UN announces cuts in food aid to Gaza, West Bank

World Food Programme agency says assistance to Palestinians will be reduced due to budgetary woes

A Palestinian man loads flour bags onto a donkey cart outside the United Nations World Food Programme distribution center in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Nov. 7, 2007 (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
A Palestinian man loads flour bags onto a donkey cart outside the United Nations World Food Programme distribution center in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Nov. 7, 2007 (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

The UN’s World Food Programme said Wednesday that it was making cuts in food aid to over 190,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, citing a funding shortfall.

As of January 1, the organization will suspend food assistance to 27,000 people in the West Bank, and reduce it by 20 percent to 165,000 people in the West Bank and Gaza, the Reuters news agency reported.

“WFP has been forced, unfortunately, to make drastic cuts to the number of people that we support across Palestine,” Stephen Kearney, the program’s coordinator for the West Bank and Gaza told the news agency.

“It’s not just WFP, it’s across the whole humanitarian community as donor contributions significantly fall,” he said.

In this Jan. 14, 2018 photo, Palestinians receive food aid at a UNRWA warehouse in the Shati refugee camp, Gaza City. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Kearney added that the program would need $57 million to maintain the current level of aid for 360,000 Palestinians in 2019.

The United Nations on Monday urged donor states to give $350 million in aid for Palestinians in 2019, saying it needed more but had to be “realistic” following deep US cuts.

The UN said the appeal, down from $539 million in 2018, was due to a lack of available donor funds across the globe.

The United States has announced it will cut almost all of its aid to Palestinians, having previously provided around $500 million a year through various mechanisms including the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

The appeal for funds, called the Humanitarian Response Plan and done in conjunction with Palestinian authorities, in the past received $100 million in US funding.

Palestinians receive their monthly food supplies from the World Food Program in Gaza City, March 4, 2006 (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Jamie McGoldrick, UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, said that due to a lack of donors the UN had to be more “realistic” when asking for funds.

“We have taken this humanitarian response plan to the most focused and prioritized it could possibly be,” he said at the launch of the appeal in Ramallah.

The majority of the funds will go to the Gaza Strip, where two million Palestinians live under the rule of terrorist group Hamas, with more than two thirds relying on aid.

With its economy in a free fall and tensions with Israel rising, Gaza is imploding, UN envoy for the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov warned in October.

Last year the UN appeal received only $220 million of the funds requested.

Areas that have seen major decreases in funding include water, food security and shelter, UN officials said.

The US had been by far the biggest contributor to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees and the cuts dealt a massive blow to its already stretched finances.

It threatened the closure of UNRWA schools both in the Palestinian territories and in the diaspora, just weeks into the new academic year, as well as clinic closures and major job cuts.

Schoolgirls watch as UNRWA’s commissioner-general, Pierre Krahenbuhl, gives a press conference to launch a global campaign to support UNRWA, at the UNRWA Rimal Girls Preparatory School in Gaza City, January 22, 2018 (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

The Trump administration, like Israel, says it opposes the way the organization operates and how it calculates the number of Palestinian refugees.

Both the US and Israel also castigate the Palestinian Authority for paying stipends to “martyrs” — including to jailed terrorists and security prisoners, and to the families of terrorists.

UNRWA was set up in 1950 to help Palestinian refugees who lost their homes in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Its assistance includes schools, healthcare centers and food distribution.

More than 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation and during the Six Day War in 1967. They and all their descendants are deemed by the UN agency to be refugees who fall under its remit.

Israel accuses UNRWA of helping to perpetuate the Palestinian narrative of Israel’s illegitimacy by, uniquely, granting refugee status to the descendants of refugees, even when they are born in other countries and have citizenship there, conditions that do not apply to the refugees cared for by the UN’s main refugee agency, UNHCR, which cares for all other refugees worldwide. The population of Palestinian refugees thus grows each year.

The “right of return” is one of the key issues of dispute in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians claim that the five million people the UN recognizes as refugees have the right to return to their homes in Israel proper and the West Bank. Israel, for its part, rejects this demand, saying that it represents a bid by the Palestinians to destroy Israel by weight of numbers.

Israel’s population is almost nine million, some three-quarters of whom are Jewish. An influx of millions of Palestinians would mean Israel would no longer be a Jewish-majority state.

Aside from ending all US funding of UNRWA, the Trump administration has also cut $200 million in bilateral aid to the Palestinians for projects in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

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