” Jew claiming a national “right of return”, Mr. Lapid, you should be the last to criticize that…
Lapid: Why is it that among the 23,000 UNRWA employees are there so many Hamas people (I didn’t say that Chris – as you know the Secretary General of your organization said so himself)?
Me: Hmm, do you mean Peter Hansen, UNRWA Commissioner General, who on October 4th 2004 said “I am sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll and I don’t see that as a crime… we do not do political vetting and exclude people from one persuasion as against another”? Well, yes, Hamas is a political organization, and Hansen didn’t say “so many”, he just assumed that “there are”, as in “probably”. One does not have to be asked political orientation when taking on a job in UNRWA, it’s beside the point.
Lapid: In actual fact, why is it that only the Palestinians have a refugee agency of their own? What do they deserve that the 21.5 million refugees from Tibet, Darfur, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere don’t?
Me: Yes Mr. Lapid, there are other refugees worldwide. In fact, some 65.3 million worldwide are forcibly displaced, 21.3 million are refugees under UNHCR and UNRWA (16.1 and 5.2 respectively), as well as 10 million stateless people. Here’s the UNHCR link. But I ask myself, Lapid, what disturbs you so much here? Do you think it’s a dance on roses to be a refugee under UNRWA? Aren’t we getting a bit petty here?
Lapid: How is it that since UNRWA was founded, in 1950, the number of refugees has increased from 750,000 to over 5 million (!) without a single Palestinian being expelled? Is UNRWA creating refugees?
Me: Oh dear, Mr. Lapid, I’ve heard the same nonsense from Dani Ayalon as well – it’s really such a no brainer: If you consider population growth of roughly 3% (Gaza is a bit higher, West Bank is a bit lower), you will get these figures. It isn’t rocket science. Amazing that you keep using this one. Besides Palestinians are being expelled routinely by Israel – East Jerusalem is a prime example.
Lapid: And a question to the citizens of the United States:
Do you know that your taxpayer dollars fund over a hundred million dollars a year of this insanity?
Me: Do they know that their taxpayer dollars fund over 3 billion dollars a year (a number expected to grow) as direct military aid to Israel, so that people like you, Lapid, are able to advise that any Palestinian holding a screwdriver could immediately be shot dead?