Australia giving $90 million to Palestinian refugees


SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – Australia is donating $90 million over five years to aid the health and education of Palestinian refugees.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr announced the aid package earlier this week, saying he is "very proud" that since 2007 Australia has helped 470,000 Palestinian children attend school.

"The funding agreement means more Palestinian children will go to school, and more doctors will be supported to work in refugee camps and Palestinian communities," Carr said. "That’s good news on humanitarian grounds, and good news for Middle Eastern regional stability."

The funds, to help Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, will be allocated via the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, Carr said.

But some Jewish community leaders were less than enthusiastic in their response.

"Whilst UNRWA does invaluable humanitarian work, we believe that it is wrong in principle for there to be one U.N. agency specifically for assisting Palestinian refugees and another that is responsible for all other refugees, namely the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees," Peter Wertheim, the executive director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, told J-Wire, an online Jewish portal. "It is also wrong in principle for the descendants of the 1948 refugees, now into their third and fourth generations, to be classified as Palestinian refugees, even though they are natives of other countries and have never fled from their homes. For no other group of refugees is refugee status passed down from one generation to another in this way.

"This is an iniquitous practice that perpetuates disadvantage, grievance and hatred, artificially ensures that the number of Palestinian ‘refugees’ continues to increase rather than decrease over time, and thus does more to aggravate the refugee issue than to solve it.”

Meanwhile, Carr on Tuesday gave two Syrian diplomats 72 hours to leave Australia in reaction to the massacre at Houla, which he described as "a brutal crime."

Australian Jewish lawmaker Michael Danby said Tuesday that "Syrian events underscore that Israel is a democratically vibrant contrast to Iran and Syria."

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