Politicizing Palestinian refugees won’t make them go away
Last Friday, the Trump administration announced that the United States would no longer fund the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – the U.N. body which delivers vital aid to some 5.3 million Palestinian refugees across the Arab world. The cut, which amounts to $300 million, constitutes about 30 percent of the organization’s total yearly budget.
Describing UNRWA as an “irredeemably flawed operation”, the Trump administration has yet again belied its animosity against the refugee agency, whose mission is to provide relief for Palestinians expelled from their homes during the Nakba in 1947-8. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and special advisor on the Middle East, wrote in a leaked email to his father-in-law: “Sometimes you have to strategically risk breaking things in order to get there.” Listening to Kushner and others, one would be forgiven in thinking that Palestinians relish being dependent on aid, as though the 53 percent of Gaza’s population living under a decade-long siege prefer to exist below the poverty line. It is a vengeful act.
As with any big organization, UNRWA is not without criticism, and the relationship between UNRWA and the Palestinians has proven to be an uneasy but necessary one. In the 69 years since its inception, UNRWA has all but become a welfare government-in-exile, particularly in the years prior to the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) assumption of leadership in the mid-1960s. But today it operates as a robust, versatile, and diverse body which provides much needed food, healthcare, education, and other services to a vulnerable population scattered across the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.
In an Orwellian twist, the United States gives an unfettered, unearmarked $3.3 billion annual contribution to Israel – the world’s eighth most powerful nation – on the one hand, while it works to dismantle the organization which sustains millions of people that Israel made destitute, on the other.