‘UNRWA shouldn’t be held hostage to politics’

As the U.S. slashes the Palestinian refugee agency’s budget, Netanyahu is urging it be abolished altogether. Some believe that shuttering UNRWA would somehow make the Palestinian refugee problem extinct. ‘Not true,’ says the agency’s director in Washington.

Palestinians in the southern Gaza city of Rafah receive monthly food rations from an UNRWA distribution center, January 23, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

Palestinians in the southern Gaza city of Rafah receive monthly food rations from an UNRWA distribution center, January 23, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

The Trump administration announced this week that it had cut by more than half its contribution to the UN Relief Works Agency for Palestinian refugees.

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The agency provides life-saving assistance to 80 percent of the population in Gaza, food assistance for over a million Palestinians throughout the region, and schools for over half a million children.

Trump’s announcement of the funding cuts first came in a series of tweets in which he lamented getting “no appreciation or respect” from the Palestinian leadership, and its rejection of the his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” Trump tweeted in early January.

To better understand what is at stake and why some are taking advantage of this moment to advocate eradicating the agency altogether, +972 Magazine spoke with Elizabeth Campbell, Director of the UNRWA Representative Office in Washington. The interview has been edited for clarity.

Palestinians put a lock on the gate of UNRWA's offices in Hebron to protest cuts expected as a result of the American funding reduction, January 17, 2018. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Palestinians put a lock on the gate of UNRWA’s offices in Hebron to protest cuts expected as a result of the American funding reduction, January 17, 2018. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Do we know yet when this decision would take effect, and how soon it would impact the agency?  

The decision has already been made. UNRWA received $60 million from the United States and at this time has no information that there will be any additional funding forthcoming. It is more than an 80 percent cut over last year’s funding. It is already impacting the Agency in every possible way, since the United States was the largest donor. We are mobilized and responding by asking every citizen who cares about helping to keep 525,000 kids in school to donate to UNRWA.

Israel has taken the U.S. funding cuts as an opportunity to renew its demand that UNRWA be dismantled and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, ultimately take responsibility for Palestinian refugees. Why does Israel want that, and what would the consequences be?  

UNRWA is mandated by the majority of the UN’s member states to provide assistance and protection to five million refugees. To change this mandate, the members of the UN would need to revise UNRWA’s mandate. UNHCR is unable and unwilling to otherwise take responsibility for Palestine refugees. The two main reasons that people argue for this is because they think that UNHCR does not recognize refugee descendants and thus the Palestine refugee issue would become extinct. This is not true. UNHCR does recognize descendants of refugees under its protection. The second reason that people argue for this solution is that they believe that UNHCR can resettle Palestine refugees into third countries. UNHCR does resettle some refugees into third countries, but less than one percent of the total. It is unlikely that Palestine refugees would be resettled.

Many reports indicate that Gaza, in particular, could be hardest hit by these cuts. What are the implications for a population that is largely dependent on outside aid for its survival?  

Yes, that is true. Gazans are heavily dependent on UNRWA as a source of employment and as a service provider. The Agency is the second largest employer, with a staff of about 13,000 refugees. UNRWA runs the majority of the schools in Gaza and provides life-saving assistance to 80 percent of the total population. If UNRWA closed in Gaza it would be devastating.

Yarmouk residents gathered to await a food distribution from UNRWA in January 2014. (Photo by UNRWA)

Residents of the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria await a food distribution from UNRWA in January 2014. (Photo by UNRWA)

What about elsewhere in the Arab world?

More than one million refugees are dependent on UNRWA for food assistance. In 2016 our clinics absorbed 9 million visits. This is all in addition to the education program I mentioned earlier. If UNRWA fails to raise $500 million in 2018, these institutions and programs are at stake.

There have been several funding crises at UNRWA in recent years. How do you go about achieving long-term stability for an agency that, by definition, is meant to be temporary?

We are actively pursuing a wide variety of new funding mechanisms, including with the World Bank.  We are asking new donors to step up and to contribute and existing donors to do more. We are also launching a campaign to highlight the needs of Palestine refugees and to ask citizens across the globe to donate now to address this existential crisis.

What next for UNRWA?

UNRWA is and will remain an independent humanitarian agency and it should not be held hostage to achieve any political objectives. UNRWA has educated over two million refugees, provided jobs for hundreds of thousands more, and offered access to basic health care. De-funding UNRWA will result in the collapse of these civilian institutions, uprooting vulnerable people, and punishing innocent children who seek only to secure an education for their future.

Israeli army considering taking control of Palestinian areas in Jerusalem

PNN/ Jerusalem/

Israeli military forces are considering taking control over Shu’fat refugee camp and Kafr Aqab areas, according to information obtained by Israeli daily Haaretz.

Whilst the proposed  plan is still unknown, army officials said the decision has been motivated by an increase in unrest and violence in East Jerusalem.

The two areas are currently under the jurisdiction of the Jerusalem municipality but are physically cut off from the city as a result of the separation wall.

There are approximately between 100,000 and 150,000 residents in Kafr Aqab and the Shu’fat refugee camp; they carry Israeli identity cards and have residency status in Israel.

Donald Trump contradicts aide on Mexico border wall

Chief of staff will not last long after taking to press and saying he helped change Trump’s mind. No one controls Trump, not even himself.

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US president says plans have ‘never changed or evolved’, despite remarks by chief of staff

Donald Trump has contradicted his chief of staff over proposals for a wall along the southern US border with Mexico, tweeting that his opinion on a wall “has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it”.

On Wednesday evening, the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, said the US president’s views on immigration and a border wall had “very definitely changed” after Trump had been briefed on the subjects.

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FBI investigates whether Russia banker used NRA to fund Trump campaign – report

NRA shilling for Russia! OMG! Charlton Heston rolling in grave!

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Banker with links to Putin faces questions over whether he funneled money through NRA, amid scrutiny over gun rights group’s Russia ties

The FBI is investigating whether a Russian banker with close ties to Vladimir Putin funneled money through the National Rifle Association to support Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, it was reported on Thursday.

Foreign contributions to American political campaigns are illegal.

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History professor predicts Mueller will reveal Trump crimes that will ‘shock the nation’ — and force GOP to impeach

Historian Allan Lichtman is known for making accurate predictions — and he’s more certain than ever that President Donald Trump will be impeached this spring.

The American University history professor has correctly predicted the winner of every presidential election since 1984, including Trump, and he has recently updated his book, The Case for Impeachment, that was released in April — before the president fired FBI director James Comey and special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed.

“There’s as strong a case of obstruction of justice as there was against Bill Clinton on a vastly more important matter than a blue dress,” Lichtman told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “Remember, virtually every Republican voted for an obstruction article against Bill Clinton.”

He said the special counsel investigation almost certainly had more damning evidence of illegal cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russia, which he said would soon be revealed.

“It’s a conspiracy,” Lichtman said. “I believe we have the tip of the iceberg of what the special counsel knows about the relationship between Trump and the Trump team and the Russians. There’s a fair chance that the reason they were covering up all of those calls from then to be national security adviser with the Russians was to cover up a possible quid pro quo, the Russians will help us and in turn we’ll ease those sanctions. Why else make those calls and why else lie about them?”

The historian said the public had already seen strong evidence of obstruction, but he said there’s plenty of reason to predict charges on a “host of crimes” — some of them deadly serious — related to a Russian conspiracy.

“I wouldn’t keep saying collusion isn’t a crime,” Lichtman said. “Of course not, but taking things of value from foreign nationals is a crime, aiding and abetting illegal computer hacking is a crime, negotiating as a private citizen with a hostile foreign power with which there is disputes is a crime. If this is serious enough, and I’ve taken a lot of flak for that, I think there even could be charges of treason. After all, Russia was waging war against us — not a war with bombs and bullets, but a cyber attack, an online attack designed to destroy democracy.”

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who has compared Trump to Stalin, told MSNBC that he still wouldn’t vote to impeach the president — but Lichtman said the public would eventually see evidence that would force Republicans to act.

“Talk about premature — how could he know whether or not he would vote to impeach when a case hasn’t been made yet?” Lichtman said. “He hasn’t been impeached and there hasn’t been a trial in the Senate. I think Mueller — and this is my prediction — is going to come up with findings that are going to shock the country, not only involve conspiracy with Russia but could involve serious financial crimes.”

ICE deporting activists not because of legal status, but due to political work

In the past month, at least four prominent undocumented immigrant activists and community leaders have been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The timing of these arrests is no coincidence: this is a strategic and retaliatory move by the Trump administration meant to silence movement leaders and dissuade others from engaging in political work.

Last Thursday, ICE detained Ravi Ragbir, executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, during a routine check-in. A few days later, Jean Montrevil, the organization’s co-founder, was deported to his home country of Haiti. Even more recently, ICE detained Eliseo Jurado, whose wife Ingrid Latorre has taken sanctuary in a Colorado church. You may have also heard of Maru Mora-Villalpando, an activist who heads Northwest Detention Center Resistance (NWDCR), an undocumented-led movement that aims to dismantle the deportation and detention machine. In December, Villalpando received a notice to appear in immigration court, where she later received a deportation order. Villalpando says she is being targeted by ICE not because of her “immigration status, but [because they’re] against my political work.”

Since Trump’s election and inauguration, immigrants have mobilized in response to this administration’s attacks on our welfare and wellbeing. The number of sanctuary churches has doubled in the past year, with colleges and universities, restaurants and businesses, and cities and states also declaring themselves safe spaces for migrants. Rapid response teams and community defense groups formed to serve as first-responders in cases of illegal and inhumane immigration enforcement activities. Since September, DREAMers have lobbied and fought for a path to citizenship, refusing to accept the rescission of the program that protected them from deportation. Targeting these activists is a way to repress their movements and demobilize migrant communities, yet organizers insist they will not be silenced.

Asked by Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman if she sees a connection between her case and those of Ragbir and Montrevil, Villalpando responsed, “Absolutely, absolutely. We believe this is a clear targeting of people that have dared to not only question the system, but to fight the system, that we are outspoken, that we are public about it, that we’re not afraid. And it’s obviously clear that they’re going after us right now.” There is no doubt about it: targeting immigrant activists is a tool to silence political opponents and undermine pro-immigrant movements. At the same time, it’s important to remember the U.S. government has a long history of targeting activists and that this strategy is usually reserved for organizers and communities of color. In 1927, Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican-born black nationalist and the founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) was deported by the U.S. government on falsified mail fraud charges. The FBI targeted Garvey through its COINTELPRO program, which also surveilled and monitored Martin Luther King, Jr., the Black Panther Party, and Puerto Rican independence groups like the Young Lords. Activists who refuse to say silent in the face of oppression are a threat to this country’s very foundation. This is why they’re targeted.

This Friday, a coalition of immigrant rights organizations is hosting a demonstration in support of the detained activists in Washington, D.C. The event’s Facebook page reminds us “retaliation is a core tactic of the racist Trump administration that has suppressed dissent and political free speech since his inauguration.”

Immigrants are not taking these attacks sitting down, but rather are mobilizing to show Trump that we will not be silenced. Join us.

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