Sat 25-May-2024

UNRWA means more than a sack of rice and bowl of soup

Friday 8-March-2024

Israel is upset and when it gets upset the entire world must take note and do something to make little sweetie Israel happy. But what is the “only Jewish state” angry about that the rest of us can change to make it smile again? Nothing much. It just wants the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) to be shut down once and for all.

Well to hell with UNRWA, if its existence bothers Israel. How can we all sleep at night knowing that Israel is angry because we are not doing something about UNRWA? I mean, why would anyone care about UNRWA when the whole world hardly cares about seeing “the only democracy in the Middle East” — Israel, in case you couldn’t guess — murdering over 22,000 women and children in Gaza? UNRWA was the lifeline for those people, and they are dead now so its role is finished, isn’t it?

So, how can we “wipe” UNRWA “off the face of the earth”, to borrow Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s words, as he set out his wish for Gaza back in October? It should be relatively easy, but humane Israel will need to cooperate with the rest of us as we try to keep it happy. And it will not only be almost cost-free, but it will also save money in the long run.

What’s the solution? We can reverse the reason why UNRWA was created in the first place some 75 years ago. It’s very simple. When the UN committed the unforgivable sin of essentially creating the state of Israel in 1948 in Palestine, it then had to create the agency to look after the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were driven off and out of their land in what has been called a massive act of ethnic cleansing by the Zionist terrorist groups and militias, as well as the nascent Israeli armed forces. If we want to close UNRWA down — and please poor, little Israel in the process — all we have to do is let those Palestinians and or their descendants fulfil their legitimate right to return to their homes and land.

Hey presto! No refugees, no need for UNRWA. Problem solved.

We don’t have to look far for the refugees; most are next door in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. Not very far, in fact, from the homes from which they were forced to flee, and most are ready to walk home without any help from anybody if only they are allowed to do so. Being dependent on humanitarian aid from UNRWA is actually a source of shame for many that they would like to forget as soon as possible.

To be homeless and living on handouts is not something that any Palestinian is proud of. They would prefer to live in their own homes in the own country earning their own living without any charity from anyone, let alone the US, for example, which has parachuted in some meals to Gaza while simultaneously giving Israel more bombs to kill more Palestinians as they wait for the airdrops and aid trucks to arrive.

However, Israel made UNRWA more than a sack of rice and bowl of soup by refusing to accept the right to return (unless you are Jewish, and want to “return” to a country with which you have no connection whatsoever). Over the decades this has made the supposed “temporary” UN agency more durable than the cause it is serving. Generations of Palestinian refugees have known only UNRWA for the provision of food and shelter, as well as education, healthcare and, most importantly, keeping them together in ghetto-like camps where they can share their common memories of displacement and dispossession. The agency is basically a major charity, and has been the refugees’ only way not to forget who they are, where they come from and why they became refugees in the first place.

UNRWA has never had a budget allocated by the UN, apart from a relatively small amount to cover the salaries of senior officials and admin. Most of its annual budget, estimated to be around $1.6 billion, comes from voluntary donations from UN member states. UNRWA is thus always short of money because of the rising operational costs and the growing number of refugees it has to feed, educate and provide healthcare for.

Lovely little Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, remember, whose army is the “most moral” army in the world, should be ashamed of this situation rather than pushing for the elimination of UNRWA and killing its beneficiaries. It is fine to send humanitarian aid to Ukraine, as Israel did last year, but the children and elderly in Gaza, next door, are more entitled to receive such help if Israel wants to show the world its humanitarian face.

The latest Israeli war against UNRWA erupted in the aftermath of the daring Hamas attack on 7 October. Israel claims that 12 (out of 13,000) UNRWA employees took part in Operation Al-Aqsa Flood.

On the basis of Israel’s still unfounded allegation (no evidence has been provided) its allies in the US, the UK and Canada, to name a few, stopped funding UNRWA. Despite the fact that all of the individuals in question have been fired or suspended while an internal investigation is underway with an external review, Israel still insists that the whole world should support its mission to have UNRWA shut down. However, ever since 7 October, Israel has been caught lying and faking news stories time and time again, so why should the world believe its allegation about UNRWA staff?

Even if the allegation is true, depriving UNRWA of funds — and depriving more than five million refugees registered with the agency of basic necessities — because of what 12 people may or may not have done is outrageous. The disastrous consequences for 2.3 million people in Gaza are obvious; we can watch the genocide unfold in real time on social media. In fact, pushing for donations to UNRWA to be stopped when it is the only UN agency looking after Palestinians in Gaza at this time exposes Israel’s guilt of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, including deliberate starvation and collective punishment.

So, the solution is simple. Let the refugees go home; let them return to their land and start afresh. In the meantime, if there is any justice in this world then UNRWA’s budget should be doubled and Israel should be forced not only to accept the return of the people it expelled in 1948 and 1967, but also compensate them for decades of exile and dependency on handouts from UNRWA.

-Mustafa Fetouri is a Libyan academic and freelance journalist. He is a recipient of the EU’s Freedom of the Press prize. His article appeared in MEMO.

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