9 April 2009
National Post (Canada). Andrew Whitley
Re: We're Funding Terrorists, Haskell Nussbaum, April 6.
This column is a farrago of politically motivated distortions, inaccuracies and falsehoods about the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which is responsible for helping millions of Palestinian refugees lead decent, productive lives. The charge that Hamas will control the agency's schools in Gaza following its claimed victory in local staff association elections is wrong. Staff elections are conducted on an individual-- not party list -- basis for unions that handle normal labour relations --not political--issues. However, in response to Hamas' public boast, the field director has informed those elected that evidence of political ties will constitute grounds for immediate dismissal. In the past two years, five staff have been dismissed in Gaza on similar grounds.
Management control at UNRWA rests firmly in the hands of international officials dedicated to upholding impartiality and promoting UN norms and principles, including fundamental human rights. Tight controls ensure that aid and other services such as health and education only go to eligible persons, and attempt to prevent abuse of UNRWA facilities by any party.
The analogy with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is equally misleading. Our two organizations apply exactly the same principles of individual choice over the options all refugees face of return to one's country of origin, local integration or resettlement. Faced with continued political deadlock over the fate of those driven from their homes in British Mandate Palestine 60 years ago, no organization could compel the Palestine refugees to give up their rights prior to a comprehensive, final settlement.
Andrew Whitley, director, UNRWA Representative Office, New York.