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Entrance to UNWRA's Aida Palestinian Refugee Camp near Bethlehem, with key representing the right of return that says "not for Sale"
photo by Rhonda spivak


Mural of a former Palestinian village (as it was in 1948) in UNWRA's Aida Palestinian Refugee Camp
photo by Rhonda Spivak


Mural of first Female Palestinian suicide bomber on UNWRA School in UNWRA's Deheishe Palestinian Refugee camp.
photo by Rhonda Spivak


Mural of a Shahid, terrorist who died for cause of liberating all of Palestine on street near UNWRA school in UNWRA's Deheishe Palstinian Refugee Camp
photo by Rhonda Spivak

 
FIRST HAND ACCOUNT: MY VISIT TO UNWRA PALESTINIAN REFUGEE CAMPS

by Rhonda Spivak, posted April 7, 2011

[Editor's note: Since first publishing this article on March 31, 2011, it has been picked up by atleast 20 other websites, in addition to being published in the Ohio Jewish Chronicle. The websites include:

http://blog.dailyalert.org/2011/04/01/time-warp-in-unrwa-palestinian-refugee-camps/      Daily Alert is produced by  The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs for The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. The Center is headed by Former Israeli ambassador to the UN Dore Gold.

http://www.martinkramer.org/-  Martin Kramer directed the  Moshe Dayan Centre for Middle Eastern And African  Studies  for 25 years, and founded Middle East Strategy  at Harvard (MESH) and also has been a Wexler-Fromer Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East  Policy. ]

I have recently been to two Palestinian refugee camps run by the United Nations Refugee and Works Agency [UNWRA] near Bethlehem. My visit has unfortunately have left me with the impression that the Palestinians as a whole are far from giving up on the right of return to their 1948 homes and villages in Israel. I saw first hand how Palestinian refugees in UNWRA camps live  in what I can only describe as  a ‘time warp,” as these  UNWRA camps perpetuate the illusion of  them one day  returning to former homes and villages in pre-67 Israel.

For example, I was rather shocked to see that  the entrance to the Aida UNWRA refugee camp  has a “huge key” that says “not for sale,” promoting the notion of a right of return, which can not be bought.  [This begs the question why the West allows this to be put up in a UN refugee camp that the West funds, which only feeds the illusion of  a mass  right of return, which means the ultimate destruction of Israel.]

Many years ago, in 1989 when I co-founded the chapter of Peace Now in Winnipeg it was because I believed that Palestinian in UNWRA refugee camps would forego the right of return to 1948 Israel and would live in a future Palestinian state (in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) that would co-exist alongside Israel (which would have a Jewish majority) . For a two state solution to ever be feasible, Palestine would have to forego the right of return.

But on my recent visit , I saw that in UNWRA Palestinian refugee camps people live in streets according to the villages they came from [i.e. refugees and their descendants from Jaffa all live near each other], children’s sports teams are divided according to former villages [i.e children who are descendants of  Jaffa refugees are on one team]. All of this serves only to perpetuate the conflict by feeding the false and unrealistic notion of returning to pre-67 Israel. In both UNWRA refugee camps I visited there were “NAKBA” signs that showed maps of Palestine, which included all of pre-67 Israel.

When I was in Aida refugee camp, I saw several long blocks of huge murals of all the Palestinian villages to which the refugees talk about returning to. I was struck by the fact that one of the villages in these murals, for example, depicted Be’er Sheva as a small pastoral village with several houses.[Today of course Be’er Sheva is a developed city of  200,000 people.]

When I was at a J-Street conference in Washington last month, I met a naive Jewish peace activist who spent time in  UNWRA’s Deheishe Refugee Camp run in Bethlehem where she volunteered in running an art program.  She told me that when the children were asked to  draw something, rather than draw a tree or a sun or a moon -THEY ALL DREW THE  SAME THING –a large key, representing  the key to the home of the village where their grandparents lived in 1948, to which they would one day return to.
 
“It was disturbing to realize that this was the first thing the children drew”, the art teacher told me,  as for there to be a peace agreement youth in UNWRA’s Palestinian refugee camps need to  be taught to focus on moving on, upgrading their lives and resettling into nice homes in Bethlehem, Ramallah  in the West Bank, not in pre-67 Israel.
 
Having been to UNWRA’s Palestinian Refugee Camp in Deheishe, I can attest to the  fact there is a large mural of a female  suicide bomber [a graduate of the school] on an UNWRA school right near the entrance to the camp. In allowing this mural to remain, the UNWRA school  glorifies terror, and perpetuates the continuation of the conflict. The suicide bomber becomes the person children admire and seek to aspire to become. Why the United States and other Western countries fund a UN school without requiring it to remove a huge mural of a terrorist on the school defies reason, does it not?
 
I also saw the street near the back of the school and noticed a number of other large murals of terrorists (martyrs) who have died for the cause of liberating all of Palestine.  
 
At the J-Street conference in Washington, I  met George A. Laudato, who works for US AID [The U.S. Agency for International Development], in the Middle  East Bureau. Laudato confirmed that although the US Aid builds schools in UNWRA Palestinian Refugee Camps, US Aid “does not monitor the content” of what is taught in those schools, which he acknowledged “ is a problem.” Laudato told me of a situation that “occurred 3 - 4 years ago” at a a school built by U.S. Aid he visited in Egypt.
 
 “When I looked at one of the globes in a classroom, I realized that the globe didn’t have  Israel on it. All of the globes in the school were the same [missing Israel]. I knew that the American Congress wouldn’t want to be paying for this,” he said
 
Laudato said he
 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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