Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

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Take Action for Palestinian Refugees

The ecumenical organization Churches for Middle East Peace is calling on people to ask President Biden to restore U.S. assistance to Palestinians through the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). This article was published in the March-April 2021 issue of NewsNotes.

In 2018, the Trump administration announced its decision to cut all U.S. aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) as well as all bilateral humanitarian assistance to the West Bank and Gaza. UNRWA helps administer critical services and resources such as health care, education, and emergency food assistance to Palestinian refugees throughout the Middle East including in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. 

UNRWA’s work is even more important now as COVID-19 greatly exacerbates the difficult conditions that Palestinian refugees endure.  Before the $360 million dollars in U.S. funding was cut, it accounted for nearly 30 percent of UNRWA’s budget. 

Although UNRWA continues to operate at full capacity, even with inadequate resources, there is an urgent need for funds to sustain the delivery of essential services—and to maintain the salaries of all of its 30,000 staff members. UNRWA has expressed great concern at its ability to procure said funds without the immediate assistance of the Biden administration. 

President Joe Biden affirmed his support for the restoration of “U.S. assistance programs that support economic development and humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people” in a statement from Ambassador Richard Mills at the UN Security Council on Jan. 26, but his promises of change still needs to become action. 

Now more than ever, it is necessary for the United States to restore its aid to UNRWA and other bilateral assistance programs, reaffirming its commitment to the Palestinian people by providing them with much-needed humanitarian assistance. 

As the President of the United States, Joe Biden can release the funding for UNRWA and bilateral assistance to the West Bank and Gaza at his own discretion, as it has already been appropriated by Congress. It is imperative that he hears the support of the American people for the restoration of funding to UNRWA, among many other humanitarian assistance organizations and programs, all of which provide vital aid and relief to Palestinians. 

Since its creation in 1949, the United States has pledged its unyielding financial support to UNRWA, and every administration since—both Republican and Democratic—has continued American support for the organization—all with the exception of one. 

With the slashing of funds to UNRWA in 2018 by President Donald Trump, the United States’ longstanding commitment to the Palestinian people and the cause of humanitarianism was severely damaged, and the hardship faced by Palestinians was perpetuated, now exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the current arrangement undermines the end goal of peace, stability, and equity for Israelis, Palestinians, and all other peoples in the region. 

It is necessary that President Joe Biden releases bilateral assistance to the West Bank and Gaza as well as to UNRWA as soon as possible to help meet immediate humanitarian needs, and to bring about the United States’ re-entry to the global stage as a force for positive change in the name of peace, justice, and human rights.§

Faith in action: Ask Pres. Biden to restore U.S. funding for UNRWA:

Israel-Palestine Recommended News Articles

“The Two-Sate Solution is dead. It’s time for One Democratic State” Kathryn Shihadah writes in If Americans Knew on Feb. 5, 2021: “The ‘two-state solution’ is no longer a viable option – if it ever was. Meet the campaign for a more just, long lasting solution: One Democratic State for Palestine and Israel.”

“B'Tselem's Historic Declaration: Israel's Open War on Its Own Civil Society” Ramzy Baroud writes in Common Dreams on Jan. 29. 2021: “As B'Tselem has succinctly worded it, Israel is a regime of Jewish supremacy ‘from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.’”

“Want Israeli-Palestinian Peace? Try Confederation” Bernard Avishai and Sam Bahour write in The New York Times on Feb. 12, 2021: “Politicians and experts should not doubt a two-state solution. But they should finally consider a plausible version of it.”

“ICC Approves Investigation Into Israel, Citing War Crimes, Proving ‘Once More It Is a Political Body’”   Harbingers Daily published on Feb. 5, 2021: “The International Criminal Court at the Hague approved an investigation into Israel on Friday evening, citing war crimes.” 


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