STRONG SUPPORT EXPRESSED FOR PALESTINE REFUGEE AGENCY, AS FOURTH COMMITTEE CONTINUES DISCUSSION OF ANNUAL REPORT

3 November 2003
GA/SPD/275

STRONG SUPPORT EXPRESSED FOR PALESTINE REFUGEE AGENCY, AS FOURTH COMMITTEE CONTINUES DISCUSSION OF ANNUAL REPORT

03/11/03
Press ReleaseGA/SPD/275

Fifty-eighth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

18th Meeting (AM)

STRONG SUPPORT EXPRESSED FOR PALESTINE REFUGEE AGENCY, AS FOURTH COMMITTEE

CONTINUES DISCUSSION OF ANNUAL REPORT

Speakers expressed their strong support for the humanitarian work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and called for the lifting of the financial and logistical obstacles that hindered its work in the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) today, as it continued its consideration of the Agency’s annual report.

The representative of Malaysia highlighted the UNRWA’s efforts to provide education, health and social services to the refugees and to improve their socio-economic conditions.  Its operations, he continued, were more crucial than ever for addressing the mounting humanitarian crisis among the Palestinians and the international community should remain committed to providing vital support for the Agency, so that it could fulfil its mandate.

Morocco’s representative stressed that the Agency must be treated as an integral part of the peace efforts of the international community, because its support for thousands of Palestinian refugees would open the way for future steps in a comprehensive and final settlement of the Palestinian question.

Several delegates pointed out that Israel’s construction of the “separation wall” further compounded what was already a highly unstable environment for the UNRWA’s work.  The representative of Qatar described the closures imposed by Israel, on the occupied territories and the building of the separation wall, as collective punishment on a civilian population and, therefore, a violation of the Geneva Convention.

While, endorsing the humanitarian mandate of the UNRWA, the representative of Israel called attention to what he described as the increasing politicization of the Agency.  Public comments and reports issued by the organization’s leadership reflected a blatant political bias regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said.  That not only violated the mandate of the organization and impartiality of the United Nations, but also harmed its ability to fulfil its humanitarian functions, he added.

Responding to delegate’s statements, the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Peter Hansen, thanked the members of the Fourth Committee for their words of support and encouragement for the Agency.  In response to specific comments made by the Israeli representative, he encouraged delegates to read the interview he had given to The Jordan Times and make up their own minds regarding the Israeli assertion that his statements had been biased and that his words could be constructed as lending legitimacy to the use of terrorism for the promotion of the political aims of the Palestinians.

Also speaking this morning were the representatives of Egypt, Tunisia, Switzerland, Viet Nam, Cuba, Oman, Indonesia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, South Africa, Sudan, Norway and Canada.

Representatives of the Holy See and the Organization of the Islamic Conference also made statements.

Speaking in the exercise of the right of reply were the representatives of Lebanon, Israel, Syria and the representative of the Permanent Observer of Palestine.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 5 November to continue its work.

Background

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this morning to consider the activities of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  [For background information, see press release GA/SPD/274 of 30 October 2003].

Statements

Mohamed Abdelsattar M. Elbadri (Egypt) said the report presented by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) showed the persistent efforts of the Agency’s personnel to alleviate some of the major suffering faced by the Palestinian people.

He called attention to the substantial deterioration in the livelihood of the Palestinians living under occupation, which was adversely affecting the work of the Agency, especially in the areas of health and education.  The UNRWA was also suffering from a financial crisis due to a decrease of contributions from certain countries, he added.

He said that the UNRWA played an important role in alleviating the economic crisis in the occupied territories by providing microfinance loans and that it was the only source of such loans in the territories.

He stressed that the occupation authorities were accountable for over

2,300 deaths, since 2000, and for the destruction of hundreds of homes and the displacement of thousands of families.  Israel, he continued, had isolated the Palestinians by building a security wall inside Palestinian land, which could lead to a social, economic and political catastrophe.  In that context, he called on the international community to ensure that the building of the wall was stopped and that what had already been built was destroyed.

KAIS KABTANI (Tunisia) thanked donor countries for their financing of the Agency, which was allowing it to carry out its important activities.  The UNRWA’s services must be reinforced until the day that the Palestinian refugees could fully exercise their inalienable rights.  He was deeply concerned about the Agency’s financial difficulties and called on the international community, in particular, donor countries to support the Agency, especially in light of the increasing number of Palestinian refugees. 

The annual report highlighted the bitter realities on the ground, which stemmed from the actions of the occupying power, he said.  The destruction of buildings, homes and health facilities and the closing of schools, all violated international law, as well as the conventions signed by the UNRWA.  Urgent measures were needed to remove the restrictions on the movement of the UNRWA personnel, which were preventing them from helping the refugees.  The solution to the Palestinian question must take into account the rights of the Palestinian people, including the refugees.

BENNO LAGGNER (Switzerland) said he was appalled at the deterioration of socio-economic living conditions in the territories due to the closures, curfews, demolition of homes and properties, and the building of the separation wall.  The Agency had paid a heavy toll during the reporting period in terms of human lives, and the access of humanitarian organizations to the civilian population in the occupied Palestinian territories was a source of constant concern.  He called on Israeli authorities to respect the Fourth Geneva Convention and to guarantee humanitarian organizations safe and unimpeded access to civilian populations in the occupied Territories. 

Regarding the UNRWA’s emergency services, he said more attention should be given to targeting programmes and performance evaluation, by strengthening collaboration with its United Nations system partners.  The coordination of humanitarian assistance was essential.  With the Agency’s internal reform process, the cornerstones for improving the Agency’s programme performance had been laid.  Given the needs of an increasing number of beneficiaries, the Agency had to improve its efficiency.  He encouraged host countries to support the UNRWA by contributing to the living conditions of Palestinian refugees. 

He added that Switzerland was prepared to host, in Geneva next June, an international humanitarian conference to address two objectives, namely, promoting the UNRWA’s role amongst a wider public and supporting the Agency’s efforts to better respond to the humanitarian needs of Palestinian refugees.

NGUYEN VAN BAO (Viet Nam) said the work of the UNRWA appeared to be more and more significant and valuable, given the current deterioration of the environment in which the Agency was carrying out its operations.

He said that there was no doubt that the developments mentioned in the report of the UNWRA Commissioner-General had hindered the effectiveness of the Agency.  Those events, he added, had also caused deep concern within the international community.  He reiterated his support for the Agency’s endeavours to implement its mandate, and called for the creation of favourable conditions for the successful work of the UNRWA, including the resumption of the peace process by all concerned parties.

RODNEY LOPEZ (Cuba) expressed great concern regarding the budgetary problems faced by the UNRWA, which compromised its ability to provide an effective response to the growing needs of the Palestine refugees.  The response of the international community to the situation, he added, had been slow and insufficient.

He called on donor countries to continue and increase their contributions to the UNRWA and urged the Government of Israel to desist from imposing restrictions that impeded the normal functioning of the Agency.  He noted that, since 1961, 351 young Palestinians had been able to attend universities in Cuba free of charge.  Currently, 17 Palestinian students were attending university in Cuba, he added.

MOHAMMED AL-RAWAHI (Oman) said millions of Palestinians were continuing to suffer from forced separation from their land, and were being denied essential services.  The occupying force must end the occupation of the Palestinian territories.  The UNRWA had a humanitarian role and was not competent to deal with political issues.  Yet, the situation had started to deteriorate because of political problems, which was why the political aspects of the problem should not be ignored.  The UNRWA should include, in its report, the underlying causes for the suffering of the Palestinian refugees.  The problem had deteriorated due to Israel’s policies, including forced displacement and racism against Palestinians. 

He said Israel appeared determined to violate all international resolutions and defy international commitments.  Emphasizing the right of return of all Palestinians to their lands, he asked the international community to exert pressure on Israel to end its policy of aggression and cease hampering the UNRWA’s work.  He also thanked host countries for the aid they were rendering to the Palestinian refugees and asked countries to support those institutions. 

FAISAL ABDULLA HAMAD A. AL-ATHBA (Qatar) said he was eager to continue cooperation with the UNRWA and support its humanitarian endeavours, in the face of the deterioration of the social and economic situation in the occupied territories.  The UNRWA was one of the most successful United Nations relief agencies, he added.

He said that continuing support of the work of the UNRWA meant continuous support of the peace process, and he appealed to donor countries to urge the occupying power to give up its oppressive and expansive practices and choose the path of peace.  If the financial situation of the UNRWA was not dealt with promptly, he added, it would affect stability in the region.

He said his Government supported the resistance of the Palestinian people in pursuit of their inalienable rights, and called for a comprehensive and final settlement for the Palestinian issue.  He described the closures imposed by Israel on the Territories and the building of the separation wall as collective punishment on a civilian population and, therefore, a violation of the Geneva Convention.

NORZYHDY MOHAMMAD NORDIN (Malaysia) said that in the past 53 years, the UNRWA had done much to provide education, health and social services to the refugees and to improve their socio-economic conditions.  As the UNRWA was the primary source of humanitarian relief assistance to the Palestinian refugees, its activities constituted an essential component in, the struggle for, and realization of, peace in the Middle East.  Its operations were more crucial than ever for addressing the mounting humanitarian crisis among the Palestinians.  The international community must remain committed to providing vital support for the Agency, so that it could fulfil its mandate.

He was gravely concerned that the UNRWA had, in the past year, endured more severe restrictions in access and mobility, as well as damage to its installations and abuse of its staff, including death and injury.  He strongly condemned such brutal acts against the Agency, whose sole aim was to meet the humanitarian needs of the Palestine refugees.  Israel’s behaviour towards the UNRWA was unacceptable, and it must respect the neutrality of all the UNRWA staff and installations.  Israel must cease its large-scale military operations against Palestinian towns and refugee camps.  Israeli actions had caused widespread destruction of Palestinian property and infrastructure and he was troubled that Israeli forces had resorted to taking over the UNRWA school buildings for use as bases and detention centres.

Malaysia was also gravely concerned at the impact of closures and curfews, the creation of closed military zones and obstruction to humanitarian services imposed by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  While, restrictions had prevented the UNRWA from functioning effectively, more devastating were the psychological effects on the Palestinian population.  Unemployment was on the increase and the Palestinian economy faced an acute downturn.  It defined logic that Israel’s draconian measures could ever enhance its security.  He urged Israel to cooperation with the UNRWA and called on the relevant parties to exert influence on Israel to do so. 

YONATRI RILMANIA (Indonesia) said the report outlined the same tragic situation as in previous years, describing a deep humanitarian crisis that was growing even worse in the occupied Palestinian territory.  Poverty and unemployment were spreading rapidly and health conditions were becoming worse, with increasing numbers of Palestinian children suffering from malnutrition.  The living conditions of the Palestinians across the board had continued to decline and their ability to improve the situation was similarly poor. 

Despite those problems, however, the Agency had continued to implement its regular education, health, social services and micro-credit assistance programmes to Palestinian refugees in five operational fields, as well as pursuing its organizational reform.  Given the sacrifice and commitment of the Agency’s staff, the 12,000 strong local staff of the agency in the Palestinian territory deserved consideration for hazard pay.  Danger was often present in their work, and tragedy sometimes not far off.  He urged the Secretariat to speed up efforts to correct that anomaly.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. AL-OTAIBI (Kuwait) highlighted the importance of all services provided to the Palestinian refugees by the UNRWA.  Kuwait would continue to provide economic assistance to the Palestinians through international institutions, in hopes that a just settlement would be arrived at soon. 

He said he hoped that the UNRWA would be able to overcome all of the obstacles it faced without impacting the volume and impact of the services it provided for the Palestinian refugees.

FAISAL AL-ZAYANI (Bahrain) said the Palestinians were increasingly being left to themselves, following the deteriorating situation they had faced since September 2000.  The humanitarian crisis facing the refugees was the result of the fact that the Israeli forces were continuing acts of aggression against the Palestinian people, including curfews and restrictions, which had led to increased poverty and unemployment.  All such actions had split the Palestinian territories into isolated enclaves, and had also led to restrictions on the mobility of the UNRWA staff.  For its part, the UNRWA had made every effort to alleviate the sufferings of the Palestinian refuges in the occupied territories.  It had begun to implement an emergency assistance programme to refugees who bore the brunt of Israeli military raids.  The Agency had also ensured food security for thousands of refugees. 

The report of the Working Group on the Agency’s financing had emphasized current budget shortfalls, which were weakening the UNRWA’s ability to fulfil its mandate, he said.  While, the Agency had taken measures to maintain essential services, those measures were no longer sufficient given the financial shortfall.  The Agency must be given more assistance if it were to reconstitute its funds.  The shortfall must not prevent the UNRWA from completing its tasks.  While the problem of Palestinian refugees was a humanitarian one, he added, the Palestinian question was inseparable from the Palestinian cause and was essentially a political issue. 

KATSUHIKO TAKAHASHI (Japan) said he fully shared the concern of the UNRWA’s Advisory Commission that “the construction of the separation wall, internal and external closures, curfews and other restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip had led to severe and sustained mobility restrictions on the Palestinian population and has had a repercussion on the daily life and culture”.  The “separation fence”, he added, negatively impacted the lives of the Palestinians and prejudged the final status of the negotiations.  Japan had, therefore, called upon Israel to reconsider its fence programme.

He stressed that his country was a major supporter of the UNRWA and attached great importance to its activities.  Japan, he said, had pledged a financial contribution of approximately $6 million to the UNRWA in 2003 and reiterated its request to the secretariat of the Agency to make further improvements, in order to reach an appropriate level of management in its operations.  In that context, he said that the initiative of the United States to streamline the UNRWA-related resolutions was worth considering.

SALIM AL-DHANHANI (United Arab Emirates) said that while the Palestinian problem had started some 55 years ago, in recent years the situation had deteriorated, due to the hostile and violent policy followed by the Israeli authorities.  The situation had worsened after work had started on the building of the separation wall, which had resulted in the destruction of thousands of acres of Palestinian land, displacement of an increasing number of Palestinians, and the loss of access to humanitarian assistance.  Violations and restrictions not only targeted the Palestinian population, but also targeted the UNRWA staff and its structures in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The United Arab Emirates reaffirmed its strong condemnation of all serious violations committed by Israel, contrary to the Fourth Geneva Convention, he said.  He also confirmed the importance of addressing the problem of the Palestinian refugees as an inseparable part of the Palestinian cause.  Any just, lasting and comprehensive solution must include the unconditional repatriation of the Palestinian refugees and compensation for their financial and moral losses.  He was concerned with the Agency’s financial difficulties, due to the decline in its financial resources, and called on the international institutions and the donor countries to increase their contributions to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of the Palestinian refugees. 

MURAT KARAGÖZ (Turkey) said his country recognized Israel’s legitimate security needs and strongly denounced the terrorist activities targeting innocent civilians.  However, he added, Turkey also shared the frustration of the Commissioner-General of the UNRWA, Peter Hansen, when he said that the security of Israel could, in no way, be improved by harsh and disproportionate military measures such as bombing, shelling and destroying refugee shelters.  Moreover, the “separation wall/security fence”, which was currently being built in the West Bank, complicated efforts to bring Israelis and Palestinians together to achieve peace and security.

He noted that the UNRWA’s provision of services in difficult times was essential and called on Israel not to hinder its activities or block the access of humanitarian assistance.

The UNRWA’s fragile financial situation remained a concern, he said.  Despite a glimmer of hope regarding the improvement in its cash flow this year, the Agency’s funding was not keeping pace with the increase in the population that needed its services.  In that context, Turkey deplored that, for the year 2002, overall contributions to the UNRWA’s General Fund had declined and that the response of the international community to the 2003 appeal had been slow.

LINDA MASO (South Africa) commended the Agency’s efforts to alleviate the plight of the Palestinian people by providing valuable services in education, health and other sectors.  He also welcomed the UNRWA’s efforts to promote income-generating activities at a time when the Palestinian economy continued to deteriorate.  He also paid tribute to the Agency’s staff that was being continuously harassed or even killed by the Israeli Defence Force.  He also paid tribute to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria for their valuable support to Palestinian refuges.  Noting with concern the Agency’s precarious financial situation, he said his country would continue to support the UNRWA.

Although the agenda item dealt with a humanitarian situation, the political context, in which it existed, could not be denied, he said.  Overall political developments in the Middle East had a direct bearing not only on the humanitarian and human rights situation, but also on the long-term prospects for finding a peaceful solution to the conflict.  South Africa was concerned with the continued loss of innocent life as a result of suicide bombings and the excessive retaliatory use of force.  That excessive use of force by Israel had not only led to loss of life, but also to the mass destruction of Palestinian homes and infrastructure, further compounding the devastating socio-economic plight of the Palestinians.

Israel’s policies of closures, blockades and restrictions on the movement of goods, persons and resources constituted the collective punishment of a civilian population, he said.  Such actions were expressly prohibited in the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War.  Those counterproductive acts served only to encourage and provoke acts of retaliation, resulting in an endless cycle of violence.  Israeli settlement activity was continuing unabated.  The separation wall would add to an already dire humanitarian situation by impoverishing and isolating refugee facilities, and would debilitate the delivery of essential humanitarian services.  The building of a separation wall was illegal under international law.  It was a pretext to occupy more land and made a negotiated settlement even harder to achieve.

SAADIA EL ALAOUI (Morocco) said the UNRWA had long been a symbol of the plight of Palestinian refugees.  The current challenges faced by the Agency were due to the continuing Israeli occupation and its policies of destruction and economic pressure, which further compounded the tragedy of the Palestinian people.

Turning to the UNRWA’s financial challenges, she called on donors to provide increased assistance, in order to allow the Agency to shoulder its responsibilities.  Israel, she added, should immediately lift the obstacles it imposed on the UNRWA’s work and guarantee the security of its staff.  There was a need to deal with the Agency as an integral part of the peace efforts of the international community, because support for thousands of Palestinian refugees would make it possible to open the way for future steps for a comprehensive and final settlement.

ABDUL RAHMAN MOHAMED RAHMATALLA (Sudan) expressed gratitude for the Agency’s activities.  Israel’s building of the separation wall and its policies of aggression and impoverishment had led to the deterioration in the socio-economic and living conditions of the Palestine refugees.  He expressed appreciation for the services rendered by the UNRWA and called on the international community and donor countries to provide assistance to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people and to improve the Palestinian infrastructure. 

He also expressed appreciation for the steadfast workers of the UNRWA, and stressed the right of refugees to return to their land.  He did not see any solution to the Palestinian problem if Israel did not cease its aggressive policies that only led to violence and counter violence.

HANS JACOB FRYDENLUND (Norway) said that given the deteriorating living conditions in the Palestinian Territory, it was extremely important that the UNRWA had the means and resources to maintain the quality of its services in all the host countries where it worked.  In that context, it was worrying that the UNRWA’s emergency appeals were receiving less and less support, he added.

Norway, he said, remained committed to maintaining its high level of support and would, subject to parliamentary approval, contribute approximately $14 million to the UNRWA’s General Fund for 2004.  He stressed the importance of donors honouring their pledges in time, in order to enable the Agency to carry out its mandate, which had been assigned to it by the General Assembly and was, therefore, a shared international responsibility.

ARYE MEKEL (Israel) said his country attached great importance to the activities of the UNRWA and that it was its policy to facilitate the humanitarian operations of the organization under all circumstances.

He stressed that the issue of refuges was one of the core issues of the Middle East peace process and that, since it was a result of political developments that had transpired in the region, a full resolution of the refugee problem could only result from a political process carried out directly between the sides.  The United Nations, through the UNRWA, had an important role to play in the international effort to provide a solution to the humanitarian needs of the refugees, he added.

He called attention to the increasing phenomenon of politicization in the UNRWA, which was expressed in both public comments and in reports issued by the organization’s leadership, which reflected a blatant political bias regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  That not only violated the mandate of the organization and impartiality of the United Nations, but also harmed its ability to fulfil its humanitarian functions.

The UNRWA’s activities, he said, had consumed excessive time and resources. In fact, there was no other group of refugees that received such specific treatment, as did the Palestinian refugees.  However, statistical data showed that there had been no improvement in the situation of the Palestinian refugees.  Israel could only conclude that the reason for that was political, and stemmed from the desire of the Arab side to perpetuate all components of the conflict, even when it involved harming their own brethren.

He noted that, in the last three years, there had been an alarming increase in the number of cases in which, terrorist operatives exploited the UNRWA facilities and employees, in order to pursue operations against Israel.  The UNRWA workers and installations were perceived in the West Bank and Gaza as having special immunity and, as a result, terrorist organizations used and abused those installations as hideouts and places of refuge.  Moreover, some members of the agency’s staff assisted the terrorists in finding refuge at those sites and, in doing so, endangered those depending upon the UNRWA’s services and assistance and abused their positions to the detriment of the local population.

Israel, he said, expected and demanded the UNRWA not to turn a blind eye to those activities, but, rather to alert all of the relevant parties in the United Nations, the relevant officials in the Palestinian Authority and even world public opinion, to the existence of that phenomenon.  Concrete action should be taken to put an end to that practice, he added.

Turning to the UNRWA’s report, he stressed that Israel was dedicated to the principle of the respect for human dignity and that it invested great care and attention in examining the report, in order to learn of the activities of the organization and to exact lessons in areas in which, cooperation with the UNRWA could be improved.  The dialogue of cooperation and interaction between the UNRWA and Israel, he added, had remained unaltered and, in many ways, enhanced since the outbreak of the current violence in September 2000.

In that regard, he reiterated his dissatisfaction with the fact that the drafters of the UNRWA’s report did not find it necessary to implement or to make any mention of Israel’s detailed comments regarding the document.  That was the result of a consistent policy of the UNRWA.  For many years Israel had held annual dialogue sessions with the UNRWA to discuss the drafts of the reports, but not once were those comments presented in any way in the final version of the report.  As a result, this year Israel had submitted its written response in a letter to the Secretary-General and provided a copy for the members of the Fourth Committee. 

The UNRWA’s report, he said, did not acknowledge Israel’s security constraints in the West Bank and Gaza and its need to protect its citizens against a concerted policy of terror.  Therefore, he added, it would have been appropriate, as well as accurate, for the report to take note of Israel’s security situation and legitimate concerns, as well as the efforts made at enhancing coordination at the field level in recognition of the large number of international organizations conducting humanitarian work on the ground. 

Israel, he said, was satisfied with the efforts to consolidate into a single draft resolution the numerous resolutions regarding the UNRWA, making the work of the Fourth Committee more streamlined and providing the opportunity for those resolutions to be stripped of political elements. 

DEBRA PRICE (Canada) said the UNRWA’s commitment and dedication in challenging circumstances deserved credit.  She congratulated the UNRWA on its reform efforts and said that continued reform efforts would remain essential for continued donor support.  The UNRWA had an invaluable opportunity and responsibility to foster a culture of peace in the region.  The humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories continued to deteriorate.  It was of particular concern that restrictions on the UNRWA staff and goods continued to disrupt the delivery of much needed assistance. 

Canada had raised its serious concerns regarding the humanitarian situation with the Israeli authorities and had called on Israel to honour its obligations under international law, she said.  Canada was troubled by the effects of the continuing violence and condemned terrorist acts.  Suicide bombings must end now.  She called on the Palestinian Authority to prevent those attacks, including by taking concrete actions against incitement.  Implementation of the Road Map was more urgent than ever.

CELESTINO MIGLIORE, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, said with the recent breakdown of the ceasefire, the level of violence had increased sharply and Palestinian and Israeli civilians continued to be killed.  The present conflict in the Middle East would find a lasting solution only when there were two independent and sovereign States, living side-by-side in peace and security.  The international community must assist all parties to realize that the occupation of the territories of the West Bank and Gaza and the terrorist attacks were triggering an unending spiral of violence and retaliation.  An integral part of the Road Map clearly called for a two-State solution, and it was incumbent on both parties to endorse the Road Map as a tool of negotiation and confidence.

While, those negotiations were now at the crossroads, it was necessary to assist those, for whom violence had become the norm, he said.  The Pontifical Mission for Palestine relied on worldwide collaboration to ameliorate the suffering of many in the occupied territories.  Supported by a number of humanitarian organizations, it used their moral and financial assistance to promote labor-intensive community development initiatives to counteract the unemployment in those territories.

Beyond addressing significant humanitarian needs, he hoped that any solution found for the multifaceted problems of the region would include the question of the Holy City of Jerusalem.  Current levels of violence had caused pilgrims to stay away from the holy land, thus imposing even more severe economic penalties on all the people of the region, besides hindering the right of people from visiting religious sites.  The local population, also, did not have free access to their holy places.  Only with a just and lasting peace, secured through negotiation, would the legitimate aspirations of the people of the land be fulfilled.  Only then would the holy land see the possibility of a bright new future, no longer dissipated by rivalry and conflict, but firmly based on cooperation for the good of all.

YUSSEF F. KANAAN, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said the report had highlighted the serious and mounting humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory, as a result of the massive military operations waged by the Israeli occupation forces against the Palestinian people.  Sustained restrictions and curfews on Palestinian cities and villages had had a serious impact on the Palestinian economy, exacerbated by widespread damage and destruction of property and infrastructure.

He said the Israeli occupation forces continued to pursue their unlawful practice of destroying Palestinian homes and refugee shelters in the occupied Palestinian territory.  The recent Israeli military incursions and house demolitions in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip had left some 1,300 Palestinians homeless, bringing the total number of Palestinians who had been made homeless in Rafah since 2000 to over 7,500.  The total for the Gaza Strip alone now exceeded some 14,000.  Even hospitals were no longer neutral ground, as they had been targeted by Israeli occupation forces.  On the issue of the “apartheid” wall, the UNRWA estimated that the wall would affect over 200,000 Palestinians, including some 15,000 refugee families.  Those draconian acts, being perpetuated by the Israeli occupation forces were grievous, immoral and illegal.

Regarding the UNRWA’s financial constraints and resource handicaps, he strongly called on the international community to continue its support of the Agency’s work by contributing generously to its budget.  He urged the international community to exert pressure on the Israeli Government to remove its restrictions on the movement of the Agency’s staff to enable it to implement its emergency relief alongside its regular programmes.  The obvious way out of the catastrophic situation was a genuine resumption of the peace process, which Israel continued to evade.  It was incumbent on the international community to compel Israel to return to the conference table, so that the road to peace might be reopened and the calamitous sufferings of the Palestinian people alleviated.

The Commissioner-General of the UNRWA, PETER HANSEN, said he appreciated the support of speakers for the agency.

He encouraged the members of the Committee to read the interview he had given to The Jordan Times and make up their own minds regarding the Israeli assertion that his statements had been biased and that his words could be constructed as lending legitimacy to the use of terrorism for the promotion of the political aims of the Palestinians.

He said that the question of the UNRWA’s employees being personally involved in terrorist activities, were not entirely accurate, and stressed that only six out of the 12,000 Palestinians employed by the Agency had been indicted, and that the confession signed by one of them was in Hebrew, a language he did not understand.  The UNRWA had not been able to ascertain the facts regarding that case, he added.

Regarding the lack of inclusion of Israel’s remarks, he said that Israel’s representatives had been invited to present their arguments for weeks, but they had not done so.

IBRAHIM ASSAF (Lebanon) proposed that the Committee postpone the discussion of its next agenda item, on the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories be postponed until Wednesday, so that delegations would have time to complete their statements on the item.

Right of Reply

Mr. MEKEL (Israel) said it was a pity that the head of a United Nations humanitarian organization found himself in a situation in which he had to make such explanations.  He could have eliminated that need, if he had refrained from making political statements.  In his statement, he had quoted from a recent interview in a Jordanian publication, but he could have quoted from any other interview in other publications.  All were aware of the Agency’s humanitarian mandate, which did not mandate the Commissioner-General to give anti-Israeli interviews.  The Commissioner-General’s special position meant that each word he was given receive great significance, and he needed to be more careful.  If he refrained from such interviews, he would not have to explain himself.

Regarding the six United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) employees, he said that, it was enough if even one terrorist took advantage of his status and killed many people.  Regarding the presentation of the report, that report had been presented in August.  In September the General Assembly had started, and there had not been time to prepare its comments.  That had been the UNRWA’s practice for years and Israel’s comments had not been included in last year’s report either.

Regarding Lebanon’s request to postpone consideration of Israeli practices until Wednesday, he asked for an explanation.  Was it a question of resting on Tuesday or was there a political reason behind it?

ENRIQUE LOEDEL (Uruguay) said Lebanon had asked for time so that delegates could finish their statements for the general debate.

The Committee then decided to postpone its consideration of the agenda item on Israeli practices until Wednesday, 5 November.

FEDA ABDELHADY-NASSER, Permanent Observer of the Mission of Palestine, rejected the remarks and personal attacks made by Israel against the Commissioner-General of the UNRWA, Mr. Hansen.  The UNRWA had conducted itself in a commendable manner and should be accorded the same respect as any other agency by Israel, she added.

She commended the dedication and dignity with which the Commissioner had conducted the Agency’s work, and said his public comments reflected the realities of the situation on the ground.  Regarding the UNRWA’s staff conduct, she said the Israeli accusations were unfounded.  The fact that the occupying forces took positions on the grounds of the Agency’s facilities, damaging them and killing its staff was a direct violation of the Geneva Convention.

She stressed that it was “more than obvious” that Israel had obstructed the UNRWA’s work and that the difficult environment in which the Agency operated was a direct result of Israeli actions.

She said that suicide bombings were totally condemnable, but were a consequence of the greater problems of the occupation and the actions of the occupying forces.  Finding a political solution to the conflict was not part of the UNRWA’s mandate, she added.

Turning to the consolidation of the draft resolutions, she said that the objective was not to create one resolution, but rather four or five.

LOUAY FALLOUH (Syria) said he had not been surprised to hear the statement of the “government of occupation”, which was full of lies.  Israel’s policy of misinforming world public opinion had been the practice for some 55 years.  The approach followed by the Israeli Government was “lie, lie, lie until the others believed what you said”.  He rejected any accusation about Mr. Hansen’s neutrality.  Lebanon fully supported the Commissioner-General and his team.  Many delegations had expressed similar support.

IBRAHIM ASSAF (Lebanon) also expressed his support for Mr. Hansen.  He had not been surprised to see him attacked by the Israeli Government.  He was not surprised because in the Assembly’s general debate, the Israeli Foreign Minister had said that resolutions concerning Palestinian questions were of no interest.  The spokesman for the Israeli Government had said, after the adoption of the resolution concerning the wall, that if the moon were a Palestinian question, it would have been voted not round, but flat.  Mr. Hansen fully knew the situation.

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For information media. Not an official record.