.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Eleven questions for John Ging

A reader will be attending an invitation-only lunch today with UNRWA head John Ging, called "The Possibility of Peace Ensuring Human Security in Gaza And National Security in Israel: A Dialogue with John Ging." He asked me if I had any questions for him.

I quickly came up with eleven:

1. UNRWA in the early 1950s tried to quietly encourage Arab governments to resettle the Palestinian Arabs with their works programs, and to transfer responsibility of the refugees to the host countries themselves - and the Arab countries refused to do so. Given that, what exactly was wrong with Andrew Whitley's public statement that "If one doesn’t start a discussion soon with the refugees for them to consider what their own future might be – for them to start debating their own role in the societies where they are rather than being left in a state of limbo where they are helpless but preserve rather the cruel illusions that perhaps they will return one day to their homes – then we are storing up trouble for ourselves." ? Is there anything wrong with that statement? Does Ging think that there is any realistic chance that the "refugees" will ever move to Israel, and if not, why isn't UNRWA or the UN in general in the forefront of addressing this growing problem?

2: UNRWA officially says it is a non-political organization. Then why does Ging explicitly support the flotillas, asking for more of them, when they are self-admittedly political in purpose?

3: Why is UNRWA silent on its web site about the current month-long strike in the West Bank? Doesn't the donor population have the right to be informed of the good and the bad? This has happened in the past during strikes as well.

4. Does UNRWA have any way to take Palestinian Arabs off their definition of "refugees" outside of dying? I couldn't find any. Even if they become citizens of the US I'm pretty sure UNRWA still defines them as refugees. This is also in contradiction with how UNRWA acted when it started, as they tried then to reduce the rolls. Corollary: Does UNRWA have any plan to reduce the number of refugees? If not, why not?

5. How many "refugees" would voluntarily choose to become citizens of their host countries, with full equal rights, given the choice? As head of UNRWA he should have his finger on the pulse of what the "refugees" want. If he claims they wouldn't, I have counterexamples from Lebanon and Gaza of PalArabs desperately trying to become citizens of Lebanon and Egypt, respectively.

6. In his opinion, does the Convention of the Rights of the Child - that says that every child has the right to a nationality - apply to stateless children born in Arab countries to PalArab parents? If not, why not?

7. What percentage of UNRWA's budget is paid for by Arab nations?

8. When Ging says that " Let me say unequivocally that there is a crisis that is far larger than a 'humanitarian crisis'; there is a crisis that affects every aspect of public and private life in Gaza." does he really mean that things in Gaza are worse than in Somalia or the Sudan? If not, than how can it be "far larger" than a humanitarian crisis?

9. Does UNRWA negotiate with the PA to eventually take over the camps in its own territory? If not, why not? Isn't there a contradiction to call people "refugees" when they live in their own territory?

10. Is the nationhood of Palestinian Arabs so fragile that it would be damaged by them becoming citizens of Arab countries like Saudi Arabia or Qatar where there are so many of them living? That is the argument of the Arab governments - does UNRWA agree?

11. Why did the UN oppose Israel building real towns for the refugees in Gaza in the 1980s? What was UNRWA's position?

I'm sure I could have come up with more  - asking about this, or this, or this, or this, or this, or even this.