For Immediate Release
February 4, 2018
Portland, OR

In mid-January, the US State Department announced that the United States would withhold $65 million from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), a move that would impact upwards of 5.6 million Palestinian refugees.

“We are gravely concerned with and condemn this latest attack on the Palestinian people, our country’s transparent attempt to extort a surrender to the dictates of the Trump administration’s retrograde policies in the Middle East,” said Carol Landsman, a member of the Portland chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.  “It is no accident that the US has targeted a humanitarian agency for this punishment, revealing once more a cruel obsession with imposing the greatest amount of human misery upon the most vulnerable.”

In addition to the withholding of $65 million payment to UNRWA, the State Department also moved to renege on a $45 million pledge it had made to the agency in December for food aid for the West Bank and Gaza.  While denying that these cuts are punishment for Palestinian protests of the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Donald Trump’s tweets believe that claim.  “… We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED [sic] of MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” tweeted Trump on January 2nd.  “[W]ith the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them”.

“It is clear that these massive cuts to aid for the neediest of Palestinian refugees is intended to punish and pressure the Palestinian Authority to accept the dictates of the US as our country moves to impose Israel’s conditions for negotiations,” said Rod Such, another member of the Portland JVP chapter.  “More than ever, the long-standing US complicity in Israel’s expanding and illegal occupation is now open and clearly visible, and deserves equal condemnation and challenge.”

The impact of the US cuts to UNRWA will be widespread and devastating.  This UN agency is responsible for funding health clinics and schools for upwards of two million people living in Lebanon, Jordan, as well as the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.  The UNRWA spokesperson, Christopher Gunness, described the consequences of the cuts as “the most serious financial crisis in UNRWA’s 70-year history.” (CNN, Jan. 17, 2018).

“We are witnessing the deliberate and dangerous escalation of tensions in an already highly charged conflict,” said William Singer, another member of the JVP chapter.  “Our government will be directly responsible for the closing of hundreds of schools and health clinics, increasing the desperation and misery of hundreds of thousands of people.”

Singer explained that the recent US policy moves erode the prospects for negotiations towards a peaceful and just resolution to the decades-old conflict in three ways.  “First, this emboldens the most chauvinistic, racist elements within Israeli society to continue the aggressive expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements and to resist any meaningful recognition of the legitimate rights of Palestinians; second, it undercuts and discredits Palestinians who are committed to negotiations; and third, it cruelly reinforces the lived experience of relentless oppression that provides growing strength to violent extremist organizations throughout the region.”

JVP-Portland is urging people to call their representatives in Washington, DC, to protest the UNRWA cuts and to demand that the US restore funding immediately.