Nidal al-Azza, 50, is a Palestinian activist and leading advocate for Palestinian residency and refugee rights. Al-Azza sat down with Mondoweiss to discuss the current US foreign policy in Israel and Palestine, and the effects of Trump’s political decisions on the Palestinian people, Palestinian leadership, and the future of the Palestinian cause.
Tag Archives: UNRWA
The Trump administration’s decision last month to cut $360 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) is a purely political decision that has no relevance to the definition of Palestinians as “refugees”, nor to their legal rights.
The head of UNRWA pens an open letter to Palestinian refugees and UN staff, condemning the U.S. decision to defund the agency by stating “5.4 million men, women and children who cannot simply be wished away.”
Donald Trump has fully, finally, abandoned America’s commitments to UNRWA. Marilyn Garson worked for UNRWA from 2013-2015, and writes that although UNRWA is no one’s ideal she advocates for the agency because it is vital, and because it is vastly preferable to the alternatives at hand. Garson writes, “UNRWA’s skills are not unique, but not one of them can be quickly replicated or scaled by others – particularly not in Gaza, Syria, or the West Bank. That is UNRWA’s real, underlying strength: it is there. That’s what has made it a straw man target for Donald Trump’s hatred.”
Today Jerusalem’s mayor Nir Barkat promised to kick out the UN agency responsible for refugee services, saying the move will support Israeli “sovereignty and unity of Jerusalem,” and called to “increase the Israelization” of East Jerusalem.
According to multiple reports, in early September the Trump administration will issue a report recognizing no more than half a million Palestinian refugees, will reject any right of return, and ominously will ask Israel to ‘reconsider’ UNRWA’s mandate to operate in the West Bank. Marilyn Garson writes, “Trump and those around him have spent the year trying to obviate – rather than solve – Palestinian claims. Now they wish to deny the refugee status of 90% of Palestinians. If Trump has his way, only a few elderly refugees will remain. The Right of Return will be moot. It would not exist now, he says, if UNRWA didn’t keep it alive. He will make the right disappear by de-funding UNRWA and de-registering its five million phantom refugees. The realization of Palestinian rights may be a marathon, but right now, it is also a sprint. The race is on, to be made to vanish or to be seen and heard.”
Scenes of chaos erupted in Gaza City on Wednesday, after UNRWA — the UN agency responsible for providing services for Palestinian refugees — announced that it would be laying off hundreds of its employees following massive US budget cuts this year. One Palestinian man, an employee at UNRWA, attempted to set himself on fire.
Gaza’s Great March of Return has reinvigorated a specious argument against UNRWA: by upholding Palestinians’ rights as they are written into international human rights law and UN resolutions, UNRWA’s very existence is said to perpetuate the conflict. The real aim of this argument is to eliminate the refugee issue entirely.
Last month’s decision by the Trump Administration to substantially cut funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has cast a dark shadow over the lives of the 5 million refugees it supports, and marks a turning point in US relations with the agency which the US government was instrumental in creating and shaping. Jo Kelcey reviews this history and writes, “Early plans for UNRWA show an unquestionably strong American influence. They also reveal the dissonance of US policy in the Middle East.”
Palestinians in Bethlehem’s Aida refugee camp have expressed their mounting anxiety over a US decision to slash funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Ahmad Abu Salem, who owns a small shop in Aida camp, tells Mondoweiss, “UNRWA is all we have. We don’t have any alternatives if they continue cutting services. We would have no jobs and nowhere to go. If these cuts continue the situation here could explode. Without UNRWA we have nothing.”
The money the US gives to UNRWA is not ‘aid.’ It is an infinitesimal downpayment on restitution owed Palestinians. The US remains Israel’s principal benefactor, and underwriter of Israel’s anti-Palestinian terror. US “aid” to Israel enables it to keep five million once-productive people destitute, leading lost lives in the squalor of scattered refugee camps, because they are the wrong ethnicity.
The well-being of millions of Palestinian refugees is now being used as a weapon in the Trump administration’s political assault on Palestinians. Reduced U.S. funding to UNRWA, the U.N. agency responsible for offering services to Palestinian refugees, will result in direct cuts to education, healthcare, social services, infrastructure, microfinance, and emergency assistance. Mohamed Mohamed says, “It is no exaggeration to say that without these services, I might not be alive today.”
In a sign that the United States is ratcheting up pressure on Palestinian leadership, the Trump administration sent notice to the United Nations Refugee Works Agency (UNRWA) that it is withholding over half of this year’s annual commitment, paying $60 million and freezing another $65 million. The move indicates the U.S. is leveraging its financial support to pressure Palestinian officials into acquiescing to its vision for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Marilyn Garson worked for Mercy Corps and UNRWA in Gaza between 2011 and 2015, where she lived through two wars in four years: “A UN official was quoted as saying that “the world watched in horror.” I felt only bitterness toward the world that did no more than watch.”
It’s been two-and-a-half months since Operation Protective Edge ended. During the operation, thousands of Gaza residents took shelter in United Nations (UNRWA) schools. Many have since returned to their homes, and others, whose homes were destroyed, were put up by family and friends. However, 18 UNRWA schools still house more than 30,000 people who have no home or temporary solution. They are waiting for Gaza’s promised reconstruction while living in classrooms that were modified into small one-room apartments.
The humanitarian crisis in Gaza has surpassed the United Nations capabilities for emergency shelter and services and is now the responsibility of the Israel army, said the Commissioner General of the United Nations Refugee Works Association (UNRWA)
Senator Mark Kirk (above) of Illinois is leading an effort that would redefine who a Palestinian refugee is. Critics say the move is one step in a larger strategy to take refugee rights for Palestinians off the negotiating table.
Those who gain permission to come and go from Gaza through the soulless Erez Crossing sometimes serve to normalize the inhuman siege
On Sunday November 14th, John Ging, Director of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) programs in the Gaza Strip, spoke at Columbia University. This speech was one in a recent series of campus speeches by Mr. Ging that was sponsored by the left leaning pro-Israel advocacy organization, J Street and its national campus group, J Street U. Mr. Ging is […]
The video above is from the new series produced by UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) called Peace Starts Here. UNRWA is the UN agency established in December, 1949 to work with Palestinian refugee communities in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory. The Peace […]