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‘He wants to kill us’— Gazans fear for the worst as Trump severs aid to Palestinian refugees

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The Trump administration informed the United Nations yesterday it would cut aid for Palestinian refugees by more than half, withholding $65 million in funds. The announcement was made by an official with the State Department who said “It is time other countries, some of them quite wealthy, step in and do their part to advance regional security and stability.”

For Halima Abu Hendi, 40, a Palestinian living in the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, Trump’s steep cut could mean that her pantry will be empty next month. Halima survives off of food assistance from by the United Nations Refugee Works Agency (UNRWA) that comes in the form of parcels she picks up from a distribution center every 90 days. At the moment, her stock is already running low, with under a pound of chickpeas, sugar, and rice, and nearly out of milk powder to feed her husband and herself, and their seven children.

“We rely on chickpea to prepare Falafel for the three daily meals, and could replace it with sweetened noodles or canned tuna,” Halima said, explaining the UNRWA staples fill up 90 percent of her family’s diet.

Halima and her husband Abdul Baset Abu Hendi, 44, were both born in Jabalia camp.

Halima Abu Hendi. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Abdul Baset Abu Hendi. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Palestinian children sit on steps in Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Last year the U.S. contributed $368 million to UNRWA, of which over $100 million went to services in Syria.  The move to cut aid takes place amid enormous pressure on Palestinian leaders to accept the U.S.’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and to continue discussing the prospects of a U.S. brokered peace deal.

UNRWA provides services to 5.3 million Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The refugees in Gaza live in eight UNRWA run camps, constitute 70 percent of the local population of nearly 2 million.

Yet in recent weeks UNRWA has become under review by the Trump administration as it eyes options to pressure the Palestinian leadership to work with the U.S. envoy for Middle East peace.

“[W]e pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter while most of the Middle East was sleeping two weeks ago. “With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace,” he added, “why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed suit last week. He told his cabinet, “UNRWA is an organization that perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem,” and “It also perpetuates the narrative of the right of return, as it were, in order to eliminate the State of Israel; therefore, UNRWA needs to pass from the world.”

Back in Jabalia, Abdul Baset, does not expect he can make up the coming food shortages. Although he is a tailor, Abdul Baset says he has not sewed for months. Gaza’s economy is depressed and unemployment is a staggering 42 percent, the highest in the world. 

“I use my UN ID card to receive canned tuna, frying oil, flour… .The aroma of sweetened noodles and fried falafel. Refilling the pantry is a festive moment for my family,” he told Mondoweiss days before the Trump administration made the announcement to hold the UN funds. At that time, the couple said most of their updates on the flow of UN goods came from casual conversations, which had turned worrisome in recent days.

“We do not know anything. Concern is endless and the feeling has taken control over this camp. It is in our daily conversations with neighbors who meet each day and night by our front doors,” Halima said

Aside from food aid, many Palestinians relay entirely on UNRWA’s health services. The UN runs nearly 200 health clinics for Palestinian refugees. UNRWA provides services for more than nine million patients visits at health care facilities in the region. 

Mariam Oraif. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

In Western Gaza City, Mariam Oraif, 74, waits at an UNRWA’s health center to pick up her insulin and get weekly treatment. Aside from diabetes she has high blood pressure. Mariam was not aware of the then impending cuts to UNRWA. When asked what she will do if this clinic is no longer able to provide her with medication, Mariam said of Trump, “He wants to kill us.”

“I can barely buy a 5 Shekel ($1.4) Paracetamol tablets. What should I do if I am forced to buy these free drugs from a pharmacy? Are you kidding me? I’m talking about $80, I never had such cash in my wallet,” she continued.

Wijdan Dahman, 28, was in the same clinic. Her infant was getting the Polio vaccine. She too was surprised to learn of the coming U.S. funding cut.

“Is this two-month-old infant politically involved?” Wijdan asked, “Do they want a disabled or sick generation, is it not enough to be a refugee in camps?, why should such baby pay the price for this foolish policy?”

Wijdan Dahman (R) carries her baby into a United Nations medical clinic in the Gaza Strip. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Sufian al-Wadiya. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Near the parking leading to the clinic, Sufian al-Wadiya, 38, a municipal employee, said “Stopping UNRWA’s services is more dangerous than launching a war jets and tanks.”

If Trump reduces aid to Palestinian refugees, Sufian said “it would be a war against patients and schoolchildren who will turn into thieves.”

More than 500,000 Palestinian children are enrolled in 700 UNRWA schools across the region. 

Nadia Abu Ta’ima, a teacher at an UNRWA school in Gaza, and student Hanan. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

In front of the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza, teacher Nadia Abu Ta’ima and her pupil, Hanan, 9, protested ahead of the Trump administration’s announcement. Nadia was among dozens of educators demanding pay increases. 

Hanan carried a banner:  “Miss Nadia must get a fixed-term contract.”

“Can you imagine the feeling of being a teacher who instructs around 50 pupils in one classroom and you might get a call one day that you no longer will come into school anymore?” Nadia said.

Hanan chimed in, “I do not understand why they might want fire miss Nadia. Is UNRWA bankrupted? My friends and I can collect money to pay our teacher.”

UNRWA was established in 1949 to provide aid in the wake of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, which left hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced in the Middle East. UNRWA was initially intended to be a temporary agency, but it has continued to provide support for Palestinian refugees for the better part of 60 years.

Ahmad Kabariti

Ahmad Kabariti is a freelance journalist based in Gaza.

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9 Responses

  1. Jasonius Maximus on January 17, 2018, 12:54 pm

    There is a term for what Trump and Haley are doing. Collective Punishment. It is also war crime!

    Punishing an entire group of innocent people and the U.N. aid program they rely on for the lack of progress in negotiations by two separate governments is not only disgusting but nothing less than a case of collective punishment! By all means pressure, sanction, embargo, restrict travel, and cut direct financial aid to the PA and its leadership, but punishing the people and third party institutions for the actions (or lack there of) of others is reprehensible and illegal in this case.

  2. JLewisDickerson on January 17, 2018, 2:31 pm

    RE: “With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace,” he added, “why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

    MY COMMENT: Those payments are made to buy time for the Israelis to “manoeuvre”* (i.e. finish colonizing the West Bank, thereby eliminating the possibility of a Palestinian state).

    * SEE: “Permanent Temporariness” | by Alastair Crooke | London Review of Books | 03/03/11:

    [EXCERPT] . . . Israel’s vice-premier, Moshe Ya’alon, was candid when asked in an interview this year: ‘Why all these games of make-believe negotiations?’ He replied:

    Because … there are pressures. Peace Now from within, and other elements from without. So you have to manoeuvre … what we have to do is manoeuvre with the American administration and the European establishment, which are nourished by Israeli elements [and] which create the illusion that an agreement can be reached … I say that time works for those who make use of it. The founders of Zionism knew … and we in the government know how to make use of time. . .

    SOURCE –

    • JLewisDickerson on January 17, 2018, 2:33 pm

      RE: [W]e pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no…respect,” President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter while most of the Middle East was sleeping two weeks ago.“

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  3. Kay24 on January 17, 2018, 7:03 pm

    What kind human beings will add insult to injury, by depriving powerless people, who have lived under a brutal occupation, the aid they have to depend on, and keep giving billions of dollars in aid, and much more in weapons, to those that keep killing their kids, and stealing lands from them? What kind of human beings will not ask that occupier to halt the illegal settlements, as a pre-condition to any peace talks, instead give it Jerusalem, and demand it’s victims to come for peace negotiations, with nothing to offer?
    That would be the Sheldon Adelson paid for evil that unfortunately exists in the WH today.

  4. ritzl on January 17, 2018, 7:04 pm

    Once again, there is ZERO upside to Israeli tactics now, in furtherance of their own self-defined interests.

    On the assumption that Trump didn’t just wake up yesterday and say to himself, “How can I harm Palestinians today?”, that this is an Israel-backed and orchestrated move, what do they think Palestinians in Palestine will do now? Fold?

    Heck no, they’re going to fight. What they’re now going to fight for is an open question to be decided by themselves, but they have no other options but to be politically more contentious. And when the paychecks for PA employees start ending, more physically contentious on the ground and in far greater numbers.

    Will Israel be able to paint that contention as a generic Palestinian trait (terrorists all?), or will the hopelessness that this aid cutoff (and what options are left to a captive people) poke through as “THE [guiding] story?” I suspect the latter because the Palestine/Syria MSM PoV has been shown to enough people to be pure fiction that [maybe] enough of a body of support will form. Not sure, but maybe.

    Maybe it doesn’t matter, because in the end there are no options remaining for Palestinians in Palestine. “It” is going to explode in some fashion. It will be what it’s been distilled into.


  5. ritzl on January 17, 2018, 8:07 pm

    More thoughts…

    In the previous comment, “Fight” means cornered with no options.

    Does this UNRWA cutoff mean even less aid to Gaza? (Does Gaza get any UNRWA assistance?) In very round numbers, half the population of Gaza is refugees. In Israeli-calculus, less aid means more rockets, and more rockets means more Israeli slaughter-sprees and the resultant US media clamor about/for “mowing the grass.” Will anyone make the connection that the “tit-for-tat” clock started with starving people in Gaza getting pissed off at the people starving them (and SUBSEQUENTLY lashing out)? Will anyone in media make the connection that fewer starving people means fewer rockets?

    Manning for Senate!!! Is there enough of an angry left to mobilize for her in Maryland, and/or against perpetual war generally? Get rid of (BDS as a criminal act) Cardin. Please.

    • ritzl on January 17, 2018, 8:12 pm

      Eh, sorry. Gaza is discussed in the article. Note to self, shouldn’t skim important stuff.


  6. Maghlawatan on January 20, 2018, 8:59 am

    Between this and Trump on Jerusalem the US role of honest broker is dead.
    Israel has all its eggs in the US basket.

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