The World Council of Churches (WCC) deeply regrets the decision by the Government of the United States of America to withdraw all funding from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian Refugees. This is effectively a decision to abandon the Palestinian refugee population and to block them from the realization of their inalienable human rights and legitimate aspirations for the future – including a viable two-state solution. As such, we consider the decision immoral and unjust, driving Palestinian refugees to more hopelessness, despair and desperation. We call on President Trump urgently to reverse this course of action, for all members of the international community to increase their commitment to supporting the Palestinian refugees, and for the United Nations to prioritize maintaining essential humanitarian services in this context.
UNRWA is a UN agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to Palestinian refugees, and currently offers services encompassing education, health care, social services, camp infrastructure, food assistance and microfinance to over 5.4 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank including East Jerusalem, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Among other things, UNRWA’s 711 schools enable 526,000 Palestinian girls and boys to receive quality education, and its almost 150 medical clinics provide essential health care to the refugee population. The United States has consistently been the largest donor to UNRWA. The withdrawal of US funding imperils the essential services that UNRWA provides.
Palestinian refugees and their children are victims of forced displacement, dispossession, occupation, and the threat of statelessness. The international community has a vital moral responsibility to support them with essential humanitarian assistance until such time as a just and lasting solution is found to resolve their plight. For decades Palestinian refugees have been obliged to have patience and faith in the ‘peace process’ as a means of achieving a just peace in the region and of securing their future, especially in the context of a two-state solution. The passage of time without achieving such a solution does not reduce the international community’s responsibility in this regard; on the contrary.
The US decision to withdraw all funding for this collective responsibility through UNRWA is a serious politicization of humanitarian aid. At a time when the US Government seeks to promote a new initiative for peace in the region, people of conscience and good will must affirm that ignoring this responsibility and further victimizing the victims of this unresolved political conflict cannot be the basis of a just and sustainable peace.
The responsibility for this protracted refugee crisis does not lie with UNRWA, but with the parties to the conflict and with the international community for their abject lack of will or ability to bring about a just peace in the region. Peace in the land of Christ’s birth cannot be built through the desolation of Palestinian refugees’ lives and hopes. It can only be built on foundations of justice and compassion.
With all the Palestinian school children who last week returned to UNRWA-supported schools to continue their education, and with the Palestinian Christian community of the Holy Land, we hope and pray that the US and all members of the international community will be moved through compassion to justice, and to respect for the equal human dignity and rights of all.
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit,
general secretary of The World Council of Churches