In the city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip, the deaf Palestinian woman, Sanaa Hashem, sat caressing her two sons when a harsh and surprising message came to her stating that she was dismissed from her work as a sign language teacher in an association, after twenty years of work. Sanaa was separated last June with more than a hundred other colleagues working under the clause of temporary employment in seven community rehabilitation centers serving people with disabilities in the Gaza Strip. The decision came at the time against the background of the administration of former US President Donald Trump to cut off US financial contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, known for short as “UNRWA”, in 2018.
However, Sanaa regained hope of returning to her work after the Trump administration left and the administration of the new president, Joe Biden, pledged to return the financial aid allocated to the Palestinians, after announcing last April the resumption of aid and the provision of $ 150 million to UNRWA. The United States is the largest single donor that contributes to financing the organization with about 300 million dollars annually out of the 1.2 billion that is the budget of the United Nations agency, and the agency represents the largest employer in the Gaza Strip by employing about 13 thousand people in a society that nearly half of it suffers from unemployment due to the suffocating siege. .
“What hurt me most was that Trump’s decision reflected on Sana’s health. Since her salary was cut off, her health has deteriorated, and I had to search for health insurance for her.” This is how Sana’s mother spoke to Maidan . But happy news reached the ears of Sana and her mother in recent weeks after the change of the US administration and the elimination of the extremist policies pursued by the previous administration. Sanaa has already returned to work with dozens of others, while the agency, which was established 72 years ago to help the Palestinians, plans to take more stringent measures to address She suffers from a financial deficit of $ 200 million, a deficit that jeopardized her ability to pay the salaries of employees in November and December, and forced her to impose a decision to operate a “unified food basket” for all refugees benefiting from her food aid in Gaza, These measures have exacerbated the deterioration of the humanitarian situation caused by the circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic in the besieged Gaza Strip.
On the morning of last March, Mrs. “Rania” toured the corridors of the UNRWA health clinic in Ain El-Helweh camp for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, seeking to finalize medical papers for her ten-year-old son performing a delicate surgery in one of his eyes. In particular – to get a paper stating that the cost of the operation will be covered by a specified rate by UNRWA, and she realizes that UNRWA’s coverage of surgeries, which previously reached 90%, now stands at only 20%, meaning that the rest of the cost will fall on the shoulders of her family, who can barely meet their needs. the basic. The vast majority of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon (more than 80% of them) depend on the organization for assistance in employment, health care and basic needs.
In the end, the camp residents made an effort to collect an amount that would help Rania pay the costs of the operation for her son, but everyone will continue to struggle to cover their other expenses, as there are about 192,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, which is facing the worst economic crisis since the civil war that ended in 1990. They – like others – health and educational services, humanitarian aid and services from UNRWA, which runs more than 700 schools across the region, and provides education to more than half a million Palestinian children.
UNRWA relies on voluntary financial contributions from member states of the United Nations, as well as the European Union, but due to the growing number of registered refugees, the increase in poverty and the humanitarian crises, the Agency has suffered from a chronic shortage of funding, in addition to the crises related to the behavior of its executive officials, where the finger of blame sometimes turns To some who exploit their position in the agency for personal gain, such as the crisis of “Pierre Krähenbühl,” the former Commissioner-General, who was forced to step down after complaints about his management style. https://www.youtube.com/embed/IogoVRARp50?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=ar&autohide=2&wmode=transparent
On the other hand, the greatest danger threatening UNRWA is that Israel targets the Agency’s efforts and its existence due to its demand for the right of return for the Palestinians. Christian Saunders, Commissioner General of the Agency, indicated that the right of return is “guaranteed by international law,” as the agency confirmed. Also, in another official statement, January 2020, when it expressed its concern about the US peace plan that was spearheaded by the Trump administration at that time (2). Therefore, the occupation authorities constantly press for the abolition of the role of UNRWA, and has previously called for the transfer of its responsibilities to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Here, Israel ignores international law, which states its responsibility for Palestinian refugees and their right to obtain compensation for their lost property. (3)
In April 2020, David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, wrote on Twitter that he was very grateful that the United States would provide five million dollars to Palestinian hospitals and homes in order to meet their urgent and important needs in order to save lives in the face of the Coronavirus. The decision, issued – paradoxically – by the Trump administration, was nothing but a place of ash in the eyes, as that same administration refrained from presenting the usual number – which exceeds this pandemic aid sixty times – only one year ago, as part of a series of pressures it exercised to impose Its own vision for the settlement of the Palestinian issue.
However, the Palestinians’ rejection of President Trump’s plans on the Palestinian issue prompted his administration to link these aid funds on the condition that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agree to return to the negotiating table. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and advisor at the time, argued that “ending direct aid might strengthen his negotiating hand” and force the Palestinians to accept Trump’s plan to conclude an Israeli-Palestinian deal (4). Then the Trump administration adopted attempts to get rid of UNRWA and the refugee issue to pre-empt any future negotiations on the right of return, and the administration accused the agency of perpetuating the conflict by extending the “refugee” status of millions of refugee descendants. The US actions targeting the agency began in August 2018, when it cut more than $ 200 million in aidIt was used for important projects, such as food aid, social services, funding for schools and healthcare, including $ 25 million earmarked for East Jerusalem hospitals that suffered during the pandemic. (5) https://www.youtube.com/embed/23RnGRhJpac?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=ar&autohide=2&wmode=transparent
The American position was not limited to causing “the largest and most severe financing crisis” in the history of the agency since its inception in 1949, but the Arab normalization agreements with Israel adopted by the Trump administration also paid off when Arab countries reduced their aid to UNRWA. For example, the contributions made by the United Arab Emirates to the organization have decreased sharply, and according to the annual transparency report of the Israeli “Near East Policy Research Center” on UNRWA, published last year 2020, the UAE donated $ 1 million – no more – for the agency. Contrasted with previous years that saw her donate at least $ 50 million.
The attempts of some American politicians to delegitimize the Palestinian refugees of the Trump era were not alone, but remained on the sidelines of American political life, and among the Republicans in the first place, until Trump came to power. In 2002, during the second Palestinian intifada, members of the US Congress called for the cancellation of UNRWA funding, and protested at the time that the agency worked to perpetuate the refugee problem, not solve it, and then create a social situation that led to the outbreak of the uprising. In June 2008, the Republican Representative, Kurt Weldon, made a statement claiming that the Palestinian refugees had no connection to the land historically known to Palestine. Then, in 2012, Republican Senator Mark Kirk amended the Foreign Operations billIn the Senate for fiscal year 2013, the State Department is required to provide information on Palestinian refugees in a manner that allows Congress to redefine the term “Palestinian refugee” more narrowly than before.
“The suspension of aid to the Palestinian people did not result in political progress, nor did it secure concessions from the Palestinian leadership, it only harmed innocent Palestinians,” said Ned Price, a spokesperson for the US State Department, last February. The statement was one of the most important manifestations of the new foreign policy accompanying Biden’s entry into the White House, or rather the old policy that Washington had always adhered to regarding the file of the basic rights of the Palestinian people, before Trump hit it off the wall. Price’s statements carried the good news of pumping money back into UNRWA’s coffers, restoring the long-term partnership between Washington and the Agency, and defusing the instability that would have resulted from the exacerbation of the economic crisis among the Palestinians even more.
The strongest move in this regard came when the Biden administration made its decision to return hundreds of millions of US aid dollars to the Palestinians on April 6, when it approved a financial package to aid the Palestinians amounting to $ 235 million that includes humanitarian, economic, development and security aid for about five million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Jordan and Lebanon, including $ 150 million from UNRWA alone.
Maidan spoke with Ali Huwaidi, Director of the “302 Defense for the Rights of Palestinian Refugees,” to find out the importance of this American move, and Howeidi said that the actual translation of UNRWA funding by the Biden administration and its reflection on refugees is a commitment, not only – to this The sums of money, rather, through concerted efforts by donor countries with the US administration to stabilize the agency’s budget from the United Nations General Assembly in a way that ensures its relief from its chronic financial crises. Howeidi stated in his speech that “the principle is that all decisions issued by the General Assembly be supported, whether Resolution 302 concerning the establishment of UNRWA, or Resolution 194 affirming the right of return with compensation and restoration of Palestinian refugees’ properties.” Howeidi added, stressing that “the implementation of these decisions depends on the international community providing the required budgets to support the Palestinian refugees.”
Precisely at this time, the financial collapse of UNRWA pushes relentlessly to persuade donors to cover the agency’s financial shortfall until the end of this year. About 5.7 million Palestinian refugees in Palestine and the Arab Levant, collecting the effects of cutting that aid for a little over a year, and also heals what happened to the Palestinians as a result of the Corona pandemic. But the return of the usual funding train on its path after Biden’s recent slight aid does not mean that the agency can meet all these challenges, especially the file of health services currently in need due to the pandemic.
Today, UNRWA needs the new US administration to participate in its funding generously, and to regain its position as the largest single donor to the Agency, stemming from its responsibility for creating the Palestinian refugee problem in the first place, as a result of Washington’s blatant political bias towards Israel over many decades. The foreign policy of all US presidents included this humanitarian responsibility towards the Palestinians, until Trump entered the White House and decided to further align himself with Tel Aviv, bypassing the 1967 red lines themselves, and ignoring the presence of Palestinian refugees in the first place.By entering Biden, the Palestinians breathe a sigh of relief with the return of the most important educational, health and service umbrella in their daily lives. Hundreds of them regain their jobs from which they were separated over a two-year period, and a grinding economic crisis that has struck Palestinian communities, coinciding with multiple crises that have killed them during the last decade since the collapse of the Syrian state, is defused. The Jordanian economy, and Lebanon’s economy standing on the brink of collapse.