US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has yet again launched another attack on UNRWA via Twitter in order to delegitimise not only the UN organisation but also the Palestinian refugee issue. This move is by all definitions a racist one in its intent and serves to deny Palestinian refugees of their very identity and well as deny their existence.
We suspended funding to UNRWA, which is riddled with waste, fraud & concerns of support to terrorism. UNRWA is not a refugee agency; it’s estimated <200,000 Arabs displaced in 1948 are still alive and most others are not refugees by any rational criteria. https://t.co/SdyigJPHiH
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 14, 2021
For a US Trump administration adamant that any essentially any opposition to Israel is akin to anti-Semitism, it could not be any more hypocritical for that administration to not only deny the right of Palestine to exist, but also deny Palestinians of their identity.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was set up in December of 1949, this was after UN General Assembly resolution 194 which affirmed the ‘Right of Return’ for Palestine’s refugees. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Zionist militias, which occurred between 1947-1949, forcibly displace as many as approximately 850,000 Palestinians and since this time UNRWA has been the UN’s way of maintaining a means of basic sustenance for those refugees and their descendants.
Currently, around 5 million Palestinian refugees residing in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza and the West Bank are eligible for assistance from UNRWA. However, in 2018 the United States Trump administration withdrew all funding from the organisation in anticipation of the rollout of ‘The Deal of the Century’, in which Israel and the United States had set forward a plan to dissipate the ‘Right of Return’.
Since then, the agency has neared financial collapse, announcing just months ago, in November, that it would not have the money to pay its some 28,000 employees their full salaries. Since then rumours have begun to spread that further cuts could lead to the stripping of services to some 400,000 people inside of the Gaza Strip, although UNRWA has currently indicated that no such decisions have been made.
What is perhaps even more concerning is the fact that Arab reactionary regimes have allegedly been involved in the process of destroying UNRWA. Just last month a damning report released by ‘Le Monde’, a French media outlet, alleged that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was actively working with Israel to destroy UNRWA without any negotiated settlement of the Palestinian refugee issue.
The reason why Israel and its closest allies want to destroy UNRWA, is because the agency itself is perhaps the most important claim to international legal legitimacy that the Palestinian refugee issue has. This is also why the world’s most highly acclaimed NGO’s, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have come under such harsh criticism by Israel and its allies, because they recognise the ‘Palestinian Right of Return’.
However, when it comes to UNRWA, the reason why it is above all the most targeted UN agency, is due to its registry of Palestinian refugees, including the children of 1948 refugees born into refugee camps. In the case of the Gaza Strip for instance, roughly 70% of the 2 million strong population living there are descendants of refugees who were ethnically cleansed from their lands in 1948.
So the mission from an Israeli perspective, which was also reflected in Trump’s so-called ‘Deal of the Century’, would be to destroy the prospect of any future calls for a Palestinian ‘Right of Return’. How that could be achieved is to destroy UNRWA, therefore destroying the agency which registers the refugees and instead allow for the UNHCR to take its place. The UNHCR filling the gap left following UNRWA’s dismantlement would, ideally for Israel, resettle Palestinians into the territories outside of their original homelands and help pave the way for naturalising these refugees as citizens of places like Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
With this being said, the question now remains, what if such an effort was reversed? Would we not hear the screams of anti-Semitism from Israeli politicians at the United Nations? Well, evidently we don’t have a scenario where Jews are ethnically cleansed from land and currently living for almost the past 100 years inside of refugee camps. Instead, we could just simply ask the question as to whether it would be acceptable for anyone in the West to publicly announce that they do not agree with what calls its “right of return”.
If in the West we are to simply state that we don’t believe that Jewish people whose families come from Europe, should not have an automatic right to “return to Israel”, we will be labelled as anti-Semites. In fact, we might be told that our anti-Semitism has caused us to “deny Israel’s right to exist” and that we would be “denying Jewish people their identity”. So why then is it completely unscrutinised when refugees indigenous to Palestine, who still have the keys and deeds to their homes, are labelled as simply Arabs who have no connection to their homeland by a US ‘Secretary of State’.
Unfortunately, the term racist is not used enough for people like Mike Pompeo and his ilk, when it comes to describing his views on Palestinians. This is a clear cut case, not only is Mike Pompeo a racist, denying Palestinians and Palestine its Right to Exist, he has actively backed policies which will lead to the direct suffering of hundreds of thousands of those Palestinian refugees he so loathes.
With Joe Biden as now President of the United States, if his administration is looking to try and de-escalate tensions created by Donald Trump, he must fund UNRWA once again and abstain from denying Palestinian refugees their status and rights. If the Biden administration heads down a similar path that the Trump administration did, the situation on the ground in places like the Gaza Strip will deteriorate to a beyond intolerable point.