Ron Wilkinson

Among its archives, UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, has thousands of slides, black and white photos with negatives, thousands of feet of 16 mm film dating back to 1948 plus video tapes from more recent times.

 Distribution of registered refugee population (UNRWA, June 2004)

Registered Population 
Number of camps
Camp population
Persons not in camps
1,454,239 (82.7%)
 187,614 (47.29%)
Syrian Arab Republic
195,341 (70.77%)
West Bank
493,779 (73.08%)
Gaza Strip 
448,121 (47.75%)
2,879,254 (68.77%)

* Dera’a Camp (1948) and Dera’a emergency camp (post 1967 war) are situated beside each other and since there is very little difference in the living conditions, they are now counted as one camp rather than two as before.

Under the Geneva Conventions of 1949, the Occupying Power is supposed to provide for the health, education, security and nutrition of the residents of an occupied area. Who does it in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip where more than 47 percent of the population lives below the poverty line?

It isn’t the occupying power—Israel. Most of it is done by the UN, voluntary agencies and the Palestinian Authority. And now some quarters are calling for cuts in donations to the UN, especially to UNRWA.

Under international law, children, especially refugee children, are guaranteed rights, protection and humanitarian assistance. How does the ideal match reality?

Some 370 children are in Israeli prisons, thousands have had their homes demolished in the past year by Israeli military action, education and health care are being degraded. Children have suffered long-term disabilities as a result of violent actions by the authorities, Palestinian children have even been used as human shields to allow Israeli jeeps to enter a Palestinian area.

 By the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, some three quarters of a million Palestinians had been uprooted and become refugees in what was left of Arab-held Palestine or neighbouring countries. Most of them were from small villages, some 500 villages, which today are parts of Israeli Jewish communities, empty and abandoned, planted with trees and crops or paved over as parks. Plans were even made to turn a mosque on the seafront of Tel Aviv into a shopping centre. Today there is little trace of a vibrant Palestinian life which once filled these communities.

De-motivation and discontinuity mark education under occupation Going to school is hard enough without being tear gassed, shot at

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; and other international laws and conventions enshrine the right to education. Attainment of this right, however, is being impeded and sometimes denied for lengthy periods of time to young Palestinian refugees.

 Refugee Assistance

Downhill into the future: Rafah, Gaza 2004
Leave your development indicators at home and look for de-development indicators because you are going to Gaza.
De-development in the Gaza Strip proceeds apace in the winter of 2004. The process was described by Sara Roy in her 1995 book: The Gaza Strip—The Political Economy of De-development, Institute for Palestine Studies.


UNRWA’s Role in Housing Reconstruction
UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, is currently involved in two major, but very different, housing projects in Palestinian refugee camps.
For more than 50 years UNRWA has been helping to provide housing for Palestinian refugees. In the early days of their flight, UNRWA and other organizations such as the ICRC and the Quakers provided tents that were gradually replaced with more durable shelters in the 1950s. Again in 1967 after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, tents were needed to house fleeing refugees in Jordan and Syria. UNRWA also completely rebuilt refugee camps in Lebanon after the 1982 Israeli invasion and the “camps war” in the mid-1980s.

It took 18 years to move about 4,500 Palestinian refugees from Rafah, Egypt to Rafah, Gaza. Many lessons can be learned from the process but it didn't mean that these refugees were exercising their right of return.

When the international border was reestablished between Egypt and Israel in 1982, almost 500 Palestinian families were stranded on the Egyptian side of the border. They had been moved to an Israeli housing project there in 1972 after their homes in Rafah, Gaza were demolished under security measures taken by the Israeli authorities to combat unrest in the Gaza Strip. At that time, Israel still controlled the Sinai Peninsula, occupied along with the Gaza Strip in 1967.