On the occasion of the
Commemoration of the Sixtieth Anniversary of the
United Nations Relief and Works Agency
for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
New York, 24 September 2009
H.E. Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki, President of the General Assembly
Madame Karen Abu Zayd, Commissioner-General of UNRWA,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour for me, on behalf of the Palestinian people and their leadership, to join you in commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East - UNRWA.
This occasion is an opportunity for us to reaffirm our deep gratitude and appreciation to the United Nations and, in specific to UNRWA, its Commissioners-General and entire staff, as well as to the international community as a whole for their unwavering support and assistance to the Palestine refugees over the past sixty years.
At the same time, it is an occasion for solemn reflection about the long-standing plight and continuing hardship of the Palestine refugees, the reason for the establishment and continued existence of this important UN Agency. It is also an occasion for renewal of the commitment to bring an end to this tragedy with a just, agreed and lasting solution to the plight of the Palestine refugees, in accordance with international law and UN resolutions, which is imperative for achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the region
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The plight of the Palestine refugees - who with their descendants now number 4.7 million people and constitute more than half of the Palestinian people worldwide - remains at the core of the Palestinian historical narrative and search for justice and peace.
Tragically, the Palestinian people remain a stateless and oppressed people, still suffering from the grave injustice inflicted upon them in the 1948 Al-Nakba, which ensued following the partition of Mandate Palestine and the declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel and by which the majority of the Palestinian population was forcibly expelled or fled in fear from their homes and villages. Uprooted, dispossessed and displaced, they continue until this day to await the just resolution of their plight on the basis of General Assembly resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948, which unequivocally affirmed the right of the refugees to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours and to just compensation, in accordance with the principles of international law.
The establishment of UNRWA by the General Assembly in its resolution 302 (IV) of 8 December 1949 in the aftermath of Al-Nakba was a testament to the international community’s recognition of the severity of the crisis and of the need to act collectively to address this human catastrophe until the achievement of a just solution. It is important to recall that the UNRWA was established as interim means to address the Palestine refugee crisis, "without prejudice to the provisions of paragraph 11 of General Assembly resolution 194 (III)", to prevent conditions distress among the refugees and to further conditions of peace and stability.
As we are all aware, the humanitarian assistance provided by UNRWA to the Palestine refugees throughout the region has proven to be indispensable for the welfare of the refugees as well as for the stability of the region as a whole, including and especially during periods of conflict, crisis and upheaval. The most recent of such have been the crisis in Nahr el-Bared in Lebanon and most recently the brutal Israeli military aggression against the our people in the Gaza Strip, where the majority of the population are refugees – children, women, men, elderly and disabled - who continue to suffer tremendously under the collective punishment of the inhuman Israeli blockade that has deepened their misery and hardship. Even UNRWA was not spared this military brutality as Israel deliberately attacked UNRWA facilities, including schools where civilians were known to be sheltering.
Despite such challenges, UNRWA has consistently provided education, health, relief, social and emergency assistance to the Palestine refugees in the camps throughout Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza Strip of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, helping to ameliorate their plight. As the refugees have faced serious hardships, including poverty, harsh living conditions, repeated displacement and loss, UNRWA has served as a constant, stable presence in their lives. And, in addition to offering them relief and opportunities for human development, the Agency has helped to preserve their rights and protect them and provide safe haven in times of violent conflict, bearing witness to their tragedy.
Thus, UNRWA has for the past six decades consistently, honourably and commendably upheld the mandate entrusted to it. UNRWA’s services and assistance have made a big difference in the lives of the refugees as well as of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced from their homes in 1967 by Israel, the occupying Power, that the Agency has assisted to the extent possible. For this I reiterate today the deepest gratitude and appreciation of the Palestinian people and their leadership.
We commend and express sincerest thanks to the Commissioners-General that have led UNRWA over the years with utmost principle and dedication, as exemplified by you, Commissioner-General Abu Zayd. We express appreciation as well to the international staff and the thousands of men and women in the Agency’s local staff for their commitment to UNRWA’s noble mandate and their tireless efforts to assist the refugees despite the many challenges they have faced, including circumstances of danger to their own lives.
At the same time, I reiterate our immense thanks to our brothers, the host countries and the countries that have provided residence, means of livelihood and care to the Palestine refugees over the long decades. The continuing efforts of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria to support and facilitate the work of UNRWA are appreciated, and we are grateful for the contribution made by all brotherly countries to alleviate the refugees’ suffering and sustain their legitimate aspirations, shared by all human beings, to live in peace, independence and security in their homeland.
Today, I also reiterate our deepest gratitude to the donor community for its long-standing and continuing generous support of the UNRWA and its noble mandate. We thank all of the donor countries, including those playing a special role as members and observers of the Advisory Commission, for their strong support of the UNRWA and their effective responses to recent emergency appeals that have enabled the Agency to providing essential services, despite the serious financial challenges faced.
At this time, I cannot fail to also convey our thanks to H.E. the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, and to the previous Secretaries-General for their firm support of UNRWA, as well as our thanks to all of the Member States that support the annual adoption of the General Assembly resolutions concerning the Agency and the just cause of our people.
We remain reassured by the international community’s support of UNRWA as a sign of its commitment to the basic survival and well-being of the Palestine refugees and stability of the region as well as of its political commitment to the realization of their rights in accordance with international law. We call on the international community to increase their support for this Agency’s vital work.
The just resolution of the Palestine refugee problem, on the basis of resolution 194, remains one of the highest priorities for Palestine and, in accordance with the various international initiatives and agreements already signed with the Israeli side, is one of the core issues for a final settlement to the conflict based on the principle of land for peace and the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to self-determination and the establishment of our independent State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The conviction of the refugees themselves in the international community’s commitment to the achievement of just resolution of their plight has been a major source of the resilience that has sustained them through the many years of hardship they have had to endure. Indeed, despite more than sixty years of suffering, our people continue to believe in the centrality of the UN and the principles of its Charter and continue to await the implementation of relevant resolutions that will bring an end to the saying that "there is a double-standard or two criteria when it comes to the implementation of resolutions of international legitimacy".
Let this commemoration of UNRWA’s sixtieth year be the rallying cry for the world to take action to resolve the severest, longest refugee problem of our time. The time has come to achieve the peace and the justice that will allow all of our peoples, including the Palestine refugees, to live in dignity, security and prosperity. The time has come to end the Israeli colonial occupation of our land and for our people to enjoy freedom and peace and to devote their great energies and resources to building their State and their future.
It is high time that Israel respond to our global appeals for achievement of a just and comprehensive peace and historic reconciliation between the peoples of the tormented Holy Land. On this occasion, I repeat what I have said on previous occasions: Israel’s security is linked to our independence and to our security and the continuation of the occupation and Al-Nakba does not bring security to anyone.
In closing, I reiterate on this occasion our abiding thanks and appreciation to the UNRWA for its tireless efforts and stress the importance of its role and the need to provide it with the necessary support. At the same time, I call for acceleration of the peace process, on the basis of its well-established terms of reference, to bring an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory and other Arab territories that began in 1967 and the realization of the two-State solution for peace and to achieve a just and agreed upon solution for the Palestine refugee problem on the basis of resolution 194 (III).
I thank you all for your presence, support and solidarity on this important occasion.