Gaza Residents Fear Impact of US Cuts to UN Aid

Adham al-Ghora is among millions of Palestinians that depend on the UN Relief and Works Agency. (Photo: Fadi O. Al-Naji)Adham al-Ghora is among millions of Palestinians that depend on the UN Relief and Works Agency. (Photo: Fadi O. Al-Naji)

Gaza — Adham al-Ghora fears for his ill wife if President Trump does not reverse his deep cut in funding for the United Nations agency that supports Palestinian refugees. She suffers from diabetes and hypertension, and depends on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) for her medicine.

“I can’t imagine life without receiving aid from UNRWA. I’m not even able to afford taking her to the hospital,” al-Ghora told Truthout.

The US Department of State declared this month it is withholding $65 million out of $125 million earmarked for the UN agency. In addition, the government announced it is reneging on a pledge to UNRWA made in December for $45 million to fund emergency food aid. In a letter, the department said additional donations would be contingent on major changes by UNRWA — although what it wants specifically was not stated. In a series of tweets, Trump said: “We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect.”

UNRWA assists more than 5 million Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories (the West Bank and the Gaza Strip), Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. They mostly are the descendants of about 750,000 Palestinians forced to flee their homes during the 1948 war that followed the UN partition of what had long been Palestine, to make way for the creation of Israel. As many as an additional 325,000 refugees were created when Israel invaded and occupied the West Bank in 1967.

According to UNRWA, it provides food assistance to almost 70 percent of refugees in Gaza and more than 50 percent of the total population. When walking down Gaza streets, the UN flag is seen fluttering everywhere, over clinics, schools and food-ration distribution centers. In recent months, the economic crisis caused by Israel’s decade-long blockade has deepened further due to the feud between Fatah, the party that controls the Palestinian Authority (PA) and administers the West Bank, and Hamas, which governs Gaza. President Mahmoud Abbas, a Fatah member, cut salaries of PA employees in Gaza by 30-70 percent in March.

Ahmed al-Moghrabi is a nurse in Gaza who is paid by the PA. Due to the pay cuts and loans he now has to repay, he receives only $20 of his $800 monthly salary.

“Twenty dollars isn’t enough to raise one child; I have five,” al-Moghrabi said. “How will I manage without UN aid?”

After Trump’s controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his announcement that he will move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Abbas said he would no longer negotiate a possible peace deal with Israel via the United States, describing the country as no longer qualified as a mediator.

Some Palestinian officials view the funding cut by Trump as an act of blackmail to force them back to the negotiating table. The United States is UNRWA’s largest donor, providing it with $355 million annually, roughly a third of the agency’s budget.

UNRWA is the biggest nongovernmental employer in Gaza, providing jobs to more than 12,500 teachers, nurses and other staff members. It also is the manager of many post-war reconstruction projects. Already, media are reporting these jobs are at risk — especially in the education sector.

In addition to his wife’s medicine, Adham al-Ghora and his family rely on UNRWA rations of flour, milk, rice and cooking oil. He receives these emergency supplies four times a year, but he says they last only two months.

“Every year, I have four months in which I suffer the most, since my home runs out of food and we have to wait for the next aid delivery. They are the harshest months,” al-Ghora said. What will it be like, he wonders, if those rations are cut back even further?

The consequences, many Gazans fear, would be riots, a spike in thefts and other crimes, and even famine.