The UN says it doesn’t have money to pay teachers working at 711 schools for Palestinian refugees because of U.S. funding cuts. That means about 500,000 Palestinian children in Gaza, the West Bank and refugee camps may not be able to attend school this coming year. pic.twitter.com/5HN35FnhqM— AJ+ (@ajplus) August 14, 2018
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has run out of money after the United States cut its funding. Now, more than 500,000 children may no longer have access to education thanks to President Donald Trump.
"We are running on empty. We simply don't have enough money to pay 22,000 teachers who in 711 schools provide a daily education for over half a million children," UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said.
"The actions that we are now seeing are consequences of the decision by the Trump administration to withhold $305 million for UNRWA this year, so whether it is political or not it has catastrophic implications and consequences for us on the ground," he added.
In January, Trump vowed to cut back on aid to Palestine, unless Palestinian authorities went along with his plan to revive the peace talks with Israel. He even tweeted, complaining that “[the U.S.] pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don't even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel."
It's not only Pakistan that we pay billions of dollars to for nothing, but also many other countries, and others. As an example, we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2018
...peace treaty with Israel. We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more. But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2018
At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supported Trump’s decision, saying that the “UNRWA is an organization which perpetuates the refugee crisis of the Palestinians, as well as perpetuates the narrative of the [Palestinian] ‘right’ of return in order to destroy the State of Israel.”
“This absurdity must cease,” he added.
But as the U.S. studied the cuts, U.S. officials asked Israel’s opinion so they could better determine how much money they would cut from the yearly donations to the UNRWA. Unlike Netanyahu, Israeli security and diplomatic officials asked the U.S. to take their decision back, saying that there would be no other organization to take the UNRWA’s place.
Despite this alleged request, the cuts were made, forcing the agency to scale back jobs in Gaza, prompting staff members to protest the agency. Now, the UNRWA, Gaza’s largest employer, faces another major hurdle as the organization does not have enough money to open its schools in Gaza, West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon for the coming academic year.
People in Gaza are protesting UN layoffs that will affect 1,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The UN has to cut the jobs because the U.S. dropped $305 million in funding. The agency provides humanitarian aid for 5 million Palestinian refugees. pic.twitter.com/avGx8GhuWG— AJ+ (@ajplus) August 14, 2018
The UNRWA was founded in 1949 after the first Arab-Israel war, which forced 700,000 Palestinians out of their lands. The agency now helps 5 million Palestinian refugees, including descendants of the Palestinians who lost their property to Israel. Without the agency’s help, the humanitarian situation in Gaza could further deteriorate, pushing Palestinians to the edge as they may feel completely forgotten by the world.
To many of the Palestinian UNRWA employees, the U.S. attack against the agency is an attack against Palestinians in general.
The deputy chairman of the union of Palestinian employees at UNRWA, Amal Al-Batsh, said that the funding cuts target the agency’s existence "not as an institution but as a symbol and a witness to the issue of Palestinian refugees." Considering that Netanyahu seems to imply that the agency exists to “perpetuate” the idea that Palestinians have a right of return, Al-Batsh is right.
As Palestinians live under occupation, unable to leave, to seek education, or to better their lives due to the economic blockade imposed by Israel, they are now forced to fear for their children’s futures. And yet, Israel, the country that openly kills unarmed Palestinian protesters for the world to see, continues to receive billions of dollars in foreign aid from the U.S. each year.
This decision to cut aid to the Palestinians while continuing to support Israel, even as the country is criticized for its illegal conduct at the border with Gaza, is yet another example of Trump’s broken moral compass.
Justice is nothing but a foreign concept to the president.
Banner and thumbnail image credit: Reuters/Mohammed Salem