Take Action: Restore funding to UNRWA and bilateral assistance to Gaza and the West Bank

Posted on January 25, 2021 by Peace Not Walls

Urge the Biden administration to restore funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and bilateral assistance to Gaza and the West Bank. Send a message to the White House today. (See sample letter below)

On Jan. 20, Joseph R. Biden Jr. 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 corner in U.S. policy and 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 U.N. 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, health care (such as through the East Jerusalem Hospitals Network, of which Augusta Victoria Hospital is a member), 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 to renew 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. COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly in the occupied territories because Palestinian health infrastructure is weak and maintaining hygiene and social distancing requirements is difficult. This makes humanitarian assistance critical.

President Biden’s campaign platform stated that he would “restore economic and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, consistent with U.S. law, including assistance to refugees.” His administration needs to make good on this promise by authorizing the resumption of funding to support UNRWA and by 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 urge Israel to ensure that 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 rollout 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.

Take Action Today: 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.

This week, as the White House transitions, you can reach President Biden by email — copy and paste the sample letter below into the White House “Contact Us” form.

Dear President Biden,

Congratulations on your inauguration as the 46th President of the United States. I hope that your administration will round a corner in U.S. foreign policy with regard to Israel and Palestine.

It is critical that your administration pursue a different course than the past four years of the Trump administration and restore funding to UNRWA and humanitarian relief agencies in the West Bank and Gaza. This funding is essential and even more urgent as COVID-19 continues to spread, with Palestinian health services unequipped to manage the outbreak. The Lutheran World Federation’s Augusta Victoria Hospital (which Dr. Jill Biden visited on March 10, 2010) and others in the East Jerusalem Hospitals Network need this vital assistance from the United States.

In order to stop the spread of COVID-19, it is also vital that Israel be held accountable to its international obligations as an occupying power, ensuring that COVID-19 vaccines are equally and fairly provided to Palestinians living under its occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. So far, Israel’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan covers only citizens of Israel, excluding the nearly 5 million Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation. 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.

I therefore ask you to: authorize the resumption of funding to support UNRWA; work 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; and strongly urge that Israel provide COVID-19 vaccines to all residents living under its control.

Thank you,

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