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Israeli Belligerent Named As Refugee Commissioner

Veteran of Israeli Belligerence Named Acting Commissioner-General for Palestinian Refugees

By Genevieve Cora Fraser

Two year ago Karen Koning Abu Zayd was utterly confounded by Israel's closure of Gaza. At that time she was the Deputy Commissioner-General for UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). Recently Kofi Annan named her Acting Commissioner-General, replacing Peter Hansen until such time as a new Commissioner-General is named.

According to a statement released by UNRWA in May 2003, "Staff had been held for up to seven hours by border security checks, and some had been forced to submit to interviews by Israeli intelligence services while intrusive search procedures had been increased." For two weeks the UN staff had endured delays, obstruction and interrogations at the Erez Crossing checkpoint into and out of Gaza.

"I find it incomprehensible that all my staff are locked in or locked out of the Gaza Strip," Koning Abu Zayd is reported to have said, noting that Israel's actions violated the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN. Adding to the frustration, of the 7,800 Palestinian staff employed in the Gaza Strip, none had been able to enter Israel for the agency since October 2000.

Since that time, Koning Abu Zayd has worked along side her former boss, Peter Hansen. In addition to other tragic and chaotic situations arising from the Intifada, in the past year they have assisted in a triage operation for wounded and dying Gaza men, women and children and the 10s of thousands who have been victimized by Israel's non-stop assault on the area. Over 25,000 people in the southern end of Gaza had been left homeless, Hansen said, denouncing the conditions as horrendous.

"All along the road you see houses that have been bulldozed. We have managed to re-house 8,000 of them but we are fighting a losing battle. We can not build as fast as the destruction takes place," Hansen stated shortly before the UN Secretary-General announced that he would be replaced. Many observers believe that Annan was not acting in the best interests of UNWRA in ousting Hansen, an outspoken critic of Israeli policies and aggression, but in response to Israeli-American demands as pressure mounted for Annan to resign due to the Iraq "Oil for Food" scandal in which his son was embroiled.

In addition to the situation in Gaza as it prepares for what is hoped will be Israel's withdrawal as the Disengagement Plan takes effect, UNWRA reports that" teachers, doctors, social workers, psychologists, parents and children, interviewed in five West Bank refugee camps report that symptoms of stress and depression can be observed in the children's general health, psychological state, academic performance and interpersonal relations."

"Doctors and health workers from Balata and Askar camps also said that visits to the clinic for psychosomatic disorders in children are becoming alarmingly regular, and have increased in the past year. Children come to clinics complaining of acute pain, usually in the stomach or chest, with no medical reason for it," according to a UN report entitled, Children in Crisis. "This phenomenon, common to Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, also causes stress to parents, who think that their children are sick."

"A doctor from Askar Camp Health Clinic said that it is difficult to convince parents that their children are not suffering from a specific illness, even after a thorough medical checkup. Both doctors and teachers said that children are suffering from sleeping disorders, in particular sleep deprivation," the report stated.

A few weeks prior to naming UNWRA's Acting Commissioner-General, the UN Secretary Annan visited Palestine, meeting with the newly elected leaders and laying a wreath at the memorial to UNRWA staff that lost their lives in the duty of the United Nations.

Annan also publicly thanked Hansen, and acknowledged in a letter to his staff, "No one could have been more wholeheartedly devoted to the interests of the Palestine refugees, or more courageous in championing them, particularly during the last four years of renewed conflict and tragic violence. He has made many friends, and he has had the courage also to make some enemies."


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