3rd Thursday Alert: Urge the Biden Administration to restore funding to UNRWA and bilateral assistance to Gaza and the West Bank
On January 20, Joseph R. Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States. The day marked the end of four unconstructive years of U.S. foreign policy under Donald Trump with regard to Israel and Palestine. President Biden now has the opportunity to round a turning point in U.S. policy, to support a just peace for the people of the region.
Trump’s policies supported the further entrenchment of Israel’s occupation, for example by backing the expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied territories, cutting all funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)—the UN agency that supports 5.7 million Palestinian refugees across Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan—and ending assistance to other U.N. and humanitarian actors operating in the West Bank and Gaza.
This assistance had been used to fund education, healthcare (such as through the East Jerusalem Hospitals Network), and other basic essential services for Palestinians.
President Biden needs to take decisive action to change the course of U.S. policy in Israel and Palestine and undertake renewed efforts to relieve the humanitarian crisis there. UNRWA, one of the largest health care providers in Gaza, said in November that the agency was facing its “worst financial crisis ever” and would be unable to pay full staff salaries without additional donor funding. As COVID-19 continues to rapidly spread in the occupied territories, humanitarian assistance is critical as Palestinian health infrastructure is weak and it is difficult for residents to maintain social distancing and hygiene requirements.
President Biden has said publicly that “he will restore economic and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, consistent with U.S. law, including assistance to refugees.” His administration needs to be held to this promise, by authorizing the resumption of funding to support UNRWA as well as working with Congress to restore funding at least to the previous level of $225 million for bilateral humanitarian and development programs in the West Bank and Gaza.
Furthermore, President Biden must hold Israel accountable to its international obligations as an occupying power and strongly appeal that Israel ensures COVID-19 vaccines are equally and fairly provided to Palestinians living under its occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. So far, Israel’s COVID-19 vaccine roll-out plan covers only citizens of Israel, excluding the nearly 5 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip under Israeli military occupation. As noted in a joint statement signed by the Middle East Council of Churches, Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention specifically provides that an occupier has the duty of ensuring “the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.” This duty includes providing support for the purchase and distribution of vaccines to the Palestinian population under its control.
Urge President Biden to restore funding to UNRWA and bilateral assistance to Gaza and the West Bank, and ask him to strongly appeal that Israel provide COVID-19 vaccines to all residents living under its control.