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PostUNRWA and Palestine's Refugees; Lindsay Acker Responds to Luciano Dondero (John Eipper, USA, 05/15/18 4:21 am)
[JE: I received this essay from Lindsay Acker, a student of Peace and Development Studies at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Lindsay spent the fall semester of 2017 in Palestine and Israel, living with host families in both nations. She writes in response to Luciano Dondero's post of February 23rd. To review Luciano's post, click below.]
1. First, the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees) is Palestinian only because at the time that the UN recognized the need for aid for Palestinians, they did have any structure in place to provide it. The UNHCR wasn't created until 1950. Anybody in aid will tell you that putting locals on the ground in charge of their own aid is actually the right way to go about aid and development; it is not a "conflict of interest" as Luciano claims. If outsiders, namely Westerners, impose aid, it is not sustainable and often ignores or breaks down community/cultural structures that help the people. Development without community input and involvement is costly and short-lived. Also the claim about UNRWA "perpetuating the refugees as such" is a common settler way to write off the refugee crisis. The claim that the people in those camps are choosing to live there, and that they stay to get international attention and money, completely ignores the reality of these camps. The UN recently reported a $540 million shortage for the UNRWA for 2018. Refugees are not staying for international attention and money; they're not getting any to make that tactic desirable. If you want to see what happens when Palestinians try to build new homes on affordable land, look into building permits (or the lack thereof) and home demolitions.
2. As pointed out, that UN resolution was rescinded, but it was passed in a time when Zionists did not differentiate themselves from militant-esque anti-Arab Israelis. There are many different forms of Zionism, and back then the loudest Zionist voices were racist. There's really no way to deny that. Also, notice the use of "Muslim" and "Arab" to describe all the countries in the region. Right-wing Israelis use this to unify all the Arab states and equate them to Islam, which many right-wing Israelis think is fundamentally opposed to Judaism. They create a false united Arab front that has never existed. The "Arab World" includes countries like Sudan, Morocco, Djibouti, Mauritania, and countless others that are never mentioned when discussing Israel. Even when the countries surrounding Israel worked together in wars, they all had different motives and this got in the way of their communication. Israel did not win the Six-Day war because they had a stronger military (though you cannot deny that aid and mandatory service has not made it strong). They won because Jordan wasn't 100% behind Egypt and hesitated, then made a back-door deal with Israel. Now many often refer to the expulsion of Jews out of traditionally Muslim countries after the creation of Israel. If that is the united front referenced here, there is some validity to that. In the years directly following the creation of Israel, some Arab countries did expel Jewish communities to Israel. Around 700,000-1 million Arab Jews moved to Israel while 700,000-1million Palestinians fled to the West Bank (numbers are contested).
3. Two main points here. One, Israelis think the UN is a joke. Notice how the resolution "was never implemented." Israel wasn't going to implement it unless forced, and the UN has no power to force it. Israelis laugh when you bring up UN resolutions (unless it's the Zionism one--that one they yell about a lot). Two, anytime you hear somebody refer to "Judea and Samaria," they have a settler's mindset. It's what settlers use when they are justifying where they live. They don't live in the "West Bank," a Jordanian name given to land that should not be Palestinian, they live in "Judea and Samaria," the land of their biblical forefathers, the land that God promised Abraham, and that is rightfully Jewish. I don't bring this up to discount Judaism or Jewish history. I spoke to some settlers who have no problem with Palestinians but want to remain in "Judea and Samaria" because of this historical and religious connection. Settler Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger told me outright that if a two-state solution was agreed on, he would stay in Palestine and become and Palestinian citizen if it meant he could still live where Abraham lived. That being said, the majority of settlers are very aware of their rhetorical manipulation and are purposefully undermining Palestinian identity and rights as they speak.
4. I'm not entirely following Luciano's argument here, but again, see #2. The list of Israeli victories, if anything, proves my point that Arab countries aren't united and didn't communicate well. Also, side note, notice the "lost tanks in the Golan" reference. Very few people talk about how the Golan Heights was originally part of Syria until Israel annexed it.
5. Also not really sure what the argument is here, but international influence is undeniable in the region's history.
6. This shot at Iran and the cowardice of the West is textbook. Seems like Cold War is alive and well in the Middle East.
Student, Peace and Development Studies
Eastern Mennonite University
JE comments: Lindsay Acker's dad, Bruce Acker of the Confucius Institute, University at Buffalo (NY), is a dear friend from our Dartmouth days, and we spent the glorious summer of 1985 as roomies in Leningrad/St Petersburg. Bruce's son Kevin and daughter Lindsay have both pursued their interests in some of the world's most interesting places: Kevin (if I remember correctly) studied in China and India and Lindsay, as mentioned above, in the Middle East.
Thank you for your excellent essay, Lindsay! When time permits, I'd like to hear more about your experience with the Israeli settlers such as Rabbi Schlesinger--namely, those who place their "Judean/Samarian" identity above that of Israel itself. Do you see any scenario by which a Palestinian state would allow the Israeli settlers to continue living in their (now Palestinian) settlements?