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'UNRWA's financial crisis essentially political,' says head of Gaza support committee

UNRWA distributes food aid to families in Gaza, 2 April 2020 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]
UNRWA distributes food aid to families in Gaza, 2 April 2020 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

The head of the Popular International Committee to Support Gaza has called on donors to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) to address the financial crisis facing the agency which is affecting millions of Palestinian refugees. Dr Essam Yousef made his statement in response to a UN alert that the current financial situation of UNRWA has become "more dangerous".

"The financial crisis facing UNRWA is essentially political," explained Yousef. "This is reflected in attempts made by the occupation state of Israel and its international supporters to liquidate the agency, because if there is no UN body looking after Palestinian refugees, then the Israelis and their allies can start taking political decisions to redefine who those refugees are."

This, the veteran activist pointed out, will also negate the Palestinians' legitimate right of return, to which all the people of occupied Palestine are committed. He called on Arab and Muslim countries to provide financial support to UNRWA to sustain the Palestinian people in their struggle to regain their rights, including the right of return.

"Such support," he insisted, "will not be a burden, considering the significant resources available to many states in the region. Furthermore, support for UNRWA will not only help the Palestinians but also ease the burden on countries hosting refugees."

READ: UNRWA defers workers' salaries over lack of funds

Yousef added that the recent normalisation developments in the Arab region are disappointing for the Palestinians. He noted that many Arab countries have stopped their own financial support for the Palestinians, which mirrors the US decision to stop making any donation to UNRWA. "The US was UNRWA's biggest single donor, so this has had a serious impact on the Agency's provision of essential healthcare, education and humanitarian aid to refugees, and reflects Donald Trump's complete bias towards Israel and its occupation."

Apart from a small level of core funding from the UN's main budget to pay for international staff, UNRWA depends entirely on voluntary donations from UN member states. In recent years, it has also sought support from NGOs working in the region.

Dr Yousef called on the Palestinian political leaders to address the challenging internal and external situation by uniting the people under one banner and establishing a unified national programme of action. "This should include a clear plan to resist Israeli hegemony and overcome the hardships, crises and suffering of the Palestinians in the occupied territories as well as neighbouring countries and beyond."

The colonial-settler state of Israel should be held to account for its brutal occupation, he demanded. "All actions, we are told, should be based on international law, so Israel should be held to account based on international law if justice is to prevail," said Yousef. "Israel's occupation is, after all, primarily responsible for the deterioration of every aspect of Palestinian life, including the political, educational, medical and economic crises."

In conclusion, Dr Essam Yousef confirmed his belief that the current situation calls for a re-examination of the relationship between the Palestinians and the occupation. "In the meantime, it is essential for UNRWA to be able to continue to provide essential services to the Palestinians, and for that it needs support."

READ: UNRWA defers workers' salaries over lack of funds

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