Following our report about the 25-10 meeting between representatives of the Popular Service Committees in the Palestinian refugee camps of the southern West Bank and UNRWA's Director of Operations, Richard Cook, BADIL received a response issued by UNRWA's Department for Media and Communication. UNRWA's response clarified that the meeting's discussion and recommendations were not for publication, and emphasized that "more than 10,000 UNRWA staff members in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been working very hard for the past four weeks to assist those effected and hurt. The Director himself worked very hard for the past month to ensure the smooth operation of the field and the delivery of needed medical and relief services despite the harsh and difficult circumstances. The way this press release came out does not do them justice at all."
BADIL would like to emphasize that we were not informed about the fact that the proceedings of this meeting were not for publication, and we apologize for any inconvenience caused by our earlier report. As it is not BADIL's intention to misrepresent UNRWA's efforts on behalf of Palestinian refugees, we attach UNRWA's clarifications concerning the issues raised in the meeting.
Ingrid Jaradat Gassner, director
BADIL Resource Center
Excerpts from letter of clarification by Sami Meshasha, UNRWA Media and Communications Officer to BADIL, 30-10-2000:
1. At no time did Mr. Cook raise the issue of international protection nor that he "confirmed that the Agency proposes to revive its RAO (Refugee Affairs Officers) protection program." What Mr. Cook said was the he recognized the effectiveness of the RAO program during the first Intifada but that the situation today was totally different. He added that one must think of other equally effective methods to ensure the safety of the refugees, UNRWA staff and UNRWA's installations.
The Director did not state that he "Agency is currently waiting for approval [of the RAO program] by the United Nations. He rather stated that based on the information we received, collected and verified, the Agency was able to keep the Commissioner General and other concerned UN officials informed on the developments on the ground.
2. The Director did inform the persons in attendance that a letter was sent out to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the IDF in which concern was expressed about the risks to refugee camps such as Askar and Aida, but he did not inform them as to the contents of these letters. Also, the Director did not say that Askar camp was shelled.
3. BADIL's press release highlighted the point that the "community speakers criticized the current procedure of UNRWA aid distribution to specified 'hardship cases' only and demanded that aid be extended to all refugees without exception." What remained unmentioned in BADIL's report is the fact that: a) the Agency's distribution approach was coordinated with the PLO Refugee Affairs Department and supported by all other camp committees; b) the Director explained in detail about the distribution made to families of those who were killed or injured during the latest clashes and the emergency distribution carried out to some effected families in the Hebron and Nablus areas; c) the Agency would help, once food commodities are made available, based on lists of those most in need which other camp committees had promised to prepare; and, d) only two persons expressed their objection, and they were not speaking on behalf of the rest present at the meeting.
4. BADIL's press release concluded by saying that community speakers raised the possibility that the new Palestinian uprising "might turn also against UNRWA" if the Agency maintains a policy of "silence and non-intervention"." This is not accurate. Only one person spoke to that effect from a prepared statement and his statements were strongly criticized by most people at the meeting.