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The importance of specifying UNRWA's political role

Following a recent perfunctory visit to Gaza, UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl issued a statement detailing the horrific statistics of Israel's atrocities in the enclave. Embellished with the usual "worry", "urgency" and "alarm", Krähenbühl evoked the fragmentation of Palestine within the so-called humanitarian language beloved of UN organisations.

Statistics provided the backdrop for Krähenbühl's discourse, interspersed with attempts to convey the carnage and wreckage wrought by incessant Israeli airstrikes. Hesitant throughout his statement, murdered Palestinian civilians became, in Krähenbühl's words, "casualty numbers". Despite extensive proof of Israel's continuous bombardment of Gaza, the UNRWA chief was also reluctant to insist upon the settler-colonial state's culpability, relying instead upon futile diplomatic doublespeak, such as Palestinian victims "reportedly" targeted by Israeli airstrikes.

Victims, according to Krähenbühl, should not suffer the indignities of anonymity in death, yet the language used contributes to precisely such anonymity. In various official sources and statements, the constant reference to "Gazans" even divests people in the enclave of Palestinian identity, a tactic that serves the settler-colonial state well as it endeavours to annihilate the indigenous population.

Further oblivion was expressed in the following statement: "Thousands of parents today have no more answers to give to their young children when they are asked why their houses are shaking or breaking under the weight and relentless force of the bombardments." Intended to instil some degree of comprehension among his listeners, the sensationalism employed by Krähenbühl detracted from reality. It should be recalled that, as far as immediate elaboration is concerned, explanations are unnecessary as Palestinian children in Gaza have experienced murder at first hand; witness the latest senseless killing of four boys on the beach. In addition, Krähenbühl might be reminded that the answer is blatantly obvious; it's the settler colonial state's determination to annihilate Palestinians in order to consolidate its expansion and imperialist regional hegemony. An attempt to conjure-up images of an incomprehensible segment of the population is incompatible with the widespread dissemination of Palestinian resistance.

The above discrepancies are justified towards the end of Krähenbühl's statement through the depiction of UNRWA's role as specifically humanitarian. "…while fully recognising that UNRWA's specific role is a humanitarian one, I put the question to all actors concerned: How long will it take before it is recognised that only a political solution will allow to move beyond the endless cycles of violence and destruction that repeatedly affect the population of Gaza and beyond?"

While UNRWA can claim involvement in exclusively humanitarian contributions, the statement is indicative of an attempt to disassociate from the political ramifications which the organisation is inherently part of. This disassociation attempts to diminish the politics that provide the framework for UNRWA (and, indeed, the occupation). From funding to the implementation of projects, UNRWA has become a symbol of dependence, as opposed to providing Palestinian refugees with opportunities for empowerment. Hence, not even the humanitarian description is adequate to describe the agency which depends entirely upon voluntary donations from Israel's allies, whose priority is to ensure that atrocities exceed the funds allocated for UNRWA's work. Krähenbühl's assertion regarding the necessity of a political solution should be incorporated by UNRWA primarily by acknowledging its political role in a process that, so far, has become more or less collaboration with the occupation in attempting to undermine Palestinian resistance.

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