[News] How Israel hopes to make Palestinian refugees disappear

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jan 8 15:15:52 EST 2018


  How Israel hopes to make Palestinian refugees disappear

Ali Abunimah <https://electronicintifada.net/people/ali-abunimah> - 8 
January 2018

Israel has confirmed that it aims to destroy UNRWA 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/unrwa>, the UN agency that provides 
basic health, education and other humanitarian services to more than 
five million Palestinian refugees in the occupied West Bank and Gaza 
Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

This comes days after the Trump administration suggested it planned to 
cut funding 
to the agency in retaliation for the Palestinian Authority’s objections 
to the US recognition of Jerusalem 
as Israel’s capital.

The US is UNRWA’s largest single donor and a funding cut off could have 
disastrous humanitarian consequences. In Gaza alone, one million 
Palestinians – half the population there – rely on UNRWA emergency 
rations, a number that has soared from just 80,000 in 2000 after years 
of Israeli siege and military assaults.

But for Israel, UNRWA is part of a problem to be eliminated: the 
existence of international institutions and agencies that support 
Palestinians and their rights.

    UNRWA “needs to pass from the world”

Israel has long targeted the agency, politically and literally: during 
its assaults on Gaza, Israel has repeatedly bombed UNRWA schools and 
facilities, killing dozens 

“UNRWA is an organization that perpetuates the Palestinian refugee 
problem. It also perpetuates the narrative of the right of return, as it 
were, in order to eliminate the State of Israel; therefore, UNRWA needs 
to pass from the world,” Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday 
<https://www.facebook.com/IsraeliPM/videos/1966726156675453/> at the 
start of Israel’s weekly cabinet meeting.

The Israeli prime minister urged that UNRWA support funds be gradually 
shifted to UNHCR – the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “This 
is how to rid the world of UNRWA and deal with genuine refugee problems, 
to the extent that such remain,” Netanyahu added, calling most 
Palestinian refugees “fictitious refugees.”

Netanyahu is toeing a well-trodden line of the Israeli far-right that 
Palestinian refugees only exist because a special UN agency – UNRWA – 
was created to care for them, and not because Israel denies their 
internationally recognized right to return home.

Israel refuses to allow Palestinian refugees to return home solely 
because they are not Jews and therefore views them as a “demographic 
threat <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/demographic-threat>” to its 
continued existence as a Jewish supremacist state 
<http://mondoweiss.net/2014/03/abunimahs-justice-palestine/> that denies 
equal rights to all its residents.

Far-right anti-Palestinian media in Israel 
<http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/21528> and the 
US <http://freebeacon.com/blog/trump-can-cut-aid-horrible-u-n-program/> 
quickly began echoing Netanyahu’s message, giving new life to a 
years-long smear campaign against UNRWA.

    Mandate to return

Ironically, Netanyahu’s proposal to dissolve UNRWA and hand over the 
mandate for looking after Palestinian refugees to UNHCR could actually 
strengthen the right of return.

UNHCR has a specific mandate 
not just to protect refugees while they are refugees but to work to 
facilitate the exercise of their right to return to their home countries.

UNRWA, by contrast <https://www.unrwa.org/userfiles/201006109246.pdf>, 
has no mandate to repatriate Palestinian refugees to the homes from 
which Israel expelled them, but only to provide relief until a political 
“solution” is found.

“What perpetuates the refugee crisis is the failure of the parties to 
deal with the issue,” UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness told The 
Electronic Intifada in reaction to Netanyahu’s comments. “This needs to 
be resolved by the parties to the conflict in the context of peace 
talks, based on UN resolutions and international law, and requires the 
active engagement by the international community.”

Until then, Gunness explained, “UNRWA is mandated by the General 
Assembly to continue with its services until a just and lasting solution 
is found for the Palestine refugees.”

    Cut already made?

Last week, President Donald Trump and his UN ambassador Nikki Haley 
threatened to cut US aid to the Palestinians, but it was unclear if this 
included UNRWA 
or just the Palestinian Authority.

A media report 
Friday claimed that the US had already withheld a $125 million payment 
to UNRWA due this month.

Gunness said UNRWA had seen the reports, but had “not been informed 
directly of a formal decision either way by the US administration.”

It would appear nonetheless that Israel is seeking to use the additional 
leeway given to it by the Trump administration to strike what it hopes 
will be decisive blows to end international support for the Palestinians.

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