The Trump administration has slashed U.S. assistance to the Palestinians.
In late August the State Department announced cuts of over $200 million for projects in the West Bank and Gaza and days later announced the U.S. would end its contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which serves Palestinian refugees. Several media reported on Sept. 7 that $25 million in 2017 U.S. government funding designated for East Jerusalem hospitals would not be released.
And on Sept. 14 the New York Times reported that the U.S. “is blocking millions of dollars to programs that build relationships between Israelis and Palestinians.” The $10 million designated for such programs can now only be used for joint projects between Jews and Palestinians within Israel. As the Times reports, “The move to prevent Palestinians – in many cases, children – from benefiting from the funds squeezes shut the last remaining channel of American aid to Palestinian civilians.”
Urge them to direct attention to underlying issues to bring about a just and lasting peace that will benefit Palestinians and Israelis alike.
These funding cuts will harm Palestinians – women, men, youth, and children – while doing nothing to further the prospects for peace. In a statement to the Trump administration objecting to the $200 million in economic support and the cuts to UNRWA, U.S. humanitarian and development organizations warn the cuts create “a gaping hole in humanitarian and development assistance that threatens provision of education and medical services to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children and families and their communities.” An UNRWA spokesperson reacted to the decision about his agency’s funding saying: “Let there be no mistake; this decision is likely to have a devastating impact on the lives of 526,000 children who receive a daily education from UNRWA; 3.5 million sick people who come to our clinics for medical care; 1.7 million food insecure people who receive assistance from us, and tens of thousands of vulnerable women, children and disabled refugees who come to us.
The cuts to UNRWA appear to be part of a larger effort to take the issue of refugees off the table by attempting to redefine Palestinian refugees out of existence. The announcement from the State Department about ending UNRWA funding referenced an “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries,” in calling UNRWA’s methods “simply unsustainable.”
In Congress, Senator James Lankford (R-OK) introduced a bill that would redirect funds away from UNRWA, criticizing its inclusion of descendants in the population it serves. And Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO-5th) introduced HR 6451 which would exclude descendants from UNRWA services.
The U.S. cannot unilaterally define who is a refugee and who is not. As UNRWA Commissioner-General Krähenbühl said in an open letter, “No matter how often attempts are made to minimize or delegitimize the individual and collective experiences of Palestine refugees, the undeniable fact remains that they have rights under international law and represent a community of 5.4 million men, women and children who cannot simply be wished away.”
Instead of taking money away from vulnerable Palestinians, the U.S. should be addressing the underlying issues that contribute to suffering and a lack of peace, including the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and the blockade of Gaza.
Note: September 16-23, 2018 is the annual “World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel,” an initiative of the World Council of Churches. This year’s focus is on young people. Support the effort by contacting your members of Congress today.