By Ramona Wadi
Palestinians’ food insecurity made brief headlines with the announcement that the World Food Program (WFP) will be cutting food aid due to insufficient funds. An estimated 190,000 Palestinians from Gaza and the occupied West Bank will be affected; 27,000 through the suspension of food aid and 165,000 who will have their aid reduced by 20 per cent.
The WFP attributed this selective deprivation to the US withdrawal of humanitarian aid. According to the organisation’s country director Stephen Kearney, the US “cut funding, not just to UNRWA, who work with the refugees in Gaza, but also to the rest of the international community, including WFP.” The UN Relief and Works Agency referred to by Kearney not only works with refugees in Gaza, by the way; it also provides essential services to Palestinian refugees in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The US funding cut should not be viewed as an anti-Gaza, for which read anti-Hamas, issue; it is anti-Palestinian, pure and simple.
It is a mistake to focus on Palestinians’ food insecurity only in light of the WFP’s reduction in aid. In its latest report, the Program stated that 22.5 per cent of Palestinians suffer from food insecurity due to limited access, lack of mobility and economic restrictions, as well as the discrepancy between income and food prices. All of this should be blamed directly on Israel, not least because prior to the Zionist colonization of Palestine, the indigenous population lived a life of relative abundance. Many Palestinian memories of their land reflect upon the connection between the soil and its people, in terms of ownership and cultivation; the Zionists did not “make the desert bloom”, as is often claimed.
The international community, working in Israel’s favor, has succeeded in disseminating Palestine as a humanitarian predicament. Since 1948, the Palestinians have been coerced into participating in their own humiliation. Humanitarian programs, with limitations even before US President Donald Trump, cut US financial aid, have downplayed Palestinian expectations and eliminated their rights, despite the fact that political collusion with colonial Israel created refugees out of the indigenous population of Palestine.
For decades, Palestinians have had to prioritize survival over resistance because the international community decided to expound upon the refugee phenomenon to accommodate Israel’s colonial expansion. No matter how much Israel argues against UNRWA and humanitarian aid to Palestinians, the truth is that Israel benefits from the strategy behind the UN Agency’s existence. The international community’s rhetoric about decolonization is nothing but agenda embellishment and it clearly has no intention of granting Palestinians their political rights, let alone allowing the necessary space for Palestinians to claim their rights from their own collective narrative.
Instead, Palestinians are constantly portrayed as a deprived population dependent on humanitarian aid and far removed from the political violence that forced them into choosing between food and legitimate rights. If there is no political solution, both choices will eventually lead to further deterioration of the people of Palestine. This will occur due to the fact that in both choices, multitudes of limitations are imposed which will never allow emancipation and autonomy.
Humanitarian aid, although necessary because of Israel’s colonial occupation and oppression, is a veneer that maintains all the ramifications of political violence. It has become a cycle of adding statistics to the already available data. Thinking about Palestinians in percentages as opposed to a population denied of its political rights normalizes the entire sequence of violations that they continue to suffer.
It is equally disconcerting to note that, had the WFP not faced budget cuts, the existing food insecurity would have been dismissed as a regular consequence of colonial plunder under the guise of “Israel’s security”. The funding crisis, however, will also become normalized, to the point that within another brief time span, it will be necessary to point out food insecurity as a news item, rather than a call to accountability. Who is being held to account for this insecurity is a question that needs to be asked, but is unlikely to be answered honestly.