Organizations in the Faith Forum on Middle East Policy send out action alerts monthly, focusing on different issues so that members of Congress hear consistently that their constituents support a just and lasting resolution to the Palestinian and Israeli conflict.
As Congress considers the budget for fiscal year 2018, it is critical that advocates speak up for the needs of Palestinian refugees.
UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, relies largely on funding from UN member states, including significant annual contributions from the United States.
UNRWA assistance reaches roughly five million Palestinian refugees living in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Services include, “education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance and emergency assistance, including in times of armed conflict.”
Most of the refugees served by UNRWA are those who were displaced in 1948, or their descendants. Some of these were displaced a second time, in 1967, following the war when the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank began.
At its core, the Palestinian refugee issue is one of rights continually denied, specifically the fundamental right to return to their lands and homes. New generations of Palestinians have been born into refugee status, awaiting a comprehensive peace agreement when outstanding issues, including the issue of Palestinian refugees, would presumably be resolved.
50 years into the occupation and nearly seven decades after the establishment of the state of Israel, Palestinian refugees continue in limbo while resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unresolved.
UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness said in a recent statement, “The situation of Palestine Refugees needs to be resolved as part of a political resolution of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. It is time for political action to resolve this long-standing crisis.”
In the meantime, which has stretched to generations, UNRWA services are critical to the welfare of millions of Palestinians. The US contribution to UNRWA is vital. Ambassador Phil Wilcox, currently chairman of the board of UNRWA USA, wrote, “The United States, as UNRWA’s most generous donor for six decades, should be proud of its support for UNRWA’s human development programs for Palestinians. Notwithstanding perennial calls for cutting our contributions, all administrations, Republican and Democrat, have maintained America’s support for UNRWA as a vital counterpart to our peace-making diplomacy.”