Dry Bones - Refugee Camps
Dry Bones - Refugee CampsY. Kirschen

The death of Palestinian Arab-USA journalist – Shireen Abu Akleh – caught in crossfire between Israeli security forces and armed Palestinian Arabs in Jenin - should serve as a clarion call to the United Nations (UN) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to demand:

  • the closure of the 27 UNRWA-funded Palestinian Arab refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – currently housing about 1 million Palestinian Arabs and
  • their resettlement in towns and villages throughout Gaza and areas A and B of the West Bank among their own Palestinian Arab brethren.

No Palestinian Arab should have ever been classified as a refugee after having moved from one part to another part of former Palestine – whether voluntarily or not. All the camps are in areas where Israel has given governance to the Palestinian Authority. UNRWA stands condemned for allowing this fictitious refugee status to continue for over 70 years. UNRWA’s flawed policy has led to discrimination and a gross abuse of human rights for those Palestinian Arabs forced to live in these over-crowded and degrading camps separated from their fellow Palestinian Arabs.

That human rights organisations such as the UN Human Rights Committee and Amnesty International remain silent on the plight of these penned in Palestinian Arabs and the conditions in which they live is equally reprehensible.

UNRWA makes clear that it has no say in the camps being closed or remaining open:

“UNRWA does not administer or police the camps, as this is the responsibility of the host authorities.”

But UNRWA does have the power to force their closure by withholding financial assistance to those PLO and Hamas-administered camps unless their residents are progressively moved out and resettled among the general Palestinian Arab populations in Gaza and the 'West Bank'.

UNRWA itself readily admits the shocking conditions existing in some of these camps which have also become breeding grounds for planning and implementing violence and murderous attacks against Israel’s civilian population

Jenin Camp on the 'West Bank:'

  • borders the Jenin municipality and was established in 1953
  • has a population of 14000 that lives on just 0.42 sq. km of land
  • according to UNRWA:

“experiences one of the highest rates of unemployment and poverty among the 19 West Bank refugee camps... Unemployment and poverty has affected the youth especially, resulting in widespread dissatisfaction and frustration and contributing to higher school dropout rates among younger children.

Jabalia Camp in the Gaza Strip:

Is the closest camp to the Erez border crossing with Israel

  • Has a population of 114,000 that lives on 1.5 sq. km of land and is one of the most densely populated places on Earth.
  • UNRWA concedes:

“Overcrowding and a lack of living space characterize Jabalia camp. Shelters are built in close vicinity and there is a general lack of recreational and social space. In many cases, residents have had to add extra floors to their shelters to accommodate their families, in some cases without proper design. Many live in substandard conditions.”

Closing Jenin and Jabalia and resettling their 128000 inmates would be a good start.

UNRWA donors need to pressure UNRWA to demand that Hamas and the PLO close all 27 camps - threatening to reduce their pledges if this does not happen.

The marked absence of wealthy Arab-donor countries in the following list of the top 20 donor countries to UNWRA in 2021 makes depressing reading.

Those missing wealthy Arab donor countries have:

  • the political and financial clout to force the PLO and Hamas to close these camps and
  • the potential to make substantial pledges to UNRWA to fund the successful resettlement of their long-suffering fellow Arabs.

This humanitarian disaster being perpetuated by the PLO and Hamas on their own people must be ended.

Author’s note: The cartoon — commissioned exclusively for this article — is by Yaakov Kirschen aka “Dry Bones”- one of Israel’s foremost political and social commentators — whose cartoons have graced the columns of Israeli and international media publications for decades.