UNRWA summer camp in Gaza 311 (R).
(photo credit: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters)
A new watchdog organization has been launched in Gaza to monitor the performance of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), which has recently decreased its services to the impoverished Gaza Strip.
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Aptly named UNRWA Watch, the new grassroots group will monitor the work of the UN agency in the fields of education, health, housing, small businesses and employment services. The group’s secretary general Issam Adnan told reporters it would open five offices in the Gaza Strip with the head office in Gaza City and would issue biannual reports to be distributed nationally and internationally.
UNRWA currently provides education, food and employment to some 5 million registered Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Territories. It is almost completely funded by voluntary contributions from UN member states.
Gaza residents and Hamas officials voiced their outrage at the UN Agency in late July, after it announced a plan to cut programming and food distribution in Gaza due to a budgetary deficit of $50 million. UNRWA was forced to halt all activities in its Gaza offices on July 21, as local residents blocked the entrance with trucks, protesting the budget cut.
"People in Gaza feel that UNRWA is trying to exert political pressure
[on Hamas] and that it's not a matter of the organization's financial
capabilities," Ayman Shaheen, a political scientist at Al-Azhar
University in Gaza, told The Media Line.
Samir Mudalaleh, a member of UNRWA Watch's executive committee told the
Palestinian Safa News Agency that his organization did not intend to
target the UN agency but rather the donor states that fund its
"We know that the crisis is not financial but political, with the aim of
transferring the services [given by UNRWA] to the Palestinian Authority
and the refugee host countries," he told Safa.
UNRWA, for its part, denied that its services were cut for political
reasons, citing security threats as one source of interference with its
work. On Thursady, UNRWA announced it was suspending its activities in
the West Bank city of Jenin indefinitely, following "continued threats"
to its employees and staff in the area, Ma'an News Agency reported.
Shaheen, the Gaza political scientist, said he did not know who was
funding UNRWA Watch, but noted that "secret competition" existed between
the Hamas government and UNRWA in Gaza surrounding the organization's
annual summer camps.
"The UNRWA summer camps, which draw more children than the Hamas camps,
are attacked and ransacked every year," Shaheen said. "The Hamas
government never arrested or tried any of the perpetrators, so naturally
UNRWA feels that it's under attack."
Ali Abu-Shahla, secretary general of the Gaza Business Association, criticized the establishment of the new watchdog.
"I do not support this initiative. I think it will reflect negatively on
the Palestinian people and on the work of UNRWA in the future,"
Abu-Shahla told The Media Line. He added that grievances regarding
UNRWA's work should be raised directly with the UN, and not through an
independent Palestinian group.
"This is the result of an unhealthy relationship between Hamas and
UNRWA," he added. "Otherwise, why is the supervision only taking place
in Gaza when UNRWA is active in the West Bank as well?"
Asked about the new group, UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness told The Media Line: "We know absolutely nothing about it."