Interview: Is the US using aid to UNRWA as a method to extort and blackmail?

I appeared on Press TV’s the sun will rise with Dr Ghada Karmi. This was broadcast on 2/2/2018

UNRWA’s mandate ends only after return of Palestinian refugees

First published by the Arab Weekly on 28/1/2018

UNRWA’s highly recognisable logo, at least to Palestinians, adorns schools, hospitals and offices run by the organisation wherever the refugees live.
Heavy blow. Palestinian refugees collect aid parcels at a UN food distribution centre in Rafah, on January 21.(AFP)
Heavy blow. Palestinian refugees collect aid parcels at a UN food distribution centre in Rafah, on January 21.(AFP)

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was established in 1949. It supports more than 5 million registered Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled from their homes during the 1948 Palestine war as well as those who suffered a similar plight during and following the 1967 Six Day War and their descendants.

A Palestinian refugee is defined as any person whose “normal place of residence was Palestine during the period June 1, 1946, to May 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict” and descendants of fathers fulfilling this definition.

In 1951 UNRWA’s list of refugees totalled 860,000 names.

UNRWA’s highly recognisable logo — at least to Palestinians — adorns schools, hospitals and offices run by the organisation wherever the refugees live. This is mainly in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN members.

The agency has faced a shortfall in its funding for many years. In 2014 its expenditure was $675 million but its cash deficit stood at $65 million. Funding is generally not keeping pace with increased refugee needs and uptake of services.

UNRWA has operated largely outside politics, focusing on providing services to those Palestinians who are the weakest and neediest of the almost 13 million Palestinians. Its services in the besieged Gaza Strip and the refugee camps in Lebanon, which have absorbed many Palestinians who fled the fighting in Syria, are particularly critical.

Israel has argued for decades that UNRWA’s mandate should only have extended to those Palestinians alive since their expulsion in 1948 and not to their descendants. This view has not been shared by the rest of the world as the United Nations and donors have continued to fund it while a solution is sought to the Palestine question.

This was until the US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Hayley announced that American funding for UNRWA would be curtailed until the Palestinians “returned to the negotiating table with Israel.” The Trump administration said it would cut $65 million from its contribution to UNRWA. The agency reported it received more than $350 million from the United States in 2017.

This decision came hot on the heels of US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It clearly emboldened Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who said: “I fully agree with President [Donald] Trump’s strong criticism of UNRWA.”

Netanyahu claimed, “UNRWA is an organisation that perpetuates the problem of the Palestinian refugees.”

“It also perpetuates the narrative of the so-called ‘right of return’ with the aim of eliminating the state of Israel and therefore UNRWA must disappear,” Netanyahu said.

In other words, Netanyahu wants to take the issue of the refugees off the table.

Reaction to the US cut in UNRWA’s funding from other stakeholders in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was swift. Belgium and the Netherlands promised to make up much of the deficit with $23.3 million and $15 million, respectively.

UNRWA regularly makes appeals for funding.

Its most recent statement said: “Dramatic reduction of US funding will have the huge impact on the daily lives of millions of vulnerable Palestine refugees: Today more than ever before, Palestine refugees need you to stand with them and show solidarity.”

It went on to say: “Together, we must keep schools open for half a million children, provide food and cash assistance to 1.7 million impoverished refugees and life-saving medical care to millions more.”

Palestinian refugees rely heavily on the services of the UNRWA, particularly in the Gaza Strip, which has been under siege for almost 11 years. A reduction in the level of services would have severe consequences for the refugees. Closure of UNRWA would be disastrous both in terms of the immediate effects on Palestinians and the future of the refugees.

UN General Assembly Resolution 194 was very clear about what should happen to them when it stated “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours 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 equity, should be made good by the governments or authorities responsible.”

If Israel and the United States want to end the mandate of the UNRWA, then Resolution 194 must be implemented in full. Until then and while they remain so, refugees are entitled to having the protection and support the agency provides and for which the world has and must continue to pay.

If Israel and the United States want to end the mandate of the UNRWA, then Resolution 194 must be implemented in full.

What if Wales had been offered to the Jews as a homeland?

First published by the Middle East Eye on 1/11/2017

One hundred years ago, the Balfour Declaration backed Palestine as a Jewish homeland. Imagining if history had taken another turn offers a fresh perspective.


On 2 November 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour sent a letter to Lord Walter Rothschild, a prominent zionist, which became known as the Balfour Declaration.

In it, the British government promised Palestine to the Zionists – and did so without consulting Palestinians, British Jews, or the wider British population. While Palestinian Arabs at the time made up 90 per cent of the territory’s 700,000 population, they were bizarrely only referred to as “existing non-Jewish communities”. The letter also said “that nothing should be done to prejudice” their “civil and religious rights”.

The declaration had a catastrophic impact on the Palestinians. It eventually led to the creation of Israel in1948, during which Palestinians were driven from their homes, mostly through Jewish acts of terror.

The least the Palestinians might expect on the 100th anniversary from the British would be some remorse and an apology. But Theresa May’s government has not only refused to apologise on behalf of the UK, it is also planning to “mark it with pride” as she told the pro-Israel lobby group Conservative Friends of Israel in December 2016.

This week she will be joined in London by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they mark the centenary alongside pro-Israel groups.

Britain had no right to offer Palestine to the Zionists. The claim that Jews have a perpetual right to live there is rejected by Palestinians. Do all Muslims have a right to “return” to Saudi Arabia? And what about a Christian “right of return” to Palestine? Israel is seen as a democracy by its supporters – but many others seen it as a colonialist settler state.

What if Balfour offered Wales to the Zionists?

If we assume that London wanted in 1917 to help a persecuted people find sanctuary, then surely it could have offered the Zionists a homeland in a territory that it controlled at the time?

They say that charity begins at home. David Lloyd George, a proud Welshman, was British prime minister at the time of the declaration. What if the Balfour Declaration had read: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine Wales of a national home for the Jewish people?”

Present day Wales covers 20,779 sq km. Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip covers 20,770 sq km.

The population of Wales in 1917 would have been around 2.5 million while that of Palestine was around 1 million (Jews made up less than 10 percent of that number).

Had Balfour offered Wales to the Zionists, it is safe to say that the Welsh would have rejected the Declaration. Jews, though disappointed at failing to obtain Palestine, would soon have started arriving to settle the land.

There would likely have been tensions between the two groups. London would have tried to keep the peace but would likely have failed, especially given the ongoing fight in Ireland – which the British also controlled – for independence.

The Zionists would have set up armed militias to fight the Welsh. More and more Jews would have arrived in Wales during the early 1940s. The United Nations would then intervene in Wales, as it did in Palestine, and offer a partition plan that gave Jews 56 percent of the land, leaving the indigenous Welsh with only 44 percent.

Does anyone believe the Welsh would have agreed to give up an inch of their homeland to the Zionists? Or would they have resisted, including through armed struggle?

In 1948, the Zionists would declare their independence and establish Israel as a state. They would also start the process of expanding their hold on Wales. Welsh villages would be destroyed. Some two million Welsh refugees would flee to England, Scotland and Ireland. Some would even make it to France and Spain.

When the guns fell silent, Israel would extend the area of the former Wales that it occupies to 78 percent, well beyond that of the partition plan. The UN would issue a resolution calling on Israel to allow refugees to return – but Israel would refuse.

The world would call for a two-state solution in which Israel and Wales would live side by side, with Cardiff as a shared capital. In 1967, Israel would attack the Irish and the Scots, who try to help the Welsh resistance regain their occupied land. Eventually Israel would capture the whole of Wales and declare Cardiff as its eternal, united capital. More Welsh would be expelled to neighbouring countries such as Ireland.

For “security’ reasons” Israel would begin to build settlements for Jews in occupied Wales, near population centres such as Swansea. It would make it increasingly difficult for a two-state solution to be realised. Abandoned by the international community and seeing their land eroded further, the Welsh would start a ‘gwrthryfel Cymreig’ (the Welsh uprising, or intifada) in 1987, which would be suppressed by Israel by 1991.

In 1993, secret talks in Finland between the Welsh and the Israelis would result in the Helsinki Accords. The Welsh Liberation Organisation (WLO) would recognise Israel – but Israel would only recognises the (WLO) as the “sole representative of the Welsh people”.

Resistance from the Gwent Strip

There would be no genuine move towards peace, which would lead to a viable Welsh state by 1998. Instead Israel would increase its settlement enterprise and divide the occupied Welsh territories – including much of the former county of Dyfed – into areas A, B and C.

Israel would link the settlements in the occupied Welsh territories to each other and to Israel. It would apply military law to the Welsh but civil Israeli law to the illegal Jewish settlers.

The Welsh would see no end to their occupation. A second gwrthryfel would erupt in 2000. This time it would be more violent. The Welsh would be accused of being terrorists.

Israel would build a wall deep inside occupied Welsh areas, including Gwent, and increase the number of checkpoints to limit the movement of people, animals and goods. It would also capture most of the water resources and sell them to the Welsh at inflated prices.

The Gwent Strip would be particularly problematic and become a hub of resistance. Israel would decide to remove its settlers and then lay siege to the territory, a siege which would last to this day.

In Israel itself, Welsh citizens would be treated as second-class, subject to 60 discriminatory laws. They would be able participate in Israel’s democracy – but it would really be a democracy for Jews only.

In Cardiff, Israel would manipulate the population demographics to ensure that there was always a Jewish majority. The Welsh would be frustrated by a planning system which would not allow them to build houses in occupied Cardiff.

Eventually some would build homes without permission, only for the Israeli authorities to demolish their homes. The state would revoke their “residency” permits if they judge Cardiff not to be their “centre of life“.

The Welsh would not be allowed access to an airport or a seaport. To travel abroad they would have to use the border crossing into England and then fly from Bristol or Birmingham.

The Welsh catastrophe

And in the Middle East? Despite earlier Zionist wishes, Palestine was never promised as a Jewish homeland. Instead an independent Palestinian Arab state was established when the British mandate ended there in 1947.

Its capital is Jerusalem, where Muslims, Jews and Christians live happily to this day. The city has its own Welsh Solidarity Campaign, which works to support the legitimate rights of the Welsh people.

On 2 November 2017, in this alternative future, London will celebrate the centenary of the Welsh Balfour Declaration “with pride”.

But the British prime minister will refuse to apologise to the Welsh for Britain’s role in their dispossession and subsequent trychineb (the Welsh word for “catastrophe”).

Will the Welsh in the occupied territories likewise be celebrating?

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a longstanding campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).  He appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at and tweets at @kamelhawwash. He writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Palestinians girls, relatives of 12-year-old Palestinian Waleed Abu Kamar who was killed during an Israeli attack, cry during his funeral in Rafah, south of Gaza city May 20, 2004  (REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)

Israel is sleepwalking towards tyranny not practising democracy

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 28/7/2017

Israeli forces injure Palestinians with tear gas as they gather to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque following the removal of Israeli security measures in Jerusalem on 27 July 2017 [Mahmoud İbrahem/Anadolu Agency]

Israeli forces injure Palestinians with tear gas as they gather to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque following the removal of Israeli security measures in Jerusalem on 27 July 2017 [Mahmoud İbrahem/Anadolu Agency]

Let me start by acknowledging that democracy is in short supply in the Middle East. However, only one state claims to be a democratic state. In fact, Israel claims to be “the only democracy in the Middle East,” with the “most moral army in the world”.

Increasingly, extremist Israeli governments with no respect for international law, international humanitarian law or international norms have been using the pretence of democracy to entrench Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and to place the state’s Jewish identity above democracy. The Nation State Bill, making its way through the Knesset, seeks to do just that, despite claims a future draft would tone this down.

All is not well with democracy in Israel. Every so often former, senior Israeli politicians or retired security personnel warn that Israel is edging towards apartheid and even more recently towards tyranny.

Former prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak have warned that Israel’s policies are leading towards naked apartheid; Barak said as recently as last month that Israel was on a “slippery slope towards apartheid”.

Former Israeli officials were blind to the impact of their policies while in office. After all, the settlement project saw a major expansion during Barak’s reign. How is it that he could not see the devastating effect of this on the prospects for peace? It is also true that when it comes to settlements, current Prime Minister Netanyahu needs no excuse to expand the enterprise but still uses this as punishment for perceived Palestinian indiscretions such as joining world bodies or conventions.

To many observers the label of apartheid is already justified. Anyone who has visited the occupied Palestinian town of Hebron can testify that they saw apartheid, felt it and smelt it.

In April former Shin Bet chiefs Ami Ayalon and Carmi Gillon warned that the country’s political system had sunk in the process of “incremental tyranny”. They were speaking ahead of a public meeting at a Jerusalem gallery that was threatened with closure after hosting a meeting organised by the military whistleblowing group Breaking the Silence, one of the main targets of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ayalon explained that “incremental tyranny [is a process] which means you live in a democracy and suddenly you understand it is not a democracy anymore,” adding that “this is what we are seeing in Israel. The tragedy of this process is that you only know it when it is too late”.

Attacks on human rights organisations within Israel are nothing new. Breaking the Silence,B’TselemAl-Haq, Peace Now and Yesh Din have all been demonised and individuals issued with death threats. MK David Bitan called for the citizenship of B’Tselem Director Hagai El-Ad to be revoked simply because he criticised Israel’s occupation to the United Nations Security Council.

In 2017 Israel passed a law compelling NGOs to reveal their foreign funding which would allow the government to lobby those states that fund these critical NGOs. This scrutiny does not to extend to those that support and fund illegal settlements.

Israel’s targeting of the media is constant and is hardly a sign of democracy. It regularly raids offices of Palestinian radio and TV stations and confiscates equipment. The 2017 World Press Freedom Index placed Israel 91st out of 180 countries, way behind many Western-style democracies that it claims to emulate including Germany (16), France (39), UK (40) and the US (43). Palestine was ranked 135th.

During assaults on Gaza, Israel deliberately attacked buildings housing media channels, which caused damage and casualties. Israel’s most recent attack on the media came during the recent coverage of protests and Israeli army violence at Al-Aqsa. The Israeli Prime Minister threatened to close Al Jazeera’s offices accusing its journalists of “inciting violence,” a claim the Qatari owned network strongly rejects.

In recent months Israel has escalated its war on freedom of speech both at home and abroad, particularly in relation to proponents of the BDS movement. While it generally claims the movement is ineffective, it has appointed Gilad Erdan as minister for strategic affairs to combat individuals and organisations that pursue this tactic for pressuring Israel.

At the 2016 Yediot Achronot conference which attacked BDS, Israel’s transport minister Yisrael Katz called for the “civil targeted killing” of BDS leaders like Omar Barghouti. Thankfully, Barghouti is still alive but he was banned from travelling abroad for a period of time and was recently arrested on allegations of tax evasion, which he denied.

Israel has also turned its attention to critics abroad. In March 2017 the Knesset passed a law that would empower the immigration authorities to deny proponents of the BDS movement abroad entry to Israel. Commenting on the new law Erdan said “the rules of the game have changed,” and that organisations seeking to harm Israel’s “national security” through boycotts would be denied entry to the country.

A few days after the law was passed Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), Hugh Lanning, was denied entry to Israel. A few days later I was travelling with my wife and son to visit family in East Jerusalem when I was also denied entry. This was particularly ironic given it is the year Britain plans to celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.

The first question I was asked during my interrogation was whether I had heard of the new BDS law. I believed that I was denied entry because of my role in PSC where I am a member of the executive committee, and our promotion of BDS. I did wonder at the time whether the law would be applied equally to Jews holding foreign passports and residing abroad who supported BDS or a more limited boycott of the illegal settlements.

When campaign director for Code Pink, Ariel Gold, made it into Israel recently I noted that a Jewish supporter of Palestinian rights and of BDS had been allowed in. However, she was ‘outed’ in the press and accused of “tricking” her way into the country, which she denied. She is now worried about being denied entry in the future.

At least Gold made it to Tel Aviv. On the 23 July Jewish Rabbi Alissa Wise and two other faith leaders were not allowed to board a flight to Tel Aviv by Lufthansa on the orders of Israel. Wise is from Jewish Voice for Peace. It’s important to remember that Israel has a Law of Return for Jews but denies the right of return to Palestinians.

Israel’s borders extend as far as it wants them to and in Alissa’s case they extended all the way to Washington and will be coming to an airport near you if critics of Israel decide to visit. Israel has developed criterion for entry denial and will demand that airlines deny boarding to individuals in their country of departure.

The implications for critics of Israel and organisations that promote BDS are clearly significant in term of accessing the country to show solidarity with Palestinians. However, they are unlikely to be perturbed about campaigning for the rights of Palestinians and promoting BDS, unless Israel’s lobby in key countries succeeds in wrongly criminalising BDS as the US is currently attempting to do.

In reaction to recent events around Al-Aqsa, Minister of Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi – a key Netanyahu ally – threatened Palestinians with a “third Nakba”. The reference here is to the Arabic term for catastrophe or the mass expulsions of Palestinians from their homeland in 1948 and then 1967. How democratic is that?

It seems to me that Israel has found it difficult to reconcile its role of delivering the Zionist project and acting as a democracy. It has to deal with non-Jews that it wishes had all been ethnically cleansed in 1948. Their sheer existence is a demographic threat and as we saw recently in Jerusalem, if they had all gone the ‘third Temple’ would have been built by now in place of Al-Aqsa Mosque in a state only for Jews.

Israel claims to be Jewish and democratic but the reality is that it is a settler, colonialist and apartheid state with a stockpile of nuclear weapons to boot.  It seems that if democracy does not deliver its colonialist aims then – as some of its own senior citizens fear – it will head towards tyranny. I acknowledge that Israel is not there yet but the direction of travel worries me as a Palestinian and should worry Israelis who want to make peace with their neighbours.

Those that support Israel in the West should also worry. Will they heed the fears of former Shin Bet chiefs Ami Ayalon and Carmi Gillon, or will they only know it when it is too late.

الحصاد: بلفور … قرن من الظلم 

مشاركتي في برنامج الحصاد على قناة الجزيرة بتاريخ ٢٢/٤/٢٠١٧