Letters to the editor

Helping hands for refugees

“Dubious refugee relief” (Op-Ed, June 21) makes false and ill-informed statements to the effect that the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) maintains the status quo and creates dependency among refugees. These statements ignore the fact that the responsibility to forge a just and lasting solution to the plight of refuges belongs not to UNRWA, whose mandate is exclusively humanitarian, but to international actors working under international law and relevant agreements. Under the Oslo agreements, the refugee question is considered a “final status” issue that the parties (not including UNRWA) must address and solve within the framework of a comprehensive peace agreement.

These fictitious statements are further belied by the reality and impact of the agency’s humanitarian and human development work. Five hundred thousand children, half of them girls, attend UNRWA schools each day to build the foundations for an exit from poverty and access to a better life. UNRWA’s primary health-care program has helped rid refugee lives of communicable diseases, contributing to their chances for healthy, productive lives. Our relief and social services programs focus on the most vulnerable, lending aid to their efforts to pull themselves out of poverty and dependence. Our award-winning micro-finance program boosts the capacity of refugees to achieve self-sufficiency through successful small businesses.

Further proof that UNRWA’s work helps refugees stand on their own can be found in the fact that just one-third of the refugee population lives in camps, while just 6 percent of refugees outside the occupied Palestinian territory are deemed to be living in particular hardship. I should mention that the rise in the incidence of poverty and food insecurity among refugees is clearly attributable to the extraordinary emergency situation prevailing in Gaza and the West Bank — a situation not of UNRWA’s making.

The statements in which the authors, Nicole Brackman and Asaf Romirowsky, purport to associate our agency with terrorism are particularly fallacious and erroneous, if not irresponsible. UNRWA is meticulous in ensuring that its installations and facilities are not abused by any person or group. Only once in our 59-year history has there been an instance warranting investigation in this regard. That was in 1982. The agency conducted a thorough and transparent inquiry and took prompt and effective remedial action that was applauded by the government of Israel as well as by Palestinians.

Finally, the article makes strange and ridiculous claims about UNRWA’s supposed connection with one ideology or the other. Nothing could be further from the truth. UNRWA has a proud, irrefutable record of scrupulous adherence to principles of impartiality and neutrality that lie at the heart of its humanitarian work. In a region fraught with emotive political divisions, how else could we have achieved our success over the decades or maintained the confidence of our donors, host countries and stakeholders?

CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS

Spokesman

U.N. Relief and Works Agency

East Jerusalem

A culture of death

Tuesday’s Page One story “Afghan boy outsmarts the Taliban” should come as no surprise. The Islamist fundamentalist movement has been using children for its own terrorist agenda for years. One need look no further than the post-Oslo Accords war against Israel, where suicide bombing by children and teenagers first became a cultural phenomenon. In fact, it is no secret that Palestinian television and media, whether controlled by Fatah or Hamas, aired daily children’s shows to encourage youths to “sacrifice” themselves for the name of Allah.

This culture of glorified death has resulted in a time bomb of numerous youths, women and even grandmothers offering to blow themselves up for a “greater cause.” Unfortunately, this has come back to haunt us as the rest of the world looks on in silence or even sympathizes with the “cause” of these suicide bombers.

President Bush’s war against terror is useless if he continues to sacrifice our soldiers in Iraq while throwing millions of dollars of taxpayer money to bolster a terrorist regime on Israel’s borders.

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