Why are Gaza children being robbed of fun this summer?

30 April 2012

120430-unrwa-summer-camp.jpg

The annual Summer Games in Gaza has been canceled this year.

(Mohammed Asad / APA images)

Living in besieged Gaza, nothing gives us greater joy than watching our kids play football, jump on a trampoline, fly a kite or go to the beach.

However, this year the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) decided to cancel the Summer Games, a vital source of happiness for children in Gaza, an estimated 250,000 of whom participated in the fifth annual Summer Games last year. The reason given for the cancellation was the shortage of funds.

Was this a political or a financial step?

Israel’s best friend

Who is controlling and funding UNRWA? More than 190 countries support the agency. But the funding cuts are largely due to a decrease in contributions from the US, Israel’s best friend. In January, Washington announced it would give $55 million to UNRWA in 2012 — about a quarter of funds the US donated in 2011 (“United States contributes $55 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East,” State Department media note, 3 January 2012).

Is the US using its aid cuts to increase pressure on Palestinians in Gaza by depriving them of the few sources of enjoyment previously open to them?

Obviously not for the first time, the US’s stance smacks of double standards.

Under Barack Obama’s presidency, the US has increased aid allocations to Israel dramatically, even though Israel has refused to cancel the construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank.

UNRWA recently had to reduce spending on a number of programs because of a funding shortfall of $35 million.

According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UNRWA has to decrease by one-third its allocations to employment generation programs that provide about 3,500 jobs per month (“Protection of civilians weekly report,” Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 29 June - 5 July 2011).

This has had an adverse impact on services provided to more than 1.1 million people in Gaza.

Denied basic rights

Restricting the services available in Palestine means that we are being denied basic rights that are essential for a decent quality of life. We are being forced to think only of bread, water and jobs.

Human dignity is not about bread or water alone. It is about living in freedom and enjoying the same rights as people in the rest of the world. These are rights that the US and Israel are determined to deny us. And as well as depriving us of sources of enjoyment, the US is giving weapons to Israel that are used to kill and maim our children.

Cutting funds to UNRWA not only robs our children of sources of enjoyment, it harms our workers and our factories which help sustain the Gazan economy. Why should our children not be allowed to play and be happy because of an unfair political decision?

Saif Saleem is a journalist based in Gaza.

Comments

I'm sorry, but who did the fact checking here? The US has actually lived up to its commitment to UNRWA and released funds to the PA thanks to pressure from the State Dept. Yes, we have a pro-Israel government, that is complete backward in its logic and helps oppress Palestinians with its support, but that is not why the Games aren't happening this summer. The funds were paid as they should be and are not fully dispersed at once. They're on a payment plan of sorts if you want to think of it that way. That's normal and has been the case since funding began.

My assumption is that the reason the Games were canceled was due to funds being used elsewhere in the budget....ie for feeding people due to the toll the siege has taken on the economy in Gaza. UNRWA has had a massive budget shortfall because they've suddenly had to divert funds to feeding and healthcare for more people that normally were handled by a semi-functioning economy. Instead they now rely on an emergency fund that countries contributed to and which has now run out. If you want to blame anyone, blame Israel. They're the ones imposing a dangerous and illegal siege, one which UNRWA has been pushing for them to end (see comments by John Ging and Chris Gunness as well as others).

Before an article is published, typically one fact checks it, and since this is completely misrepresenting facts, you have a factually misleading piece, and one that, quite frankly, is dangerous. UNRWA does the best it can with limited resources and considering they handle 5 MILLION people on a minuscule budget, I'd say they're doing a pretty good job. They do need to do a better job of explaining themselves to Palestinians, but the Games being canceled does not fall on their shoulders or the shoulders of the US (for once).