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.
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.