How did you first get involved with UNRWA? What does your current role entail?
My first real interaction with the Israel-Palestine conflict was as a senior in high school. I needed one additional social studies credit to graduate and my teacher, Wanda Phillips, assigned me to write a paper on the conflict with possible solutions. After my retirement from the Army in 2007, I saw a position in the Gaza Field office with UNRWA and applied.
I am currently the Director of UNRWA Operations in the West Bank Field. As the Field Director I oversee field operations. It is a busy job, but the real heroes are our nearly 5000 staff on the ground. They are the ones who makes sure that assistance and protection is provided every day to those in need.
There are approximately 780,000 registered refugees in the West Bank including East Jerusalem. UNRWA provides a wide range of services to refugees most in need. Our services encompass everything from education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance, and emergency assistance. In the West Bank, UNRWA provides basic education to almost 50,000 students each year in our 96 schools. And in our 42 health centers, we do nearly 1.3 million patient visits a year.
How has your work with UNRWA shaped you?
UNRWA has provided me a perspective on humanity few others will ever experience. I’ve seen the best and worst of humanity while working in UNRWA. I’ve seen compassion, devotion to a higher cause, survival, overcoming very difficult challenges to help their community, despite facing death, terrorism and, sadly, hatred. However, it has been the positive inter-personal experiences through working with UNRWA that have given me hope that peace is still possible and obtainable.
What do you think other Americans should know about Palestine refugees and how would you recommend them getting involved?
Every day, Palestine refugees in the West Bank face tremendous challenges related to the occupation: armed violence, military incursions into refugee camps, detentions, settlement expansion, restrictions on access and movement, forced displacement, and demolitions of homes. These are just some of the protection challenges affecting the daily lives of Palestine refugees. But despite living under occupation for the last 50 years, Palestine refugees are just like you and me. They want peace and stability. They want their children to be educated and successful. And they want jobs and possibilities.
There are plenty of ways to get involved:
- You can be an advocate for UNRWA and Palestine refugees in your own community. Tell others about the challenges facing Palestine refugees and make them care!
- You can support UNRWA USA by attending their various events as participant or as a volunteer.
- And of course, you can make a donation to UNRWA and encourage others to do the same.
Can you share a story with us of a Palestine refugee who inspires you?
During my years with UNRWA, I have met a lot of inspiring Palestinians – both in Gaza and in the West Bank. Our Palestinian staff who work hard everyday to provide services to their fellow-Palestinians are among these inspiring people. The same can be said about the students in our schools. Despite living a life under occupation, they are all dedicated to learn, grow, develop and become strong representatives of Palestine.
One recent example is Amal Shawabka. I met Amal when I had just joined UNRWA in the West Bank Field last year and when she was still attending the UNRWA Fawwar Girls School. Amal grew up in Fawwar refugee camp, which is the southernmost camp in the West Bank. The camp is faced by high levels of unemployment and poverty. The camp and its residents regularly experience Israeli military incursions, camp closures and clashes. To most of us, growing up in such a difficult place would significantly limit our ability to study and learn. But not Amal.
Amal was the winner of the 2016 Palestinian Sciences and Technology Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP). As the STEP winner, she travelled to the United States to present her project “No Sliding on Roads”--a pioneering formula to prevent skidding on roads and improve road safety.
To me, Amal is a living testament of the potential of the Palestine refugee youth and the dedication of UNRWA teachers in building the base of their future.
Email us! Tell us why you care about supporting Palestine refugees. Do you have a story to share? We'd like to know!