Ending UNRWA aid doesn't end the right of return

Ending UNRWA aid does not end the right of return
5 min read
21 Sep, 2018
Comment: The most sacred of Palestinian rights does not gain its standing from the whims of a US president, but from international law, writes Ahmed Abu Artema
Palestinians protest the US decision to cut funding to the UNRWA, Gaza [Getty]
The Trump administration has decided, in an entirely expected move, to stop all funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). This decision will also include a new legal formula that mandates that refugee status is not passed on from parents to children.

What this means is that the number of Palestinians considered "refugees" will fall from some five million - according to UNRWA's estimates - to only 750,000, those actually forcibly displaced from their homes in 1948. Of those, only 30,000 remain alive.

Trump's consecutive decisions regarding the Palestinian cause prove that he lives by the principles of domination, looking at people's rights as impediments that can easily be superseded by a signature.

This was pointed out in the Washington Post: "The White House is seeking to take the right of return off the table, as Trump has said he eliminated the future of the contested city of Jerusalem from negotiations last last year when he recognized it as the capital of Israel."

The right of return is the most sacred right for the Palestinian people. It enjoys consensus among Palestinians from all walks of life. Now 70 years after their forced displacement, refugees still keep the keys to their former homes and documents that prove ownership of property - and they pass these precious items down to their children and grandchildren.
Not only do recent US decisions regarding UNRWA institute an attack on the rights of the Palestinian people, they are also an assault on the international community

On March 30, 2018, 200,000 people from all walks of Palestinian life in Gaza marched to the fence that separates them from their homes as part of the Great Return March.

They demanded their Right of Return under international law, specifically UN Resolution 194, which states that "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so".

Not only do recent US decisions regarding UNRWA institute an attack on the rights of the Palestinian people, they are also an assault on the international community, which, under UNGA Resolution 302, established UNRWA as an agency dedicated to the service of Palestinian refugees until a just peace is achieved.

When it comes to the definition of the term "refugee", the only party authorised to do so is the United Nations General Assembly, which created UNRWA for the purpose of providing assistance to Palestinian refugees.

UNRWA defines Palestinian refugees as "persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict". It continues: "The descendants of Palestine Refugee males, including adopted children, are also eligible for registration."

The UNRWA website adds: "When the Agency began operations in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, some 5 million Palestinian refugees are eligible for UNRWA services."

Principally, the US claim that descendants of refugees are not refugees speaks from a morally flawed logic, as it gives a legal standing for persecution and ethnic cleansing anywhere in the world whenever there is a power imbalance. The logic of the US administration permits for aggression by any state against a people, occupation of their land and permanent expulsion. Once they die, their right to the land dies with them - the occupiers gain a legal foothold on lands that they took by force.

Additionally, this logic ignores the reality that the question of Palestine is of a national character. Those Palestinians who were evacuated from their homes by Israeli gangs in 1948 are not just individuals, represent a national identity, once subjected to ethnic cleansing.

Today, the Palestinian people are still very much alive. Five million Palestinians live in devastated refugee camps and await an end to this historic justice. The passage of 70 years, or even 100, is not sufficient time to give credibility to injustice. Nor can crimes be erased by the passing of time.

Targeting UNRWA is something Israel has attempted for decades, especially as the agency has served as a witness to the Nakba of the Palestinian people in 1948. Its presence is a continued reminder of the disaster of refugees. For this reason, Israel expressed wholehearted support for the Trump administration's position.
Targeting the agency at this particular time will contribute to further instability and increased tensions in the region

Binyamin Netanyahu recently stated: "[The US] is finally starting to solve the problem," which reaffirms Israel's view that peace comes only when the Palestinians are washed away.

Defunding UNRWA will only worsen the humanitarian situation for Palestinian refugees, given that the agency has been working in areas already suffering from the ravages of poverty, blockade and unemployment.

Some 54 percent of UNRWA's budget is allocated to education, 18 percent to healthcare, and 10 percent to relief programmes. Now, in light of the Palestinian Authority's financial crisis and the tightened Gaza blockade, UNRWA has become the last resort when it comes to relief for refugees in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Targeting the agency at this particular time will contribute to further instability and increased tensions in the region - and push students, employees and the poor into even greater levels of suffering.  

With its outright hostility against the most sacred of Palestinian rights, the US administration earns only hatred and animosity in the region. Also, by adopting the position of an extreme right-wing Israeli government, the US is killing any hope for a just mediation between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

The Right of Return does not gain its standing from the whims or decisions of the leader of a single state. Its standing is based on the collective will of the international community. And as long as the Right of Return dwells in the hearts of millions of refugees, no one on earth will take it away from them.

Ahmed Abu Artema is a journalist and Palestinian peace activist. He was born in Rafah, in 1984 and is a refugee from Al Ramla village. He authored the book "Organized Chaos" and numerous articles. He is one of the original organisers of the Great Return March.

Follow him on Twitter: @aburtema

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab.