September 6, 2018 — As the current and past moderators of the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA), we strongly condemn the action taken last week by the State Department to completely withdraw US funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
The timing of this decision is contemptible, as Palestinian schools that receive UNRWA funding have just returned to session. This deliberately timed decision was made to force the most vulnerable Palestinians to bear the burden of the US action.
As leaders of IPMN, we deplore both the decision and the timing of this action. Not only is it an attempt to override the legal status and rights of refugees under occupation as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees, but it is intended to force the hand of the Palestinians to accept the trade-off of economic aid in exchange for abandoning their legitimate cause of the right of return under refugee status, a right that has not been denied to other refugee populations.
This complete withdrawal of funding follows the $65 million that was already cut in January 2018. The real agenda of the State Department is found in its statement: the push to delegitimize Palestinian refugees in Palestine, Israel and the diaspora and deprive them of their rights as refugees.
In its statement, the State Department has claimed, as it has in other contexts, that our country shoulders too much of the economic burden of such relief: "…the fundamental business model and fiscal practices that have marked UNRWA for years– tied to UNRWA’s endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries–is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years.” (Italics added.)
Let us be clear, those beneficiaries are Palestinian refugees, those people and their descendents forced out in 1948 for the creation of Israel, and through continuing Israeli military occupation. They are regarded by the US and Israeli governments as the inconvenient obstacles to a US-defined peace deal. While claiming that the US would not seek to revise the UN definition of refugee status, our State Department has decided that it can attempt to force those issues through aid cuts.
When it comes to Palestine, the Trump Administration is talking about refugee status not being transferable to the next generation, which in effect means if people are kept out of their homeland long enough, they will lose any claims to it.
IPMN stands in solidarity with those refugees and supports the Palestinians who not only object to this decision as well as the decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, but who know that such continuing actions do not promote peace in the region and in fact contribute to further destabilization.
These two decisions have taken two major negotiation items off the negotiation table: the right of return and the final status of Jerusalem. We strongly caution that unilateral decisions on contentious issues such as these are dangerous because there is no peace without justice.
We call upon the members of IPMN and the wider church to express to our legislators and the State Department our strong objections as Christians to the harm that this decision causes to Palestinians, particularly the impact on the next generation through defunding the education of over half a million Palestinian children.
Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them. ~ Ecclesiastes 4:1
Jeffrey DeYoe, moderator
Katherine Cunningham, past moderator
Carol Hylkema, past moderator
Kathleen Matsushima, past moderator
Further statements and information