On Monday, the European Union and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) launched a joint campaign; "Healthy Living, Healthy Spaces" seeks to improve education and health facilities administered by the UN body. In order to do this, it looks to improve a total of 50 schools and 15 health centres in refugee camps across the occupied West Bank and Gaza, Lebanon and Jordan.
According to the Deputy EU Representative to the occupied West Bank and Gaza, the EU partnership with UNRWA is "based on a mutual understanding of the need to support Palestinian refugees." The campaign, explained Tomas Niklasson, "opts for better education, better health, and better futures – and this is exactly what we wish to achieve together with UNRWA for children and their families present today."
Scott Anderson, Director of UNRWA Operations in the occupied West Bank, described the EU funding as allowing the agency "to provide critical and core services to Palestine refugees in a dignifying way."
Even if funds were the only requirement to provide dignity and freedom for Palestinian refugees, the EU and other donors fall short in terms of achievements. On its website, UNRWA states that the EU and its member states collectively are "among the largest contributors to the Agency's humanitarian emergency appeals." UNRWA, by the way, is run entirely on voluntary donations from UN member states.
EU business with Israel is the flipside of this humanitarian façade. Since it is able to provide for both endeavours, it is clear that a choice has been made to support the colonising entity politically and financially (ignoring Israel's destruction of EU-funded projects in the process). Along with other contributors to UNRWA which prioritise their links with Israel, the EU is providing a fragment of humanitarian aid that is balanced by maintaining Palestinian refugees within a humanitarian crisis, rather than seeking to resolve it by placing legitimate demands for the fulfilment of their right to return upon the political agenda.
Earlier this month, UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl addressed the UN General Assembly Fourth Committee on Decolonisation. His opening remarks regarding the plight of Palestinian refugees state the marginalised yet obvious situation: "I was confronted with the profound and far-reaching expectations of the Palestine refugees… [they] need a horizon, a personal, societal and political horizon."
These statements provide ample space for exploring different avenues. However, the political scenario which incarcerates Palestinian refugees is determined by processes based upon concessions to Israel, either indirectly through delaying tactics or garnered as a result of approving the colonial structure. UNRWA, with its emphasis upon neutrality as a veneer for abiding by international impositions upon the refugees, is limited in scope and effect; as a result, its actions are inevitably compromised.
The deprivation experienced by Palestinian refugees has reached a level where basic needs are still not being met. The international community has created a culture of convenience for Israel, which is managed through UNRWA and other institutions dependent upon foreign aid for providing services. If Israel is not prevented from continuing its cycle of human rights violations, the future for Palestinian refugees will be interspersed with celebrated efforts that go no further than PR ceremonies and temporary or partial alleviation of difficulties. A Palestinian future founded upon freedom is still far from being considered for top spot on the international political and humanitarian agenda.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.