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“Allow Hansen to continue"
an interview with Issam Younis
This week Palestine Report Online interviews Issam Younis, director of the Mezan Center for Human Rights, on UNRWA commissioner general Peter Hansen’s departure and the killing of 10-year-old Nuran Deeb.
PR: What has been the reaction of Gaza’s civil society to the decision not to renew Peter Hansen’s term as UNRWA commissioner general?
Younis: The decision not to renew Peter Hansen’s contract as UNRWA commissioner general is no doubt considered very dangerous by the civil society in general and NGO’s in particular, especially given the many ramifications of such a decision. UNRWA’s work, especially during Hansen’s term, has been subjected to tremendous pressures unprecedented in the history of the organization. This was, I believe, because of its objective –not biased – positions toward the Palestinian people. Therefore, not renewing his position as UNRWA’s commissioner general is the direct result of pressures on the agency to stop it from doing its work and from relaying the reality on the ground as a result of the Israeli occupation, in particular vis-à-vis the refugees.
PR: Have NGO’s taken any steps in protest?
Younis: It is unanimous among all civil society institutions that we reject this decision and have called on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to reconsider his decision and renew Hansen’s contract. First of all, Peter Hansen performed his duties exemplarily despite the limited resources and the financial crisis UNRWA has been and still is suffering from. By the way, this financial crisis is also the result of pressures on Peter Hansen because in the past few years UNRWA has been called upon to offer more services than ever before while donor countries failed to heed this call. So this was one more step in the broader set of pressures put on Hansen and UNRWA.
Civil society in Gaza protests this decision and asks Annan to rescind and allow the commissioner general to continue his work. And this is not just the hope and demand of civil society but also of the refugees. His post is not a political one so his work cannot be put into a political framework. Relaying what is happening, targeting UNRWA institutions, their employees and restricting their movement, and the case of the refugees in general – these are humanitarian issues. What is happening in Jenin, in Rafah – documenting these events is the minimum of what should be done and it is still too much for the Israeli government. Therefore, even in practicing his humanitarian work he was still subject to tremendous pressures.
PR: How much will this decision directly impact refugees in Gaza and elsewhere?
Younis: We can predict the ramifications of such a decision from what has already happened. That is, Peter Hansen has become a persona non grata even though he offers UN services to Palestinian services. If they do not accept that a person carry out his role in the most efficient way possible, this means the person who will replace Hansen will no doubt be less dedicated to his mandate. This, in turn, means refugees will face a number of bleaker possibilities in terms of services and even their very existence. Therefore, I think that part of the campaign against the UNRWA is also a campaign against the refugees by putting more pressure than ever before on them through this agency given that it is the main provider of services and jobs wherever Palestinian refugees exist.
PR: What about the killing of 10-year-old Nuran Deeb – this is not the first time a student has been killed on school grounds. Are there any practical steps being taken to protect these children?
Younis: We are not the party to protect. We are calling on the world to protect us. There are international and moral obligations to provide protection for the Palestinian civilian population. These are children in their schools. This is not the first case. There was the case of Iman Hims, which was clearly a case of killing in cold blood. There is no way to interpret it other than that. Gaza’s children are being targeted in their own schools. The failure of the occupying force to provide protection for citizens and their deliberate use of deadly force against civilians necessitates the intervention of the international community. What the international community is doing now is at worst providing cover for the Israeli occupation’s practices, and at best, remaining silent, thus making them complicit. No one can claim that they have not seen or heard what is going on in the occupied territories. There are war crimes being committed and the world is now required to step in. These double standards are no longer acceptable.
Let me add that the killing of a child inside an UNRWA school is a dangerous indication that UNRWA institutions are being targeted. The UN flag flies above these institutions. UN cars have flags on them, but they are still targeted by Israeli troops to the point that many of their operations had to be halted because they could not continue.
No one can be silent over what is happening. I think Peter Hansen was more responsive to this. He only wanted to exercise the mandate granted to him by the UN, one of which is protecting children in UNRWA schools.
PR: What about the Israeli claims that the bullet which killed Deeb was Palestinian?
Younis: When has Israel ever admitted to killing Palestinians? From experience, we know that the Israelis always disguise their crimes. This is just a kind of fabrication. Shooting occurs regularly in Rafah all along the border and also in other areas such as Khan Younis. The point is that this deadly targeting is continuing. One example of their fabrication is when they demolished thousands of houses in Rafah and claimed they were vacant. Documentation by international organizations later proved that these houses were inhabited and that the demolitions were a kind of revenge and punishment.
This child was killed by Israelis on the border and Israel is trying to justify it, but there is no room for guessing games. It is clear who fired the bullet.
-Published February 02, 2005©Palestine Report