EPF PIN activities coordinator Harry Gunkel writes about funding cuts to USAID programs in Palestine.
When USAID completes a construction project or funds the acquisition of new equipment, for example at a hospital, it places a plaque stating that the work is “a gift of the American people”. During the past year, by actions of the current American government, this phrase has become a cruel joke for the Palestinian people.
The US has now completely shut down all projects of USAID (US Agency for International Development) in the West Bank and Gaza, about $200 million worth. The agency had been the primary supporter of food aid in the Palestinian territories, as well as an important supporter of infrastructure development in the water and sanitation, health, and education sectors. Additionally, US AID projects in the West Bank and Gaza primarily employed Palestinians, jobs sorely needed in a place where jobs are life-threateningly scarce.
And within a week of first announcing the USAID cuts, the Trump administration also slashed its support to UNRWA by about half. UNRWA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in the Middle East, established in 1947 when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians became refugees as they were displaced from their homes to make way for the new state of Israel. Today, about 40% of Palestinians in the West Bank and two-thirds of Gazans are refugees who depend on UNRWA for housing, education and health care.
US officials made no secret of the reason for their actions – to try to force the Palestinian Authority to accept its new, still secret “peace plan” for Israel and Palestine. Although the plan itself, long in coming, has not been presented yet, early indications are that it will continue to enforce Israeli hegemony over the region, ensuring that Palestinians remain unfree and stateless. In yet another display of willful ignorance, the administration’s plan will throw money at Palestinians to try to purchase their silence and acquiescence. It won’t work as anyone who has spent any time at all with Palestinian people will know.
But however ill-conceived, these moves will result in millions of Palestinians, already suffering grotesque injustice and deprivation at the hands of the government of Israel, suffering more. Less food, poorer housing, fewer opportunities, and poorer health. All at the hands of the American government and the people it represents. You and me. No longer gifts from the American people, now we will deliver lashes of the whip. Now in Palestine we will make ourselves known by our malice and cruelty. Indeed, as Adam Serwer writes in The Atlantic, “cruelty is the point” of much of this administration’s actions.
This is no paean to USAID, which is hardly a paragon of altruism. As an agency of the US State Department, the strings attached to projects are strong and stretch straight back to Washington, DC. I worked for a USAID healthcare project in the West Bank that was terminated two years into its five-year plan because a member of Congress got miffed at the Palestinian Authority. That pettiness was repeated on a Gaza project soon after, but this bad behavior does not negate the good that was done during the lives of the projects. The chimerical character of US AID is not the point; harming and abusing helpless people in need is.
Some will argue that these moves represent realpolitik, playing necessary hardball to achieve our international objectives, but in fact, this is nothing less than collective punishment. It’s not the first time Israel or the US has practiced collective punishment against the Palestinian nation; indeed, it’s a favorite in our bulging arsenal of weapons. Article 32 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits exactly this kind of action against civilian populations, so these actions are not only immoral, they are illegal. They are also as good an example as you might find of racism on grand scale. How else explain causing such injury to entire populations unless the people being injured are objectified into other than or less than? Think slavery. Think brown children in cages at the US-Mexico border.
Some actions of government can be overlooked or shrugged off as unfortunate consequences of our bureaucratic morass. But others, like this, cross the line. This may be the way of governments and empires, but since Calvary it has not been the way of those who claim to follow Jesus. We must say No, not in my name. We must stand against international objectives that include hurting children and the ill.
Mind you, Palestinians will not keen and wring their hands over these assaults from the American people. They will set to do what’s needed. They will continue to stand steadfast and rise in resistance. We must rise with them.