A number of frustrated and angry Palestinian refugees tried to occupy the headquarters of the United Nations Relief Works Agency UNRWA yesterday in protest of the Agency’s decision to suspend the monetary assistance to 100 thousand refugees in the Gaza Strip, and replace it with limited temporary work. The HAMAS police force which has been in control of Gaza for over six years now interfered and brought order into the situation. In a brief statement, UNRWA declared the closure of all of its offices in the Gaza Strip. The statement was not clear on the period of closure or if this is a temporary or a permanent move. The HAMAS government in Gaza criticized UNRWA’s decision and called it unfortunate and uncalled for
UNRWA is the largest provider of educational services, health care, and economic assistance to the Palestinian Refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. More than four million Palestinian refugees are dependant, either fully or partly, on the services of this agency. UNRWA was established in the early 1950’s to meet the urgent needs of the Palestinian Refugees after their expulsion from the areas of Palestine that became Israel in the 1947-48 war. When Israel refused to comply with the 1949 U.N. Security Council resolution 194 which called upon the Zionist state to allow for the return of the Palestinian refugees, the health conditions of approximately 780 thousand Palestinians in the refugee camps became ominous which necessitated finding a semi permanent solution. For this UNRWA was created.
The number of Palestinian refugees in the Gaza strip is the second largest after that in Jordan, followed by the one in Syria then Lebanon and the Occupied West Bank. From among approximately 1.7 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, a little over seventy percent are from among the Refugees of the 1947-48 Palestinian exodus and their descendants. No surprise that a number of peaceful protesters from the Refugees in Gaza would try to occupy the headquarters of UNRWA in protest against its suspension of monetary assistance to 100 thousand people at once.
Israel has been trying to use its influence in the U.S. congress to press the United Nations to dissolve UNRWA for many years. The very existence of this agency preserves the status of a refugee for every Palestinian who was expelled from Palestine by the Zionist forces in 1948 and their descendants. This status would preserve and maintain the internationally recognized legal rights of those refugees, including the right of return to their homes inside what has since 1948 become Israel, and the right of compensation for their lost or confiscated properties. These rights are embodied in the United Nations Security Council resolution 194 and a host of other resolutions. This is precisely what Israel does not want. To Israel, the weakening and the eventual dissolution of UNRWA would strip the Palestinian refugees of the status as refugees, and hence they would lose their legal right for return or compensation. Instead, Israel has been trying to use its influence and the influence of its Lobbies in America and Europe to push for a solution based on the resettling of the Palestinian refugees in the host countries and elsewhere around the world. Such a solution would relieve Israel of its moral and legal responsibilities towards the Palestinian refugees and shift the burden to someone else.