My father, Yousef Kelani (1925-2016), joined UNRWA in 1953 upon his graduation from Alexandria University in Egypt. He was the physician in charge of UNRWA’s mobile clinics for Palestinian refugees in Irbid and the River Jordan Valley. This culminated in him becoming the assistant medical director of St Luke’s Hospital in Hebron (al-Khalil). My father’s cousin and co-founder (later president) of An-Najah University, Shawkat Kelani (1929-2002), joined UNRWA in 1964 upon completing his graduate studies in Vienna. He became the Senior Medical Officer for UNRWA in Nablus, a post he held until 1989.
Both my father and my uncle, now sadly deceased, were from the Nakba generation. Both were physicians of renown who greatly helped their community; they were not terrorists. This is Uncle Shawkat’s obituary in the Guardian, authored by my father and my husband in 2002:
Moving forward to 2024 and the ongoing genocide in Gaza, Antony Blinken has the nerve to tell us that the allegations against UNRWA are “highly, highly credible”, albeit they are unsubstantiated, and he’s evidently comfortable on that basis with removing the last lifeline from the people of Gaza. Even in his press conference in Doha on 6 February he stressed that whatever they’re doing is a “process” and that it’s not simply a “flick of a button.” And yet he did “flick the button” and instantly froze aid to UNRWA, with neither a “process” nor an investigation into Israel’s wild accusations against #UNRWA.
Anti-UNRWA hysteria is a deliberate distraction from the ICJ’s preliminary ruling restraining Israel from committing potentially acts of ‘plausible’ genocide in Gaza. Social media is now awash with Zionists pouring out their venom, with both certainty and conviction, demanding that UNRWA “be dismantled.” In this, they show no regard for how the people of Gaza will feed themselves, amid Israel’s intense military onslaught and its chokehold on the Gaza Strip. Nor are they showing any responsibility for the masses of Nakba-generation Palestinians whose families were pushed out of their ancestral homeland when they invaded and occupied the land in 1948.
UNWRA is the administrative backbone of the Palestinian existence, in Palestine and in the neighbouring countries which took in the refugees who were displaced by Israel. Without it, the Palestinian existence will become even more fragmented and marginalised. And without a functioning and funded UNRWA in Gaza, the relief operation will be crippled.
As for the UK’s shameful decision to suspend funding for UNRWA, it is no longer enabling the genocide in Gaza; it is actively committing it. The fact that my parents gave us a bilingual and bicultural upbringing, sits bitterly with me now. Why were they so ‘ecumenical’, when the land of my birth and my father’s post-graduate studies should now be committing genocide against my people?
For some reason, I feel exceptionally disturbed since this suspension of funding was announced, only a day after the announcement of the ICJ’s interim ruling. Gaslighting the Palestinian existence is one of Israel’s greatest talents, as all its propaganda efforts and shameless videos show us.
Yes, I’ve seen one abomination after the other from Israel and its allies, but the suspension of funding for UNRWA has finished me off. I’ve been struggling to focus on my work since 7th October, but now I’ve been pole-axed.
UNRWA stands as a reminder that there are Palestinian refugees, and that they were made refugees by Israel when it was created in 1948. That status remains firm in international law, as defined by the 1951 Refugee Convention, but Israel obviously hopes that by shutting down the dedicated agency, the Palestinian existence will become even more fragmented and marginalised. Israel seemingly hopes that such a move will finally ‘cleanse’ its reputation from having created the refugee problem in the first place.
Israel has been gunning for UNRWA long before 7 October, and now it has escalated to full-on bombardment of its reputation and its standing.