Why is Trump cutting funding for public transport

Trump cuts financial aid : What the missing millions mean for the Palestinians

Grandmother Nariman Totah is concerned. She carefully places one of the two newborn twins on the pediatrician's treatment table. The grandchildren are just one month old - and in very good health. You are only supposed to be vaccinated today. It is the future that Nariman Totah fears since the US threatened to reduce or even stop payments to the Palestinians. “Without UNRWA, we couldn't afford to see the doctor,” she says. UNRWA is the United Nations relief agency for Palestine refugees.

The twins are entitled to support because their grandparents had to leave Jerusalem, 20 kilometers away, during the war of independence in 1948. Because the children were inherited refugee status. That is why they are being treated free of charge here in the medical center of the Amari camp near Ramallah and will later attend one of the UNRWA schools.

Five million refugees are cared for

Five million Palestinian refugees - in Jordan, Syria, Gaza, Lebanon and the West Bank - depend on the UN relief organization: on 150 clinics, 700 schools and tens of thousands of jobs. In the occupied territories alone, the organization claims to be the third largest employer after the Palestinian Authority and telecommunications company.

UNRWA is mainly financed by donations from member countries of the United Nations. A quarter of the annual budget, around 300 million dollars, comes from the USA so far. But that could change fundamentally.

Recently, President Donald Trump questioned the payments to the Palestinians because they showed “neither recognition nor respect” and refused to negotiate with the Israelis. Now the government in Washington is getting serious.

$ 60 million instead of $ 125 million

According to the State Department in Washington, only a tranche of 60 million dollars will be transferred, another 65 million will be retained for the time being. "The decision is not intended to punish anyone", but rather to initiate reforms at UNRWA, it is said to explain.

The reactions came promptly. "This US government is targeting the most vulnerable part of our people and robbing people of their right to education, health, protection and a dignified life," says PLO politician Hanan Ashrawi. UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl wants to start a worldwide fundraising campaign immediately. To "keep our schools and hospitals open for 2018 and beyond". Krähenbühl warns that the lack of money could have dramatic consequences for regional stability and lead to further radicalization.

So is it heartless and irresponsible to cut funding for UNRWA? Even in Israel, some seem alarmed. An internal paper by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has just been made public, speaks of an impending deterioration in the humanitarian situation and a possible catastrophe, especially in Gaza.

The warning is no accident. Two million people live in the overpopulated coastal strip. And their situation is dreary. More than 60 percent are unemployed, the economy is in a rocky state. But looking for a job elsewhere is next to impossible. Nobody can leave Gaza. The Mediterranean region is largely cordoned off. Anyone who wants to pass the border crossings at Rafah in Egypt or Erez in Israel needs a permit. But these are very rare.

275 schools for 270,000 children

The majority of Gazans are therefore dependent on the support of the United Nations. UNRWA has long been acting and acting like a state service provider. The aid organization maintains clinics and health centers and distributes food. The number of families in urgent need of help is increasing every month. In addition, UNRWA runs 275 schools in which more than 270,000 children are taught by 8,000 teachers.

Nonetheless, critics - including Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - have long been questioning UNRWA's mandate. One of her questions is: Why do newborn babies like Nariman Totah's grandchildren still receive refugee status 70 years after their grandparents fled?

"Trump may be a strange guy, but not everything he does is automatically bad," says Efraim Karsh, director of the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University. “No other refugee group in the world has been given an organization specifically set up for them.” All other refugees are looked after by the UNHCR refugee agency.

"Lack of willingness to act"

Actually, they wanted to limit the work of UNRWA in terms of time. However, the Middle East conflict dragged on, the refugee issue remained unresolved, and the organization continued to grow. “The lack of willingness to act means that UNRWA has been around for 70 years,” says Commissioner General Krähenbühl.

Efraim Karsh sees it differently: “UNRWA has no interest in solving the problem. The relief organization wants to show that there are still reasons for its existence. The leadership of the Palestinians and the Arab states, on the other hand, have been using the refugees for decades as a political instrument with the demand that they return to today's Israel. "

In fact, many refugees still feel like guests. “Jerusalem is my home,” says Nariman Totah. Even in UNRWA schools, the children learn where they originally come from: from Jaffa, Jerusalem or Tiret Dandan - all places that they have never seen and some of which no longer exist.

Camps became villages

While the refugees, their children and grandchildren have been hoping and dreaming for 70 years, the camps have developed into villages that often look like run-down and convoluted neighborhoods in their neighboring towns. Tents and huts have long since given way to houses. When the space became narrower, people used simple means to put stories on top of the houses in order to create living space for their children and their families.

Wouldn't it be better if these camps had developed into independent villages? Places where people can build a new home when a return seems unlikely.

“If you look at it personally, everyone would rather live in a village. But from a Palestinian perspective, from the point of view of the autonomous authority, one does not want to take responsibility for the refugees, because that is one of the main questions in the negotiations for a solution to the conflict, ”says Krähenbühl. "They can hardly do it either because the majority live under occupation." As long as there is no political solution, those in need must be supported. Otherwise, Krahenbühl warns, the frustrated could head for Europe.

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