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Iowans explore UN's role in Palestine

Yashar Vasef at Drake 11-18-13
Yashar Vasef, Executive Director of the Iowa United Nations Association stands with Nickey Jafari (left) and Hannah Shell, founding co-presidents of the Middle East Peace and Prosperity Alliance (MEPPA) at Drake University. Photo: Peter Clay / AFSC

Over 30 people attended “The United Nations and Palestine,” a program sponsored by the AFSC’s Middle East Peace Education Project (MEPEP) and Drake University’s Middle East Peace and Prosperity Alliance (MEPPA) on Tuesday, November 19 in Drake University’s Olmsted Center.

Yashar Vasef, Executive Director of the Iowa United Nations Association (IUNA) was the speaker. Vasef briefly shared some of the history of the United Nations Association, which was founded in 1943. It is now part of the United Nations Foundation Network and there are about 150 chapters across the United States, which seek to inspire, educate and mobilize Americans in support of the ideals and vital work of the United Nations.

Central to the work of the UNA is promoting the United Nation’s humanitarian mission around the world. That was the focus for the evening.

Originally from Iran, Vashef graduated from the University of Iowa in 2008. He has directed the work of the Iowa United Nation’s Association since 2010. Vasef emphasized that the Millennium Development Goals guide the work of the Iowa UNA and he provided this website for those who wish to learn more or join the work of Iowa’s UNA:

The Day of Solidarity with Palestinian People is coming up on November 29. This day both highlights and commemorates the unresolved matter of UN Resolution 181, which was meant to establish a Palestinian state along with the state of Israel. In 2012 Palestine was recognized at the United Nations. This recognition was supported by 138 nations and opposed by nine (including the United States and Israel), with 41 abstentions.

This upgraded the Palestinians to “non-member observer status” from simply being an “entity.” On November 18, Palestine cast its first vote in the United Nations, which was a source of great pride to Palestinians everywhere. Palestine also now has a seat on UNESCO, in relation to which the US has attempted to de-fund UNESCO.

The United Nations is addressing the growing humanitarian crisis of the Palestinian people through the work of numerous agencies, including UNICEF, which is working to protect women and children from violence; the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which supports the Rule of Law and helps Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with the “Access to Justice Program”; and the World Food Program (WFP).

The WFP feeds more people than any other organization on the planet, including 1.3 million people in Palestine who are now food insecure or are vulnerable to becoming food insecure. The problem is not a shortage of food but restrictions on the distribution of food resources.

Rather than simply providing food, WFP seeks to create local capacity to address hunger and food insecurity. A partnership between the WFP and a privately owned Palestinian salt production business has been very successful and helps provide this essential nutrient while also creating employment opportunities for Palestinian people.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was established by UN GA Resolution 302 in 1949. Today UNRWA assists Palestinians in a wide variety of ways. From 750,000 people originally, now UNRWA is helping over 5 million Palestinians.

They operate over 700 schools for nearly half a million children. They have been the main provider of primary education to Palestinian refugees for over 60 years. Half of the UNRWA schools in Syria have been damaged or destroyed during the current war. These schools are critical for thousands of Palestinian refugees; this is another and little known aspect of the tragedy of the ongoing Syrian civil war.

The speaker concluded by saying that we must look beyond the politics of the region and direct our focus to the immensity of the humanitarian crisis that is ongoing and becoming more dire each day.

Article by Peter Clay, member of Des Moines Valley Friends Meeting and the AFSC Iowa Area Program Committee.