WASHINGTON—The leaders of 17 international NGOs involved in humanitarian operations and advocacy appealed today in a letter to the U.S. Congress to restore assistance to Palestinian civilians in need in the Middle East. The letter comes in response to a complete cut-off of such assistance by the Trump administration last year. The letter urges that Members “ensure that Congress, through the appropriations process, protects humanitarian funding to meet the needs of the most vulnerable Palestinians, commensurate with prior years.”
The letter challenges the administration’s decision to eliminate support for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which had been funded by the United States in 2017 at some $360 million, as well as the elimination of U.S. bilateral economic support to Palestinians, much of which addressed humanitarian needs in the region and had previously been funded at well over $200 million.
The letter raises alarm that decisions to end all U.S. humanitarian assistance to civilians was not made based on an assessment of need but rather designed to punish Palestinian political leaders.
“This is simply unacceptable as a rationale for denying civilians humanitarian assistance, and a dangerous departure from U.S. policy on international humanitarian assistance,” the letter reads.
Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International and one of the co-signers, commented on the appeal:
It is highly significant that the 16 signatories include leaders of some of the most experienced non-governmental organizations involved in operations, reporting, and advocacy around the needs of the most vulnerable people in the Middle East and around the world. Sustained support for Palestinian civilians in need is essential.
Another co-signer, Joel Charny of the Norwegian Refugee Council-USA, added:
We need Congress to protect this assistance, which saves and safeguards the lives of civilians, and help to ensure against the politicization of humanitarian aid.
The letter was sent earlier today to the chairs and ranking members of the U.S. House and Senate Appropriations Committee and the U.S. House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.
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FULL TEXT OF LETTER TO MEMBERS OF THE U.S. SENATE AND U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
March 27, 2019
The Honorable Richard Shelby
Chair, Senate Committee on Appropriations
The Honorable Patrick Leahy
Vice Chair, Senate Committee on Appropriations
Ranking Member, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
The Honorable Lindsey Graham
Chair, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
The Honorable Nita Lowey
Chair, House Committee on Appropriations
Chair, House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
The Honorable Kay Granger
Ranking Member, House Committee on Appropriations
The Honorable Harold Rogers
Ranking Member, House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
Dear Members of Congress:
As leaders of organizations deeply involved in programs and advocacy surrounding international humanitarian response, we write to you to share our concerns regarding the dire consequences of the decision by the Trump administration to end all U.S. humanitarian assistance to people in need in the West Bank and Gaza. This funding includes support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and programs implemented by organizations through the Economic Support Fund (ESF) to meet the basic needs of the civilian population. We urge that such U.S. financial support for these critical programs be protected in the 2020 appropriation enacted by the U.S. Congress.
The withholding of financial contributions to UNRWA has already had a significant impact on the lives of Palestinians. While stop-gap funding from other donors has allowed UNRWA to continue providing critical humanitarian assistance in the short-term, predictable support for such critical activities is essential. Moreover, even with stop-gap funding, the agency has been forced to cut back on basic services for children, women, and men in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza.
For example, UNRWA has had to reduce programs that provide mobile health and mental health services, as well as job-creation programs. The latter is particularly alarming in places like the Gaza Strip where over fifty percent of the labor force is unemployed. Furthermore, UNRWA reports that cuts to cash-for-work programs made 90,000 refugees highly vulnerable to poverty and food insecurity.
We are also deeply concerned that the elimination of ESF has impacted programs that address food, water, and medical needs in the region. For example, in December 2018, the Congressional Research Service reported that cuts to ESF will directly prevent emergency food aid to nearly 140,000 individuals, access to clean water for as many as 71,000 individuals, and clinical breast cancer treatment for 16,000 women. It has also led to a reduction in the number of people receiving food assistance, and has prevented the launch of programs that would have provided services to 50,000 youth.
We remain particularly alarmed that this decision impacting humanitarian aid to civilians was not based on any assessment of need, but rather designed to punish Palestinian political leaders, as reflected in statements by the President and his administration. This is simply unacceptable as a rationale for denying civilians humanitarian assistance, and a dangerous departure from U.S. policy on international humanitarian assistance.
In 1984, in justifying its decision to provide humanitarian aid to famine-affected Ethiopia, the Reagan administration declared that “a hungry child knows no politics,” and indeed, this sentiment has guided U.S. policy makers for decades. This sentiment was reflected in the international Good Humanitarian Donorship Initiative that the United States helped establish during the administration of George W. Bush. That Initiative set out best practices, including the proposition that humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations should be “solely on the basis of need, without discrimination between or within affected populations.”
To be sure, the application of these principles by U.S. administrations has been imperfect, but all U.S. administrations have aspired to them, and the United States should continue to do so. Therefore, we would deeply appreciate your efforts to ensure that Congress, through the appropriations process, protects humanitarian funding to meet the needs of the most vulnerable Palestinians, commensurate with prior years.
Joyce Ajlouny, General Secretary, American Friends Service Committee
J. Ron Byler, Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee U.S.
Sean Carroll, President and CEO, American Near East Refugee Aid
Joel Charny, Director, Norwegian Refugee Council USA
Sarah Costa, Executive Director, Women’s Refugee Commission
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Vice-President, The Lutheran World Federation
Mark Hetfield, President & CEO, HIAS
Margaret Huang, Executive Director, Amnesty International USA
Mohamed S. Idris, Executive Director, American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa
Neal Keny-Guyer, Chief Executive Officer, Mercy Corps
Abby Maxman, President and CEO, Oxfam America
David Miliband, President and CEO, International Rescue Committee
Eskinder Negash, Chief Executive Officer, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Michelle Nunn, President and CEO, CARE USA
Eric Schwartz, President, Refugees International
David A. Weiss, President & CEO, Global Communities
Samuel A. Worthington, Chief Executive Officer, InterAction