Reflection by Rateb Rabie, KCHS, president and CEO of Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF)
The Trump Administration made an announcement that sent shockwaves through an already unstable Middle East. The State Department announced that the U.S government will no longer financially support UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, thus abandoning over five million Palestinian refugees who are currently facing an already dire humanitarian situation.
In alignment with the current administration’s favorite motto, “Make America Great Again,” the White House is claiming that America comes first. While improving trade agreements, overhauling the tax code, and modifying the healthcare system are on target, halting assistance to UNRWA makes no sense.
In 1776, Thomas Jefferson penned the American “Declaration of Independence,” which stressed the three natural rights of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” These rights became widely held by Americans and spread internationally as well. Since the inception of UNRWA, every US administration – from President Truman onwards has stood with and provided strong, generous, and committed support to it. The US has consistently been UNRWA’s largest single donor, something that should warm the heart of every human being and for which all Americans should be thanked.
By withholding humanitarian aid to the UNRWA now, the U.S. is jeopardizing the future of over five million Palestinians and the possibility for peace in the Middle East. Not only are we tarnishing our reputation as the greatest nation on earth and human rights defenders, but also our role as the leaders of spreading peace and justice around the word.
UNRWA was established in 1949 to prevent conditions of starvation in response to the mass displacement of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Over time, UNRWA has expanded to provide aid in the form of education, health care, and emergency response for over five million displaced peoples in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Now, however, the State Department claims that UNRWA is an “irredeemably flawed” organization that the U.S would no longer fund.
As an American citizen of Jordanian and Palestinian origin, my parents were forced to flee their home in Jerusalem, seeking refuge in Jordan in 1948. I am uniquely aware of both the benefits provided by UNRWA and the potential for crisis in the wake of this Administration’s decision, mainly ending an education system used by 500,000 school children, health care for over three million people, and life-saving food and water distribution for over 400,000 refugees. The international community has expressed major concerns over these cuts, with leaders from Japan to Germany speaking out against America’s decision. Pierre Krähenbühl, UNRWA’s Commissioner General, said the cuts could cause the agency to “run out of money for food distribution in Gaza, for psychosocial support in the Gaza Strip, and also cash for work programs in the West Bank and others in a matter of weeks.” Although the United States and other countries have previously emphasized the need for financial reform within the organization, abruptly cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid risks lives and further destabilizes the region.
During this unstable time in politics, we need to ask ourselves – Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Muslims, Jews, Christians, and others – how we want to be remembered as Americans. Do we want to be the country that was run like an unethical business, decreasing its losses by taking from school children and the most vulnerable populations? Or, do we want to be the nation that stood up for peace, justice, and goodness as well as for Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness for All?
America was always great. But, in order to maintain America’s greatness, our nation must stand up for the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
God bless America and protect the Palestinian people.