U.S. decision to end funds to UNRWA: yet another blow to dire living conditions in Gaza

Person carrying box of UNRWA supplies, the Gaza Strip. Photo by Gisha.

Person carrying box of UNRWA supplies, the Gaza Strip. Photo by Gisha.

On Friday, August 31, the U.S. announced that it will end all funding to UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees throughout the region, including in the Gaza Strip. This decision follows the reduction of U.S. funding to UNRWA by half, back in January.

Lacking in the conversation about the move, and certainly from the way it’s being presented by the American and Israeli governments, is acknowledgment of Israel’s obligations toward Palestinians under its control in the West Bank and in Gaza. The actions Israel has taken toward residents of the Strip especially and the restrictive permit regime it enforces there have dramatically increased dependency on aid from UNRWA and other aid agencies, with disastrous implications for Palestinians’ fundamental human rights and the stability of the region as a whole.

According to UNRWA, the number of Palestine refugees in Gaza reliant on its food distribution increased from some 80,000 in 2000 to almost one million in mid-2017. UNRWA is also a major sources of jobs in a place where the unemployment rate is already 53.7%; the agency runs about half of the schools in the Strip, employing thousands of teachers, as well as running numerous medical clinics, nurseries, and supporting women’s empowerment projects and community centers.

The U.S.’s decision, and its support from Israel, with its politically-driven motivations, threatens the well-being of millions of Palestinian refugees, in Gaza and elsewhere, and could undermine regional stability, lacking as it is already. Finding a sustainable solution to the refugee issue is a goal shared by all, but it will come with a resolution to the conflict, not by unilaterally withdrawing funding for vulnerable populations.

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