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UNRWA urges Trump admin to restore funding as it stands at the frontline of Palestine’s COVID-19 crisis

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In 2018, the Trump administration cut all funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Over five million people in the region rely on the organization for social services, but now their work has become even more crucial in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

Mondoweiss’s Yumna Patel produced this video in September 2018 outlining the potentially devestating impacts of the cuts:

Last week, UNRWA Executive Director Mara Kronenfeld submitted testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, asking Congress to reverse the Trump administration’s 2018 decision. “We now find the Agency’s 144 health centers on the front lines of combating a global pandemic,” reads Kronenfield’s testimony, “Already, the Agency has called on donor states for an additional $14 million to address the crisis. UNRWA is seeking the additional funding to ensure that the appropriate preparedness and response measures are in place at UNRWA installations, in particular health and education facilities.”

Kronenfeld also quoted UNRWA’s acting- Commissioner General Christian Saunders on the organization’s dire economic situation. The group started the year with debts of $55 million and hasn’t come close to reaching its required funding. “If we do not receive additional pledges or those who have pledged do not make good on existing pledges, then we will run out of money at the end of next month,” said Saunders, “At this point, I do not see how the needs of the Palestine refugees can be met this year if support remains stagnant at 2019 levels, and our core programs implemented in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank including East Jerusalem will grind to a halt.”

Last Saturday, Palestinian health officials announced that two people in Gaza have tested positive for COVID-19. This news has naturally increased anxiety in the region, as the Israeli blockade already prohibits many essential resources from reaching the area. Medhat Abbas, the general director of primary care in Gaza, told The Guardian that they currently have 40 intensive care unit beds and would only have 100 even under emergency conditions. “We can deal with existing cases and limited numbers, but if the pandemic increases, as happened in some countries, we will need international intervention,” he said.

“Have been telling UNRWA Gaza staff for weeks we need to act as if COVID-19 is here,” tweeted UNRWA Gaza Director Matthias Schmale, “After [yesterday’s] announcement of 2 exogenous cases, line is now to act as if there is a full outbreak & strict curfew. Better to be prepared than sorry! Will try to maintain lifesaving services.”


Michael Arria

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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4 Responses

  1. Misterioso on March 24, 2020, 2:52 pm


    “Intel: House Democrats ask whether Israel violating US aid restrictions”
    Al Monitor, March 16, 2020 by Bryant Harris

    “More than 60 Democratic lawmakers are pushing the Donald Trump administration to clarify whether Israel uses American military equipment to demolish Palestinian homes in the West Bank, hinting that doing so could trigger military aid restrictions under US law.

    “Reps. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today asking him whether Israel is complying with end-use restrictions under the Arms Export Control Act.

    “’The United States should work to prevent unlawful home demolitions and the forcible transfer of civilians everywhere in the world and prevent the use of US-origin equipment in this destructive practice,’ the lawmakers wrote. ‘The faithful implementation of the [Arms Export Control Act] is one important oversight tool for ensuring that US-origin defense articles and other items recipient countries purchase with foreign military financing are not used for such purpose outside the scope of ‘legitimate self-defense.’

    “The letter also inquires as to whether American-made Caterpillar bulldozers used to demolish 70 Palestinian apartments in Wadi al-Hummus last year were purchased with Israel’s annual $3.3. billion in US foreign military financing.

    “Why it matters: The letter was pushed by the left-leaning lobby group J Street, which supports conditioning military aid should Israel move forward with annexing the West Bank as called for under President Donald Trump’s peace plan. The United States and Israel have formed a committee to draw out plans for annexing all Israeli settlements in the occupied territories as well as the entire Jordan Valley.

    “What’s next: The letter asks Pompeo to determine by April 30 whether Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes triggers a reporting requirement under the Arms Export Control Act, which could potentially lead to restrictions on military aid.

    “Know more: Democrats may want to restrict Israeli military assistance, but Trump is still pushing to zero out all economic and humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. Read congressional correspondent Bryant Harris’ report on how the State Department’s 2021 budget request holds the remaining Palestinian aid hostage to progress on his peace plan.”

  2. CHUCKMAN on March 25, 2020, 10:14 am

    America has been conducting widespread, savage warfare against virtually all international organizations.

    UNRWA. UNESCO. ICC. WTO. the UN itself, and many others.

    It is almost as though America has declared war on civilization and decency.

    It does this at the same time that it threatens and bullies a number of major countries.

    There really is an effort to turn back the clock to an earlier time and wipe out many kinds of progress made by others since WWII.

  3. Misterioso on March 26, 2020, 10:22 am

    “Coronavirus reveals yet again Gaza’s endless and normalised suffering”
    By David Hearst, Middle East Eye, March 24, 2020

    “Israel should be told to lift the siege on Gaza or suffer the consequences of sanctions and isolation itself”

    “Hospitals all over the western world are bracing for a tsunami of intensely ill patients suffering from breathing difficulties due to the Coronavirus.

    “In Britain, car companies are scrambling to produce ventilators. Plans are being laid for the army to build hospitals in conference centres. In Ontario, Canada, wards are being cleared, plans are being laid, models of infection are being scrutinised. If 70 percent of the population does not cut its social engagement by 70 per cent, locking down will not work. Nerves are jangling.

    “Breaking point”
    “So what do you think it is like in Gaza? This is not a question heard often these days, when Palestinians have been dropped off the international agenda, either as refugees or as people.

    “What do you think the prospect is for a besieged enclave that has 56 ventilators and 40 intensive care beds for a population of two million?

    “By comparison, according to figures from the OECD, Germany has 29.2 ICU beds per 100,000; Belgium 22; Italy 12.5; France 11.6, and the UK six and a half. Gaza has two.

    “Everywhere, medics are asking themselves whether they will be brought to their knees by Covid-19. They don’t ask themselves that question in Gaza. The health system there already is on its knees – by design. It passes for normality. It does not make the news. The international community scrambles with sticking plaster relief.

    “This has been the reality for the past 13 years. No conflict in that time was complete without a warning that the health system in Gaza was on the point of collapse.

    “In June 2018, at the start of a year when Israeli soldiers killed 195 Palestinians and injured nearly 29,000 people on the Great March of Return, UN experts said that healthcare in Gaza was ‘at breaking point’.

    “Acts of cruelty”
    “During the war in 2014, hospitals such as Al-Aqsa in Deir al-Balah or al-Wafa in Shujaiyyeh were the target itself of Israeli shelling. Ambulances too were deliberately fired on by Israel. But this is what happens day in day out, acts of cruelty which never make the headlines that define who lives and who dies in Gaza.

    “Think about what happened to Muna Awad at the Erez Crossing in May last year. Muna had to hand over her gravely ill five-year old daughter Aisha to a woman she had never seen to get medical treatment in East Jerusalem. Aisha had been diagnosed with brain cancer, which could not be treated in the specialist hospital in Gaza.

    “Neither Muna nor her husband Wissam was allowed to travel with their daughter. Even Aisha’s grandmother, who was 75 (Israel refuses entrance to women under the age of 45 and men under 55), was refused entry.

    “Erez was the last time her mother saw Aisha conscious. The little girl had several operations in East Jerusalem but returned in a coma and never came out of it. She died in Gaza. Her case is not unique.

    “Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, in Gaza, documented 25,658 Palestinians who applied for permits to seek medical treatment outside the enclave in 2018. Of that number, Israeli authorities delayed processing or rejected outright 9,832 applications – some 38 percent of cases.

    “If you want to know what collective punishment feels like in Gaza, try getting sick.

    “To retrieve the body of one of its soldiers, Hadar Golden, who was killed in combat in 2014, Israel reduced the number of entry permits from Gaza. The campaign was led by Golden’s family. There was an op-ed article in the Washington Post. And the government acted on it.

    “Figures supplied to Haaretz by Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories showed that in the first half of 2018, Israel refused permission to 769 Palestinians seeking to leave Gaza for Israel because they were ‘first-degree relatives of a Hamas activist.’

    “Medical collapse”
    “This is why the ministry of health in Gaza called on the international community to compel Israel to remove the blockade amid an acute shortage in ventilators, ICU beds, medicine and protective equipment.

    “And this is why the international community should now listen. Majdi Duhair, Director of Preventive Medicine at the ministry of health in Gaza, told MEE that the biggest difficulty they faced was their ability to scale up ICU beds.

    “Given the shortage that exists, they only have 26 free ICU beds to deal with the spread of Covid-19.

    “‘This is the biggest dilemma we face, all that is available is 65 beds of intensive care between children and adults, and this number is sufficient for normal and routine cases, and we need this number. There are six beds in the field hospital, and there are 18-20 beds in all places to deal with the spread of corona,’ Duhair said.

    “He added: ‘We are doing crew training, but this number is not sufficient. No new staff has been hired, the problem is there are volunteers, but the employment potential is limited, and existing employees receive 40-50 percent of their salaries.’

    “Gaza has suffered enough. No-one can just sit on the sidelines and watch this happen. Israel has to be told to lift the siege or suffer the consequences of sanctions and isolation itself.

    “This is an obscenity – one of many in the Middle East – that no western government can afford to maintain.”

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