Zionist Trump Cuts Humanitarian Aid to Palestinian Refugees


Palestinian students in an UNRWA school classroom in Gaza City, Jan. 22, 2018.(MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March/April 2018, pp. 12-13

Two Views

Without UNRWA I Wouldn’t Be Alive Today

By Mohamed Mohamed

IT IS REGRETTABLE that the most basic human needs of millions of Palestinian refugees are now being used as a weapon in the Trump administration’s political assault on Palestinians.
On Jan. 16, the administration decided to withhold $65 million of a planned $125 million in U.S. funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
UNRWA was established in 1949 to provide direct relief and public works programs for the Palestinian refugees who were expelled after the creation of Israel in 1948. For almost 70 years, Israel has failed to address the problem of the refugees that it created, so the U.N. General Assembly has regularly extended UNRWA’s mandate since then.
Over time, with fading hopes that Palestinian refugees would be able to return to their homeland, and with greater needs arising from a more permanent life in their new locations, UNRWA increased its services to include education, health care, social services, infrastructure, microfinance and emergency assistance. UNRWA also employs more than 30,000 people, most of whom are Palestinian.
Most of my own family has first-hand experience with the vital services that UNRWA provides. My grandparents were expelled from their hometown in Palestine in 1948 and ended up in the refugee camps of Lebanon and Syria. In this new precarious reality, living in tents in a foreign place with no job prospects, they likely would not have been able to survive if they did not receive food aid, healthcare and, eventually, their zinc-covered barracks homes built by UNRWA. It is no exaggeration to say that without these services, I might not be alive today.
In addition, my wife, my parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and almost all my relatives were educated in UNRWA schools, and several of them now teach there. When they became sick, they went to UNRWA health clinics. If they needed life-saving surgeries, UNRWA covered most of the cost. While under siege with skyrocketing prices, UNRWA stepped in to provide food assistance to many of my relatives in Syria.
Eliminating or even reducing UNRWA’s services will be highly detrimental to Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. Because of the devastating Israeli siege on Gaza, almost one million people there rely heavily on food aid from UNRWA. With an unemployment rate close to 44 percent, about 80 percent of Gaza’s population are dependent on international assistance.
As stateless people, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are not entitled to several basic civil and economic rights. This has marginalized them so much that, among UNRWA’s five fields of operation, Lebanon has the highest percentage of Palestinian refugees living in “abject” poverty.
Due to the violence, destruction, and poverty caused by seven years of civil war in Syria, Palestinian refugees in the country have become highly vulnerable, and almost all of them now require humanitarian assistance in the form of cash, food and other relief.
Clearly, UNRWA provides some of the most basic human needs and services, and it is sad that President Trump is punishing refugees to gain political leverage over Palestinian leaders, so that they would return to so-called “peace talks.”
Instead, the U.S. should force Israel to pay for UNRWA’s operations, as it is ultimately responsible for creating these refugees. Of course, the chances of Israel directly paying is almost zero, since it often makes the absurd accusation that UNRWA perpetuates the refugee problem (which is similar to claiming that soup kitchens perpetuate homelessness and should be shut down).
But the U.S. could make Israel pay indirectly: by withholding the $3.8 billion in free military aid that it receives each year. Israel was proud to be recently listed as the 23rd richest country in the world, so it should show some more dignity and pay for its own oppressive military, rather than freeloading off of American taxpayers. If President Trump is serious about bringing the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table, nothing will be more effective than holding Israel accountable for its crimes against Palestinians.

Mohamed Mohamed is the executive director of the Palestine Center. Copyright © 2018 Mondoweiss.

Fearing More Time in the Streets Than in School

By Mohammed Omer

UNRWA, THE UNITED Nations agency that provides aid to Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, warned in mid-January that losing funds from its largest donor, the United States, could be “catastrophic.”
Washington has decided to cut $65 million from its contribution to UNRWA. In 2016, according to UNRWA, the U.S. pledged nearly $368 million.
In all, the agency serves more than 5.3 million Palestinian refugees, 1.3 million of whom live in Gaza. While Gaza clearly will suffer the most, a cut in U.S. support would also place increased strain on Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
In addition to such basic humanitarian aid as food, education and health services, UNRWA also handles waste management and sanitation. The Gaza Strip’s nearly two million residents—80 percent of them refugees—fear that this cut in U.S. aid will translate into an even greater shortage of potable drinking water and will dramatically affect already limited electricity, medical supplies and freedom of movement.
“We have been dependent on UNRWA food rations for a decade, since my husband died,” said Umm Ramzy, who even now cannot adequately feed her four children.
“If you cut UNRWA funding,” she added, “allow me to have a state that can give my children their human rights of food, education and medicines.”
“Imagine waking up without UNRWA, we will be lost,” said Abu Khaled Al Jamal. “They have made us dependent on this aid”—which, he pointed out, “is to help refugees and the powerless survive.”
According to UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl, reduced U.S. funding will negatively impact about 525,000 children enrolled in UNRWA schools, as well as emergency food assistance and health care for millions of Palestinian refugees.
“At stake is the dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees in need of emergency food assistance [as well as access to] primary health care, including pre-natal care and other life-saving services. At stake are the rights and dignity of an entire community,” he said in a statement.
The cut will also endanger the jobs of more than 21,000 educational personnel, including teachers, at UNRWA schools—known for providing quality U.N.-monitored education to its students.
UNRWA has launched an international fund-raising campaign to make up for the millions lost as a result of President Donald Trump’s decision. Belgium already has pledged $23 million, and the Dutch minister of international cooperation said she would make $15 million available to UNRWA immediately.
Krähenbühl urged other donors to join together to replace the reduced U.S. funding. Meanwhile, he said, “We are working with absolute determination to ensure that UNRWA services continue,” and vowed to Palestinian students that schools would stay open “so you can receive your cherished education.”
Meanwhile, in the U.S., UNRWA USA, the Washington, DC-based charity that supports UNRWA’s mandate, sent out an appeal for donations and has launched a petition urging the White House to reconsider its decision.
In Gaza, Umm Ramzy insisted that punishing the refugees is not only unjust, but unethical.
“By ending UNRWA services,” she argued, “you can’t really end the fact that we are Palestinian refugees waiting to return home.”
Home for Umm Ramzy is the village of Aker, a 30-minute drive from Gaza. She has never seen the village from which her parents were expelled at gunpoint. But until Palestinians finally are granted freedom of movement and access—a human right to which they are entitled—Umm Ramzy has no option but to sit and wait in her refugee camp for UNRWA to help her survive.

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