Palestinians fear a Trump-led conspiracy to phase out UN refugee camps

Source: Palestine Briefing, Parliamentary Newsletter and Briefing Service

Labour calls for international emergency conference

A leading resident of a refugee camp in the West Bank city of Nablus put it very succinctly last week.  There was a conspiracy, he said, to run down the UN agency responsible for the welfare of Palestinian refugees.

President Trump has already announced he is ending the $365 million US contribution to the UN Relief and Works Agency and USAID budget of $200 million for Palestine.

Middle East minister Alistair Burt responded with a £7 million increase in the UK contribution, but, as Labour’s shadow Middle East minister Fabian Hamilton pointed out, that would still leave UNRWA with a shortfall of $380 million this year. It was “a drop in the ocean”.

The chairman of the residents’ committee of the Al Askar camp, Husni Odeh, told a group from Sheffield last week that the UN agency was already being forced to run down vital services for the most marginalised refugees suffering from high levels of poverty and unemployment.

Class sizes in United Nations schools have been increased to 50 or even 55. UN health centres often have just one doctor to see 50-60 patients – and they have no medicines to give them.

When inevitably some refugees see no point in going to a doctor that has no medicine, or move their children out of overcrowded UN schools, they claim the Palestinians “don’t want our services” in order to justify still further cuts in UNRWA’s budget.

“The UN are closing health centres and they are shrinking their services gradually so that people don’t stop them,” he said.

President Trump has also floated the idea of downgrading Palestinian refugees so that the next generation will no longer have refugee status.  But there is an essential difference between Palestinian refugees and refuges from natural disasters or wars.

The latter will eventually return to an empty home or at least a plot of land where they can rebuild their lives.  But Palestinian refugees have no home to go to.  Even in their own country they are refugees.  Their villages have been demolished. Their homes are occupied by strangers.

The aid that western countries provide for Palestinian refugees is essentially conscience money to atone for the fact that they are not prepared to pressure the Israeli government into the action they know is needed.

UNRWA provides assistance for 5.15 million refugees, education for 515,000 children, health centres for 3.1 million patients and basic food rations for 255,000 refugees living in extreme poverty.

President Trump is openly trying to starve Palestinians to the negotiating table to accept a deal has not yet been published, but which will undoubtedly involve a complete humiliation and the loss of yet more land in addition to the 78% of historic Palestine they have already given up their claim to.

Trump boasted that: “I stopped massive amounts of money that we were paying to the Palestinians. I’d say, you’ll get money, but we’re not paying you until we make a deal. If we don’t make a deal, we’re not paying.”

Labour has called for an international emergency conference so that other countries can pledge support to close the funding gap caused by the withdrawal of the US contribution.  They will have a choice between increased aid to avert a humanitarian crisis – or action to put effective international pressure on Israel to lift the blockade and the occupation.

Israeli army demolishes classroom but school refuses to close

Izbeek Primary School in the Jordan Valley

The Israeli Army turned up at 6.20 am on the long dusty dirt-track that leads from the main road to the isolated building that acts as a primary school for the scattered Palestinian farms in the northern Jordan Valley.

They weren’t allowed to demolish the old farmstead which houses two of the school’s three classrooms, because it was built before the Israelis occupied the area in 1967, but they quickly removed the roof and walls of the prefab classroom that was added a few years ago.

In a remarkable display of the resilience for which Palestinians are famous, the teacher and pupils held their classes in the open air as though nothing had happened.

Before the school was built children had to travel up to 18 miles and now it has been partially destroyed as part of the Israeli government’s deliberate policy of making life so difficult for the 50,000 Palestinians who still live in “Area C” in the hope that they will voluntarily move out.

Demolishing schools has long been a part of this strategy as the Palestinians put a very high priority on their children’s education.

In the nearby village of Khan al Ahmar the school – built of mud and tyres with the help of an Italian ngo –

has been the centerpiece of their long struggle against the threat of demolition, which was expected in August but has now been deferred, partly because of protests from the UK and other European countries but also – and perhaps mainly – because of the threat of prosecution from the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Fatou Bensouda, the court’s chief prosecutor, made it clear in a statement this month, that the demolition of the village and the forced transfer of its residents would be a war crime.

Three things MPs can still do 

• Write a letter to the Foreign Secretary 

• Sign Lisa Nandy’s EDM 1169 (now signed by 108 MPs check)

• Apply for a Westminster Hall debate 

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