Middle East Monitor / May 25, 2023
The Commissioner General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, recently made another appeal for funding, this time to the Arab League. “Support to Palestine refugees is a collective obligation, including from Arab countries,” said Lazzarini, while warning that a decline in funding could risk the agency’s collapse. A collective obligation would have bound countries to funding and UNRWA would not be making any pleas to donor countries.
Such a misleading depiction will not help Palestinians, but it will work in Israel’s favour. The same goes for the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, when he addressed the UN Security Council yesterday, warning of the funding crisis faced by both UNRWA and the World Food Program (WFP).
“I encourage [UN] Member States to immediately seek ways to increase their support to Palestinians, including funding to UNRWA and WFP, without which we will face serious humanitarian and, potentially, security challenges,” Wennesland stated.
If the UN is allowed to retain its stranglehold over Palestine, the only narrative remaining will be the humanitarian paradigm due to the international organization’s support for Israel’s colonial existence and expansion. Over the 74 years since it commenced its operations, UNRWA has served two main purposes: providing services for Palestinian refugees, without which millions of Palestinians would fare much worse; and providing a veneer to disguise the UN’s complicity in Zionist settler-colonialism. Wennesland’s briefing diverts attention away from the latter.
The discrepancy in calling upon member states to contribute financially, while remaining silent on Zionist settler-colonialism, creates the biggest deficit ever. Israel is supported by US billions annually, which creates the humanitarian consequences for Palestinians and which the UN will never manage to contain due to its refusal to call for decolonizing Palestine from the Zionist enterprise. Whatever funding UNRWA or the WFP receive cannot compete with Israel’s political and military might. The UN, of course, knows this, and has opted to divest Palestinians of their political rights by entrenching them within the humanitarian discourse and planning.
Why is Wennesland not concerned with the prime cause of the humanitarian deprivation among Palestinians? The rest of his statement details Israeli aggression and Palestinian resistance in a way that merits mention only to point out the futile condemnations of Israel and Palestinian factions, with no regard for the Palestinian people’s legitimate anti-colonial resistance. It is a political decision to promote a false narrative of equivalence between the colonizer and the colonized; a fabricated neutral ground that changes colonialism into a “conflict”.
Despite the purported neutrality associated with humanitarian aid, politics drive the paradigm. Donors to UNRWA and the WFP have economic ties to Israel which are prioritized over humanitarian aid to Palestinians. Renewing UNRWA’s mandate is also a reminder that the UN does not politicize the legitimate Palestinian right of return, unlike its investment in ensuring that the Zionist colonial enterprise was admitted to the UN as a member state (for which the right to return was a still unfulfilled condition).
So, in keeping to the political rather than the humanitarian paradigm, what is Palestine? And who are Palestinians, away from the humanitarian narrative created by the UN to establish impunity for Israel and itself? The humanitarian paradigm is an act of political violence against the Palestinians.
Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger; her writing covers a range of themes in relation to Palestine, Chile and Latin America