Fourth Committee speakers urge political commitment to UNRWA and duty to stop Israel’s aggression – Press release

General Assembly


Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-ninth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

21st  & 22nd Meeting (PM)

Robust Political Commitment to Palestinian Relief Agency Urged in Fourth Committee
 as Speakers Stress Parallel Duty to Stop Israel’s Aggressions

Israel Says States Ignoring ‘Real’ Problem — Politicization of Refugee Issue

Commending the perseverance of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in the face of adverse conditions on the ground, speakers in the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) today called for renewed international financial and political commitment to end the suffering of Palestinian refugees, as they concluded consideration of the Agency’s work.

Consensus emerged during the debate on the imperative of funding the Agency sufficiently to fulfil its mandate, while simultaneously renewing international efforts to reach a just and lasting political settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the two-State model.

Supporting UNRWA’s new mid-term strategy and its efforts to strengthen protection activities for its workers, the representative of Switzerland said those initiatives required sustained international support, and he urged donors to channel their contributions preferably through the General Fund.

Many speakers stressed the urgency of compelling Israel to cease its aggressive and inhumane activities against the Palestinians.  The representative of Lebanon said UNRWA also faced an unjustified Israeli-led campaign of defamation, which accused it of holding refugees in a state of dependency and exacerbating the Agency’s financial shortfalls by imposing transit charges on shipments and impeding movements of personnel and goods.

The representative of Israel said that some States were so busy accusing his country that they were not interested in the real problem, namely, the politicization of the refugee issue.  His country supported UNRWA’s humanitarian mission and recognized the Agency’s important contribution to the welfare of Palestinian refugees.  However, Israel opposed UNRWA’s political agenda.

Detailing their Governments’ stepped-up contributions to the Agency, several speakers urged more States to do the same.  The long-term well-being of the Palestinian refugees required the attainment of sustainable economic development, said Japan’s representative, adding that his country was working to mobilize support and share development experiences.

Commenting on some of the issues raised during the discussion, Paul Krahenbuhl, UNRWA Commissioner-General, said the Agency focused not only on immediate relief but also made long-term investments in education and health. Stating that 97 per cent of UNRWA expenditure was provided by Member States, he said any changes in funding had direct consequences on Palestinian refugees.  The Agency would always be ready to sit down and discuss its shortfalls with all.

Also speaking today were the representative of Brazil, Syria, Egypt, Qatar, Libya, China, Russian Federation, Turkey, Nigeria, Indonesia, Cuba, Algeria, South Africa, United States, Norway, United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Bangladesh, Botswana, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Kuwait, Costa Rica, Republic of Korea, Bahrain, Senegal and Bolivia.  The Permanent Observer of the Holy See also spoke.

The Committee will meet at 10 a.m., Thursday, 6 November, to begin consideration of 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.


The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to conclude its debate on the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  For background, see Press Release GA/SPD/572 of 4 November.

GUILHERME DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA (Brazil) said that the Palestinian people suffered the brutal consequences of an unresolved conflict and condemned the fact that not even UNRWA’s personnel and facilities were spared.  Because of the impact of the conflict on civilians, it was necessary to redouble efforts to assist the Agency. His country had donated close to $30 million in assistance over the last seven years and pledged an additional contribution of 6,000 tons of rice and 4,000 tons of beans to UNRWA valued at $5 million.  The blockade on Gaza should be lifted allowing for humanitarian aid to enter the enclave.  Furthermore, the ceasefire in place must be consolidated allowing for the resumption of peace talks.  All Palestinian actors should commit to non-violence, he said, noting with grave concern the expansion of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  In conclusion, UNRWA played a crucial role in ensuring stability in an environment where poverty, injustice and lack of opportunities prevailed, and Brazil pledged his continued support to the Agency.

IHAB HAMED (Syria) said responsibility for the Palestinians was a legal, political and moral one, and not only humanitarian in nature.  UNRWA was an eyewitness to suffering of the Palestinian people, and it continued to serve the community amid great danger.  Host countries for the Palestinians were also donors, as they filled gaps with by providing valuable local services.  Syria would continue supporting Palestinian refugees, despite its own difficulties, he said, adding that his Government had cooperated with UNRWA at all levels to ensure the refugees’ well-being.  Terrorist groups had attacked camps, blocked humanitarian supplies and impeded relief work, but the Syrian Government worked to alleviate the situation.  UNRWA must be financed in a manner that allowed it to continue providing “quality and quantity” services in accordance with its mandate.  If States that allocated huge amounts of money for war and “interference” devoted just a fraction of those funds to UNRWA, the Agency would have had no difficulty.  Referring to statements by the representatives of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and European Union expressing concern about Palestinian refugees in Syria, he said they should ponder how they could best advance the cause of refugees, instead of shedding crocodile’s tears.

AHMED EL SHANDAWILY (Egypt) associating with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Non-Aligned Movement, commended UNRWA staff for their dedication and sacrifice.  He mourned the 2,150 people and 11 Agency staff killed during the Gaza War.  The Agency was indispensable in serving more than 5 million Palestinian refugees until they were able to realize their inalienable rights, including the right of return.  He was concerned that Israel had continued to deny the basic rights of Palestinian refugees in the Occupied Palestinian Territory for almost five decades.  He stressed the need for the $5.4 billion in pledges made on 12 October at the Conference on Palestine and Gaza Reconstruction to be disbursed in a timely manner.  Recalling the Commissioner-General’s statement about the possible negative consequences of the current funding trend, the speaker urged all States in a position to do so to extend all possible assistance to the Agency.

ABDULLA ALMANA (Qatar) welcomed the work done by UNRWA despite its financial difficulties.  The complex situation in the region and the financial difficulties made the Agency’s work even more difficult.  The staff was also burdened by the crisis in Syria.  During the last conflict in Gaza, UNRWA had lost many of its facilities, and the situation had grown even worse with the continued blockade.  He said that the statement made by Israel on the right of refugees to return threatened the chance of a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian question.  Regarding UNRWA’s financial deficit he was concerned that it would reduce the services it provided and, with that, stressed that the Agency could not continue its level of work while the deficit persisted.  Qatar spared no efforts in providing financial help to Palestinian refugees and to UNRWA; it had increased its financial contribution, giving $1 million in support of the Agency to help it respond to the great humanitarian and reconstruction needs in Gaza.  He called on Member States to provide support to the Agency to allowing it to perform its work.  

ALTAHER A. A. ALMUNTASER (Libya), associating with the Arab Group and Non-Aligned Movement, said the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza were a flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions.  Crimes were committed against those attacked as well as against the international community.  The conflict had created an urgent situation in which the international community needed to step up support to enable UNRWA to provide relief and succour in accordance with its mandate.  The only long-term solution would be a just and lasting peace settlement that established an independent Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital.

YANWEI ZHU (China) noted UNRWA’s positive contribution, as a guardian of the rights of the Palestinian refugees. During the last conflict, which lasted more than 50 days, the Agency’s staff continued to do great work in extremely difficult conditions.  The humanitarian situation in Gaza highlighted the plight of the Palestinian refugees, he said, welcoming the Agency’s efforts of UNRWA and requesting Israel to lift the blockade.  China also welcomed the summit in Egypt on the enclave’s reconstruction and noted that the international community needed to help the Palestinian people in social and economic areas as well.  His country provided financial contributions to UNRWA, and was deeply concerned by the Agency’s budget deficit.  Since last year, China had increased its financial contribution to UNRWA.  Overall, his country played a constructive role in working towards a resolution of the Palestinian question.

Mr. DESYATNIKOV (Russian Federation) said that, while the daily activities of UNRWA staff may not be noticed by people around the world, they were of extreme importance to the Palestinian refugees and the region.  Specifically, the Agency was playing a crucial role in helping Palestinian refugees in Syria amid that country’s conflict.  The Russian Federation would continue to support the Palestinian refugee community through bilateral and multilateral channels until a just and lasting solution to the conflict was found.  The Russian Federation’s assistance was focused on such crucial areas as education and security, he said.

Y. HALIT ÇEVIK (Turkey), also speaking as chair of the Working Group on UNRWA, praised the Commissioner-General and his team for their efforts in improving the conditions of Palestinian refugees, of which 540,000 were in Syria, 270,000 of whom were displaced as of September 2014.  The report of the Working Group highlighted the Agency’s encouraging achievements in securing additional donors and more effective budgeting, but there was an anticipated funding gap this year of $58 million.  As the Commissioner-General stated yesterday, if that trend continued, the Agency would be forced to give priority to “life-saving activities only”.

He expressed concern about the tight restrictions on Agency staff and humanitarian and reconstruction goods in its five field operations, as well as increased costs of Israeli security procedures and the Gaza blockade.  With that, he asked that the openings between Israel and Gaza be sustained.  In addition to Turkey’s $350 million in assistance to the Agency over the past decade, it had announced an additional $200 million in reconstruction aid for 2014 — 2017, and he strongly encouraged the international community to help close the budget gap. Turkey had also taken in 123 wounded Palestinians, aided in the construction of a Gaza hospital and continued other assistance in fuel, electricity and water.  He strongly condemned Israel’s violations on Wednesday in Al-Aqsa and asked for Palestinian unity.  Finally, he supported Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ initiative regarding the adoption of a Security Council resolution.

ANTHONY BOSAH (Nigeria) said that as UNRWA was 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, it was “indeed challenged” by a gross inadequacy of funds needed to deliver on its mandate.  The funding gap undermined the quality of the Agency’s services and jeopardized its ability to fully implement its reforms and programmes in critical sectors such as health, education, social services, as well as to respond to emergency challenges.  In that connection, his Government welcomed the General Assembly resolution regarding support for the institutional strengthening of the Agency through the provision of financial resources from the United Nations regular budget.

ANTONIUS AGUS SRIYONO (Indonesia), associating with Non-Aligned Movement, had not forgotten that some UNRWA staff members had lost their lives in the performance of their duties.  Based on the Commissioner-General’s report, it was clear that hardship and poverty were a daily reality in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  He was deeply concerned that Israeli policies hampered the Agency’s effort to provide assistance, and he called on Israel to act in accordance with international law.  As the occupying Power, Israel had an obligation to install measures, such as freedom of movement, which enabled the Agency to perform its mandate.  Specifically, he urged Israel to stop imposing charges on UNRWA’s shipments and detaining UNRWA’s goods.  He drew attention to the human tragedy unfolding in Gaza due to the Israeli blockade, adding that the  bombardments last July only added to the already precarious situation, leaving the injured in need of hospitals, and children without schools.  That situation, he noted, had taken place in the Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian people.  He expressed his solidarity with the Palestinians and his support for UNRWA’s dedicated work.

DAVID FORES RODRIGUEZ (Cuba) said the United Nations had the primary role of protecting and promoting the inalienable rights of the Palestinian peoples.  He condemned the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza, which aggravated the already besieged situation there.  In recent weeks, conditions in East Jerusalem had been gradually deteriorating, which could only escalate tensions.  Israel’s blockades and restrictions continued to affect all aspects of Palestinian society and forced them to live in insecurity and dependence on international assistance.  Israel continued to hamper relief workers trying to assist vulnerable populations, which was a clear violation of the United Nations Charter and international law.  The UNRWA’s financial crisis was a serious challenge to be addressed by the international community collectively.

SABRI BOUKADOUM (Algeria), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement, said he was appalled by the steadily deteriorating humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza.  Algeria had recently pledged supplementary financial aid of $25 million bringing its overall aid to $61 million for Palestinians.  His country also had recently provided an additional $10 million in food and equipment aid, and was expecting an additional $12 million to be provided by Algerian charities.  He fully supported the Palestinian National Consensus Government, and called for the immediate and unconditional opening of crossings. Concerning UNRWA’s serious underfunding, he asked those who had pledged, and those who had not, to contribute to it generously.  Consistent with international law, he called on Israel to protect civilians and ensure the safety of Agency personnel and their facilities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The international community should intensify its efforts to achieve a settlement that would end the Israeli occupation and guarantee the formation of a sovereign State of Palestine.

OYAMA MGOBOZI (South Africa), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that through the “IBSA” — India, Brazil, South Africa — Fund, and in cooperation with the Palestinian authorities and other international organizations, his Government was supporting projects in Ramallah, Nablus and Gaza.  While the Fund had supported the rehabilitation of the al-Quds hospital in Gaza, which had been among the buildings severely damaged during the latest Israeli offensive, the vicious cycle of war and destruction must be broken.  He was appalled by the high number of refugees currently needing UNRWA’s assistance, and noted with concern their growing numbers in Lebanon and Jordan.

DAVID PRESSMAN (United States) said UNRWA, during the past year, had been at the forefront of the humanitarian response to both the ongoing civil war in Syria and the latest round of violence in Gaza.  The United States remained the largest bilateral donor to the Agency, with more than $398 million provided in fiscal year 2014, and thanked other donors and countries hosting refugees.  Several incidents in Syria and Gaza were deeply concerning.  UNRWA was unable to access five of 12 Palestinian refugee camps in Syria due to ongoing conflict in and around those areas.  In Gaza, the United States remained gravely concerned, both by the unconscionable act of hiding weapons in vacant United Nations schools that were closed for the summer and by other reported abuses by militants of a civilian and humanitarian nature of United Nations facilities.

The United States, he said, strongly condemned the shelling of UNRWA schools and facilities sheltering civilians fleeing the fighting, and had called on Israel to conduct a full and prompt investigation, which was under way.  All parties must take all feasible precautions to prevent civilian casualties, comply with international humanitarian law and respect United Nations facilities.  He welcomed new efforts by the Organization to better protect UNRWA, other agencies and the civilians they served from such abuses in the future.

MIRA DAHER (Lebanon) noted that it had been a very difficult year for the Palestinian people in Gaza, with thousands of killed, injured and displaced.  Her delegation also regretted the Agency’s loss of personnel.  She recalled that since its inception, UNRWA provided education, health care, emergency relief, shelter and support to the 5 million refugees.  With that, she underscored the paramount importance of ensuring the Agency’s financial stability and urged donors to fulfil their pledges and increase their contributions.  UNRWA also faced an unjustified Israeli-led campaign of defamation, which accused it of holding refugees in a state of dependency and exacerbating the agency’s financial shortfalls by imposing transit charges on shipments and impeding movements of personnel and goods. Lebanon was committed to improve the livelihoods of Palestine refugees during their stay in the country’s 12 temporary camps.  She also expressed gratitude to donors who assisted with the reconstruction of the Nahr El Bared camp.  Since the conflict in Syria, her country had welcomed more than 1.2 million refugees, including 52,000 Palestine refugees.  She commended UNRWA for alleviating the suffering of all those refugees, but it was the international community’s responsibility to end the Israeli occupation and allow the Palestine refugees to exercise their right to return to their homeland.

GEIR O PEDERSEN (Norway) said UNRWA was the key contributor to health and education for thousands of Palestinian refugees.  The 51-day war on Gaza cost the lives of more than 2,200 people and the ongoing crisis in Syria was impacting the whole region, further burdening the Agency, as well as Lebanon and Jordan.  Norway was gravely concerned about the loss of life of Palestinian refugees, in Syria and Gaza.  Commending the Agency’s work there, he urged full access to allow UNRWA’s humanitarian and human development activities.  UNRWA was the key actor on the ground, scaling up activities to meet the need for food, water, shelter, and sanitation for thousands of displaced persons.  He welcomed the Cairo Conference, where donors had pledged $5.4 billion in financial support.  Israel must lift its blockade of Gaza, which needed to be merged with the West Bank into a single economy.  Regarding the Agency’s shortfall of $56 million, he said the situation required changes in funding and partnerships with both host countries and United Nations organizations.  The international community must continue to provide it with adequate funding, he added, adding that Norway welcomed efforts by host Governments to assist the growing refugee population.

Ms. Al Zaabi (United Arab Emirates), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement and the League of Arab States, said the UNRWA report detailed the devastation and hardships suffered by refugees in the region.  The financial impediments confronting the Agency were a source of concern, and her country appreciated donors’ contributions.  However, it believed there should be a durable financing mechanism that would allow the Agency to continue serving the refugee populations in all areas central to their daily life.  Crimes committed against the people of Gaza must be investigated, and Israel must lift the blockade in order to facilitate relief work and the resumption of normal economic life.  Highlighting the United Arab Emirates’ initiatives towards ameliorating the situation of Palestinians, she stressed the urgency of a just and lasting two-State solution.

BENJAMIN SHARONI (Israel) said that some States were so busy accusing Israel that they were not interested in the real problem, namely, the politicization of the refugee issue.  His country supported UNRWA’s humanitarian mission and recognized the Agency’s important contribution to the welfare of Palestinian refugees.  However, Israel opposed UNRWA’s political agenda.  While the world’s refugees were aided by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Palestinians fell under the purview of UNRWA, which encouraged life-long dependency.  Although the Middle East was saturated in petrol dollars, the funds dried up when it came to assisting Palestinians and supporting UNRWA.  In fact, he said, 90 per cent of the Agency’s core funding came from Western countries.

Once again, he said, Israel was targeted by terrorist attacks; for 50 days Hamas rained rockets on Israeli’s cities.  In response, his country launched an operation of self-defence, doing everything in its power to respect international law and avoid harming innocent civilians.  No sites were off limit, especially not UNRWA’s schools, which were abused by Hamas terrorists.  He expected UNRWA and the international community to conduct a transparent investigation of those crimes.  Israel abided by the rule of law and, as such, expected the support of the international community in that effort.  Regarding the comments yesterday of the Commissioner-General, he said he anticipated a more balanced briefing next year.

OLIVIER MARC ZEHNDER (Switzerland) said UNRWA’s commitment and perseverance in the midst of adverse conditions were commendable. Switzerland supported the Agency’s new strategy as well as its efforts to strengthen protection activities. To be successful, those initiatives required sustained international support. The Agency’s financial situation was critical and demanded urgent attention, he said, urging donors to channel their contributions preferably through the general fund. Moreover, resources pledged for Gaza’s recovery at the Cairo Conference should be disbursed before the onset of winter, he concluded.

RIADH BEN SLIMAN (Tunisia) said the Agency was a symbol of the international community’s commitment to the well-being of the Palestinian refugees.  The scale of destruction inflicted on the Gaza population was appalling and placed an additional burden on the Agency’s task to assist them.  Without the lifting of the blockade, however, it would be extremely difficult to carry out the work of reconstruction.  That was an essential condition to enable urgent humanitarian assistance flows.  Restrictions on the movement of Agency staff by Israel added an additional burden.  He was also very concerned by the enduring hardship of Palestinians in refugee camps in Syria.  Agency underfunding had further undermined those efforts.  He reiterated Tunisia’s support for an independent, sovereign Palestinian State that encompassed the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, and the adoption of a timeframe for putting an end to the Israeli occupation.

ABULKALAM ABDUL MOMEN (Bangladesh) said that 2014 was “the most sad year” for UNRWA as an institution tasked with helping Palestinian refugees achieve their full potential.  Eleven UNRWA officials died during the latest “Israel-Gaza” conflict as a result of artillery, mortars or aerial missile fire, which struck on or near the Agency’s schools.  That was “appalling” to the global community, which reacted to that “war crime” with “moral outrage”.  The savage attack on the UNRWA installation illustrated that the occupying Force “will keep no one safe in Gaza”.  Bangladesh thus remained gravely concerned about the security of Agency staff.  Given the “volatile and confusing” situation in the war-torn Middle East, Palestine refugee communities there needed more attention from the international community, as their vulnerability had deepened.  He called on all parties to take all possible steps to ensure the refugees’ protection and the Agency’s unhindered access and supply of essential goods.

NAOKI TAKAHASHI (Japan) noted with deep concern the worsening humanitarian situation of Palestinian refugees due to the recent Gaza crisis.  He stressed the need to fully respect the safety and security of aid workers.  Japan had increased assistance to UNRWA two-fold in the last four years, reaching $31 million in 2013, on the understanding that the plight of Palestinian refugees affected all and in line with the promotion of human security, a peaceful and stable Middle East was indispensable for improving the humanitarian situation of the Palestine refugees, and Japan had pledged more than $20 million at the Cairo Conference.  The long-term well-being of the Palestinian refugees required the attainment of sustainable economic development and Japan was working to mobilize support and share development experiences towards that goal.

NKOLOI NKOLOI (Botswana), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement, said his country was appalled by the continued perpetration of violence on innocent peoples in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the deteriorating humanitarian situation there, which had now turned into a humanitarian catastrophe.  The UNRWA’s ability to continue assisting the Palestinian refugees amid all the financial and resource challenges was commendable.  Following the recent conflict in Gaza, the Agency had not only moved from providing humanitarian assistance but was also faced with the challenge of reconstructing the enclave to enable innocent peoples whose homes were destroyed to live a life of dignity again.  There was no alternative to the two-State solution, he said, adding that the United Nations was the most legitimate forum for harmonizing the actions of nations in the quest for selfhood and nationhood.  Botswana was hopeful that sooner or later a lasting solution would be found.

PHILIPPA KING (Australia) said that her country was a long-standing supporter of UNRWA.  It had provided funding to the Agency every year since 1951 and was on track to exceed the current partnership commitment of $90 million over five years, from 2011 to 2016.  That collaboration provided a predictable funding flow, which helped the Agency better plan and deliver its services to the Palestinian people.  She recognized that the Agency faced significant challenges, including a rising refugee population, multiple humanitarian crises, “flat-lining global aid budgets” and a rising deficit, but a viable future that offered a pathway to sustained economic development for Palestinian refugees could only come through a political solution.

NOOR ISRA FAIZURA HJ ISMAIL (Brunei Darussalam), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, strongly supported the work of the Agency in providing material and humanitarian assistance to Palestinians over the past 60 years.  Her country would continue to contribute to the Agency’s work to the best of its ability, even though that work was continuously impacted by the conflict between Israel and Palestine, including the shelling of seven UNRWA shelters in Gaza.  She called for a thorough investigation into the attacks. Citing the Fourth Geneva Convention stipulating that the occupying Power had the duty to provide access to food, supplies and medical care to the Occupied Territory, she said Israel’s sustained restrictions had instead impeded humanitarian assistance and economic growth.  She called for the immediate end to the blockade and to any construction plans for illegal settlements in the Occupied Territory.  She believed in a negotiated two-State solution resulting in an independent State of Palestine.

ABDULAZIZ S M A ALJARALLAH (Kuwait), associating with the League of Arab States, the Organization of Islamic Conference and Non-Aligned Movement, said the suffering of the Palestinian people could not be highlighted without holding Israel directly responsible.  The Gaza Strip witnessed an act of military aggression in July and August where thousands died and invaluable infrastructure was destroyed.  Israel should abide by its international obligations and lift restrictions in order to allow humanitarian assistance to proceed unhindered.  Kuwait had increased its contributions to UNRWA and reaffirmed its support to the Palestinian people and their inalienable rights under United Nations resolutions.

CAROL VIVIANA ARCE ECHEVERRÍA (Costa Rica) acknowledged the work done by UNRWA’s staff, who worked under dangerous and difficult circumstances.  In 1949, the General Assembly had created the Agency with a humanitarian mandate to provide basic help to refugees waiting for a better situation, she recalled.  Since then, the Agency had been a stabilizing force in the region, alleviating the difficult living conditions of the refugees.  Her country supported UNRWA’s services in such domains as education, emergency relief and humanitarian aid.  The Agency’s financial situation, however, was very disturbing, and she regretted that it had had to suspend its food programme in schools as a result of its financial shortfall.  UNRWA could not fulfil its mandate without the support of the international community, she said, noting Costa Rica’s support for its effort to increase effectiveness and the progress made in that regard.  Costa Rica had made a financial contribution in response to the Agency’s flash appeal, she said, reaffirming its commitment to UNRWA and its mandate to offer humanitarian aid and to spread a culture of peace and tolerance in the region.

PARK JANG HO (Republic of Korea) voiced concern about the continued instability and conflict afflicting much of UNRWA’s activity.  The ongoing conflict in Syria was straining humanitarian resources, not only of neighbouring countries that hosted millions of refugees, but also those of the international community.  The Republic of Korea had pledged $12 million at the Cairo conference, of which $2 million were earmarked for Gaza’s economic recovery and reconstruction.  Highlighting his country’s growing assistance to UNRWA, he welcomed the Agency’s efforts to improve internal controls, accountability, and organizational efficiency and effectiveness, as well as its improved donor relations.  In the unfortunate aftermath of the recent conflict in Gaza, his country supported the Secretary-General’s initiative for an independent board of inquiry and looked forward to its findings.

Mr. AL ZAYANI (Bahrain) associating with the League of Arab States, Organization of Islamic Conference and Non-aligned Movement, said the UNRWA report had highlighted the dire situation on the ground.  Israeli restrictions had placed Palestinians under great vulnerability, he said, adding that the blockade had pushed the people deeper into poverty by impeding the prospect of economic activity.  The recent aggression had exacerbated the suffering of the Palestinian people.  Each field of UNRWA’s operation was facing varying degrees of crisis and straining the Agency’s financial base.  Despite the gradual increase in extrabudgetary resources, the Agency still faced a level of unpredictability that impeded its ability to serve the Palestinian refugee populations.  Financial and operational difficulties should not overshadow its historic achievements, he declared.

IBRAHIM SORY SYLLA (Senegal), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement and the League of Arab States, noted that the plight of the Palestinian people was unique.  As for their quest to return to their homeland, he regretted that that terrible situation was passed on from one generation to the next.  He welcomed the tremendous work done by UNRWA in term of education, but recalled that the Agency’s existence, in itself, reflected the international community’s collective failure to resolve the situation.  As long as no lasting solution to the conflict was found, the situation of the Palestinian refugees would remain unchanged.  The situation in the Middle East overall was particularly volatile and made implementation of UNRWA’s mandate harder.  In addition, the crisis no longer spared UNRWA’s staff, and in that regard, he deplored the death of Agency personnel during the last conflict.  Despite the importance of its missions, the Agency faced enormous financial difficulties.  Senegal thus urged the international community to contribute to UNRWA, as its support was key to giving hope to the 5 million refugees and preserving their dignity.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) welcomed the efforts made by host and donor countries, as well as UNRWA’s aid workers.  All efforts to rebuild Gaza were the responsibility of all in the region, he said.  His country noted the difficult situation facing the refugees, who lived in abject poverty in Lebanon and Jordan.  His country rejected the Israeli policies prohibiting the Palestinian people access to basic care. Furthermore, the settlement construction created more conflict in the region, resulting in an even greater number of displaced people.  He condemned the 50-day war, which left the Gaza refugees with terrible destruction and loss.  The current conflict would be resolved with an end of Israel’s illegal occupation and the creation of a State of Palestine with pre-1967 borders.

BERNARDITO AUZA, observer of the Holy See, was concerned that humanitarian aid workers had become victims of violence. Another peace process had failed, and the inhabitants of Gaza faced death and destruction.  His delegation called for an end to that vicious cycle of violence and to the harsh realities described in the Commissioner-General’s report.  Along with donors from around the world, the Holy See worked to provide education, health care and social services to affected populations.  He recalled The Pope’s appeal to the international community to use its influence and resources to engage the disputing parties in substantive dialogue to kick-start the negotiations in order to bring stability and peace to the holy land.  However, that fundamental task lay with the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves.  Peace could be achieved through the acknowledgment by all of the right of two States to exist and live within internationally recognized borders.  In conclusion, he recalled the Pope’s words:  “peace-making calls for courage, much more than warfare.  It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and not to the conflict, yes to dialogue and not to violence”.

Right of Reply

Taking the floor in exercise of right of reply, the representative of Israel said extremist ideologies were spreading in the Middle East and his country was on the frontlines.  Israel did everything to prevent innocent civilians during the recent conflict in Gaza, while Hamas had not.  Every innocent death was a tragedy, he said, but the time had come for the international community to see who was responsible for the conflict:  Hamas.

To critics of Israel’s human rights record, he said they should perhaps be interested in improving the situation in their backyard.  Palestinian refugees in Syria and Lebanon were living under dire conditions in camps, he said, adding that those Governments would do well to focus their attention within.

The Middle East, he continued, should not be used cynically by countries outside the region, such as Cuba and Bangladesh during the debate, to divert attention from their own shortcomings.  Peacebuilding required commitment, compromise and hard choices.  When such leadership emerged in the form of Anwar Sadat and King Hussein, Israel made peace.

Exercising her right of reply, the observer of the State of Palestine said the reality of the tragedy in Gaza was witnessed live and well-documented.  It was Israel and its sophisticated weaponry that had killed more than 2,000 people, including women and children.  The occupying Power had committed war crimes in the last conflict as well as during previous ones.

Denying Palestinians the right of return was an act of hypocrisy when any Jew enjoyed the same right, she said.  All in the Committee had affirmed UNRWA’s important role, in contrast to the charges of politicization levelled by the Israeli representative.  The refugees’ status was rooted in the Israeli failure to realize their just rights.  Israel’s cooperation with UNRWA was not a favour but an obligation as a member of the United Nations and as an occupying Power, she said.

Praising the Commissioner-General for highlighting the realities on the ground, she said no words or amount of time could convey the magnitude of the suffering and trauma of the Palestinian people over six decades.  The suffering borne by Palestine refugees in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon was different from that endured under illegal and unjust occupation.

The representative of Syria, exercising his right of reply, said it was ironic that Israel should talk about Palestinian refugees in Syria when it was responsible for the expulsion of Palestinians in the first place.  What peace was Israel speaking about when it refused to respect the right of Palestinian refugees established under United Nations resolutions?  Israel had imposed an inhumane and collective blockade, resulting in death and destruction, and now the Israeli representative sought to strip the refugees of their status.

It was obvious that the Israeli representative, having heard the avalanche of condemnations in the Committee, found himself in an unenviable position and sought to exploit the situation in Syria as a diversionary tactic.

On the United States representative’s allegation that Syria had blocked access to a refugee camp, he said he had figures to prove the Syrian Government’s cooperation.  Furthermore, Israel would not have been able to pursue its aggressive policies without the blind support of the United States, and any State that supported Israeli occupation was complicit in that.

He said Syria had always been the most stable and dignified shelter for Palestinian refugees.  What had changed?  The answer was simple:  terrorist infiltration of refugee camps and their use of human shields.

Responding to the Israeli delegate, the representative of Cuba said his country had been built on a long tradition of solidarity, beginning with the American Revolution all the way to the fight against Ebola.  What did Israel know about solidarity?

Concluding Remarks

Taking the floor, PAUL KRAHENBUHLM, UNRWA Commissioner-General, recognized all those who supported UNRWA, which was not only focused on immediate relief, but also on longer-term efforts, including in education and health.  He also thanked all host countries for their support of the refugees, noting in particular the disproportionate burden on Jordan and Lebanon.

Regarding the question of funding, he was grateful for the call for additional support, and thanked all those who pledged their assistance.  He noted that any changes in the funding had direct consequences on the well-being of the Palestinian refugees.  He underscored that the funding was not geared towards payment of UNRWA staff, but towards programmes provided for the refugees.

In response to the mention of the new midterm strategy by several delegates, he noted that it set out goals, in such areas as rights, education, health and emergency response, as well as in terms of increasing new partnerships.  Partnering with other agencies in delivering services, he explained, did not mean that UNRWA was relinquishing its mandate.  Rather, the expertise of other organizations would help strengthen refugee services.  He also sought to expand the Agency’s funding, whenever possible.

In response to comments by Israel’s representative, he noted a difference of views on the issue of dependency.  UNRWA was very careful to avoid developing any dependency, especially in the school system.  However, when no jobs were available coming out of school, reaching financial autonomy was not always possible.  Regarding the comments on perpetuating the refugee status from one generation to the next, he noted that there was nothing special about this situation; it was similar to that of refugees in other regions.  On the comments concerning political advocacy, he pointed out that when working in conflict settings, anything an agency such as UNRWA said or did not say would be politicized.

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For information media • not an official record


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