The popular dissemination that UNRWA provides 'assistance and protection' to Palestinian refugees helping them 'to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight' cannot be isolated from three important factors: Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine, UN responses to Israeli atrocities and the mechanisms of relief and funding on an international level which depict a link between humanitarian aid and human rights violations. Taking into consideration the whole scenario, the rhetoric of potential exhibits a misguided approach which might serve as the key to further alienation of the international community and isolation of Palestinians in their solitary struggle against atrocities.
While the relief provided by the organisation aids Palestinians to construct a semblance of dignity, it also serves as an incentive for the international community to soothe their ephemeral conscience having failed to adhere to international human rights law with regard to decades of displacement and atrocities.
UNRWA operates under UN Resolution 302(IV), which has been consistently renewed and extended until 2014. Israel's opposition to the Palestinian Right of Return, its forced displacement, settler colonies and apartheid practices have all contributed to a rising number of refugees totalling approximately five million across Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. The international community's complacency has been instrumental in ensuring the expansion of Israel's oppression and consolidation of human rights violations sanctioned by Israeli law and financed by Israeli allies, notably the US.
The State of Israel has built itself upon Zionist policies which advocate the elimination of the Palestinian population – a view embraced and acted upon within an oppressive legal framework which the international community is loath to confront. International human rights law; an emblem of justice and heralded by the West, is deftly shunned in relation to Israel. Thus, Israel's allies remain willingly shackled to complicity in colonial and apartheid practices, finding solace in the perfunctory role of the United Nations and its miserable efforts to construct the foundations of a relevant discourse based upon the validity of human rights.
Despite projecting itself as a defender of human rights, the UN's stance has been neither impartial nor comprehensive. Statements issued throughout the years have taken on a biased approach in favour of Israel and its discourse regarding Palestinian terrorism. The UN has veered towards propaganda, abandoning any semblance of accountability in order to sustain Israel's fabrications about the right to defend itself. In doing so, the UN has exposed an administration which thrives upon advocating illegality – international human rights law is quoted as universal truth and applied selectively. A lack of judicial process to ensure that the UN complies with international law enhances the organisation's immunity, yet it facilitates the role of humanitarian discourse to influence public opinion in favour of maintaining a humanitarian agenda without the obligation to conform to human rights law.
Whilst humanitarian aid is given to UNRWA to assist Palestinian refugees, the amount is almost negligible compared to the billions which sustain Israel's belligerent occupation and atrocities. UNRWA's biggest donor is the US, which allocated $239 million in 2011. However, these funds are insufficient to cover the needs of refugees. Quality of services is said to have deteriorated – a sign that aiding Palestinian refugees to develop their 'full potential' is nothing short of a misleading impression.
On the other hand, US bilateral assistance to Israel throughout the years has amounted to $115 billion – an important factor in transforming Israel's military into one of technological sophistication. The US justifies its military collaboration with Israel by citing its isolation in the region and 'potential threats' from neighbouring countries, hence the necessity for Israel to maintain 'a qualitative military edge' in the Middle East. While official rhetoric is consistent with describing these strategies as being 'due to recent conflicts', in the 1980s Israel sought further military collaboration by inviting the US to stockpile weapons at Israeli bases; a proposal which was accepted a decade later. According to agreements, the US can grant permission for the stockpile to be used during 'conflicts'.
Despite the Arms Export Controls Act stating that military aid may be stopped if countries receiving such aid use it for reasons other than 'legitimate self-defence', there has never been a strict implementation of this, except for the Reagan administration's decision in 1982 to prohibit the sale of cluster bombs for six years. Cluster bombs were also used in the war against Lebanon in 2006. However, the US State Department's reports about the use of cluster bombs and civilian deaths make use of language indicating an assumption, rather than a violation of human rights, despite the US implementing a landmine and unexploded ordnance programme.
The incongruence between financing humanitarian aid whilst allocating a superior budget to violate human rights has been clearly explained by Noam Chomsky in his book 'Power and Terror: Conflict, Hegemony and the Rule of Force'. Chomsky explains the dynamics between war, human rights and Western concepts of democracy. While the West upholds democracy as a participatory force, its manipulation and enforcement have revealed otherwise as the world moves towards an imperial structure dominated by the US. Aid is not given unless the conditions for human rights violations are created; hence the structure of humanitarian assistance is distorted. The absence of deterrence with regard to human rights violations encourages continuous infringement. Actual terrorism, perpetuated by Israel against Palestinians with the aid of the US, warrants no international intervention to safeguard civilians. Rather, it is considered a necessity in order to promote a conflict as opposed to the reality of apartheid. The alienation of the international community has played a pivotal role in ensuring that governments conform to the prevailing discourse regarding Palestinians – that of distorting resistance into terrorism in order to condone Israel's colonial rule.
In May 2002, Colin Powell described Colombia as meeting Washington's human rights standards. The dissonance is fleeting. Considering the US has been a major force in instigating military coups and dictatorships, the similitude is effortlessly applied with regard to the US's and Israel's track record of human rights in occupied Palestine. Lavishing military aid upon Israel to enable consolidation of its colonial rule is reminiscent of a culture of impunity reserved for these two allies. Commencement and termination of Israeli atrocities are beyond the fabled rule of the UN – the US and Israel has already, through their actions, established themselves to be above the rule of international human rights law.
A final observation from the UNRWA website with regard to the use of language and diplomacy; the humanitarian organisation's reference to colonialism and apartheid as 'conflict' undermines the effectiveness of aid, as well as international human rights law. It is possible that the terminology is necessary in order to keep in line with UN discourse as well as to appease the US in its role as donor and oppressor. However, the discourse of 'conflict' instead of illegal occupation simply fuels the fallacy of humanitarian aid, restraining Palestinians within a framework of carefully chosen decisions to quell the critical issue of self-determination.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.