APAN has noted with significant concern the public attacks on UNRWA – who provide basic services to Palestinian refugees. An Opinion Piece published in The Australian newspaper on the 18/9 however was full of so many misrepresentations, unsubstantiated allegations and factual errors that we felt a need to respond! Below is both our infographic shared on social media and a response we sent to The Australian.
Jeremy Leibler (The Australian 18/9) resorts to telling lies and half truths in undermining the organisation that provides vital services to Palestinian refugees – UNRWA.
Leibler asserts that NZ has withdrawn their funding from UNRWA, which it has not. While it is true the Swiss have pulled their funding from UNRWA, the decision was taken by a Foreign Minister who thinks Palestinians should be denied any right to return to Palestine. Leibler points to military equipment being found in unused Palestinian schools in Gaza in 2014 – which for the record were found to not be rockets – but neglects to mention that in the same period Israel bombed UN facilities being used as a refuge for Palestinians fleeing Israeli assaults – not once but seven times – killing 44 civilians and injuring 227 men, women, and children.
Leibler points out that UNRWA was supposed to be a short term solution for Palestinian refugees – and on this point we agree. The UN in 1949 couldn’t have fathomed that 70 years later Israel would still be refusing to allow a Palestinian State and therefore keeping Palestinians in limbo for generations.
UNRWA is not the solution – it is a bandaid until the world affords Palestinians their basic rights. And like any huge organisation, it has its faults. However it is also doing an incomparable job with shrinking resources and sustained politically motivated attacks against them. In just one example, Ismail Ajjawi has just begun his university education at Harvard in the USA – having secured a school completion result in one of the highest scores in all of Lebanon. He was born in an UNRWA refugee camp, educated in an UNRWA school, and received medical treatment from UNRWA health services. Without UNRWA funding, he would be at best further impoverished and living with even fewer rights – but UNRWA has given him the chance to fulfil his potential.
Attacking the UN bodies that provide basic health and education services to Palestinian refugees is not a wise or honorable pursuit. We all want Palestinians to be afforded the rights to be citizens in their own sovereign country. And until that time, surely we can all support the rights of refugees to receive basic services.
Bishop George Browning
Australia Palestine Advocacy Network