Tag Archives: UNRWA

Relay Run for Refugees

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The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is the U.N. agency created shortly after Palestine was divided in 1948. UNRWA’s mandate was to specifically address the needs of the Palestinians uprooted from their homes, businesses and communities. Some were forcibly removed by the Jewish Zionists, some were threatened and fled, and some were butchered when they didn’t flee soon enough (Deir Yassin massacre).

When UNRWA began operations in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, some 5 – 7 million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services.  The common denominator among all of the refugees is that they are waiting to return to their communities. To this day, many Palestinian refugees still have the keys to their homes located in present-day Israel.

Nakba 2

It’s often claimed that the refugees left voluntarily but the factual record doesn’t support that contention. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) provides a very good summary of what happened in 1948 and the rights of the refugees today.

Palestinian refugees’ right to return to the homes from which they were displaced is well established in international law. The first source of support for Palestinian refugees’ claims to a right of return is U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 (III) Of December 1948, paragraph 11, in which the U.N. General Assembly,

“Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the governments or authorities responsible;

Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation…”

Since 1949, this resolution together with UNSC Res. 242 and 338 have been regularly reaffirmed by the U.N. General Assembly.

Loss of LandUNRWA provides education, healthcare, and employment opportunities for millions of Palestinian refugees, but Trump claims the agency is a failure and unsustainable, citing the growing number of refugees. Human rights lawyer, Francesca P. Albanese, wrote a very good monograph about the challenges confronting UNRWA, but we know Trump won’t be bothered with the facts. I hope members of Congress will take time to read it. (Available here.)

September 20-25, 2019, UNRWA-USA is hosting a relay-run that urges the U.S. government to put humanitarian assistance ahead of politics and back in line with American values. Partnering with Right to Movement, UNRWA-USA will bring a group of runners and refugees from Palestine to relay run down the East Coast to deliver a message that UNRWA needs America’s investment. The relay will begin on Friday, September 20 in New York City at the start of the UN General Assembly and the runners will make stops along the East Coast to share stories at community events hosted by like-minded partners and collect support for UNRWA’s humanitarian programs and services for Palestine refugees in the Middle East.

Relay itinerary:

-9/20: relay kicks off in New York City
-9/21: run from New York to Clifton, New Jersey
-9/22: run from New Jersey to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
-9/23: run from Pennsylvania to Wilmington, Delaware
-9/24: run from Delaware to Baltimore, Maryland
-9/25: run from Maryland to Washington DC

Please consider supporting these runners and UNRWA with a donation that represents your values and concern for Palestinian refugees.  Check out the link for online donations and more information.

 

 

 

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UNRWA AND PALESTINE REFUGEE RIGHTS – New Assaults, New Challenges

By Francesca P. Albanese (Published in Institute for Palestine Studies, November 2018)

Francesca_Albanese

Francesca Albanese

Although most Americans may not be aware of President Trump’s assault on the U.N. agency responsible for the Palestinian refugees, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) — those of us who keep our attention focused on Israel & Palestine have been watching his Administration’s pronouncements this year with a mixture of alarm, disgust and disdain.

In her monograph (available here) Francesca P. Albanese has clearly summarized Trump’s actions vis-a-vis UNRWA and the Palestinians, spelled out how his actions are contrary to historical facts and international law, and concluded with a commonsense recommendation: if the U.N. General Assembly believes that UNRWA needs to be reformed, then bring it up for discussion within the framework of UN rules and procedures. The United States and Donald have no authority (much less competence) to unilaterally reform any U.N. agency.

It’s very unlikely that anyone in the current U.S. Administration will take the time to read or digest Albanese’s points, but I’m going to forward it to members of Congress (especially the new ones taking office in January) because their staff needs to have this information in their arsenal. It might come in very handy when drafting speeches or arguments against Donald’s destructive notions of reforming UNRWA.

Access and read her full monograph here.

And today is always a good day to make a tax-deductible donation to UNRWA-USA to help provide critical mental health services to Palestinian refugees in Gaza.  Check out my fundraising page here. Thank you.

Francesca Albanese is a human rights lawyer (LL.M, SOAS) who spent 12 years working in the field of human rights, including with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and more recently with the UN Agency for Relief and Work of Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Her legal expertise includes research, policy advice and capacity building on various human rights issues -mainly in Asia and the MENA region. This includes the protection of refugees and migrants,  interaction with the international human rights system, the establishment of national human rights institutions and mechanisms for the prevention of torture.

 

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Walking the Talk

Friends and I made a large human peace sign at UNM on Friday (9/21/18).  I reflected on the forces that have marched us towards many more wars since the signing of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights 70 years ago. Perhaps we are less safe, less secure and less peaceful than the human community was in 1948.

my gaza5k 3The next day I joined the #Gaza5k run/walk in DC virtually by walking 5k in Albuquerque around the UNM Golf Course. I measured my distance with my Steps App and felt a sense of accomplishment, although I wish I could have been with my friends in DC. Action together is more fulfilling than solitary action.

During my personal #Gaza5k I meditated about the extreme hardships occurring in Gaza today which are preventable, fixable and avoidable if only the U.S. government had the political will to stand up for the oppressed, rather than kowtow to Israel’s every whim.

Today (9/23/18) I attended the First Unitarian Church in Albuquerque and met Gilbert. He was staffing the table for the Immigrant Justice Task Force and informed me about the work of the group called No More Deaths. They travel to the southern expanses of desert in Arizona and New Mexico to leave water, food and clothes for the immigrants crossing this dangerous border. The volunteers work together in teams during all seasons of the year risking arrest. A friend of mine has taken donations from Albuquerque to this group in the desert. It is noble work they are doing.

UU Church

The sermon really resonated with me too.  It was about generosity and the take away message for me was that every gift, donation or contribution is meaningful but the most meaningful gifts we can make, whether large or small, are those that are made with a generous heart.

I invite you to make a gift, donation, contribution to my #Gaza5K campaign to help UNRWA provide important mental health services to Palestinian refugees in Gaza.  No matter the size, your generous heart will connect with the Palestinians. Online tax deductible donations can be made here.

Over the past three days, I’ve learned that action is important — whether taken alone or together with others. We must walk our talk to make this world a better place.

 

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Southwestern-style buffet for sale for UNRWA #Gaza5k

I’m selling this southwestern-style buffet for $1,500 to raise vital resources for UNRWA. Please contact me if you’re interested at LoraLucero3@gmail.com

The buffet is 5 feet long, 18 inches deep, and 37.5 inches tall.

buffet for sale

Mouin Rabbani spells out Trump’s magical thinking in an article in this week’s issue of The Nation.

This week marks 25 years since Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed the Oslo agreement on the White House lawn. It was also the week in which the United States effectively severed diplomatic relations with the Palestinians by ordering the closure of the PLO mission in Washington, DC, capping a series of punitive measures that have included the termination of US funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), the elimination of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) program in the occupied Palestinian territories, and the cessation of an American program that supports Palestinian hospitals in occupied East Jerusalem.

No word adequately describes these contemptible acts, nor captures my anger. I’m livid.

But I must stay focused on my goal of raising funds to support UNRWA’s life-saving work with the Palestinian refugees in Gaza.  I know the importance of UNRWA’s work and the very good reasons to support UNRWA, including:

  • UNRWA USA is a 501(c)(3) registered with the IRS and your donations are tax-deductible.
  • 91% of all donations made through UNRWA USA directly support UNRWA’s work for Palestine refugees.
  • UNRWA USA receives platinum, the highest rating for transparency, accountability, and administration from Guidestar. Of every dollar spent, 91 cents goes toward helping Palestine refugees. Just 6 cents of every dollar is spent on fundraising costs and 3 cents on operations. The UNRWA USA website has all of the 990 tax forms available for viewing and downloading.
  • The majority of UNRWA’s annual budget comes from voluntary contributions from donor states, such as the United States, the European Commission, the United Kingdom, and Nordic States, individual donors, and NGOs. Reductions in donor states’ contributions due to the slow economic recovery, and the ongoing crises in Gaza and Syria, have left UNRWA with significant budget shortfalls, making contributions from private donors, such as individuals and foundations, all the more crucial.
  • More than half of UNRWA’s regular budget is devoted to education. UNRWA believes that education is essential to Palestinians’ future and to stability in the region. UNRWA’s education programs aim to encourage a tolerant and empowered Palestinian population who can serve as partners in peace.
  • UNRWA is a direct service provider, it doesn’t contract out its work to any third parties, and 99% of the 33,000 person staff across Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Palestine, are refugees themselves, so the admin costs go toward paying the salaries of refugees who are support families of 5+ people. UNRWA’s staff works tirelessly to uplift their communities while facing the same hardships as the people they serve — sometimes even risking their lives.
  • UNRWA is the most trusted way to help Palestine refugees. In fact, the United States government has historically been the single largest donor. In light of the recent funding crisis, donating provides urgently needed assistance and shows our government that Americans care about Palestine refugees — and that it needs to continue supporting them.

 

 

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Meeting with Representative Lujan-Grisham (D-NM)

On Monday I’m meeting with my Congresswoman from New Mexico, Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D-NM). This is quite an honor, and I’m especially thankful to be meeting her now because of her very busy schedule campaigning for Governor.

In April 2014, just a few months before Israel launched Operation Protective Edge against Gaza, Representative Lujan-Grisham met with friends of mine from Gaza who were on a book tour in the US at the time.  Israel killed Refaat’s brother in its military assault soon after our meeting.

RefaatandRawan

Refaat Alareer and Rawan Yaghi meet with Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham (D-NM)

Representative Lujan-Grisham and her staff have always been accessible, and I appreciate that because I’ve heard that some other members of Congress are not so easy to connect with, especially on the issue that is important to me: Israel-Palestine.

I have three simple “asks” when I meet with her on Monday.

#1    Please cosponsor Rep. Betty McCollum’s H.R. 4391 (Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act).

#2    Please support UNRWA and pushback against H.R. 6451 (UNRWA Reform and Refugee Support Act).

#3    Please do not support any future Anti-BDS legislation if it comes to her desk as Governor.

McCollum’s H.R. 4391 addresses a serious human rights problem. 

An estimated 10,000 Palestinian children have been detained by Israeli security forces and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system since 2000. Independent monitors such as Human Rights Watch have documented that these children are subject to abuse and, in some cases, torture — specifically citing the use of chokeholds, beatings, and coercive interrogation on children between the ages of 11 and 15.

In addition, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found that Palestinian children are frequently held for extended periods without access to either their parents or attorneys. The United States Department of State and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child have also raised serious concerns about the mistreatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military custody.

Betty McCollum

Rep. Betty McCollum

In December 2017, Rep. McCollum wrote in The Nation:

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has persisted for decades, including 50 years of Israeli military occupation of Palestinian lands. To help sustain the occupation, Israel’s military and police forces have arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned thousands of Palestinian children, mostly for throwing stones. Israel’s military court and detention system is unique in the world in its systematic incarceration of children, in this case Palestinian children. It is a system that denies basic due-process rights and is cruel, inhumane, and degrading.

It should not require tremendous moral courage to stand up for the human rights of children. Sadly, the exception appears to be when those children are Palestinian. I firmly believe that Palestinian children deserve to be treated with the same humanity, dignity, and human rights as any child anywhere, including children in the United States or Israel.

For Israel, this means honoring its international commitments and ending the widespread and systematic cruel and inhumane treatment of Palestinian children. For the United States, it means prohibiting American funds from being used to support Israel’s abusive military detention of children and requiring the State Department to certify Israel’s compliance.

Rep. McCollum’s entire op-ed is here.  And she’s not alone in recognizing the damaging impacts that Israel’s military detention has on Palestinian children.

Representative McCollum provided a short explanation of H.R. 4391 in July 2018 on the Floor of the House.  See here.  As of September 2018, there are 29 cosponsors to H.R. 4391. I hope Rep. Lujan-Grisham will be #30.

UNRWA must be supported!

Trump’s assault on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) is despicable and short-sighted. I wrote earlier about Trump’s decision to stop funding UNRWA here.  The New York Times’ Editorial Board agrees, noting that the “Trump administration’s decision to eliminate funding for the United Nations agency that aids Palestinian refugees is shortsighted.”

The Guardian noted that the impact [of Trump’s decision] will potentially be serious – and rapid – for the millions who rely on the agency. “Such a decision aims at closing schools, clinics, hospitals and starving people,” said Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator.

He said any vacuum in services could be exploited by extremists, and said the Palestinian Authority has been helping UNRWA fund camps in Syria and Lebanon for several years.

That spending, he said, was “in order not to allow terrorist organisations such as Isis to recruit our people there because of their needs. Now, with this cut, what does this mean? … Those elements that want to achieve peace based on a peaceful, two state solution, are being destroyed”.

I hope Representative Lujan-Grisham will voice her support for UNRWA by joining with her colleagues in the House who are pushing back against the Administration’s decision, and also oppose H.R. 6451 (UNRWA Reform and Refugee Support Act) which, like many bills in Congress, is cynically misnamed. H.R. 6451 purports to change the internationally-recognized definition of Palestinian refugee in order to magically erase millions of people who are refugees under international law and entitled to return to their homes and villages from which they were forcibly removed in 1948.

I’m also going to ask her to support my #Gaza5K campaign to raise funds for UNRWA to provide critical mental health services to Palestinians in Gaza.  Tax deductible donations can be made online here.

Anti-BDS Legislation in the States is Bad News!

Twenty-five states have passed some form of anti-BDS legislation. New Mexico has not and I’m going to ask Rep. Lujan-Grisham to pledge that she will oppose any attempts to pass similar legislation when she is Governor.

These bills don’t directly prevent Americans from boycotting Israel, but they are just as sinister because they usually include one of the following three components:

1)      Blacklists. Some of the anti-BDS bills/laws require the creation of blacklists of activists, non-profit organizations, and/or companies that are engaged in boycotts of Israel (including, in some cases, “territories controlled by Israel”). It’s 21st century McCarthyism.

2)      Prohibition on government contracts. Some of the anti-BDS bills/laws aim to punish individuals, non-profit organizations, and/or companies that support BDS by prohibiting the state or local government from entering into contracts with them. So, for example, under some anti-BDS bills, the United Church of Christ or the Presbyterian Church (USA) could be prohibited from contracting with the state to run social services like soup kitchens, homeless shelters, or youth programs because of actions they have taken in support of BDS.

3)      Pension fund divestment. Many of the anti-BDS bills/laws require state pension funds to divest from companies that boycott Israel (including, in some cases, “territories controlled by Israel”).

Esther Koontz Kansas teacher

Esther Koontz, Kansas teacher, credit to ACLU

These anti-BDS bills/laws are unconstitutional. The ACLU is challenging the Kansas anti-BDS law in federal court on behalf of a teacher who was denied employment when she refused to certify that she would not boycott Israel. I wrote about it here.

I hope Lujan-Grisham agrees that New Mexico must not pass one of these anti-BDS bills.

 

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UNRWA’s flawed business model

Americans who have advocated for Palestinians’ human rights in Congress and elsewhere have experienced personal threats, intimidation and much worse over the years. James Zogby’s description of those battles filled me with gratitude that there were (are) Americans who have never given up fighting for justice for Palestinians. (The Struggle For Palestinian Rights: Then And Now, August 4, 2018)

In several significant ways the Palestinian reality, whether under occupation or in exile has worsened in recent years, taking a horrific toll on both Palestinian lives and aspirations. Although US politicians may now feel comfortable mouthing support for a “two-state solution,” it is difficult to imagine how such a solution can be implemented. It is even more unlikely that some of the same elected officials who say they support two states would consider taking the tough positions to force Israel to end the occupation in order to allow a viable Palestinian state to come into being. Their profession of support for two states, therefore, appears to be hollow and designed more to side-step their responsibility to address Israel’s abuse of Palestinian human rights and justice.

Nevertheless, I remain more optimistic than I was 40 years ago. The developments that have occurred have had a profound impact. The situation may be more difficult, but the movement for Palestinian rights is stronger, larger, more diverse, and more deeply committed to justice. There is new energy and new hope that we are turning a corner in our ability to secure justice for Palestinians. James J. Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute.

I wish I could find hope in this political environment.  Last week, the Trump Administration announced it’s ending US support for UNRWA, the UN agency created to assist the Palestinian refugees when the State of Israel was created.

Great_March_of_Return_2016-

What this means is that overnight, UNRWA has lost 1/3 of its budget. What this means is that Palestinian children may not be attending UNRWA schools this year. What this means is that the Palestinian engineers, doctors and other professionals working for UNRWA may join the unemployment rolls and will not be able to provide services to refugees.

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the business model and fiscal practices of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) made it an “irredeemably flawed operation.”

“The administration has carefully reviewed the issue and determined that the United States will not make additional contributions to UNRWA,” she said in a statement.

Nauert added that the agency’s “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years.”

Now the US considers human rights through the “business model” lens rather than through the lens of internationational human rights.

Let’s put this in perspective for Americans who don’t follow these things as closely as they should.

First, no one wants to be a refugee less than a Palestinian. 

I’ve heard many Zionists argue that Palestinian refugees are just beggars who don’t know anything besides living on handouts from the international community. Those same Zionists have never met or talked with a Palestinian, as I have, and so they’re uninformed (to put it mildly). Using their same logic, one might argue that Israelis are just beggars who don’t know how to survive without the largesse of US aid to the tune of over $38 billion over the next 10 years.  U.S. taxpayers have given much, much more $$ to Israel since its creation 70 years ago than it has given to the Palestinians who were involuntarily and forcibly removed from their homes, businesses and villages to make way for the new state of Israel.  The “refugee” status is not one of their own making.

From a business model perspective, the state of Israel is a “flawed operation.”

Second, the State of Israel (not UNRWA) is responsible for the growth in the number of Palestinian refugees.

The Trump Administration argues that UNRWA has an unsustainable business model because the growth of the number of refugees is unsustainable.  Now Trump wants to change the definition of who qualifies as a refugee. The UN and international community count those Palestinians who were displaced from the region in the 1948 and 1967 wars, as well as their descendants—even if they possess the citizenship of the Arab country to which their ancestors fled—as refugees.

In fact, no one wants to go out of business and become obsolete more than the folks at UNRWA. Just ask them, as I have. The failure of the State of Israel to reach an agreement with the Palestinians and end the occupation has resulted in the growing refugee crisis. Rather than use carrots and sticks to force Israel to come to terms with reality and end its occupation, thereby resolving the refugee crisis, the U.S. government has enabled this “unsustainable business model” to grow and flourish. Shame on Congress. Shame on President Trump and all of his predecessors.

Third, the newly created State of Israel supported the creation of UNRWA to focus on the needs of Palestinian refugees.

Jonathan Cook, a British writer and freelance journalist living in Nazareth, Israel spells out the history of UNRWA succinctly:

UNRWA was created to prevent the Palestinians falling under the charge of UNHCR’s forerunner, the International Refugee Organisation. Israel was afraid that the IRO, formed in the immediate wake of the Second World War, would give Palestinian refugees the same prominence as European Jews fleeing Nazi atrocities.

Israel did not want the two cases compared, especially as they were so intimately connected. It was the rise of Nazism that bolstered the Zionist case for a Jewish state in Palestine, and Jewish refugees who were settled on lands from which Palestinians had just been expelled by Israel.

Also, Israel was concerned that the IRO’s commitment to the principle of repatriation might force it to accept back the Palestinian refugees.

Israel’s hope then was precisely that UNRWA would not solve the Palestinian refugee problem; rather, it would resolve itself. The idea was encapsulated in a Zionist adage: “The old will die and the young forget.”

President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu will not make the “problem” disappear by changing the definition of “refugee” or by blaming UNRWA for failing to solve the “problem” or by reframing the refugee crisis as an “unsustainable business model.”

Human rights are not grounded in business practices. Security is not won or maintained with weapons and armaments. Refugees are not numbers, they’re our neighbors.

Please donate to my UNRWA fundraising campaign. Donations are tax-deductible and will be used to support critical mental health services for Palestinians in Gaza.

Gaza boys flag beach

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Reasons to support UNRWA-USA

My family and friends know I’m soliciting donations for my #Gaza5K fundraising campaign to help UNRWA provide critical mental health services to the refugee children and their families in Gaza. This is my fourth year participating in the #Gaza5K and it’s never been this urgent.

Part of the urgency comes as a result of Trump’s decision to withhold the lion’s share of the U.S. annual contribution to UNRWA. His Administration thinks that will put pressure on the Palestinians to accept the “Deal of the Century”. It won’t. It will only add untold misery to the lives of refugees whose basic existence (especially in Gaza) has been called into question after eleven (11) years of the suffocating siege and blockade.

Another part of the urgency I’m feeling comes from friends and solidarity activists who understandably are trying to do the best they can given their shrinking pocketbooks and the myriad of competing organizations seeking their help.

We all need to work together to lift up and support all of these worthwhile organizations who are helping Palestinian refugees in Gaza and elsewhere. We all need to think creatively.

Here’s some information about UNRWA-USA which might be helpful in your deliberations about how to focus your fundraising efforts most effectively.

  • UNRWA USA is a 501(c)(3) registered with the IRS and your donations are tax-deductible.
  • 91% of all donations made through UNRWA USA directly support UNRWA’s work for Palestine refugees.
  • UNRWA USA receives platinum, the highest rating for transparency, accountability, and administration from Guidestar. Of every dollar spent, 91 cents goes toward helping Palestine refugees. Just 6 cents of every dollar is spent on fundraising costs and 3 cents on operations. The UNRWA USA website has all of the 990 tax forms available for viewing and downloading.
  • The majority of UNRWA’s annual budget comes from voluntary contributions from donor states, such as the United States, the European Commission, the United Kingdom, and Nordic States, individual donors, and NGOs. Reductions in donor states’ contributions due to the slow economic recovery, and the ongoing crises in Gaza and Syria, have left UNRWA with significant budget shortfalls, making contributions from private donors, such as individuals and foundations, all the more crucial.
  • More than half of UNRWA’s regular budget is devoted to education. UNRWA believes that education is essential to Palestinians’ future and to stability in the region. UNRWA’s education programs aim to encourage a tolerant and empowered Palestinian population who can serve as partners in peace.
  • UNRWA is a direct service provider, it doesn’t contract out its work to any third parties, and 99% of the 33,000 person staff across Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Palestine, are refugees themselves, so the admin costs go toward paying the salaries of refugees who are support families of 5+ people. UNRWA’s staff works tirelessly to uplift their communities while facing the same hardships as the people they serve — sometimes even risking their lives.
  • UNRWA is the most trusted way to help Palestine refugees. In fact, the United States government has historically been the single largest donor. In light of the recent funding crisis, donating provides urgently needed assistance and shows our government that Americans care about Palestine refugees — and that it needs to continue supporting them.

In May 2018, both of my US Senators from New Mexico signed on to a letter written by Senator Bernie Sanders urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to restore the funding to UNRWA. I urge you to check the letter to see whether your US Senator signed on. You may contact Congress using UNRWA USA’s online form here.

And please donate to my #Gaza5K campaign if you haven’t already, and share it with your friends on social media or email.

 

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