Monday, September 20, 2010

View from the East

I spent the morning in East Jerusalem. Not long ago I met a fellow there - a Palestinian, of course - who seems a potential partner for a discussion I've been wanting to have for a number of years already, about the town we both live in.

I'm not going to name him yet, because although we've had a few meetings already, he and I have yet to define what it is we're doing, beyond telling each other stuff. (And showing). Give us a few weeks (each of us is busy with other things), and perhaps we'll reach an agreement about what we're up to.

I will however note a few quick impressions.

We visited a girls school, at which apparently all the girls and the staff were dressed in traditional clothing, the adults with their heads covered. Except for the principal, who was dressed in Western garb, spoke fluent Hebrew, and seems to have a shelf-full of academic degrees and qualifications from all sorts of institutions of higher learning on all sides of our conflict.

Set aside the strategic aspects of two nations clashing; there seems no dearth of things Israel does which can be interpreted, from the East Jerusalem perspective, as either malicious, or very idiotic. Of course, there are other explanations for the same things, too: it's a complicated story.

There's a UNRWA school over there. The story of UNRWA is quite odd, and I wrote a section about it in Right to Exist. The thing about UNRWA is that it exists to support Palestinian refugees: but the area I was in doesn't have any Palestinian refugees. On the contrary, it's an area populated by a number of clans who've been precisely there, where they are now, for something like 250 years. Apparently, back in the 1950s the Jordanians (or someone) convinced UNRWA to support the locals in the village they'd been living in for centuries, because it abutted on the border with Israel. Assuming my friend's story was correct - and the UNRWA school is certainly there - then the UNRWA story is even more bizarre than I thought.

At one point we drove past an elderly man with some bags. His job, I was told, is to collect bread. When the locals throw out their garbage, they separate the old bread from it, because bread cannot be treated as garbage. (This is true in some Jewish families, too, mostly ones from Arab societies). This elderly man has appointed himself, and is recognized by all, as the remover of cast-aside bread. He comes by regularly, collects the bread which is placed separately near the garbage bins, and makes use of it (to feed animals, apparently).


Anonymous said...

Polish, and we were told you can't throw out bread either.

Fabián said...

True, is also Jewish. My sephardic aunt (which was born in Palestine but emigrated to Argentina) once reprimended me when I was little for kicking a piece of bread that was lying on the sidewalk. She kissed it and laid it next to the root of a tree.

Anonymous said...

Do you have the name of the school?

There was a speech by the current head that could have come out of the mouth of Sir Humphrey Appleby. I'd love to see a study of UNWRA as the epitome of a bureaucrat's dream.


Joe in Australia said...

Yaakov, was UNWRA (at the time of its founding) expected to help Jewish refugees? Its mandate seems to address all refugees, not just Arab ones.

Bryan said...

No, Joe. Elder of Ziyon has a good series detailing UNRWA's early history, but in short, UNRWA was founded before the UN High Commission for Refugees, which is why the Palestinian Arabs have their very own agency. UNRWA was supposed to integrate the Palestinian Arabs into their host countries or find third parties willing to take them, but needless to say, it failed miserably.

Anonymous said...

as UNRWA has by now a total of 30.000 employees (as per its own website) any hope that it may be cut down to size, let alone stop altogether is futile unless a genius comes up with a really clever scheme.

I don't remember though that anybody has ever managed to get rid of such a huge entity given that it is not gainfully employed i.e. not even the most benign market pressure can be applied and any misery resulting from a cut-down in funds will be clamed on Israel.

(I forgot what the figure of 10.000 that I read most often relates to, their website proudly claims 30.000)


Anonymous said...


30. In Israel, the Agency has provided relief to two types of refugees, Jews who fled inside the borders of Israel during the fighting, and Arabs in most instances displaced from one area in Palestine to another. Jewish refugees at first numbered 17,000 but, during the current summer, all but 3,000 of these have been absorbed into the economic life of the new State. Arabs on relief were first numbered at 31,000 but many have been placed in circumstances in which they are self-supporting, so that it was possible to reduce the number to 24,000 at the end of August 1950."
Ch III, 30

Sounds like some relief was given, then Israel swiftly kicked them out. No wonder UNWRA's still mad. ;-)

AKUS said...

UNRWA is a massive fraud perpetrated on the world that should be shut down. There is nothing like it for any other group of people, and, as you point out, it "supports" groups quite capable of looking after themselves, specially with the billions poured into the coffers of the PA and Hamas.