Trump’s War on Palestinian Refugees Is as Heartless as Anything He’s Done
Cuts to UNRWA will mean refugee children have less access to education. Cuts to an East Jerusalem hospital will mean less treatment. Why? Why go out of his way like that?
To me, that one word best sums up Donald Trump. We’ve seen Trump’s cruelty on display time and time again, from his inhumane policy of separating children from parents attempting to cross our Southern border to his glee in trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act and take health insurance away from millions to his giddiness while mocking a disabled reporter who had simply dared to contradict him.
So I shouldn’t be surprised that Trump’s cruelty has now been turned towards Palestinian refugees. After all, like with Trump’s other acts of cruelty, it’s all designed to bring joy to his right-wing base.
My father was a Palestinian refugee who came to America in search of a better life in the 1950s. At that time and through 2016, America represented a nation that welcomed “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” But clearly that has changed with Trump, a man who simply doesn’t embrace the values that made America truly great.
Trump, though, is not content in just turning away refugees from America. He now wants to punish refugees who live thousands of miles away. And to accomplish that, Trump is waging a coordinated, unholy war to make Palestinian refugees suffer. I’m not talking his moving of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem or his recent closing of the PLO mission in Washington, D.C.; I mean actions that will cruelly cause women and children to suffer.
Trump’s most heartless act was the announcement a few weeks ago to end our nation’s contribution of approximately $360 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA.) This agency, created in 1948 to help the approximately 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forcibly removed from the homes by Israeli military forces, is today a lifeline for a little over five million Palestinian refugees in Gaza and the West Bank as well as in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.
How does UNRWA help people? Its staff works with local government agencies to provide housing, health care, social services, and especially education for refugee children who would otherwise not be able to obtain an education. As Chris Gunness, a spokesperson for UNRWA, detailed, their work is vital to the “526,000 children who receive a daily education from UNRWA; 3.5 million sick people who come to our clinics for medical care; 1.7 million food insecure people who receive assistance from us, and tens of thousands of vulnerable women, children and disabled refugees who come to us.”
UNRWA is the only place these refugees—these human beings—often have to turn for flour, rice, canned meat, medicine, school textbooks, and other supplies this agency distributes. In Gaza alone, where unemployment is at nearly 50 percent, more than half of the Palestinians there depend on UNRWA’s aid simply to survive.
But now Trump is ending our nation’s contribution, which represents almost a third of the agency’s budget. Why? Simple. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other right-wingers believe that somehow these refugees pose a threat to the “Jewish character of Israel.”
Their very existence is apparently a danger because they still harbor dreams of returning to their ancestral homeland. In fact, Netanyahu, who in the past has dismissively referred to those being helped by UNRWA as “fictitious refugees,” has applauded Trump’s decision to end UNRWA funding as a “blessed event.” No wonder Trump and Netanyahu get along so well; they share the same cruel spirit.
And you don’t need to be an expert in terrorism to understand that if you take away a desperate people’s food, education, and other basics of civilized life, you create the perfect storm for terrorists to recruit. In fact, Israeli security expert Amos Gilad expressed that very concern, noting that if UNRWA no longer has the funds to function, the void will be filled by groups like Hamas.
But Trump’s cruelty to Palestinians doesn’t end there. Over the weekend, Trump administration officials announced cutting $25 million in funding for hospitals in East Jerusalem that provide care for Palestinians there.
Reverend Martin Junge, who is also a doctor at the Lutheran Hospitals, made it clear in an online statement what the impact of Trump’s cuts means to them: “The funding to the East Jerusalem Hospital Network is critical to ensure ongoing, lifesaving treatment for patients from the West Bank and Gaza.” He urged Trump and Congress “to urgently address this critical situation to ensure that the lifesaving treatments can continue uninterrupted.”
If that were not enough cruelty for Trump, his State Department announced a few weeks ago that it was cutting $200 million in funding to the Palestinians that had been allocated for economic programs in Gaza and the West Bank. This money, which could have helped Palestinian infrastructure programs, will simply be spent in other parts of the world per the State Department.
And on top of this, on Monday, John Bolton, veteran neocon and now Trump’s national security adviser, announced the closing of the Palestinian mission in Washington. In response, Palestinian official Saeb Erekat summed up this decision as "yet another affirmation of the Trump administration's policy to collectively punish the Palestinian people.” But even so, closing or moving buildings is nothing when compared to the cruelty of Trump’s cutting funding for hospitals, schools, and basic food needed to survive.
Trump’s cruelty truly knows no bounds. And sadly it appears that his base, which consists primarily of conservative Evangelicals who fervently support Israel in the hopes it hastens the return of Jesus, too, have no problem with Trump’s un-Christian actions. Without a hint of irony, these so-called Christians support making the poor suffer in the name of Jesus.
If Trump’s cruelty disgusts you then there’s one simply way to express it that is effective: Vote on Nov. 6. That’s the day we can send a clear message with our ballots that as a nation, we are far better than Donald J. Trump.