| DFAIT has received 10,000 emails asking that
Canada stop funding UNRWA
Notice from a Canpalnet-Ottawa member
Through a trusted friend, I was relayed the message that DFAIT has been swamped with emails (some 10,000 - not a typo 10,000) during this last week asking that Canada stop funding UNRWA. A quick visit at various pro-Israel sites makes it clear that the campaign is international. The very dis-HonestReporting.com is also part of this campaign. They now have a Canadian branch.
UNRWA has been a thorn in Israel's side because it deals with Palestinian refugees - people that Israel wants out of the reality "on the ground" -, because it witnesses the effects of Israel's actions, because it speaks up.
Palestinians need UNWRA. Israel does not want it there and has accused it of all sorts of things, including carrying arms in their ambulances, accusations that proved false, but the damage has been done.
Although a campaign of email writing could backfire as it did with the Guardian 2 years ago, in Canada it is used in support of the strong push, from various quarters, for a shift in our Middle East policy.
So please send emails, phone (ask for the Minister's office) and/or fax or send your letter in support of UNRWA at the contacts below. Don't forget to ask your families and friends to do the same. Thank you.
PLEASE BCC EMAILS TO canpalnet-ottawa or let us know if you have mailed or faxed a letter, or telephoned.
SAMPLE LETTER BELOW
and cc: email@example.com
and bcc: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone:1 800 267-8376 (toll-free in Canada)
Phone: Ottawa local: 995-1851
(613) 944-4000 ( National Capital Region and outside Canada)
(613) 944-9136 (TTY)
Hon. Pierre Pettigrew
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Foreign Affairs Canada
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON, Canada
With Ha'aretz article attachment
21 October, 2004
Dear Minister Pettigrew,
There has been an orchestrated campaign against the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) led by various pro-Israeli groups, including partisan "HonestReporting.com."
The UNRWA is the main provider of basic services - education, health, relief and social services - to over 4.1 million registered Palestine refugees in the Middle East. In the past four years, UNRWA's role has expanded to meet the urgent needs of Palestinians who have lost their livelihoods and homes because of the conflict. It has also denounced some of the Israeli illegal acts its members have witnessed.
Although UNRWA is actually subsidizing Israel's occupation, Israel wishes its abolition for two main reasons. The agency is a symbol of the millions of Palestinian refugees who remain in limbo, a fact that Israel wants wiped from our consciousness. It is also an international presence that bears witness and therefore must be stopped. To this end, Israel has used various tactics, including imposing stringent travel restrictions against UNRWA personnel in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in violation of humanitarian law.
Coming soon after the false accusation that UNRWA ambulances were being used to carry Qassam rockets, this latest spat relates to the following statement by Peter Hansen, commissioner general: "I’m sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll." Denying that there may not be Hamas people on the payroll would have been disingenuous. First, there is no way for the UN to determine where Palestinian sympathies lie, and even if there was, these are irrelevant as long as all UN rules are fully respected. UNRWA caters to Palestinians not to Israelis. As Israeli journalist Amira Haas explains in the article below, being a Hamas person does not mean taking arms or even condoning Hamas' actions.
Israel has never been afraid of arresting or killing any one it suspects of being a terrorist. Given the control it exercises over the Palestinian Occupied Territories and its insistence on security, the Israeli government must surely rely on its own intelligence, and on its own files to assess the background of every single employee of UNRWA. It would therefore be highly surprising if any one remotely associated with terrorism were allowed to cross in and out of Israel. The current charade of Israeli outrage at Hansen's words is therefore nothing more than another lame attempt at discrediting the agency.
I do hope that the Canadian government will see through and beyond propaganda, and call on Israel to respect all its obligations as the occupier of Palestinian land, including the protection of civilians. This year, three children have died by Israeli gunshots they received while sitting at their desks, inside UNRWA schools. The latest victim, a girl named Ghadeer Jaber Mokheimer, would have been ten years old on December 9.
Considering the ever increasing humanitarian needs of the refugees, I urge you to increase our contribution to UNRWA. In 2003, Denmark pledged almost US $10 millions, the Netherlands more than US $14 millions and Norway more than US $18 millions while Canada, who chairs the Refugee Working Group pledged US $7,493,176 only.
We, Canadians, have a historic responsibility towards Palestinians. We earned it by our active involvement in the partition of Mandated Palestine, through Justice Ivan C. Rand and the Honorable Lester B. Pearson. Canada has the duty to see that the Geneva Convention is respected, and that international law is applied by and to all equally. The Prime Minister cannot speak one way and have his government act another. If the drive behind his Responsibility to Protect is a real concern for human beings, surely Palestinians do qualify for that protection, using sanctions to ensure it if necessary, as we did for Apartheid South Africa.
Wed., October 06, 2004 Tishrei 21, 5765 Israel Time: 02:30 (GMT+2)
What would Israel do without UNRWA?
By Amira Hass
Peter Hansen, the commissioner-general of the UN Relief and Works Agency in the territories, is being persecuted for having spoken the truth: Members of Hamas work in UNRWA. The Canadian Foreign Affairs Department is concerned and the Israeli Foreign Ministry is not upset over the "revelation." Two days after the broadcast of aerial photos that allegedly show, according to Israel, Palestinians loading a Qassam rocket into a UNRWA ambulance, Hansen's words could strengthen Israeli accusations that "UNRWA is collaborating with terrorists."
But the Israeli assault on UNRWA could turn out to be a double-edged sword, if it leads to a cutback in the donations upon which the organization's budget depends. Because UNRWA is one of the most important safety nets the international community has spread out under Israel, which, as an occupying power, has been unwilling to recognize its responsibility for the occupied civilian population. For the past three years, the UN has been regularly providing food aid to about half the Palestinian population, which is in a state of "food insecurity." UNRWA alone provides regular food aid to about 1.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
World Bank studies show that the direct reason for the collapse of the Palestinian economy and the scope of Palestinian poverty is the Israeli policy of putting drastic restrictions on movement within the territories. The UN food aid is preventing outbreaks of disease and the spread of malnutrition. How would Israel's UN ambassador, who is calling for Hansen's removal, respond to reports of malnutrition of an African-type scale, if not outright hunger, in the territories that Israel controls?
UNRWA is currently the body most concerned with finding new housing for thousands of refugees made homeless by Israel's home demolitions in the Gaza Strip. In these very days, when Israel Defense Forces bulldozers are causing people to flee their homes in the Jabalya refugee camp, UNRWA - along with the relatives of those affected - is mobilizing to provide initial aid in the form of food, textbooks, kitchen appliances and medicines - everything that was lost to the teeth of the Israeli machinery. After that, it will also supervise and coordinate the rebuilding of the houses. Just as it is doing in Jenin, Rafah and Khan Yunis, and thereby preventing a deepening of the Palestinian social crisis, as well as sparing Israel from having to give an accounting under international law for the harm done to the civilian population under its occupation.
Palestinian Muslim society, especially in Gaza, is becoming increasingly devout as earthly life becomes tougher and tougher, and secular and nationalistic political solutions fail. One manifestation of this is the growing support for Hamas as a religious-national movement whose leaders have proven - in the eyes of many Palestinians - to be more fair and caring than the leaders of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. Not all Hamas supporters believe in the movement's messianic-political platform of a "Greater Muslim Palestine." Most Hamas supporters are not involved in the activities of the movement's military wing. Various surveys show support for Hamas in Gaza ranging from 25 to 40 percent of the population. Many of these supporters are teachers, nurses and doctors. It's only natural that some would look for and find work with UNRWA, the second-largest employer after the PA. If the Canadian Foreign Affairs Department wishes to understand the phenomenon, it ought to consult sociologists and historians of occupying, colonial regimes rather than rely on superficial intelligence reports.
And as for the question of the Qassam or the stretcher: One hopes that the UN team that looks into the Israeli accusations will get to the real truth of the matter. Perhaps it also ought to have a talk with Zohar Shapira, a sergeant major in the reserves who is in the elite Sayeret Matkal unit. He participated in Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002 and was astounded to discover that the IDF was using military ambulances to surreptitiously transport troops on their way to apprehend suspects in Yazid, north of Nablus. His commanders told him that this was a war and that ambulances were the most protected vehicles at their disposal. The UN committee would hear Shapira complain about the misuse of ambulances - by both sides, but as an Israeli he is also upset about the hypocrisy of the IDF and government spokespeople. An IDF spokesman promised the Maariv reporter who published Shapira's testimony in June that, in the wake of a few complaints, "procedures have been sharpened." Okay, but Shapira and the Palestinians have no military drones with which to ascertain whether the new procedures are being implemented. But, even if it is proven that it was a Qassam, just as the IDF should not be subjected to a sweeping accusation, neither should UNRWA. Only someone who does not want to recognize the commitment of UNRWA employees to the society in which they live could rush to tarnish the entire organization with the charge of "collaboration with terrorists."
Evidently, neither Hansen nor UNRWA are the real target of the Israeli diplomatic assault, but rather the UN and any other institution that dares to overstep the boundaries set by the U.S. State Department spokesman in criticizing Israel's policies.