|On 25 October, following a visit to sites and homes in Aida and Beit Jibrin ('Azza) refugee camps in Bethlehem which were shelled by Israeli tanks and helicopters, an UNRWA delegation met with refugee community activists in the area. Richard Cook, Director of UNRWA Operations, accompanied by UNRWA research and field staff, Mahmoud Abdulhadi, Director of UNRWA Relief and Social Services, and Sami Musha'sha', Director of UNRWA Public Relations discussed with representatives of the Popular Service Committees in the refugee camps of the southern West Bank (Aida, Beit Jibrin, Deheishe, Al-A'rroub and Al-Fawwar) the impact of the current crisis in the occupied territories on the situation in their camps.|
Speakers of the refugee community emphasized the urgent need of refugees for UNRWA protection, especially in the current situation. They presented documents about the types of Israeli missiles and ammunition used against Palestinian civilians in the area and the framework of protection requested by Palestinian refugees. Richard Cook, head of the UNRWA delegation, expressed pessimism about future developments in the short- and medium term and declared that UNRWA is committed to reduce refugee suffering in this time of crisis. He reminded that UNRWA has already played an important role by transporting medicine to hospitals located in areas difficult to access by other organizations, that one UNRWA car was damaged by
gunfire, and that special aid for hardship-cases in the Nablus area was distributed. He explained that the Agency is currently training staff to deal with children in the emergency situations, including evacuation of school children during shelling, and efforts in the field of psychological health. Mr. Cook informed the community activists about current UNRWA efforts to obtain special donations for emergency assistance, including rehabilitation of shelled homes.
On the issue of international protection, the UNRWA director confirmed that the Agency proposes to revive its RAO (Refugee Affairs Officer) protection program which was operated in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the previous Intifada (1987-1991), and that the Agency is currently waiting for approval by the United Nations. In the meantime, UNRWA has provided each camp director with one wireless-radio in order to update the central office around the clock, and is studying the possibility of releasing two of its cars in order to observe and monitor the situation in the southern West Bank camps. He emphasized that these immediate measures are not a substitute for the proposed protection program. Participants in the meeting were also
informed that, following the shelling of Aida and Askar camps, UNRWA
Commissioner General Peter Hansen sent letters to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the army leadership in which he strongly condemns the excessive use of military force against Palestinians refugee camps.
Finally, 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, in order to compensate for unemployment and the lack of income caused by the Israeli military closure of the area. UNRWA was criticised also for its tacit collusion with refugee resettlement schemes in the framework of the Oslo "peace process." In this context, community speakers raised the possibility that the new Palestinian uprising - currently targeting solely the Israeli occupation - might turn also
against UNRWA, if the Agency maintains its policy of silence and non-
intervention in Israeli human rights violations and the use of excessive military force against Palestinian civilians, including shelling and collective punishment.
Memorandum presented by the Popular Service Committees
Mr. Richard Cook
Director of UNRWA Operations, West Bank
In these days, the Zionist Israeli attack against the Palestinian people in general, and Palestinian refugees in the camps in particular, has resulted in the death of many Palestinian refugees and in the destruction of their homes and camp infrastructure, which were in deplorable condition already prior to the current attack. The damage has been caused by shelling from the ground and from the air by means of internationally banned ammunition, among them laser-guided anti-tank missiles (TOW missiles) originally used by the United States in the Vietnam war and further developed by Israel, as
well as 500 mm and 800 mm ammunition. The use of such weapons against civilians is a gross violation of international humanitarian and human rights conventions.
The Israeli shelling has led to the destruction of residential homes and their partial evacuation. Residents have mainly evacuated homes located in damaged upper floors of buildings, a situation which further aggravates the problem of housing density in Palestinian refugee camps to a point where more than 50 persons occupy basements and ground floors. Moreover, fear and panic have negatively effected the lives of residents, especially women and children.
We hereby call upon UNRWA to use its mandate for the protection of Palestinian refugees similar to the protective role established during the Intifada (1987-91):
1. To provide protection through the permanent presence of UNRWA observers;
2. To provide emergency assistance to the residents of Palestinian refugee camps;
3. To arrange for an emergency program in UNRWA schools;
4. To open medical centers (emergency clinics), to provide ambulances and medicine.
Popular Service Committee
Southern West Bank
Bethlehem, 25 October 2000
For more information about the current Palestinian uprising and
Israeli repression, see Intifada2000