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JUDY WOODRUFF: But first to the Middle East. For decades, a United Nations agency has helped
Palestinian refugees with various forms of assistance, and has relied on international
aid to run its programs. John Yang recently sat down with one of the
agency’s top officials, as the Trump administration seeks to cut its funding. JOHN YANG: The United States is the largest
donor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Known by its initials, UNRWA, it provides
education, health care and other aid to Palestinian refugees in Gaza and the West Bank. Last month, the Trump administration announced
it was withholding more than half of a scheduled $125 million payment to the agency, saying
it wanted unspecified reforms. Joining us now is Scott Anderson, UNRWA’s
director of operations. Before joining the agency, he was an Army
officer for 10 years, including a stint as a company commander in Afghanistan. Scott Anderson, thanks for being with us. What’s going to be the effect of the — withholding
this money on UNRWA’s operations? SCOTT ANDERSON, Director of Operations, United
Nations Relief and Works Agency: What I like to talk about is what at risk of UNRWA being
underfunded. Every day at our schools across the Middle
East, we have over half-a-million children come into our doors for education. And if we were here in the U.S., that be the
third largest school district, after New York and Los Angeles. We have millions of patient visits in our
health care centers. And we provide food assistance to more than
a million refugees in the region. So, all that is at risk. And I think the part that’s very important
with our education program is that, in addition to math and science and the normal type things,
we teach human rights, conflict resolution and tolerance. And we also have a very strong gender component
to try to bring gender parity and gender equity to the region. JOHN YANG: The administration says it wants
reforms. It hasn’t said publicly what those reforms
are. Have they told UNRWA what they want? SCOTT ANDERSON: I don’t know anybody what
reforms they do want. I have been with UNRWA since 2008 almost continuously. And what I can say is that we are constantly
reforming what we do. We have reformed our education program. We have reformed our health program. We have moved from food to cash in the West
Bank. And this is just indicative of the very serious
obligation we feel we have to be the best that we can be. JOHN YANG: In January, the president said
that — he said: “We pay the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars a year and
get no appreciation or respect.” Is there in any sense or a suspicion that
there’s some sort of — this is punitive, that this is somehow a payback from the president
and the administration? SCOTT ANDERSON: I mean, I can’t speak to what
the motivations were. All I can say is that, if we get no more funding
from the U.S. this year, it would be a reduction of 83 percent of what they gave us in 2017. And I would just — I would like to add we’re
very grateful to the U.S. They have been a strong partner from President
Trump all the way back to President Truman, as we do our — administer our services to
the refugees of Palestine, primarily in the West Bank, which is where I am. JOHN YANG: Israel has had, I think fair to
say, a contentious relationship with UNRWA. They praised the president’s move. They have long said that UNRWA contributes
to the Palestinian militancy, that they let militants use UNRWA facilities and that the
UNRWA staff is often sympathetic to the militants. How do you respond to those? SCOTT ANDERSON: I mean, I think I just — I
mentioned that we teach human rights, conflict resolution and tolerance, which actually would
be quite on the opposite end of the spectrum from militancy in any form. And we certainly do not support in any way,
shape or form any type of violence. That is completely opposed to the values of
the United Nations. And I work very closely with the Israeli security
forces, the Israeli defense forces, the army and so forth on a daily basis. And there is mutual respect and appreciation
for the services that we provide on the ground. And they do understand how important it is
that UNRWA is there and that we contribute to stability, which I think is in the national
interest both of Israel and the United States, but all the member states of the U.N. JOHN YANG: They also complain or say that
UNRWA cooperates with Hamas. SCOTT ANDERSON: When Hamas came to power in
2008, the U.N. had a strict no contact policy. I was in Gaza in 2008, from then until 2015,
and we adhered to the no contact policy. But it did allow for existing technical relationships
to continue. So, for example, if there was a mumps outbreak
in a camp, you can’t treat that in a vacuum. You have to work with the Ministry of Health
to make sure that it’s contained, so it doesn’t become a public health phenomena that impacts
people on a broader scale. So, we do very strictly to the no contact
policy, but there are components where you just can’t function in the best interests
of the larger public good if you don’t have some sort of interaction. JOHN YANG: And, finally, I want to ask you
about your career path. I think, how does a farm boy from Iowa, a
career military officer end up at a U.N. relief agency in Gaza and the West Bank? SCOTT ANDERSON: I have to say it was purely
accidental. It wasn’t planned. After I left the Army, I went to Saudi Arabia. I worked for the U.S. government on a foreign
military sales program. And I saw for a job in Gaza with the U.N.,
and I applied because I thought it looked really interesting. And what I found, when you get to Israel,
Gaza, the West Bank, it’s a very compelling place to work, the history that’s there, but
also just the people. The Israelis and Palestinians are wonderful
people. I have enjoyed very much the time that I have
had there. And I have been very grateful for that opportunity. JOHN YANG: Very good. Scott Anderson of the United Nations Relief
and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, thanks for joining us. SCOTT ANDERSON: Thank you very much, John. Pleasure to be here.

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