Collective Punishment

These days the scenario in Gaza is almost identical with what one sees in strife-torn Sudan. It’s famine–plain and simple. Perhaps one may compare it with the British-made great Bengal famine. Emaciated children are scrambling for gruel. But this gruel has now become uncertain for Palestinian refugees struggling for survival after a dozen of countries including the US have suspended funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency [UNRWA] responsible for providing aid to Palestinians. Withdrawal of support by major donors follows allegations made by Israel that 12 UNRWA employees were involved in the October 7,2023 Hamas attack, albeit UNRWA lost no time to dismiss all accused employees and start an investigation. UNRWA employs 30,000 Palestinians to carry on relief work. Charges against those 12 employees are serious but the response of donor countries is equally cruel. ‘The wrong-doing of a few individuals should never lead to the collective punishment of entire population’. Western countries, however, didn’t defund other UN agencies or peacekeeping operations amid accusations of sexual assault, corruption or complicity in war crimes. Then the policy of double standards is the hallmark of Western diplomacy.

Gaza is a vast slum created by the state of Israel; from which there is no escape for Palestinians. America and its allies are now denying food, medicine and water to survivors of Israeli bombing. Doctors are helpless as they are being forced to conduct operation without anaesthetic, electricity and water to scrub up. The stoppage of economic activity in Gaza coupled with refusal of work permit to Palestinians in Israel after the Hamas attack has transformed this tiny enclave already overcrowded with teeming millions, into a living hell. Even biased western media cannot hide the horror of Israeli military offensive. There is every reason to believe that Israel doesn’t want UNRWA to help Palestinian refugees who are today homeless in their own homeland because of Israel’s plan to deny them right to live with dignity and, erase the name of Palestine from the world atlas.

While US President Joe Biden is busy to present his human face before Presidential elections by continually advocating ‘humanitarian pause’ in Gaza war and urging Israel to scale down its military operations, with an eye to Arab voters in America, he didn’t think for a moment to execute ‘pause in UN funding’.

The funding cut is likely to affect 1.7 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza along with an additional 400,000 Palestinians without refugee status as they are currently displaced.

Refugee aid or for that matter any humanitarian aid is often meant to be neutral and impartial. But funding is frequently used as a foreign policy tool, whereby allies are rewarded and enemies punished.

Prior to the formation of UNRWA, some voluntary organisations, many of them religious used to provide humanitarian services to displaced Palestinians. Because of the extreme poverty and dire situation pervasive across refugee camps, the UN General Assembly, including all Arab states and Israel, voted to create the UNRWA in 1949. It was aimed at saving 750,000 Palestinians who were expelled or fled from their homes. Since then the UNRWA has been providing food, Medicare, schooling, and in some cases, housing for the uprooted Palestinians living across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza territory.

The US has used its power to block criticism of Israel, vetoing at least 45 UN resolutions critical of Israel. This is not the first time the US resorted to the dubious practice of blocking UN funding. In 2011 the US cut all funding to UNESCO that provides educational and cultural programmes around the world, after the agency voted to admit the state of Palestine as a full member. And the impact of the action was severe. Within just four years, UNESCO was forced to retrench its staff in half and roll back its operations. Now it is the turn of UNRWA to shut doors to the hungry and disabled.


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Vol 56, No. 35, Feb 25 - Mar 2, 2024