Two Republican lawmakers are blocking food from reaching Palestinian refugees – Mondoweiss


Two Republican lawmakers are preventing the State Department from supplying humanitarian aid to Palestinians despite warnings of a looming humanitarian crisis.

As the top ranking members on their congressional foreign affair panels, Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) are blocking about $75 million in food assistance from reaching Palestinian refugees through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). 

In 2018 the Trump administration cut funding to the program. The Biden administration moved to restore it but at a level of more than $250 million less than what the U.S. had previously given.

In June UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini sounded the alarm over UNRWA funding, saying that donor countries had only provided the group with $107 million of the $300 million needed to continue their work. The organization says that the holdup is impacting more than 200,000 Palestinian and could mean the discontinuation of food assistance for some 1.2 million refugees in Gaza.

“We will continue to work tirelessly with our partners, including host countries — the refugees’ top supporters — to raise the funds needed,” said Lazzarini.

UNRWA’s economic woes go far beyond U.S. funding. “The financial crisis facing UNRWA is deep and complex, the group’s Gaza representative Adnan Abu Hassna told Mondoweiss last month. It has been suffering from these issues for many years, but this year is the most dangerous…the Ukrainian crisis caused a global rise in food prices and other basic human needs. Donors redirect their funds to Ukraine instead of UNRWA. Global inflation is one of the reasons too.”

The organization says it might have to end services for Palestinians as soon as August if it doesn’t obtain more funding.

UNRWA appealed to the international community for $23.8 worth of assistance after Israel’s recent raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank. According to the UN more than 3,500 refugees were forced to leave during the raid and 1,000 camp shelters were damaged.

The holdup has been publicly criticized by human rights organizations.

“The US sends Israel nearly $4 billion in military funding every single year, funding that is used to harm and even kill Palestinians,” tweeted the Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU). “UNRWA needs hardly a fraction of that amount to feed Palestinian families in need. Due to Israeli apartheid, Palestinians rely on UNRWA to survive. Congress should be helping Palestinian refugees—not blocking the funds they need to survive.”

On July 12th, 25 civil society organizations (including Oxfam America, J Street, Americans for Peace Now, and the Episcopal Church) sent a letter to Risch and McCaul urging action. “The generosity of the American people toward those in need has always been commendable and this critical assistance can alleviate further suffering. Denying food assistance will strip away the last vestiges of hope for people in Gaza who simply yearn for a dignified existence,” it reads. “The repercussions of such a situation could also be catastrophic for regional stability, negatively impacting both Palestinians and Israelis alike.”

In March Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN) led a letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations from 35 House members calling for another $259 million to be sent to Gaza and the West Bank. The House members also want U.S. assistance to UNRWA increased to its 2017 level of $359.3 million. “Four out of the Agency’s five fields of operation are in crisis; ranging from the aftermaths of a terrible natural disaster, a seriously deteriorating security situation, and unprecedented financial and economic collapse,” it reads. “Continuing UNRWA’s critical humanitarian and human development mission on behalf of Palestinian refugees requires more, not less levels of U.S. support.”

Risch has blamed the delay on the White House. “The administration has all the powers they need to provide emergency food aid to UNRWA,” a spokesperson for the Senator recently told HuffPost. “The funds they are asking for are outside of an emergency situation and so Senator Risch will continue to hold them until his long-standing concerns about UNRWA are resolved.”

Earlier this year, Republicans in the House and Senate introduced the United Nations Relief and Works Agency Accountability and Transparency Act, which would require Secretary of State Antony Blinken to withhold funds from the organization until it is subjected to an external audit. “Israel is one of our greatest allies and closest friends; we cannot say we truly stand with them while helping prop up a corrupt organization like this,” said Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) after the legislation was introduced. “If our actions do not match our words, then our word means nothing.”

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