The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), in response to the US Trump Administration’s withdrawal of funding for the agency, is launching a global fundraising campaign to protect the rights and dignity of Palestinian refugees. In New Zealand, the Israel Institute’s co-director, Dr David Cumin, on behalf of Israel and its US ally, is calling for “a moratorium on any further Kiwi taxpayer funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)”. In trying to divert attention from Israel, Cumin makes unfounded allegations of “corruption, antisemitism and extremism” against the UN agency’s hard-working officials and frontline workers.
UNRWA was formed in 1949 to provide what was expected to be short-term relief for Palestinian refugees recovering from the ethnic cleansing and terror created by the Nakba or exodus of at least 750,000 native Palestinians during the creation of the State of Israel. The agency runs schools, hospitals and social services in the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. In Gaza, that since 2007 has been subjected by Israel to a total blockade by air, land and sea, the UN Agency struggles to help people survive. Gaza’s health and social services cannot cope in an environment with almost no access to clean water and scarcely four or five hours supply of electricity daily.
Zionist propaganda against UNWRA must be challenged. In one case, Israel’s popular TV news network, Channel Two, claimed that an UNWRA ambulance had been used to transport what it called ‘militants’ in Gaza. The UN agency responded by presenting incontrovertible evidence that the allegation was baseless and the TV Channel was forced to retract the story. No doubt, Israel hopes to exhaust UNRWA by heaping upon it endless accusations. Cumin has positioned himself on precarious ground here by going so far as to assert that Jacinda Ardern’s support for further funding of UNRWA was at odds with her wish to “pursue equal rights for all”. The central question of equal rights is Zionism’s Achilles Heel because it goes to the heart of the ideology’s purpose and draws attention to Israel’s dismal record of human rights abuses and disrespect for international law.
Military Occupation and Settlement
An Israel Defence Forces commander during the second intifada and founding member of Breaking the Silence, Yehuda Shaul, concludes that “the true objectives of more than half a century of Israel’s military occupation over the Palestinians” is subjugation “in a segregated and unequal reality.” He describes, for example, how Israel’s “closures of main roads and markets, and settler and army violence” have made “Palestinian life in the city unbearable, turning the once vibrant centre into a ghost town.” Shaul remembers the racist settler graffiti, recalling one which read – “Arabs to the crematorium”. The Israeli Army regularly invades Palestinian homes at night, even blindfolding and abducting children and older youngsters under the age of 18 years. Yehuda Shaul confirms that the sole purpose of waking up sleeping families was in order to intimidate.
UNRWA and the refugee camps
UNRWA is mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5.4 million Palestinian refugees registered with the agency to “achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight.” In the Israeli-Occupied West Bank, however, with scarcely any condemnation or even Western news media comment, the Israeli Army regularly raids UN refugee camps, invading homes and destroying buildings and infrastructure.
Addressing the UN Security Council (UNSC) on 22 May, US Special Envoy, Jason Greenblatt, said the time had come to shut down UNRWA: “We need to engage with host governments to start a conversation about planning the transition of UNRWA services to host governments, or to other international or local non-governmental organisations, as appropriate.”
Attempt to degrade status of Palestinian refugees
Palestinian refugees represent living, irrefutable proof of Zionist guilt and Israel wants them to disappear. In addition to denying the UN-recognised Palestinian Right of Return, Israel does its utmost to make life intolerable for Palestinian refugees and even attempts to dispute their numbers. The Zionist Anti-Defamation League claims that “UNRWA’s policy of including the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren” of Palestinians driven from their homeland “is unique among refugee populations, and is not done for any other refugee group.” As an article published by The Brookings Institution, based in Washington DC, informs us in a commentary on the US withdrawal of funding for UNRWA:
“. . . the Trump administration seeks to redefine what it means to be a Palestinian refugee, which in turn could have implications for refugees worldwide. Underlying the Trump administration’s cuts to UNRWA is the false premise that Palestinian refugees derive their refugee status from UNRWA. They don’t. They derive it from international law. UNRWA’s role is simply to provide social services to these stateless refugees — not determine who is and who isn’t a refugee under international law. Also underlying Trump’s attack on UNRWA is the false premise that other refugee populations don’t transfer their refugee status to their children. Wrong again. International law conveys refugee status to children of other refugee populations until permanent homes can be found. People from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, and Somalia are but a number of the populations where refugee status has been conveyed to descendants.”
Rejecting UN-recognised Palestinian refugees’ Right of Return
The United Nations Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, complained that what he called “the Palestinian Authority’s demand of a right-of-return . . .” for those refugees would make it “. . . impossible for Israel to maintain its identity as a Jewish state in such a scenario.” Danon suggested that the “original 750,000 refugees” should have been “resettled [i.e ethnically-cleansed] in 1949.” He described the Right of Return as “illegitimate”.
UNRWA Commissioner General, Pierre Krähenbühl, said that the US and Israel had misrepresented UNRWA’s definition of refugees, reminding his audience that it was the same standard used by the UN for every refugee displaced by protracted conflict. “Making a humanitarian organisation responsible for the crisis [half a century of Israeli military Occupation] is misguided and unhelpful,” he said. “It is clear,” he continued, “that the responsibility . . . lies squarely with the parties themselves and the international community”. Krähenbühl blamed “the lack of will and/or utter inability” to restore justice.
In her address to the UN Security Council, the Palestinian Deputy Ambassador, Feda Abdelhady-Nasse said: “We cannot accept to merely improve the lives of the Palestinian people, while this illegal occupation continues”, adding, “Nor have the Palestinian people endured decades of suffering and waited nearly a century for freedom to resign themselves to limited autonomy.”
On top of the carnage wreaked upon the people of Gaza last month by Israeli forces, the month of May also saw repeated merciless repression of Palestinians forced to live under Israeli military Occupation. Zionists call the Israeli Army the “most moral Army in the world” but, as Yehuda Shaul has so ably revealed in recounting his experiences, the Zionist Army is actually driven by malevolent detestation of ‘the other’. How else could anyone explain, for example, the Israeli Army raid on a shop in Hebron on 21 May? Israeli soldiers beat up and hospitalised an 83-year-old man, Mohammad Ibrahim Abu Hadid, and vandalised the interior of the shop, smashing bottles in the store’s refrigerators.
The Israeli Army exercises population control over Palestinians in the areas the Zionist regime has determined must host illegal Israeli settlements. This military rule includes collusion with settler terrorists who regularly commit sabotage and other crimes against Palestinians. At dawn, on 3 May, Israeli settlers raided Huwara village, slashing the tyres of 11 vehicles and spray-painting race-hate messages on vehicles and the walls surrounding a local cemetery.
On 17 May, Israeli Occupation settler militants raided Assira al-Qibliya village and farmland, stoning homes and setting fire to crops. The next day, settlers also invaded Burin village farmland and, again, set fire to crops.
The Israeli Army does not leave agricultural sabotage solely to settler militants. On the first day of May, the Israeli Army invaded Kafr Qaddum village farmland and bulldozed crops. The next day, Israeli soldiers destroyed a livestock shelter in Khirbeit Um al-Khaier village, beating up and hospitalising the 70-year-old owner, Khierallah Soliman Al-Hathalin.
On 5 May, Israeli forces bulldozed crops and uprooted 120 olive trees in al-Labban al-Gharbiya village, in order to build a road for a nearby Occupation settlement.
On 4 May, Israeli soldiers, manning the Movo Dotan checkpoint, assaulted and pepper-sprayed the face of a Palestinian villager, Diya Eyad Kubha, because he had photographed passing Israeli Occupation troops.
On 8 May, Israeli forces fired stun grenades and tear gas canisters at schoolchildren near the Hebron Old City al-Hajariya Boys’ Secondary School, causing several tear gas casualties.
On 10 May, Israeli soldiers terrorised a family in Hebron’s Tel al-Rumeida neighbourhood, beating up a resident, Imad Abu Shamsieh, his wife Fayza (42) and their sons Saleh (13), Mohammed(17) and Awni, aged 20.
On 12 May, the Israeli Army, firing live ammunition, rubber-coated steel bullets, stun grenades and tear gas canisters, raided the Jenin UN refugee camp and searched several homes, wounding a 17-year-old youth, Ahmed Maher Ali al-Ghoul, and another resident, Mohammed Subhi Matahen. Four other people were taken prisoner.
On 16 May, Israeli settlers in Jerusalem raided the Suqi, al-Khawaja and Atarin areas in the Old City and pepper-sprayed the faces of shopkeepers.
On 25 May, Israeli soldiers beat up and hospitalised three residents, Murad Najib, Yassir Najib and Ahmad Al-Tarhouni, on the Old City al-Wad Road in Jerusalem. In Tubas, militants from the Migola Israeli Occupation settlement assaulted, and hospitalised, a shepherd, Rabi’ Mahmoud Awad, while he was herding livestock.
On 7 May, Israeli soldiers in Hebron seized, and held captive for a time, a 14-year-old boy: Mustafa Raed Al-Muhtasib.
On 11 May, Israeli forces raided Nahalin at 4:10am, invaded and searched a home and abducted a 16-year-old youth: Khalaf Osama Shakarna.
On 12 May, Israeli troops abducted a 15-year-old youth, Marouf Ahmad Al-Atrash, from al-Walaja village. Another youngster, 16-year-old Yazan Mohammad Faroukh, was abducted on 19 May when Israeli soldiers invaded his home in Silwan.
On 22 May, Israeli soldiers in the Old City beat up a 13-year-old boy, Khaldoun Imad Da’ana, hospitalising him with a fractured arm.
On 24 May, a 15-year-old boy, walking along the Jenin-Haifa road, was beaten and pepper-sprayed in the face by Israeli troops.
On 25 May, Israeli troops abducted two Palestinian youngsters, Mohammad Ali Na’im Al-Zayah (15) and Yasser Jihad Ali Abu Dia (17), during home invasions in Hebron and Bethlehem.
Population control and merciless home invasions
On 13 May, Israeli forces raided al-Eisawiya village and ordered the destruction of 20 homes and other buildings.
On 12, 13, 15, 19, 20, 22, 26, 27 and 29 May, the Israeli Army repeatedly forced 15 families out of their homes in the Khirbeit Humsat Al-Foqa district in Tubas, to make way for Israeli Army military exercises. On the first day, nine people were taken prisoner, including seven news reporters who were attempting to cover the Israeli Army violation. Although following every casting out, the families steadfastly return to their homes, such relentless intrusion will be taking a mounting mental toll.
On 25 May, the Israeli Army, firing stun grenades and tear gas canisters, raided Ein al-Bayda village and forcibly removed people from their homes also, again to make way for military training. In Kafr Laqif, Qalqiliya, militants from the Karni Shamron Israeli Occupation settlement invaded the home of a villager, Ameen Awad Jabr, and raised the flag of Israel on the roof.
Mosque violations and population control
On 9 May, Israeli forces in Jerusalem’s Old City Bab al-Amoud district opened fire, with rubber-coated steel bullets, stun grenades and tear gas canisters, at worshippers who had attended evening prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, wounding six people, including one who was shot in the eye with a rubber-coated steel bullet. On 12 and 18 May, the Israeli Army raided Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, pursuing worshippers arriving for evening prayers and forcibly removing them from the mosque.
Western news media and politicians’ silence
On 20 May, Israeli militants pumped sewage from the Eli Israeli Occupation settlement onto farmland belonging to the Palestinian villages of al-Sawiya, al-Libban al-Sharqiya, Yatma and Qaryut. The settlers also set about destroying crops and trees. Had Palestinians committed such a disgusting crime, the Western news media would have published lurid headlines, and the condemnation expressed by our politicians would have been severe. But there was not a word – and certainly no rebuke – even though the offence, committed by members of an illegally-imposed community in a land under foreign military occupation, amounted to a war crime.
On the same day, in Jerusalem, yet again, Israeli forces invaded the Al-Aqsa Mosque and forcibly removed worshippers during evening prayers. Imagine the reaction had armed Palestinians infiltrated Israel and forced people at prayer out of a synagogue!
Israel claims that the international community singles it out. It surely does – by turning a blind eye to the daily, ideologically-driven war crimes of a regime intent upon ethnic cleansing and territorial expansion! Defend UNRWA, international law and human rights now – or lose it for future generations.