Palestine – UNWRA and UNESCO promote a state of confusion

May 24, 2012 by David Singer
Read on for article

A crisis of diplomatic confusion seems to have arisen between two affiliate organizations of the United Nations following the announcement by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNWRA) of its intention to upgrade the dilapidated conditions in some of the refugee camps under its control – rather than taking progressive steps to close them down following recognition of the State of Palestine by UNESCO on 31 October 2011…writes David Singer.
The upgrades will take place with the help of German Government funding in improving health clinics, sanitation and advanced education in coordination with local committees in five camps in the West Bank and two in Jordan.

Certainly any improvements to the daily lives of refugees and the abject conditions under which they have lived for the last six decades should be regarded as a welcome initiative.

However the recognition of the State of Palestine by UNESCO – and with it an end to Palestinian homelessness – should have also signalled the beginning of the dismantlement of the refugee camps and a structured program to achieve this humanitarian goal.

The vast resources available to UNWRA should surely now be better employed to assist the permanent resettlement of Palestinian refugees in their newly recognized state. Yet UNWRA has remained silent on implementing any such plans.

One of the camps slated for an upgrade is the Dheishe refugee camp – at present home to 13000 refugees. This camp is situated on the outskirts of Bethlehem in Area A of the West Bank – an area completely under the administrative and military control of the Palestinian Authority.

If there are any areas that can be readily identified as forming part of the newly-recognized state of Palestine – it is those areas that comprise Area A under the Oslo Accords – which currently cover 18% of the West Bank and include 55% of the total Arab population of the West Bank. Not one Jew lives in Area A.

On December 21, 1995, Israeli troops withdrew from Bethlehem and three days later the city came under the complete administration and military control of the Palestinian National Authority in conformance with the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1995.

One could indeed ask why Dheishe refugee camp has not been shut down at any time during the last 17 years of its existence – given that resposibility for the lives of its inhabitants was always under the complete authority and control of the Palestinian Authority.

The reasons profferred till now have been the lack of a Palestinian state to end Palestinian homelessness and a belief that one day the residents would be entitled to return to live in what is now Israel. This latter reason has never been – and will never be – an option that can ever be realised unless the State of Israel itself is dismantled.

The UNESCO decision to recognize the existence of an independent State of Palestine has brought with it an end to claims of Palestinian homelessness. .

Yet Habis al-Aisa – a Dheishe resident – still believes nothing has changed as he laments:

“We’re refugees, and the U.N. should be totally responsible for our needs and our situation, because our status is an international political issue.”

Another resident – Othman Abu Omar comments:

“We hope one day to be done with dependence. Everybody should depend on himself.”

Sandi Hilal – the director of UNRWA’s “camp improvement program” in the West Bank – also seems to be under the same misapprehension as to the change in status of those under his charge when adding:

“Improving the daily life of refugees doesn’t jeopardize their right to return back home”.

Can the Dheishe occupants still claim the status of “refugees” – now that they have their own State – a goal that has been pursued with international support and diplomacy for the last 19 years?

Does UNWRA’s stated position on the “right to return home” mean “to the UNESCO recognized State of Palestine” – or does it mean “to Israel”?

It would appear that UNWRA is having problems comprehending the enormity of the UNESCO decision and the changes that have occurred to the status of those whom it has looked after for 64 years.

The United Nations has recognized as Palestinian refugees those Palestinian Arabs  – and their descendants – who registered with UNRWA after fleeing their homes from what is now Israel. They are covered by the U.N. resolutions and eligible to receive the agency’s services even if not resident in the camps, but not if they attain citizenship or asylum in another country…writes David Singer.

The Palestinian refugees have enjoyed a special status not accorded to any other refugee groups world wide during the past 64 years. That status is – and has always been – privileged and discriminatory and needs to be ended without delay – especially now that a Palestinian state has been internationally recognized and accepted by the 194 member states of UNESCO.

UNWRA now needs to rise to the challenges and the opportunities the UNESCO decision has presented – and implement a program for the closing of the refugee camps.

UNWRA and UNESCO should be meeting to jointly plan such a humanitarian program to bring the long running and festering issue of the Palestinian refugees to an end.

Whilst UNESCO recognizes the existence of a a Palestinian State and UNWRA apparently does not – one can only conclude that the State of Palestine is rapidly acquiring a reputation for being known as “the State of Confusion”.

The sooner the refugee camps start being dismantled – the better the prospects for a resolution of the long running Jewish-Arab conflict in former Palestine.


David Singer is a Sydney Lawyer and Foundation Member of the International Analysts Network


10 Responses to “Palestine – UNWRA and UNESCO promote a state of confusion”
  1. Debbi says:

    If the Palestinians have been recognized as having a State, then why could they not be considered for membership to the UN?

    • David says:

      They could be considered for membership of the UN but would miss out for three possible reasons:

      1. They are required to be “peace loving” in accordance with the requirements of the UN Charter
      2. The UN requirements for recognition of statehood would be more stringent than UNESCO – requiring compliance with the legal provisions of the Montevideo Convention 1933
      3 America could exercise its veto to deny Palestine’s admission to the UN

      Remember that the PLO tried to join the UN last September and never got past the vetting Committee. In my view nothing has changed since then – including UNESCO recognition of Palestinian statehood – to indicate that another approach to the UN would be successful.

  2. Shirlee says:


    You’ve hit the nail squarely in the head.

    “Well if the people are displaced from another region they are refugees.”

    Exactly. The word is not ‘displaced’ either. It’s ‘forced.’

    Most of the people who ‘fled’ in 1948, would be long gone. The remainder were born in situ, ergo they are NOT refugees. If any are still alive they are not refugees anyway.

    I can give you example after example from the ARAB Press, where they say the Palestinian Arabs fled on the insistence of their leaders, with the promise of a quick return, once the “Zionist entity had been destroyed”

    “The radio stations of the Arab regimes kept repeating to us: ‘Get away from the battle lines. It’s a matter of ten days or two weeks at the most, and we’ll bring you back to Ein-Kerem [near Jerusalem].’ And we said to ourselves, ‘That’s a very long time. What is this? Two weeks? That’s a lot!’ That’s what we thought [then]. And now 50 years have gone by.” [PA TV (Fatah), July 7, 2009]
    With these words an Arab resident of a refugee camp recounts the reason why his family left Israel in 1948, in an interview broadcast on PA TV this month.”

    Here’s a good link for you Ben. It has a video and written statements of people who fled, not forced to leave

    Ben it’s also well documented that Israel **URGED** the Arabs to stay and be part of the new State of Israel

    Also well documented is the fact the that approximately 600,000 Arabs FLED, whereas a Million Jews were forced from Arab/Muslim Lands.

    Israel absorbed these people and still is. Arab/Muslim countries still refuse to accept your so-called ‘refugees’

  3. Paul Winter says:

    David, your suggestions for UNWRA and PA action will never be accepted, because you plead for common sense and decency, but you are talking about the Middle East.

    You will also recall that the PA has stated that the “refugees” will not be given “Palestinian” , citizenship, but rather exercise their self invented, non-negotiable “right of return”.

    Although you do not emphasise it, one must note that the Dheishe refugee camp is on the outskirts of Bethlehem. You point out that since taking charge of the camp 17 years ago, the PA has done nothing for those people. Clearly they couldn’t give a damn for their fellow Arabs and fellow co-religionists, there or in any number of similar camps scattered around Judea and Samaria. It is a matter of “I’m all right Jabbour” for the leaders who reside in mansions built with aid that was to have benefitted their people.

    But the question is why has Israel done nothing for the displace Arabs? My answer is that the UN directed Israel not to improve the shanties and slums that the “refugees” were living in. I recall that somewhere around 1969 or 1970 Israel wanted to build new housing in Gaza and the UN ordered it to change nothing.

    The trouble is that my searches fail to bring that UN order to hand. The point of finding that order is that it would be important to demonstrate UN complicity compounding the neglect of the PA toward UNWRA’s dependants. I would be grateful If you or anyone else could dig up that order.

  4. David says:


    The Security Council really has no jurisdiction since Palestine is not a member state of the UN – and on current indications has no chance of being admitted to membership of that organisation.

    I think it is the duty of Palestine to start behaving as a peace loving and responsible State. The first thing it can do is to get UNWRA to start dismantling the refugee camps within its state controlled areas.

    How can Palestine continue to have refugee camps for Palestinian Arabs in areas that are part of the recognized Palestinian State?

  5. Ben says:

    Now that Palestine has been recognised as a state, perhaps it is the duty of the Security Council to ensure it functions as a state.

Speak Your Mind

Comments received without a full name will not be considered
Email addresses are NEVER published! All comments are moderated. J-Wire will publish considered comments by people who provide a real name and email address. Comments that are abusive, rude, defamatory or which contain offensive language will not be published

    Rules on posting comments