A narrow alley leads to the entrance of the family's shelter. Over-crowding is becoming a serious issue. Talal, one of Jamal's younger brothers, wants to get married. But there is no room. Another brother, Kamal, also lives in the shelter with his wife and five children. There is also the youngest brother Noor, who is still at school, and three sisters, 20-year-old Samah, 16-year-old Sabreen and 9-year-old Leina. Those members of the family who work are trying to raise enough money to build another room in the shelter, which will cost them between US$3,500-7,000.
(UNRWA photo essay: REFUGEES)
In 2007, the UNRWA received $368.3 million in "donor contributions," plus $20 million in funding from the UN and $10 million from other sources. They spent almost $100 million more than they took in, so they launched several "Emergency Appeals." They appealed for twice as much in 2007 ($245 million) as they did in 2006 ($173 million).
Since the situation is always an "emergency," chronically "escalating," the UNRWA is appealing for $238 million in 2008. Commissioner-General of the UNRWA, Karen Koning AbuZayd, writes:"Due to insufficient donor pledges for the Emergency Appeal, and unless further contributions are received for the rest of 2007, the Agency will not be able to adequately address the humanitarian needs of the refugees resulting from the escalating emergency situation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank."
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank continue to endure deplorable levels of hardship and despair. As livelihoods crumble and dependency on aid handouts deepens, ever-tightening restrictions on movement and ongoing conflict are placing Palestinian society under considerable and increasing strain.
The situation on the ground has deteriorated in recent months. From my offices in Gaza City I have witnessed first hand the pace and the extent of this decline. In Gaza, the entire population – 1.5 million persons, including one million refugees – are living under conditions of feudal siege, with borders closed to all but humanitarian goods and major reductions in the flow of electricity and fuel.
With the private sector incapacitated, increasing numbers are turning to UNRWA for safety net support, including once self-sufficient entrepreneurs and businessmen who are now facing ruin, their operations halted and debt levels rising.
There is another 2008 appeal going on, called the Consolidated Appeal, which is meant to raise
... $462 million to fund continuing emergency assistance programmes for the Palestinian people, in the face of ever-increasing humanitarian needs.
I am no bean-counter, I don't balance my checkbook and my tax returns are invariably late, but I'm not stupid. I can usually understand a set of facts or figures if they are logically presented. But the UNRWA is more opaque than transparent and their website is a complete bewilderment. So many tears, so much money, and so little of it makes any sense. Consider for example this December 4, 2007 Press Release:
Twenty-two international donors today pledged over $160 million to support the main United Nations agency providing vital humanitarian aid to some 4.5 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
The pledges to the 2008 budget of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) came during a meeting in New York of the General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee for Voluntary Contributions.
UNRWA’s total budget for 2008-2009 is $1.21 billion – down slightly from $1.28 billion for the current biennium, UNRWA Deputy Commission-General Filippo Grandi told the meeting. He said that while many refugees had taken great strides towards self-reliance and personal success, deep pockets of entrenched deprivation among them remained to be tackled throughout the Agency’s operational areas.
He added that next week, the UN would issue its consolidated appeal for the occupied Palestinian territory, of which UNRWA would be an integral part, amounting to about $235 million. A few days later, the UN would also participate in the Paris Donors Conference aimed at supporting the Palestinian Authority and restarting development activities.
(Ah yes, the Donors Conference, I remember it well. The Palestinians arrived in Paris with the goal of obtaining $5.6 billion. After Abu Mazen urged the world to increase aid for Palestinians or risk disaster, he walked away with a staggering $7.4 billion.)
Back to that press release, we note this Dec. 5 "Update."
By the conclusion of the General Assembly's Ad Hoc Committee for Voluntary Contributions, 29 delegates had pledged over $223 million. The delegations in attendance, whose combined pledges were the highest in recent memory, expressed strong support for UNRWA's Commissioner-General and her staff, and for the Agency's ongoing process of organisational development.I'm at a total loss as to where that figure fits in to the rest of it, but what's worse is that I don't think anybody knows... or even cares to know.
Last I heard, Congress was pursuing over 300 separate investigations of the Bush administration. And not one investigation, as far as I know, of foreign aid to the Palestinians - in spite of the fact that in Paris, just weeks ago, Condoleezza Rice pledged a hefty $555 million contribution to the Palestinian Authority from the United States.
All the while, Jamal, Talal, Kamal, Noor, Samah, Sabreen and Leina continue to live in squalor for lack of $3,000 to build an additional room at their "shelter" in their "refugee camp."
And all the while, real, first generation refugees continue to arrive in Israel, no one raises money for the Jews expelled from Gaza and the Israeli citizens of Sderot, most of them refugees from Morocco, try to carry out productive lives underground.