- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 4, 2009


Karen AbuZayd’s Op-Ed column “Peace starts with people” (Opinion, Sept. 25) celebrates the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Unfortunately for Ms. AbuZayd, UNRWA’s commissioner general, her column is short on relevant facts.

A more pertinent column in The Washington Times was “Cut off Relief Agency” (Opinion, March 26), written by five Republican Congress members. They noted that “for six decades, the United States has voluntarily contributed billions of dollars” to UNRWA and that the agency “was created strictly to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees.” However, as the writers point out, “in return for our generous investment, UNRWA subverts our laws, aids violent Islamist extremists, propagandizes against our ally Israel and in favor of Hamas, and works with banks targeted by the United States for money laundering and terrorists financing.”

Other Times columns also have highlighted UNRWA’s failures. In “Plans for Mideast peace” (Opinion, Aug. 5, 2008), Peter Berkowitz of the Hoover Institution noted that while the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has sought “voluntary repatriation, local integration and third-country resettlement” for tens of millions of refugees, UNRWA - intended to be a temporary relief organization - over the same 60 years has helped perpetuate the Arab-Israeli conflict by implicitly backing only forced repatriation. Contrary to U.N. treatment of other refugee groups, UNRWA also transfers “refugee” status from one generation to the next.

“Dangerous bureaucrats” (Opinion, Dec. 3, 2007), written by Asaf Romirowsky of the Middle East Forum and Jonathan Spyer of the Global Research in International Affairs Center, points out that while UNHCR and UNICEF “avoid employing locals who are also recipients of agency services, UNRWA does not make this distinction” or bar employees with terrorism ties. Consequently, “UNRWA-overseen hospitals and clinics routinely employ members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Employing Palestinians for decade after decade and providing them with subsistence-level food aid and rudimentary education are a far cry from giving them usable skills and a positive attitude about creating their own independent economy and viable civic institutions.”

Ms. AbuZayd herself acknowledged, in an April 24 talk at the Wilson Center, that two-thirds of the “refugees” in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon do not live in the “camps” and that those who remain often do so because that’s where their friends and relatives are. She noted that these districts are not traditional refugee camps but rather the poorer sections of the cities where they live.

When Israeli forces re-entered West Bank population centers in 2002, in response to Palestinian terrorism of the second intifada, they found wanted terrorists hiding in UNRWA schools, bomb-making factories in UNRWA-run camps and UNRWA youth clubs used as terrorist meeting places. They also discovered that funds intended for humanitarian relief had been diverted, as in the Balata refugee district at Nablus, to weapons purchases by the local UNRWA steering committee.

Ms. AbuZayd is correct that “peace starts with people.” But perhaps not with UNRWA.


Washington director

Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America


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