Tag Archives: UNRWA

Senators should not build unity on the backs of Palestinians

When do U.S. Senators stand lockstep together?

When the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) convinces them that the United Nations is biased against the State of Israel.

The Wall Street Journal notes:

It’s rare, especially these days, for all 100 U.S. Senators—from Bernie Sanders to Ted Cruz, from Elizabeth Warren to Mitch McConnell—to agree on something. But the scourge of anti-Israel bias at the United Nations is such an issue.

So all of them, including Senators Warren, Sanders, and my two Senators from New Mexico signed on to the letter undoubtedly written by AIPAC, the pro-Israeli lobbying operation ensconced in Washington DC.

The letter is a warning note to Secretary-General Guterres – “reform your agencies from within or pay the consequences.”

Although, as Republicans and Democrats, we disagree on many issues, we are united in our desire to see the United Nations improve its treatment of Israel and to eliminate anti-Semitism in all its forms.

My response sent to my two U.S. Senators follows.  I hope they hear from many other constituents.

May 10, 2017

RE:   April 27 letter to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres – Israel & Palestine

Dear Senators Udall and Heinrich,

I’m very disappointed with your signatures on the letter (likely drafted by AIPAC) to the United Nations regarding Israel.

Senator Martin Heinrich

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM)

You, along with your colleagues in the Senate, have adopted Israel’s strategy of deflecting legitimate and worldwide criticism of Israel’s brutal 50-year occupation by focusing criticism on the messenger, the United Nations. We’ve all seen this same “strategy of deflection” coming from the White House in the form of childish Tweets. Your letter is just as childish.

Threatening the United Nations and demanding internal “reforms,” based on false assertions that the U.N. is unfairly targeting Israel, belies the fact that the community of nations stand together in their condemnation of Israel’s long-term, illegal occupation of Palestine.

A quick online review of recent actions in the United Nations reveals that the U.S. stands alone with the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau (and sometimes Canada) in supporting Israel in the U.N. General Assembly. Every other nation is united in speaking the truth about Israel’s continuing violations of international humanitarian law and the law of occupation. Your letter’s bullying demands to the Secretary-General reflect poorly on the United States, but it’s certainly a testament to AIPAC’s power over the U.S. Senate.

I particularly want to draw your attention to the letter’s outrageous claim about “UNRWA’s troubling anti-Israel bias and activities.” You write that “UNRWA must pursue reforms or risk significant consequences.” I’m personally familiar with UNRWA’s solid work in the Gaza Strip and I find this characterization and threat totally unacceptable. The Senate’s blind loyalty to Israel’s hasbara must end.

Udall

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM)

I’m also astonished that you oppose the international call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as stated in the letter to the U.N.  Peaceful, nonviolent methods to end Israel’s occupation deserve your strong support, not condemnation.

Please learn the facts about the occupation, beginning with the fact that the Gaza Strip will be unlivable by 2020.

Israel’s leaders have proven over many decades that they are incapable or unwilling to end the occupation. If the United States cannot play a constructive role, then please support the United Nations and its constituent agencies in the work they are doing in the Middle East.

Finally, I invite you and your staff to join me in UNRWA-USA’s 5K run in Washington, DC in September.  Your support for this worthy cause would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Lora A. Lucero

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Filed under Israel, nonviolent resistance, Occupation, People, Politics, Uncategorized, United Nations, US Policy

#Gaza5K rain or shine in DC

IMG_4417Saturday, May 21, proved to be a real soaker and not the best conditions at Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC for a 5K.  That didn’t stop hundreds from showing up bright and early (7 AM) to run or walk in solidarity with the children in Gaza.

IMG_4411The successful fundraiser supports UNRWA’s psycho-social programs for children suffering from PTSD. Tragically, more than 50% of the children in Gaza suffer from PTSD.

IMG_4423This was my second #Gaza5K. Thanks to generous donors, I exceeded my $2,000 goal. I’m waiting to hear the final stats from UNRWA-USA but I heard they exceeded their goal too. Yeah!

Honestly, I thought about not rolling out of bed at 5 AM to drive to DC to walk in the rain, but I’m glad I did it ….. for me, for the people who donated to my campaign, and for the children in Gaza.

I met some really cool new friends, and received some great advice about my personal journey to return to Gaza.  I’m contacting the National Lawyers Guild this week.

Thank you to the UNRWA-USA staff who inspired all of us to do our best for the children in Gaza.  You are truly making a difference!

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CROSSING THE FINISH LINE

 

 

 

 

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#GoingtoGaza – May 2015

I was in Baltimore in May 2015 as the community was in turmoil. The following entries are from my journal for that month on my pilgrimage back to Gaza. Check my blog for the previous months’ entries.

Days #242-243 – Sitting in Baltimore now, watching the #Baltimoreuprising and #Baltimoreriots. The thread that runs between Gaza and Baltimore is giving me pause to think about 1) how I communicate and 2) how I can best use my gifts (privileges) to change the status quo. #GoingtoGaza

Day #245 – Met Tom Hayden at the Baltimore Library today where he was talking about his new book “Listen, Yankee!” He’s 75 years old and human. I imagined him younger and verging on super-hero. Some people fit into their skin early in life. Others (me) still haven’t. #GoingtoGaza

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Tom Hayden and Lora in Baltimore (May 2015)

Days #246-247 – Shifting my focus from Egypt to Israel and the Erez crossing in the northern Gaza Strip. I crossed through Erez in 2004 (before Hamas was elected) and remember the feeling I had walking through the long cage between Israel and Gaza. It felt inhumane then. Wonder what it must feel like now. #GoingtoGaza

Day #248 – I learned this morning that a very good friend from Gaza has been accepted into a program this summer in DC. !*!*!*! Now he must apply for a Visa to travel which requires an interview at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. No big deal, right?  Except that Israel will either allow him to travel to Tel Aviv, or not. Israeli apologists – PLEASE don’t tell me that Israel doesn’t occupy Gaza. That’s bull shit. I wish The New York Times would finally come clean on that point. #GoingtoGaza and praying that my friend is #GoingtoUSA

Day #249 – Nearly reached my fundraising goal for the #Gaza5K to support UNRWA’s work with children in Gaza. And making progress on getting books for the backpacks that will be shipped to Gaza. Feeling very jazzed!! #GoingtoGaza

Day #250 – Feeling more hopeful today. There are more ways than one to skin this cat…..and get back to Gaza. #GoingtoGaza

Day #251 – ISIS (aka Daesh) in Gaza?! I just read this short article that says ISIS is battling Hamas in the Gaza Strip. If true, my plans for returning to Gaza just took a sharp detour. #GoingtoGaza maybe

Days #252-253 – Spending time with family is like taking the car into the shop for a tune-up or recharging the batteries. This weekend with family recharged my personal batteries. #GoingtoGaza

Day #254 – I know I’m not alone. I’m trying to return to Gaza and my friends in Gaza are watching and waiting and hoping I’m able to return. Thank you my friends. #GoingtoGaza

Day #255 – Watched a video on Netflix last night called #ChicagoGirl about how citizen journalists are using technology to organize the revolution in Syria. I thought about the occupation of Palestine. Finished reading Tom Hayden’s book today – “Listen, Yankee! Why Cuba Matters”. I thought about the blockade of Gaza. Everything seems connected to Gaza, at least in my mind. #GoingtoGaza

Days #256-257 – Spent Thursday preparing for meetings in DC. Friday is Nakba Day (Catastrophe) when Palestinians remember 1948 – the beginning of their forcible expulsion from their homes, lands and communities at the hands of the Zionists. More than 750,000 Palestinians were expelled and more than 500 villages were destroyed to make room for the new State of Israel. Today I’m meeting with staff in Senators Udall and Heinrich’s offices, and staff in Rep. Lujan-Grisham’s office to tell them about the Nakba and give them some papers. #GoingtoGaza

Day #258 – Walked the #Gaza5K in 1:03:34. Met some new friends — a retired doctor from Pittsburgh who worked in the West Bank and Gaza for a time, and a new young eye doctor who visited Jordan and the West Bank for a few days. The energy at this UNRWA event was very positive with 900+ signed up. I took pictures and posted them online because I want my friends in Gaza to see how many Americans care about them. #GoingtoGaza

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Day #259 – I’ve been walking so much the past few months that my big toe seems to be permanently bruised. I wonder if I’m going to lose the toenail. At least I don’t have any blisters. Whew! #GoingtoGaza

Day #262 – After a couple of recent trips to Capitol Hill, there’s no doubt in my mind that the pro-Israel lobby has almost every member of Congress in a head vise. Senate and House staff have the jargon down pat — “Hamas is a terrorist organization” and “Israel has a right to defend herself.” I don’t think they understand that their worldview of Israel-Palestine doesn’t match how most countries view Israel-Palestine. How does a constituent have a conversation about the occupation in a 15-30 minute meeting?  #GoingtoGaza

Day #263 – A Palestinian friend from Gaza decided not to participate in a program in DC that brings Palestinians and Israelis together to listen and learn from each other.  Her decision is based on a concern, I think, about “normalization“. “It is helpful to think of normalization as a “colonization of the mind,” whereby the oppressed subject comes to believe that the oppressor’s reality is the only “normal” reality that must be subscribed to, and that the oppression is a fact of life that must be coped with. Those who engage in normalization either ignore this oppression, or accept it as the status quo that can be lived with.” #GoingtoGaza

Day #264 – Memorial Day weekend – when Americans remember those killed in combat, those maimed and disfigured, and those who committed suicide because the horrors of war are too much to bear. Families will be BBQing, waving flags and drinking beer!  While the Obama Administration has approved a $1.9 Billion sale of weapons to “replenish” Israel’s stock depleted last summer in Gaza.  Kill, kill, kill, die, die, die, $$$, $$$, $$$ — the credo of the Military Industrial Complex. And we play along like good suckers! #GoingtoGaza

Day #265 – I walked 13.2 miles today and finished listening to an audible book on my iPod called “A Flowering in Palestine” written by Andrew Reilly. A true story about an American Jew who grew up during the 1960s and 1970s. When his daughter has finished school and is ready to leave home, he decides to visit Israel. (1999). There, he learns the story of the Nakba and the Occupation and is so moved by the injustices he sees that he decides to accept a short-term teaching job in Bethlehem. Within a few weeks, he is shot and killed by an Israeli soldier while walking and singing with Palestinians who are peacefully protesting the murder of a Palestinian. Walking for fitness or walking to change the world—–as a Pilgrim I feel I’m doing both.  #GoingtoGaza

Day #266 – Beginning a new day. Nothing that a little Aleve won’t fix. Thinking a lot about tribalism and its destructive impacts. Is Memorial Day an opportunity for Americans to share one form of tribal affiliation? #GoingtoGaza

Day #267 – When will “service to our nation” refer to Americans doing good deeds at home and abroad, instead of Americans killing and dying? Answer: When our defense budget is aligned with our values, not our fears, and not what the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) demands. Take a look. The MIC is actually making us less secure. #GoingtoGaza

Day #268 – Rocket fire from Gaza provoked a response from Israel. And the cycle of violence continues. Two thoughts: Mainstream media is quick to report about the rocket fire from Gaza but has failed to report about Israel’s persistent violations of the truce over the past 10 months, and there have been many. There’s a new acronym that applies to nearly every child in Gaza. PPTSD = Permanent Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. #GoingtoGaza

Day #269 – Currently reading “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion” (a 2012 social psychology book by Jonathan Haidt). He makes the point that Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (forming the acronym WEIRD) people see the world full of separate objects, rather than relationships. People in a non-WEIRD society are more likely to see relationships, contexts, groups, and institutions — not focused on protecting individuals. Today I heard that Bernalillo County Commissioners are likely to approve a badly-conceived development plan and have conveniently divided the land use / water issues.  Reminds me of what I read in Haidt’s book last night. #GoingtoGaza

Day #270 – Surprised and disappointed by 3 recent posts on Facebook — (1) a plea by a long-time American activist for Palestine that people stop a whispering attack against her, (2) a response to her plea that maybe the criticism against her is justified, and (3) a petition today asking people not to engage in such divisive attacks online against fellow activists. I’m surprised because I was unaware of this “internal” strife until recently. I’m disappointed because pro-Palestine activists are human after all. Maybe everyone has good intentions but we’re individuals with our own ideas and ways of doing things.  May all activists (regardless of your goals) model peace, tolerance and compassion. #GoingtoGaza

Days #271 – 272 – A new insight came to me yesterday as I was sharing with a friend. As a Pilgrim, I’ve been feeling some measure of discomfort about not being able to see the future. Where will I be this time next year? What will I be doing? Pre-Pilgrim days, I had a vision and greater certainty about my path, and felt some comfort in knowing what lay ahead. Now I realize, those days were really a delusion — a false sense of security but not reality. As a Pilgrim, I’m living a life more appreciative of the present. #GoingtoGaza

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#GoingtoGaza – April 2015

 

My journey to return to Gaza began more than 200 days ago in September 2014. Every day I’ve jotted down a note about my progress (or lack of progress) and I’ve compiled these notes by month on my blog.  This post includes my notes from April 2015 when I traveled to Minneapolis and Rochester, Minnesota and then to Baltimore, Maryland.

 

Day #213 – In my email inbox was a note recommending that I buy burial insurance. Since I’m traveling today — getting on an airplane in a few hours headed to Minneapolis — I hope that email was only Spam.  I deleted it.   #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #214 – Yesterday in Minneapolis, the high of 83 F broke record from 1880s.  Today, the expected high is 63 F. And tomorrow, the expected high will be 43 F.  Thank you, Fossil Fuels.  #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #215 – A 90-year-old friend asked me today how she could keep in touch with me when I’m in Gaza. She doesn’t have a computer. And I told her snail mail delivery to Gaza is impossible. So we decided that her son or daughter could help her send and receive emails.  My friend seemed shocked that there was no mail delivery in Gaza. #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #216 – I think today is the first day in this long 200+ days journey that I haven’t talked with someone about Gaza. I focused my entire day on my 8 year old nephew. His Serpentine Lego fighter protected us all day … at the library, riding the bus around Rochester, and chasing squirrels. When I showed him the school building where I went to 2nd grade, I think he was amazed that I was ever that young. I love this little guy.  #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #217 – Easter Sunday. I attended Easter services in the same small church I attended as a child in Rochester, where I sang in the choir, and taught Sunday School to the young children when I was a teenager.  This was my first time back in nearly 45 years!  I looked around and saw “my tribe” and thought how good it feels to be part of a tribe.

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Mayo Clinic in background; Calvary Episcopal Church in foreground. Rochester, Minnesota

 

Hopefully, everyone begins life in a tribe that grounds the individual in the mores and traditions of the tribe, but as we mature, we learn the important lesson that we’re all connected. We are one. My tribe and your tribe and his tribe are all one.  Unfortunately, many people cannot lift their heads or hearts up above their tribal affiliations. #GoingtoGaza

 

Days #218-219 – Yesterday I reached out to one of the organizers who is pulling together the next flotilla to Gaza.  Since entry to Gaza from Israel and Egypt is so difficult, maybe I can get a seat on a boat.  Haven’t heard any response yet but keeping my fingers crossed for good luck. #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #220 – Learned a new factoid today. Thomas Jefferson had purchased a copy of the Qu’ran 11 years before he wrote the Declaration of Independence. If nothing else, it indicates that he was interested in learning about “others”.

 

On NPR this morning, I listened to a program about the religion of Scientology and how its leaders discourage members from reading any critique of Scientology. Thomas Jefferson would never have been a good Scientologist. His mind was too open to new ideas and ways of looking at the world. Netanyahu, on the other hand, would make a good Scientologist. #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #221 – On this pilgrimage I meet old friends and new. Yesterday I saw an old friend at the Rochester library whom I haven’t seen in 10+ years. She’s a librarian. I was surprised to learn that she knew about my travel to Gaza in 2012-2013 (I think my cousin must have shared my story with her) and she’s very interested in my future travel to Gaza. We agreed to connect on Facebook so that we can follow each other. The younger generation may be leaving Facebook, but the older 60+ generation is finding each other there. Yeah!  #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #222 – Listening to a family member tell me with certitude that “Hamas are terrorists who want to destroy Israel”. He believes I met the “happy Hamas” during my visit to Gaza — those people who perform social welfare actions.  Maybe the “bad Hamas terrorists” were hiding behind children or in schools.

 

I had absolutely no words and no energy to respond. Sitting there I thought “where does he get his information?”  “Doesn’t he realize that the Israeli occupation has continued for 67 years but Hamas has existed only about 1/2 that time?”  So many Americans are living in a bubble and I’m sad because I don’t know how to burst it. #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #223 – Last month a good friend was trying to warn me about my Facebook posts which focus on the Holy Land.  By way of example, she told me that her adult daughter doesn’t like my posts. Was that meant to help me “tone down” my messages? I’m not sure, but I immediately responded: “I don’t care what your daughter thinks about my FB posts on Israel and Palestine.” That ended the discussion right away.

 

In hindsight, I think my response was too curt. But do people really think I am interested in pleasing 3300+ friends on Facebook?  The beauty of FB is that anyone can “unfriend” or “unfollow” anyone else.  I highly recommend it. #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #224 – Friday morning in Minneapolis I grabbed my camera to capture a picture of the snow falling. This morning, I’m watching many friends in Gaza posting their pictures of the snow falling. Thankful for the beautiful white stuff from heaven that captures the imagination of so many. #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #225 – Hillary Clinton has visited Palestine, and specifically the Gaza Strip. But is she capable of speaking the truth? Apparently she has some harsh words about the occupation in her new book. I’m going to read it. #GoingtoGaza

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Deir Yassin Memorial in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Day #226 – The Massacre at Deir Yassin has not been forgotten in Minneapolis, Minnesota. On April 9, 1948, Zionist terrorists killed more than 100 Palestinian men, women and children in the village of Deir Yassin. Today I rode my bicycle along the Midtown Greenway, an old abandoned railroad line, and was surprised to find a memorial to Deir Yassin. I don’t know who was responsible for erecting the memorial. I wonder how many cyclists understand its significance.  Surprise on the Midtown Greenway | لماذا غزة؟ Why Gaza? #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #227 – Arrived in Baltimore last night, the next leg of my pilgrimage.  My friend and I went walking along the Inner Harbor today — his pedometer measured about 5 miles — when I took a tumble and landed on my . . . face!  Except for a swollen lip, I don’t seem to be worse for wear. Very lucky I didn’t break my nose or chip a tooth. Just the thought makes me cringe! 😦   #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #228 – A good friend said he was looking seriously at Rand Paul for President because, among other reasons, Rand Paul supports “right to life.” I shared with him the candidate’s position on Israel and Palestine.  I’m pleased that he decided it was a deal breaker and he can’t support Rand Paul now. Rand Paul – “I’m proud to support Israel, America’s longtime friend and ally in the Middle East. Israeli cafés and buses are bombed, towns are victimized by hundreds of rockets, and its citizens are attacked by Palestinian terrorists.”  Currently, Rand Paul has introduced a bill to defund Palestine as long as they continue to seek justice at the International Criminal Court.  #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #229 – Life and death. When I was younger, those two seemed like black & white. Here & there. Over the past 18 months, I’ve had the honor to watch life passing to death in slow motion. Now they seem more like a continuum — a journey — a gentle breeze between a fluid membrane. Thank you my friend.  #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #230 – Contacted the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC via email to ask about the procedure for getting permission to cross Erez into Gaza. Was surprised to receive a response in about 30 minutes that said they don’t handle such matters. I should check with http://www.cogat.idf.il/894-en/Matpash.aspx Going to check this website tomorrow.  #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #231 – Today a friend told me that he was on “auto-pilot” most of his life (he’s 72) but he’s now really living and engaged with life. I think about where and what I was doing 10 years ago, compared to where and what I’m doing today — and I’m so thankful this path opened up for me. But I don’t feel I was ever on auto-pilot.  Just on another path.  #GoingtoGaza

 

Days #232-233 – Propaganda is alive and well inside the DC Beltway metro stations.  http://sayyestopeace.org  I wonder if our elected leaders are getting much truth in their diet.  #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #234 – Received some cold, hard reality news today that has forced me to stop and reassess the journey I’m on. #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #235 – Learned yesterday that the Palestinian Youth in Gaza are planning a day of protest at home and around the world on Wednesday, April 29. I contacted one of the organizers and now I’m planning to protest in front of the Israeli Embassy. Might be a protest of one. I wonder if anyone will join me. #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #236 – At the grocery store in Baltimore, a sign over the door as I left  — “Thank you” “Merci” “Gracias” and the Arabic letters for Shukran.  I was really pleased that I could read it. I should pick up my Arabic vocabulary cards and start practicing again. #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #237 – What can we get for $2 trillion per year? Answer: A world beyond war.     #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #238 – A friend told me today that my strength is talking one-on-one or with small groups because people trust me and I’m a good listener. He said I should use that skill when I get to the Middle East. Maybe I should use that skill with the officials at the Egyptian Embassy and Israeli Embassy.  My yelling and kicking and screaming don’t seem to work. LOL #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #239 – “Diversity” and “Pluralism” — the first is a census factoid and the second is an achievement of building an inclusive community. It takes hard work to achieve pluralism.  “Sacred Ground” – by Eboo Patel. Israel’s occupation has created the opposite. A Jews-only state is neither diverse nor an example of pluralism. Israel supporters would feel great sadness if they understood their lost.  #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #240 – I’m in Baltimore when rioting breaks out after young black man died in police custody. FB friends draw parallels between Baltimore and Gaza. They see “good” guys and “bad” guys — so simplistic!  I wonder if they (and others) misunderstand my advocacy about Palestine. I don’t see Palestine-Israel as “good” vs “bad”. #GoingtoGaza

 

Day #241 – I’m feeling very grateful this morning. I’m walking the 5K for Gaza in middle of May to raise $$ for UNRWA. The resources are needed to help the children suffering from trauma in Gaza. Thank you! Merci! Gracias! Shukran!  #GoingtoGaza

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Day #36 – August 11, 2014 – Letter from Human Rights organizations

As I was writing my blog post today, this very important letter arrived from Palestine.  I’ve copied it below and urge you to read it carefully.

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We, the undersigned members of the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC), prompted by the current funding crisis faced by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), take this opportunity to state our grave, collective concern at these deeply troubling developments, and to call for both the immediate introduction of fair and effective remedial measures, and an urgent rethink in the approach employed by the United Nations and the international community towards the protection of Palestinian refugees; a community now numbering in excess of 7 million people.

This chronic funding shortfall in UNRWA’s core budget, necessary for running its essential programs, currently stands at US $101 million (this amount does not include the budget required for supplementary programs and projects of UNRWA). This has resulted, inter alia, in the suggested postponement of the academic year for half a million Palestinian students across the Middle East – among them, 320,00 students in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) – and a possible implementation of mandatory unpaid vacation for roughly 23,000 employees (60% of whom are in the oPt) . Without prejudice to UNRWA’s employees’ rights and demands, it is wholly unjust for refugees to bear the consequences of UNRWA’s budget crisis, and access to education is not just a basic human right, but a crucial building block of a healthy, stable and functioning society. Delivery of education, therefore, is of no less importance than that of other essential humanitarian services, with the postponement of the academic year representing an individual tragedy for students, but also an indirect form of punishment for the Palestinian people. As such, the implementation of such emergency administrative measures by UNRWA represents an infringement of the human rights of refugees, as well a clear deviation from UNRWA’s mandate.

In addition, this funding gap will place further strain on host states which are themselves operating at full capacity and suffering from chronic underfunding in their protection of refugees. Not only does this harm refugees in practice, but it also sets a dangerous policy precedent insofar as UNRWA is able to gradually divest itself of its responsibilities towards those to whom it is mandated to provide services.

Indeed, this mandate in its present form is already narrower in its understanding of ‘protection’ than that afforded by international law. Hence, it must also be emphasized that international protection should be deemed to include physical protection (that is, the provision of safety and security), legal protection (ensuring fundamental human rights, including accountability and the non-repetition of international crimes particularly, in the Palestinian case, those of forcible population transfer and deportation), and humanitarian assistance (including the provision of relief, shelters, health care and essential education).

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Despite this narrowly-interpreted mandate, however, the importance of UNRWA to Palestinian refugees must not be underestimated. In field research conducted with Palestinian refugees in 2015 throughout the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan and Lebanon by the BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights (BADIL), a lack or absence of humanitarian assistance was identified as the most pressing protection gap, whilst 89% of those surveyed across all four regions stated that this gap had a significant impact on stability in the Middle East generally. UNRWA’s leading role in addressing this gap is thus of extreme importance, whilst awareness of the agency among Palestinian refugees is widespread. Moreover, the perceived effectiveness of UNRWA in addressing this humanitarian assistance gap is notably high, particularly among those in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Accordingly, that UNRWA must fulfill its mandate is an essential starting point in any discourse pertaining to the ongoing plight of Palestinian refugees. To this end, enabling UNRWA to provide essential services is the responsibility of the United Nations and third party states; not that of host states or refugees themselves. PHROC members, therefore, reiterate the great importance of UNRWA being adequately funded so that it may both fulfill this essential mandate and avoid overburdening national governments. It naturally follows, then, that the address of this funding crisis – resulting from a gross shortfall in voluntary contributions from member states, combined with an ever-growing Palestinian refugee population, a deepening level of poverty within this population, and an absence of the international protection to which Palestinian refugees are entitled – be treated as a top priority for both the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and the Secretary-General.

Yet, recent developments highlight that the present crisis goes far beyond the issue of cash flow, and instead reveals an approach to the protection of Palestinian refugees which is fundamentally flawed and entirely unsustainable. The pressing question must surely not be how the steady increase in demand for essential services can be met, but rather how this demand can be reduced. This necessitates the implementation of a durable solution for more than 7 million Palestinian refugees in accordance with international law and UNGA resolution 194 of 1948, and United Nation Security Council resolution 237 of 1967. Reduction in demand also necessarily includes the tackling of secondary displacement from host countries, which have – as witnessed in Syria and the Gaza Strip – generated mass human suffering and placed a steady drain on already scant humanitarian resources.

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To this end, Palestinian refugees have become the victims of a collective short-sightedness, manifesting itself in a protection approach which focuses on tackling ever-worsening symptoms at the expense of any concerted effort to address the root causes of the displacement or to facilitate a fair, just and durable solution to this most protracted of refugee crises. Such a solution demands the marrying of humanitarian and legal responses, bolstered by full political support.

This need was recognized by UNGA in the immediate aftermath of the 1948 Nakba, and reflected in the Assembly’s subsequent establishing of a complementary configuration, or special regime, of UN agencies – consisting of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and UNRWA – to ensure the protection of Palestinian refugees. This regime has been allowed to fail by the international community, firstly through a lack of meaningful support for UNCCP and its mandate to pursue a political solution to the Palestinian refugee crisis, but more recently through a collective failure to ensure just and consistent application of Article 1(D) of the 1951 Refugee Convention in domestic courts, and this present chronic shortage of funding for UNRWA.

What is required is a just and durable solution which identifies and addresses the causal factors underpinning both the continued displacement of Palestinians and the worsening living standards to which this population is subjected; a solution which sees the inalienable rights of Palestinian refugees not just recognized in word, but enacted in deed.

This can likely only be achieved through the presence of a fully-functioning and fully-supported agency dedicated to pursuing such a solution. Thus, there is a clear and pressing need to either revive UNCCP, or to officially extend UNRWA’s existing mandate. Recent research by BADIL reveals that this latter option enjoys strong support among Palestinian refugees, particularly inside the West Bank.

Until such a solution is implemented, however, the role of UNRWA in providing key services to Palestinian refugees remains absolutely essential, and it is a role which demands prompt and adequate funding. Whilst the funding crisis endures, so too will the multitude of hardships faced by Palestinian refugees.

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PHROC members therefore call upon:

  1. The UNRWA Commissioner-General to reconsider the agency’s existing focus on implementing emergency measures and cuts in essential services, and instead focus on identifying long-term sources of funding to bridge this shortfall.
  2. Mr. Ban Ki-moon, in his capacity as the United Nations Secretary General and as the chairman of the UN System Chief Executives Board of Coordination (CEB) – (the executive head of all UN funds, programs and specialized agencies)  to explore all available measures, including the reallocation of part of the UN general budget, to address the shortfall in UNRWA’s funding and thus enable the agency to fulfill its mandate;
  3. The UNHCR to make the filling of the legal protection gap from which Palestinian refugees have long suffered a priority of the highest order;
  4. The UNGA, and the Secretary-General, to consider the tabling of a resolution which seeks to guarantee sufficient and stable financial resources for UNRWA to fulfill its mandate. To this end, the steady growth of the Palestinian refugee population and an extension of UNRWA’s mandate must be factored in;
  5. Mr. President, Mahmoud Abbas – through the Arab league, Islamic Conference Organization and non-aligned states – to draft and issue a UNGA decision which renders contributions towards the funding of UNRWA’s core budget as a mandatory obligation of third party states. In doing so, UNRWA’s budget will become both secure and sustainable, similar to other specialized agencies , rather than the current status whereby 97% of UNRWA’s essential budget  is dependent on voluntary contributions  and grants;

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Days #28 & 29 – August 3 & 4, 2014 – The trim tab!

Most Americans don’t have a clue where the Gaza Strip is located or even a hint about the horrible humanitarian crises unfolding there.

That fact is probably the most difficult for me to digest and accept.  The second most difficult fact — I can do very little to change things.

Walking the streets of Baltimore this summer, I’m watching people in their busy lives and I don’t know how to break through the competing white noise.  For 99% of them, Gaza simply isn’t on their radar and there’s no reason it ever will be despite the pleas of activists and NGOs banging the drums to wake up the world. Even mainsteam media is reporting on the anniversary of Israel’s 51-day assault on Gaza last summer, but who is really listening?  (We only mark momentous occasions with anniversaries, right?)

If anyone asked, I would direct them to OCHA and UNRWA for information about the situation in Gaza.  But no one asks.

Now the United Church of Christ, joined by other faith leaders, is asking Congress to hold Human Rights Hearings on U.S. Aid to Israel.   They write:

To achieve peace between Israel and a future Palestinian state, successive U.S. administrations have said Israel’s occupation of Palestinians and their land must end. Yet the situation on the ground is worsening every day: illegal Israeli settlements and land confiscations are expanding; home demolitions, collective punishments, and freedom restrictions are routine; and extrajudicial killings, arbitrary and abusive detentions—including of minors—and violence against civilians are occurring with impunity. Whether committed by Israeli forces or settlers, Israel is responsible as the occupying power.

Israel should be subject to the same process of human rights compliance as other countries receiving U.S. military aid. In an October 5, 2012 letter UCC leaders joined more than a dozen U.S. church organizations in calling for Congress to “hold Israel accountable to [human rights] standards by making the disbursement of U.S. military assistance to Israel contingent on the Israeli government’s compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies. As Israel is the single largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid since World War II, it is especially critical for Israel to comply with the specific U.S. laws that regulate the use of U.S.-supplied weapons.” With this resolution the UCC again seeks to hold the U.S. accountable in its efforts to seek peace.

The U.S. must ensure that its military aid is not used to commit human rights abuses or otherwise support a system under which conditions deteriorate and the prospects for peace are diminished. Urge Congress to hold hearings to examine and insist on Israel’s compliance as a requirement for receiving U.S. aid.

I signed the UCC petition and hope my friends will join me.  And I presented my own petition to Congress asking them to invite President Jimmy Carter to speak about his recent visit to Israel and Palestine.

My dream of waking up Americans may sound foolish, but I really only have to identify those key people who can make a difference.

Just like the trim tab on the boat, that small part that moves the rudder, that eventually moves the entire ship.  We certainly can’t change the ship’s direction. It’s too large and the momentum is too strong.  But we can adjust the trim tab, to change the rudder’s direction, and watch as the entire ship slowly changes course.

Trimtab on the ship's rudder.

Trim tab on the ship’s rudder.    www.treeforlife.org

I need to focus on the trim tab where I can make a difference with people who can make a difference in the lives of my Palestinian friends in Gaza.

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Filed under Gaza, Peaceful, Politics, US Policy

#Gaza5K pictures

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This morning I walked the #Gaza5K to support UNRWA’s important work in Gaza.

The start location in Rock Creek Park was a bit cryptic and many folks, like me, ended up in the wrong location. But we finally connected up with hundreds of others who were registered to walk/run on this beautiful day in Washington, DC.

UNRWA raised $101,707 in this event. Yeah!  I personally raised $1,055 and feel very blessed to have the support of friends and family.  Thank you!

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There are still two #Gaza5K events planned, if you want to participate —- in San Francisco on October 17, and Orange County, CA on October 24.  Check them out here!

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I heard that 900+ people signed up for the #Gaza5K today in Washington, DC. Not sure how many actually showed up, but there were 100s and a lot of energy at the start of the race!  Some of us were dragging a bit by the end — with the uphill climb.

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I met several new friends along the route — and found good conversation with Leila, a retired doctor from Pittsburgh who worked in Gaza and the West Bank.

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And I survived! I crossed the finish line at 1:03:34. Even though the small dogs and babies in strollers beat me, I felt good about my accomplishment!

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Filed under Gaza, Peaceful