Humanitarian Aid and the Loss of Palestinian Rights

Workers' protest outside the headquarters of UNRWA, in Gaza. (Photo: via MEMO)

By Ramona Wadi

After the US withdrew financial support from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), it is the EU which became the largest donor to the organization. Yesterday, EU representative Ralph Tarraf and UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl signed a contribution agreement of $93 million for the agency’s 2019 budget. The donation will be immediately transferred upon completion of the agreement.

Krähenbühl declared that the EU was deserving of “the highest recognition”. Its funding enabled UNRWA to provide another scholastic year for Palestinian refugee children. The EU’s funding commitment, according to UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, reflects the institution’s “preserving the dignity and addressing the needs of Palestine’s refugees.”

Tarraf tied the EU’s role in funding UNRWA to the two-state compromise. Supporting UNRWA, he said, “should be seen as an inseparable part of the EU’s efforts to reach a negotiated two-state solution and a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Briefly, it is permissible for donors to politicize UNRWA funding, but Palestinian refugees are prevented from politicizing their loss of territory and rights. As long as UNRWA speaks about dignity for Palestinian refugees and donors tie their support to the two-state paradigm, permanence will always be attributed to this enforced status as a result of the Nakba, as well as to the refugee camps.

This is why there will be no end to initiatives such as the “Healthy Living, Healthy Spaces” which is also funded by the EU and seeks to improve education facilities and health centers.

All these initiatives, while necessary, are not a substitute for the Palestinian right of return and ceremonial fanfare to celebrate these initiatives are nothing but propaganda for the institutions, enhanced by exploiting the participation of Palestinian refugees as recipients divested of rights.

Furthermore, the two-state imposition does not endorse the return of Palestinian refugees to historic Palestine. Funding UNRWA is a duty and it is also equivalent to forcing Palestinians into perpetual refugee status. Such an outcome would boost the EU’s political standing in terms of its humanitarian façade.

Israel and the US want the abolishment of both UNRWA and Palestinians’ refugee status. The latter, while possible to manipulate politically, does not alter historical facts. Israel is built upon ethnic cleansing and it continues to displace Palestinians to continue its colonial expansion; hence there is no possibility of denying the existence of Palestinian refugees as an ongoing cycle of violent dispossession.

Tying UNRWA funding to the two-state compromise is dangerous, yet it exposes more of the international political intent, which is to isolate Palestinians into humanitarian aid recipients. Incorporating the two-state rhetoric in outstanding issues which should be non-negotiable normalizes the violations and forces Palestinians into a space where speaking about rights is shunned as ideological, while negotiations and losses for Palestinians are deemed pragmatic outcomes.

In terms of structure and dependence, UNRWA is no different. As far as governments and institutions are concerned, there is no place for Palestinian dignity outside the camps, hence the constant attempt to make humanitarian aid a dignified response when it is merely a veneer for refusing the political rights of the Palestinian people.

– Ramona Wadi is a staff writer for Middle East Monitor, where this article was originally published. She contributed this article to the Palestine Chronicle.

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