2019 / 10 / 4
- UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, has been building the Palestinian human capital and equipping boys and girls with education, vocational training and improved livelihoods for years. For some time now, the entity has been under a fierce attack. On the surface, allegations of corruption and abuse of power by senior UNRWA staff members have suddenly manifested. Looking beyond, corruption can very well hide under the guise of adopting anti-corruption measures.
Demographically speaking, UNRWA provides aid to more than five million Palestinian refugees in the diaspora. That is, in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza. In other words, more than five million refugees who have been force-migrated are on hold to be returned to their homeland once the prolonged Palestinian-Israeli conflict is resolved. While the hope remains the light at the end of the tunnel, it has never suited the Israeli palette. One administration after another, the Americans were pro-Israel. With the cherry on the top, President Trump seems to have all the Harry Potter wands at the disposal of the Israelis.
"The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into smaller manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one”. The American Initiative aka the Deal of the Century is stumbling. Here comes the shutdown of UNRWA, thus, blurring the line between humanitarianism and politics, where the unknown people pay the price every day. For Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, UNRWA must be shut once and for all, for the very existence of the entity promotes the right of return of the Palestinian refugees, which to Netanyahu eliminates the state of Israel.
How to shut UNRWA down? Corruption allegations of course. Only by the logic of the naive is discrediting UNRWA at this particular timing a coincidence. End of the day, the entity has been meeting its budget, its projects are manifest on the ground, it has benefitted millions of people and gained the support of an uncountable number of renowned volunteers from all over the world.
Volunteers and civil society members turn to support Palestine the minute their feet touch the Palestinian soil for they can see injustice in action. This, however, ends up costing them their life and if they survive, their reputation. Mads Gilbert is labelled an anti-Semitic. Vittorio Arrigoni and Rachel Currie, to mention but a very few, ended up being murdered. UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness, who witnessed the bombardment of a school on Gaza and couldn’t help crying on air, was labelled crazy. No one can get away with criticizing the Israelis, except for the free of course.
Call it an “Ethics Report” and Voila!
In July, a “confidential internal” report was issued by the UNRWA “ethics office”. Its confidentiality allows no one to verify its content. However, its media summary-leak goes far to attack the senior staff of UNRWA by de-script-ions rather than incidents and action.
The report accumulates all the words in the dictionary to demonize UNRWA. “A culture of low morale, fear of retaliation, distrust, secrecy, bullying, marginalization, the concentration of power, beyond the professional relationship/sexual misconduct [between senior staff members], a funding crisis, irregular recruitment etc." were among the media coverage of the report. Commonsensically, the accusations alleged do not take place overnight. It takes years to build a culture of low morale and the rest of it.
It is known to the world that recruitment measures of the UN in general and the UNRWA, in particular, are very strict. Only creme de la creme make it to an entry position, let alone senior positions. The sudden exposure of long-practised misconduct is a red flag by itself. While the alleged conduct is said to present “an enormous risk to the reputation of the UN”, the report itself seems to be what pauses a huge risk to the reputation of the UN.
Supposing the alleged misconduct is true, the UN would have massively failed to implement monitoring and evaluation procedures, in which case, it would be liable for any misconduct practised on any micro-level. In fact, with such a report, the UN could have facilitated such misconduct to channel funds here and there, a matter which would subject the UN in whole to stand accountable and open to external investigations.
The report findings, unknown to the public save by de-script-ions, are under investigation. The accused may not make any comment until the investigation is concluded. Confidentiality might come across as a measure to ensure impartiality. However, the leaks to the media defy the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Those accused have been fed to the media to tear them apart without a chance to respond. An entity as established and so-called professional as the UN would have not leaked any of it until the investigation is finalized. However, with the miscalculation and in the event those accused are proven innocent, the UN would again be liable for the defamation of the persons concerned.
One interesting accusation stood out. A senior staff member named Maria Mohammadi is implicitly accused of having an intimate relationship with Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl. Maria Mohammedi is an Algerian activist who has been working in the West Bank and Gaza for years. To the western reader, for such a relationship to pave the way for work privileges is corrupt and it ends there. However, for an Arab, such accusation would actually threaten the life of the woman in the name of honour.
The support of Algeria to Palestine has always been exceptional. As an Algerian, Mohammedi could lose her life on grounds of betraying the Palestinian-Algerian cause, that is, freedom of Palestine. Any way perceived, a woman could very well be sacrificed at the altar by the very entity which promotes women’s rights and equal opportunity. Again, the UN stands liable for any ramifications of a situation that seems nothing but mismanaged in favour of shutting the UNRWA down one way´-or-another.
Conveniently, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands cut and/or froze their funding to the UNRWA. As financiers, these countries and whatever representations they have, preserve every right to monitor and evaluate the progress of the projects implemented on the ground. Have they also failed to do their job for the past years?´-or-has their sense of justice been compromised? the questions remain unanswered.
Timing is of the essence but let’s not forget Netanyahu’s speech on Iraq “if you take out Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region”. The world knows better how that turned out. Gideon Levy puts it better, “Israel is occupation- addicted. The drug addict who is your friend, if you give him money, he will really care about you. But are you really caring about him?"