Speak Up for Palestinian Refugees

By Matt Willgress, Labour & Palestine

It was recently reported that a minimum of $1.4 billion of international funding is needed to fund the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, known as UNRWA.

UNRWA’s temporary head Christian Saunders explained that “We are stretched to our limits under our shrinking budgets and the growing needs of Palestine refugees who are impacted by the same volatility and unpredictability that people face in the Middle East every day.”

A core reason this level of funding is needed is that in 2018, the Trump administration stopped US funding to UNRWA. The US had been UNRWA’s largest donor at that time, and this was a cut of nearly one-third of the agency’s budget.

These funds are vital for Palestinian refugees to survive and used for essential core services, including infrastructure, health and education, and with the spread of COVID-19 into the region – including in the besieged Gaza Strip – this support is going to become all the vital in the months ahead.

As the motion in solidarity with Palestine at the 2018 Labour Conference explained, UNRWA “provides emergency assistance and basic provisions to Palestinian victims of the Nakba of 1948, when the majority of Palestinian people were forcibly displaced from their homes.”

Indeed in 2019 UNRWA helped to provide education to over half a million children in some 700 schools across the region and enabled around 8.5 million patient visits in health facilities.

The cutting of this funding is just one of a number of measures took by Trump that have given a green light to the Israeli Government to continue and increase their aggression against the people of Palestine in recent years, which also included shifting the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

Crucially, the cut to UNWRA funding was also part of undermining the right of return of Palestinians living outside of historic Palestine – saying they (the refugees UNWRA looks after) are not real refugees, and therefore don’t need to be part of any deal or solution.

This devastating and one-sided approach of Trump to the issue of Palestine recently culminated in the so-called “Deal of the Century” proposals, which were predictably welcomed by the Israeli Government and rejected by all major Palestinian groups.

As the aforementioned Christian Saunders said, “a lot of Palestinians are in a state of shock at this point in time, in a state of disbelief”.

Trump’s proposal would legalize illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, intensify the siege of Gaza, and allow Israel to annex around 30 per cent of the West Bank.

Rather than create a state of Palestine, the proposals would effectively mean there is no Palestine, merely a glorified municipality, with no army or coherent borders.

The proposing of the ‘deal’ has already lead to Israel threatening to steal ever more slices of Palestinian land, following recent election campaigns where Netanyahu has put promises of more annexations centre stage.

Now then is the time to speak up not only for Palestinian refugees but for the rights of all Palestinians. As the situation facing Palesintian refugees and UNRWA is one clear example of, this is definitely not the time to retreat on the issue, including in the Labour Party itself.

As Jeremy Corbyn rightly put it, “Donald Trump’s Middle East deal is not a peace plan. It is a plan to lock in illegal Israeli colonisation and deny Palestinian rights” and “is a threat to peace.”

And as TUC Congress said last year that the labour movement should “oppose any proposed solution for Palestinians, including Trump’s ‘deal’, not based on international law and UN resolutions recognising their collective rights to self-determination and to return to their homes.”

This means recognising (in the words of the Labour Party 2019 Conference motion) that “the proposals in Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ are a one-sided attempt to impose an unjust outcome destroying core Palestinian rights.”