Starving the hungry

Even those who have not been paying close attention to Israel’s brutal war on Gaza over the last 116 days have surely heard that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza are starving, without medical care, and have no safe place to go. Unfortunately, this past Friday, the Biden administration made yet another decision that will only exacerbate the inhumane conditions experienced by nearly all of Gaza’s desperate civilians.

For 75 years, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Far East (UNRWA) has worked in the Gaza strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria to provide food, water, shelter, education and health clinics for millions of Palestinians. The organization employs 30,000 Palestinians, serving the needs of 5.9 million descendants of the 700,000 people Israel evicted from their homes and land during the 1948 Nakba. Since the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, over 45% of Gaza’s displaced millions have been sheltering in UNRWA camps, clinics and schools. In the Gaza Strip alone, UNRWA employs 13,000 people and works year-round to feed the hungry, save lives, and educate Palestine’s youth.

On Friday, Jan. 26–simultaneous to the International Court of Justice’s ruling that Israel must take immediate action to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza and ensure that more humanitarian aid is allowed in to the besieged territory–Israeli intelligence accused 12 UNRWA workers of collaborating with Hamas in the Oct. 7 attack that killed over a thousand Israelis and abducted 250. UNRWA responded to these allegations by immediately firing these workers (two had already died in Israel’s bombardment of Gaza) and vowing to investigate the situation, deliver justice and prevent similar betrayals in the future. UNWRA is a 75-year old, Guidestar platinum-rated charitable organization, long trusted by the U.S. and the world. I ask: Why has our government suddenly abandoned that trust?

The U.S. has been the largest funder of UNRWA’s work for many decades. In June of last year, upon announcement of $153.7 million in aid to the organization, the Biden administration claimed they were “proud of our joint achievements … ongoing cooperation, and our commitment to the Palestinian people.”

However, before any official investigation or public release of evidence, the United States declared they would suspend funding to the organization. This halt of funds has created a domino effect so that as of this writing, 12 other countries have followed our lead, putting UNRWA in dire financial stress and at risk of shuttering operations by what some projections show could be the end of February. As of this writing, that amounts to 68% of the organization’s funding being withheld during what the world’s most trusted humanitarian organizations have called “the most dangerous place in the world to be a child.”

It’s clear that there’s been a coordinated effort by Israel (yet again with full support of the U.S.) to distract from the ICJ’s provisional ruling on Israel’s genocidal acts in Gaza, to point blame at the organization that, ironically, would be instrumental in carrying out precisely what the ICJ has ordered Israel to do immediately: allow the safe passage of more humanitarian aid to the strip. Instead of making moves to prevent the ongoing starvation and lack of medical supplies, Israel is working to accelerate these genocidal conditions by persuading the Biden Administration to suspend funding for an organization Netanyahu has been urging the world to stop supporting for many years. Since Oct. 7, Israel has attacked UNRWA facilities in Gaza 263 times.

It took only a few hours after these allegations were released for the U.S. to impose what is essentially a boycott and divestment from the Palestinian people. How many atrocities have been committed by Israel (Operation Cast Lead? The killing of Shireen Abu Akleh? That video I saw last week of a white flag turning red with a Ramzi Abu Sahloul’s blood?) without a single mention of withholding aid as a consequence?

If Biden wants my vote, he needs to earn it. He needs to restore funding to UNRWA and support an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza. It’s the most humane answer to both the catastrophe in Gaza and the horror the hostages are enduring. Biden should listen to his new friend Shawn Fain, president of the United Auto Workers, and call on Netanyahu to end this assault now.

P.S. — Join us at 15 Broadway, Saranac Lake every Monday where we gather to write mail to elected officials demanding they support a ceasefire in Gaza. 5-7 p.m. We have supplies, signs and solidarity. Write with us.

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Tyler Barton lives in Saranac Lake.


UNRWA (link) and (link)

TIME (link)

Reuters (link) and (link)

Guidestar (link)

Relief Web (link)

Associated Press (link)

The Guardian (Akleh killing, link)


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