Israeli-Palestinian conflict

U.S. aid cuts bite in Gaza

UNRWA, the relief agency for Palestinian refugees, is feeling the crunch since the United States, its main donor, slashed its contributions. The crisis comes amid a military escalation between Hamas and Israel. Tania Kraemer reports from Gaza

A determined Suleiman Abu Oudeh makes his way through the busy UNRWA distribution centre in the Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. With his ID card and coupons in hand, he gets in line where food items are being handed out.

"Of course, everyone here is worried and knows that UNRWA is in a difficult situation," says Abu Oudeh, accepting a box of sunflower oil once he reaches the counter. "People are worried that rations might be cut in the long run. It has happened before. The situation in Gaza is so bad. There is no work and many are completely dependent on help."

Although food distribution is by no means under threat at the moment, the organisation's financial crisis hangs like a dark cloud over all of its services. In mid-January, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his administration's intention to drastically reduce payments to the relief organisation.

The move came after Trump had recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December, a move that angered Palestinians and led them to scale back communication with the Trump administration. The U.S., which had been the largest donor to UNRWA, slashed its annual $360 million (€310 million) contribution by more than 80 percent to $60 million.

UNRWA depends on continued funding to support 5 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. Even though other countries stepped in to help fill the gap, UNRWA has been left in a financial crunch. In Gaza alone, the organisation supports 1.3 million registered refugees through schools, health centres, social services and food aid.

Food aid being distributed by UNWRA in Gaza (photo: DW/T. Kraemer)
Dependent on handouts: five million Palestinians across the Middle East rely on UNRWA to meet their everyday needs. In Gaza alone the organisation supports 1.3 million registered refugees, providing education, healthcare, social services and food aid

Conditions in Hamas-controlled Gaza have been deteriorating for over 10 years: the small enclave has been sealed off by Israel and Egypt, a policy that has crippled its economy and severely restricted the ability of Gazans to move in or out.

Later Abu Oudeh arrives at the area where bags of flour are handed out. At other counters, cans of sardines, lentils, chickpeas and rice are packed into bags. The amount they receive is barely enough to last a family through the three-month distribution intervals, but it's a big help in everyday life, says the 57-year old. Abu Oudeh has a family of seven and would rather work than stand in line at the distribution centre. Outside donkey carts and cars are waiting to transport the heavy bags of flour to the Al-Shati camp nearby for a small fee.

Everyone seems worried by reports that the U.S. may want to see the relief organisation dismantled. Aside from providing aid, UNRWA also symbolises the continued recognition by the United Nations that the Palestinian refugee issue still awaits political resolution. To Palestinians, UNRWA's dismantlement would threaten to diminish their stake in the issue of the right of return to what is now Israel, one of the thorniest issues in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

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Comments for this article: U.S. aid cuts bite in Gaza

What a shame for all the rich islamic states - Saudi-Arabia and Iran especially - that the US had to be, until now, the largest contributor to the UNWRA. The so often acclaimed Islamic solidarity appears a hollow slogan.

Rudi Dierick14.08.2018 | 13:15 Uhr