House Democrats urge Trump to back aid for Palestinian refugees

Palestinian schoolchildren take part in a protest against the US move to freeze funding for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, at the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, 31 January.

Ashraf Amra APA images

Two members of the US House of Representatives, Peter Welch of Vermont and David Price of North Carolina, sent a letter Thursday to Donald Trump expressing concern over the president’s freeze on “vital US contributions” to UNRWA, the UN agency that provides basic humanitarian services to more than five million Palestinian refugees in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

The letter additionally backs “bilateral assistance” to the Palestinians, though in fact funds given to the Palestinian Authority are used disproportionately on internal suppression in collaboration with Israel.

Even protests against Israeli occupation and Israel’s deadly assaults on Gaza are frequently deemed unacceptable by the PA.

Welch and Price were joined by 100 other Democrats in the House.

There was not a single Republican signer in the group. More than half of all 193 Democrats in the House co-signed the letter, though only nine out of 21 – two fifths – of Democrats on the important foreign affairs committee added their names.

Eliot Engel, the ranking minority member on the committee and a staunch pro-Israel Democrat, did not join.

The Democratic Party mustered an even lower percentage of signers from the Middle East and North Africa subcommittee. Just three out of nine Democrats there signed the letter and ranking member Ted Deutch of Florida was not one of them.

Democrats representing the party on foreign policy matters are too often PEP – progressive except on Palestine – or outright conservative when it comes to service on relevant committees.

Another notable absence is House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

Mixed bag

The letter itself is a mixed bag. Humanitarian support to ensure that the health, food, and education needs of Palestinian refugees are met is crucial.

Further aid to prop up a corrupt and non-democratic PA that is suppressing its own population is clearly far more problematic.

Democrats, including those who did not sign, are anxious to ensure that the PA continues its cooperation with Israel – which helps maintain a status quo of military occupation that has deprived millions of people of their basic rights for decades.

It is striking that support for the PA and its cooperation with Israel did not bring on board a single Republican and nearly half the Democrats. These members care even less for Palestinian refugees.

Who are the extremists?

The limits of the debate in Washington mean that discussion of Israel’s intentions and ongoing domination of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip is largely off the table.

Consider, for example, this tweet about the letter from Welch, whose intention to alleviate the pain the Trump administration is inflicting on Palestinian refugees is surely good:

He writes of the necessity to urge Trump to “continue vital UNRWA assistance for five million Palestinian refugees” and that “instead of further entrenching the region in extremism, point these individuals towards peace and stability.”

I get it. This is the “inside the Beltway” reality where up is down. There, the extremism is all on the side of the occupied, the dispossessed, the most disempowered, and not on the side of the occupier, whose overwhelming violence has led to their plight.

Aaron Maté, a host and producer with The Real News, calls out Welch on the flipped reality, tweeting in response that, “it’s the extremism of a US-backed Israeli occupation that blocks peace and stability.”

Welch and other Democrats need to move off the “peace paradigm” and begin to consider the Palestinian freedom paradigm.

Through Israel’s eyes

With Israel increasingly setting its sights on annexing the West Bank, we are no longer in a two-state framework, but one in which Palestinians are struggling for equal rights within a crushing system that violently robs them of any real control over their political, economic and social lives, and where they are routinely maimed and killed with impunity.

Unsurprisingly, there’s not a word in the letter about Israeli occupation or the right of Palestinian refugees to return to homes they were forced out of in 1948.

Israel’s long-running oppression of Palestinians simply isn’t addressed though the signers tout “robust and expanding US aid to Israel.”

They even resort to quoting Peter Lerner, a former Israeli military spokesperson, making the case that withdrawing support for UNRWA “will not contribute to security or stability in the region.”

Lerner may well be right about UNRWA cuts being destabilizing, but the choice of a professional defender of Israeli war crimes to make a progressive case is an affront to those who know the regional situation as well as Lerner’s history, particularly when there is not even an acknowledgment of the horrors Lerner has defended over the years.

It is a confirmation that even what is good for Palestinians is only deemed so in Washington if it is first and foremost good for Israel.

Yet the sad reality is that these signers generally are the progressives in the House. Those who wouldn’t even sign on to this watered down letter largely hold even crueler positions.

Still it is positive that more than 100 members of Congress stood up for support for refugees.

But they should be pushed to take bolder stances against Israeli violence, occupation and discrimination and get closer to where grassroots liberal Democrats now stand on these issues.




It's baffling how the US is so hateful and mean-spirited toward children. These are little kids and these "Christians" don't give a damn. They don't care how many Palestinians are murdered by the IOF, nor how many die in a hospital that has no electricity or how many get ill for the lack clean (stolen) water. The genocide of these people is the goal of the "Greater Israel" advocates and they have no shame in admitting it. Oh, and don't expect the "good" Democrats to stand up. When a letter stating that there should be no criticism of Israel, ALL 100 Senators signed it. ALL. This country is as sick as Israel. BTW, watch out for the emerging false flag being waved to attack Iran. Netanyahu thinks if he keeps on bombing Iranians in Syria, the US will come along like the lap dog it is and join in another endless war on innocent people.


I have a bumper sticker (on my "rolator", I have no car) which proclaims
my support for "Palestinian Rights."

Brave words.

Zionists (with considerable support from the USA and others) has
won the war(s). The have been a horrendous defeats. Palestine has not been
"equal" for a long time.

"Equal would require such things as a retreat by Israelis to a small
patch in which it was once to have a "homeland" amid Palestinians
who had lived there for centuries.

Palestinians were unable for many reasons to make coalitions with
Syrians (who have largely won their sovereignty)...with Egyptians...
and so forth. Alone, they have been demolished by Israel.

Their courage has been admirable and continues to be so.

It remains that Palestinians are at the point of opposing tanks
and high-tech airplanes with pee shooters. (Or rocks.)

I have repeatedly referred to Native Americans' massacre at
Wounded Knee (189o 0r 96?). After that, it was clear that
Native Americans would not succeed in defending the lands which
were, in fact, theirs.

Accepting a defeat is very tough.

I am encouraged by the younger generation which puts their own
advancement in careers outside of Palestine. To be a doctor or whatever.
Not to "return" however much they have the "right of return".

I still support "Palestinian human rights" but I see no way they can (will)
be achieved.

The survival of Palestinians and their families is the priority. The
survival of Palestine as some kind of "equal" is not in the cards.

It's not a pretty picture. It's a horrible one. That is perhaps why
all are so silent and it is not discussed publicly.

(There are many sources for the above views. There is no room
for listing them here.)

I know well that this is not the fashionable view. We should all tell
Palestinians that they will win though in our hearts we know
that to be an impossibility.

---Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA


Thank you, Mr. Loeb, for your sad and prescient comment. I still will continue to speak out loudly for the Palestinians as others will as well. We must.

Add new comment

Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune,, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.