[Webinar] Palestinian Refugees and the Role of UNRWA

Featuring: Illana Feldman (George Washington University), Gwyn Lewis (UNRWA), Diba Abu Nejila (humanitarian professional). Biographies below.

In this session we focus on Palestinian refugees – one of the core issues of the conflict and which under the Olso Accords was to be resolved in the context of permanent status talks between Israelis and Palestinians. We  examined how Palestinians became refugees, the role and development of UNRWA as the organization responsible for Palestinian refugees, and the debate around the continued status of many Palestinians as refugees today.

This webinar is Part 5 of an 8-part series of webinars. For recordings of the other sessions in this series, please click here.



By Ilana Feldman

By Gwyn Lewis


Diba Abu Nejila is a humanitarian protection professional with twelve years’ experience in the humanitarian and development sector, with extensive experience from emergencies, in the early recovery phase and during cessation of hostilities. She is an accomplished trainer in international law, humanitarian principals and protection, and has specific expertise in gender and gender-based violence, including sexual violence and sexual exploitation and abuse.  In addition, she is a certified member and trainer at the World Youth Alliance. Diba is a Palestine refugee from Gaza, and has worked for ten years with UNRWA in Gaza working on gender, neutrality and protection, and is one of the first female UNRWA Area Chiefs in Gaza. She received her Master’s Degree in Public Administration as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Arizona.

Khaled Elgindy is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute where he also directs MEI’s Program on Palestine and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs. He is the author of the newly-released book, Blind Spot: America and the Palestinians, from Balfour to Trump, published by Brookings Institution Press in April 2019. Elgindy previously served as a fellow in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution from 2010 through 2018. Prior to arriving at Brookings, he served as an adviser to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah on permanent status negotiations with Israel from 2004 to 2009, and was a key participant in the Annapolis negotiations of 2007-08. Elgindy is also an adjunct instructor in Arab Studies at Georgetown University.

Ilana Feldman is Vice Dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs and Professor of Anthropology, History, and International Affairs at George Washington University. Her research has focused on the Palestinian experience, both inside and outside of historic Palestine, examining practices of government, humanitarianism, policing, displacement, and citizenship. She is the author of Governing Gaza: Bureaucracy, Authority, and the Work of Rule, 1917-67 (2008), Police Encounters: Security and Surveillance in Gaza under Egyptian Rule (2015), Life Lived in Relief: Humanitarian Predicaments and Palestinian Refugee Politics (2018); and co-editor (with Miriam Ticktin) of In the Name of Humanity: The Government of Threat and Care (2010).

Lara Friedman is the President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP). With more than 25 years working in the Middle East foreign policy arena, Lara is a leading authority on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, with particular expertise on the Israeli-Arab conflict, Israeli settlements, Jerusalem, and the role of the U.S. Congress. She is published widely in the U.S. and international press and is regularly consulted by members of Congress and their staffs, by Washington-based diplomats, by policy-makers in capitals around the world, and by journalists in the U.S. and abroad. In addition to her work at FMEP, Lara is a Contributing Writer at Jewish Currents and a non-resident fellow at the U.S./Middle East Project (USMEP). Prior to joining FMEP, Lara was the Director of Policy and Government Relations at Americans for Peace Now, and before that she was a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, serving in Jerusalem, Washington, Tunis and Beirut. She holds a B.A. from the University of Arizona and a Master’s degree from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service; in addition to English, Lara speaks French, Arabic, Spanish, (weak) Italian, and muddles through in Hebrew.

Gwyn Lewis is the Director of UNRWA Operations West Bank, and leads all programmatic and operational components of UNRWA operations throughout the West Bank. An Irish national, Ms. Lewis has over 18 years of experience in humanitarian and development work. Prior to joining UNRWA in September 2016, she has worked with international organizations in the humanitarian and development field. Before being assigned to Jerusalem,  she was the Deputy Director for Programs in UNRWA Lebanon. Prior to working in UNRWA, Ms. Lewis managed the Global Clusters Coordination section in UNICEF’s Emergency Division. She joined UNICEF from FAO in 2012, where she focused on Humanitarian Policy and supporting FAO country offices in providing humanitarian response.  Prior to that, Ms. Lewis worked with OCHA in Geneva building UN and NGO partners and supporting the roll out of the humanitarian reform agenda. Previously, Ms. Lewis worked for both OCHA and the ICRC in the occupied Palestinian territory. She has also worked with the United Nations Mission in Kosovo and various NGOs in Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Albania. Ms. Lewis holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and a Masters in International Relations.