UNRWA laying off its staff

Posted on Jul 31, 2018

by Samia Khoury

I have written more than once on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) crisis, but this time UNRWA is laying off its staff and is causing a great deal of concern within the Palestinian community. The financial situation, especially in Gaza has been deteriorating so badly that the last thing this besieged area could deal with is the cutting of UNRWA services and laying off its staff.

When UNRWA was established in December 1949, it was established as a temporary relief agency for the Palestinian refugees who, in 1948, were driven out of their homes at gun point, or fled for their lives, when the state of Israel was established on Palestinian land.

Why was it temporary? Because a year earlier, and in December 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 194 allowing all Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. Israel which planned that exodus in the first place, was determined not to allow the Palestinians to go back to their homes and in no time it started destroying villages and occupying Palestinian homes to settle Jewish families in them, so that a new reality would hinder any return of the Palestinians. Even the Palestinians who stayed in the newly established state and had been evicted to another area of Israel, were not allowed to go back to their homes.

The failure of the UN to implement that resolution, and to link it with the acceptance of Israel as a member state, is the root cause of the crisis that UNRWA is facing at the moment.

Instead of exerting its effort on a political solution for the refugees, the UN member states who supported UNRWA kept raising funds and supporting the budget, and supporting the salaries of their representative staff working with UNRWA, without any financial support from Israel itself which was basically responsible for the refugee problem.

Undoubtedly the Palestinians have been grateful for this support which sustained them for a long time. However, they would have been much more grateful had the UN taken a legal and moral approach to the refugee problem and worked towards their return instead of draining their budgets year after year on services that are now being curtailed for financial reasons.

Of course one of the main reasons that the UN could never implement resolution 194 was the veto power of the US, and its blind support of Israel which did not even oblige Israel to be morally and financially responsible for the refugee problem. Furthermore, the US has exacerbated the financial crisis by withdrawing its commitment to UNRWA. How ironic indeed. As I mentioned earlier in an open letter to Mr. Trump. “ We are not requesting charity, we are demanding our rights. And that is why the UN is legally and morally obligated to set the record straight, and to keep supporting the work of UNRWA until it implements a just solution to the refugee problem.