President Donald Trump appears to enjoy experimenting on human beings. First came the separation of young children from their parents. In May 2018, Trump ordered the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) to send all adults caught crossing the border to federal jail to await trial, while transferring their children to either foster care or detention centres. Most of these children have been kept in what are essentially cages, and some have even been given psychotropic drugs without parental consent.
The assumption is that pain, agony and suffering alter human behaviour, and that traumatising a large group of children and their parents serve to deter other people, even those fleeing life-threatening conflict zones, from trying to enter the US. The moral perspective is that the end justifies the means, even if the means include cruel and inhuman policies.
Now comes Trump’s latest experiment, this time with education, medical care, and famine. Adopting warped rhetoric, this experiment is presented as part of a groundbreaking Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
The idea is to cut all funding to the United Nations Relief Works and Agency (UNRWA), which, for the past 70 years, has been providing lifesaving assistance to more than five million Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
UNRWA’s spokesperson, Chris Gunness, spelled out the repercussions of such actions: “Let there be no mistake”, he said, “this decision is likely to have a devastating impact on the lives of 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”.
Indeed, if the funding gap is not covered by other countries, Trump’s decision will have a devastating impact on the lives of millions of Palestinians.
This experiment seems to have two distinct – if related – goals.
First, Trump apparently wants to see if a policy of destruction and anti-humanitarian intervention can be used as a peacemaking device in this protracted conflict.
This is an inversion of parts of the Oslo paradigm, where the European Union and other international players decided to spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on Palestinian state-building projects. Even though Oslo’s goal may never have been the creation of an independent Palestinian state, Palestinian life was still considered to have some value.
As it turns out, the idea informing the 1993 peace accords was to transfer control of a number of institutions and policies - such as education, healthcare, and food security - to the Palestinians in order to free Israel from the responsibility of managing the daily lives of the population it had colonised. And, while Israel abdicated responsibility for the Palestinian people, it continued to retain its hold over most of their land.
Trump’s current idea, by contrast, is to simply force a ‘peace process’ by destroying all of the institutions that modern states use to manage their population while bringing the inhabitants to the brink of social death.
Therefore, it is no coincidence that at exactly the same moment that Trump is cutting all funding from UNRWA, he has also decided to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority. The strategy is straightforward: the Palestinians must first be reduced to what Italian political theorist Georgio Agamben has called bare life in order to force them to accept the ‘great deal’ that President Trump intends to offer them.
The experiment’s second goal is to erase Palestinian refugeehood.
It is important to remember that UNRWA was set up to assist the 700,000 Palestinian refugees after the creation of Israel in 1948. Whether these Palestinians fled or were forcibly expelled from their towns and villages may be a point of contention, but there is no argument that, after the war had subsided, Israel refused to allow the Palestinians to return to their homes, thus violating article 11 of United Nations Resolution 194. This is how Israel created the refugee problem.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘UNRWA and Trump’s attempt to erase the Palestinian people’