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UNRWA funding will never be enough without an end to international complicity with Israel

Palestinian students sit inside a classroom at their school belonging to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, on 29 August, 2018 [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]
Palestinian students sit inside a classroom at their school belonging to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, on 29 August, 2018 [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has launched an appeal for funds in preparation for a possible outbreak of the coronavirus in Palestinian refugee camps. It has called for $14 million to cover a three month period, in addition to the regular budget allocated for UNRWA’s operations to ensure that Palestinians have access to basic services and necessities.

UNRWA’s Acting Commissioner-General Chris Saunders warned that for Gaza, in particular, a coronavirus outbreak would spell disaster. “Gaza simply does not have the resources and means to weather such a story,” he insisted.

The current crisis has exposed the flaws inherent in the exploitative capitalist system worldwide. As with Palestinian refugees, the situation points towards the need for the international community to shoulder its responsibilities rather than attempt to fit deprived populations within the parameters of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs).

READ: UNRWA urgently needs $14m for its action against coronavirus

The Agency might try to ensure that the outlined goals are met through its service provision, yet it is no secret that the discrepancy between budgets allocated for humanitarian aid and human rights violations is impossible to bridge. UNSDGs are about maintaining political warfare first and foremost, hence the generalised aims that are more about referencing human rights than permanently correcting the violations.

The UN has failed to call for an end to Israeli colonialism in Palestine, yet it expects agencies to rectify the deprivation caused by the Zionist state. It is a fact that Palestinians have no assurances regarding the permanence of access to basic services, let alone certainties that any coronavirus emergency will be dealt with in a timely and effective manner.

UNRWA's lifeline is decreasing due to the cuts made by the Trump administration [AlArabi21News/Twitter]

UNRWA’s lifeline is decreasing due to the cuts made by the Trump administration – Cartoon [AlArabi21News/Twitter]

Once again, the international community will continue to pledge aid without halting Israel’s colonial expansion and its intrinsic violence. The convenience of speaking about a perpetual funding deficit for the organisation shifts attention away from the reasons why it is impossible for Palestinians to sustain planning for their own initiatives.

READ: UNRWA to turn schools into clinics for patients with respiratory diseases in Gaza

“What the Palestinians did deserves applause,” said UN Special Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick, referring to the measures taken in the occupied West Bank to curb the virus spread. The patronising tone of his comment cannot be ignored, though; will this imaginary applause contribute towards Palestinians regaining their political rights and their land? Will it prevent a humanitarian disaster from befalling Palestinian refugees whose access to basic services is already inconsistent and who are as yet uncertain if UNRWA can provide a response plan should the coronavirus strike the refugee camps and Gaza?

Calling on UNRWA to fulfil its duty is futile if the international community continues to normalise Israeli colonisation and its crimes against the Palestinian people. This is the deficit which the international community intends to keep on ignoring. If a humanitarian disaster occurs among Palestinians due to the virus, the international community will have an easier task in deflecting the slightest criticism regarding its complicity with the colonial entity which prevents Palestinians from living a normal life. Once the crisis is ended globally, discourse will once again focus smugly on sustainable development goals, forcing the Palestinians into high expectations without having their legitimate basic demands met and their political rights fulfilled.

READ: UNRWA suffers $1bn deficit, warns of difficult decisions in April

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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