Prominent actors and artists are rallying to support UNRWA, as US President Donald Trump issues new threats to cut funding to the UN agency that works to meet the basic humanitarian needs of five million Palestinian refugees.
“We stand for dignity for the most vulnerable, and we stand with Palestinian refugees who are facing a terrible moment,” the celebrities say in a statement published by the Hoping Foundation on Thursday.
Among those speaking out are actors Hugh Grant, Gillian Anderson, Emma Thompson, James Fox and Tilda Swinton; writers Hanif Kureishi and Will Self and directors Ken Loach and Stephen Frears.
Also endorsing the statement are musician Brian Eno, fashion designer Bella Freud, artist Tracy Emin and soccer greats Eric Cantona and Gary Lineker.
A former England captain and now a BBC sportscaster, Lineker was recently the target of an Israel lobby backlash for tweeting his outrage at the mistreatment of Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military.
“Peoples across the world have always supported the Palestinian struggle for freedom, and understand that Palestinian refugees – the most vulnerable – are the key to hope, and to any chance of a peaceful future,” the celebrities say.
They call on the UN secretary general to “immediately convene a conference that can establish a stable funding system in order to protect UNRWA’s vital work.”
Israel seeks to destroy UNRWA as part of its effort to erase the right of return of Palestinian refugees from the international agenda. Israel opposes allowing Palestinians to return to the homes and lands from which they were ethnically cleansed because they are not Jews.
But on Thursday, the president made more threats to cut aid.
Speaking next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the gathering of global elites in the Swiss resort of Davos, Trump accused Palestinian Authority leaders of disrespecting the US by refusing to meet Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to the region earlier this week.
“That money is on the table and that money is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace,” Trump told reporters. “Because I can tell you that Israel does want to make peace, and they’re going to have to want to make peace too, or we’re going to have nothing to do with it any longer.”
Trump also repeated his assertion that his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – which has been rejected by Palestinians and much of the world – meant that the future of the city was “off the table” in any negotiations.
That flies in the face of assurances Trump gave in December that his statement on Jerusalem and his decision to move the US embassy there did not mean he was taking a position on “any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders.”
Trump asserted at the time that “those questions are up to the parties involved,” to be resolved in negotiations which, following his latest outburst, now look more unlikely than ever.
But while a “peace process” remains a vanishingly remote prospect, further damage and suffering for Palestinians is imminent.
On Wednesday, the leaders of 21 international humanitarian agencies wrote to the Trump administration objecting in “the strongest terms” to the funding cuts to UNRWA.
The groups, including Save the Children, the American Friends Service Committee, Catholic Relief Services, Oxfam and Islamic Relief, said the cuts would have “dire consequences” for “life-sustaining assistance to children, women and men in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”
“This decision is aimed at punishing Palestinian political leaders and forcing them to make political concessions,” said Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International and a former US assistant secretary of state. “But it is wrong to punish political leaders by denying life-sustaining aid to civilians.”
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