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Sunday, August 19, 2018

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American students have a duty to advocate for refugee funding


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After the 1948 al-Nakba (the catastrophe) in which over 750,000 Palestinians were exiled from Palestine by Zionist-settlers, the United Nations created a new refugee agency called the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to aid the refugee population.

This past month, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he would cut funds to UNRWA by $65 million from the original $125 million that his administration promised to pay back in August.

Millions of Palestinians, victims of ethnic cleansing and settler colonialism, currently live in exile in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, as well as in Gaza and the West Bank. In each of these places, they are not included in the formal economies.

Refugees have to survive either through informal work or through aid from UNRWA. The United States has a duty to pay UNRWA the full amount of money it has promised, as well as any expenses incurred on UNRWA due to late payments.

This declaration follows Trump’s announcement that he will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The United States is using financial cuts to force Palestinians to concede to permanent occupation, and to weaken the deeply flawed two-state solution with a new deal.

UNRWA provides basic education to children, medical care, food aid, women’s centers and community centers to the many refugee camps spread across each of the host countries. Without these services, millions of refugees would be living in further deprivation and poverty; the situation is already bleak, but it can get much worse.

The slashed funding would also force Israel to either fill-in the void to provide aid, or intensify its decade-long blockade of Gaza — neither of which they can politically afford if UNRWA goes without funding. If the Israeli government were faced with the humanitarian crisis that follows and took measures to send aid to the Palestinians then Prime Minister Netanyahu would be voted out of office. After all, the manifesto of his own Likud Party does not recognize the Palestinian State, much less the Palestinian people.

If it were to intensify its blockade of Gaza and continue the home demolitions in the West Bank, they would be faced with condemnation from the international community. While it may seem that Israel does not care about such condemnation, they did give in to international pressure last year when Palestinian prisoners went on hunger-strike.

Given the Israeli state’s long history of ethnic-cleansing and imprisonment of Palestinians, we cannot expect Netanyahu to act as a good neighbor to Palestinians. The cutting of funds could lead to the further dispossession of Palestinian land and resources.

As the UN has pointed out, Palestinians live under apartheid within Israel. If UNRWA funds are cut and the Israeli state attempts to fill the void, we cannot expect Palestinians to receive fair treatment from an apartheid state.

Given the long history of apartheid South Africa, which most students are not old enough to remember, and the racist socio-economic system that it perpetuated against black South Africans, the possibility of Palestinians being further integrated into the ethnocratic Israeli state would be disastrous.

The move also has geopolitical implications as the Trump administration announced that none of the money given to UNRWA can be spent in Lebanon, which is home to 450,000 Palestinian refugees, nor in Syria, which is home to over 525,000 Palestinian refugees.

This aspect of the move is motivated by both the Trump administration, and Saudi Arabia’s vision for Lebanon as they view the unified Lebanese government with Hezbollah’s participation as a threat due to Hezbollah’s close relations to Iran. In regards to Syria, the move pushes to further destabilize the country by making the Syrian government take on extra funding that it cannot afford.

If the cuts stand then this will create a serious humanitarian disaster for the host countries, as none of the host countries are in a position to take care of the millions of Palestinian and Syrian refugees they currently host.

That Trump is irrationally pushing for an increase to our already bloated defense budget by $716 billion, but cannot provide $60 million in promised aid to UNRWA, speaks volumes about the priorities of our government and how it views Palestine. This is further evidenced by the recent deportations of Palestinian-Americans to Jordan.

With Japan’s recent announcement that it will increase aid to UNRWA, there is some hope that other nations will work to fill the void.

However, as students in a country that has done more than any other to support the occupation of Palestine, we have a duty to speak out and protest until our government upholds the basic diplomatic principle of fulfilling its promise to UNRWA.

Opinion Staff columnist Brant Roberts is a history senior and can be reached at [email protected]

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