As we have already seen, UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness gave two interviews on the same topic to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ on January 17th that were aired in three of the show’s six editions.
An additional interviewee brought in to discuss the story of US aid donations to UNRWA on the same programme on that day was Mustafa Barghouti.
Sharp: “But let’s go to our top story this hour. It’s the decision by the United States to withhold millions of dollars in aid funding for the united relief agency for Palestinians known as UNRWA which is the UN Relief and Works Agency.”
Hawkins: “The Trump administration has sent $60 million to keep the refugee agency operating but it’s decided to withhold the remainder of the $125 million donation and it wants other countries to pay more. Speaking at a news conference, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was worried by the decision.”
Gutteres [recording]: “I am very concerned and I strongly hope that in the end it will be possible for the United States to maintain the funding of UNRWA in which the US has a very important share. UNRWA is not a Palestinian institution. UNRWA is a UN institution created by a UN resolution and UNRWA is providing vital services to the Palestinian refugees both in the occupied territories and in Jordan, in Syria and in Lebanon.”
Sharp [01:42]: “Let’s now talk to Dr Mustafa Barghouti who is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. […] What’s your reaction or the Palest…the reaction of the Palestinian Authority to this news?”
Barghouti: “Well this decision by the Trump administration is another irresponsible, reckless and harmful decision which is…which represents in our opinion an act of collective punishment against millions of Palestinian refugees who have been victims of occupation and the policy of Israeli ethnic cleansing that displaced them from their country in 1948 and they are also still subjected to the policy of apartheid and racial discrimination by Israeli occupation. It’s an act of collective punishment against people who will now suffer deprivation, who will lose education, who will lose healthcare. It’s a punishment of elderly people, people who are disabled, who have very basic humanitarian needs and we don’t understand why the United States continue to be complicit in Israeli policies. We don’t understand why they are using this irresponsible and inhuman act to punish Palestinians collectively and in our opinion it’s also a political decision. Clearly they are fulfilling Israeli wishes to liquidate the rights of the Palestinian refugees to return to the homes they were displaced from in 1948.”
Sharp made no effort whatsoever to challenge the falsehood that Palestinians were displaced from “their country” in 1948, the description of that territory as ‘occupied’ or the lies of “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid and racial discrimination”. Neither did she bother to clarify to listeners that Barghouti’s advocated ‘right of return’ is a scenario that any serious commentator knows will not happen. She did, however, challenge Barghouti’s description of the US decision as a “punishment”.
Sharp: “OK Doctor, but they have made it clear that it isn’t a punishment and it’s not a complete withdrawal of all the funds: it’s half of it.”
Barghouti: “The UNRWA United Nations agency is suffering already from a big deficit of its budget and when you cut off $65 million from their budget, which is more than 50% of the American contribution, it means you are driving this agency into bankruptcy. We are talking…they are already laying off doctors, nurses, teachers. You are talking about millions of Palestinian refugees not only in Palestine itself – in the West Bank and Gaza – but Palestinian refugees in Syria, which is suffering from terrible humanitarian situation, in Lebanon, in Jordan. Those children will be deprived now from the possibility of accessing education. The people who are suffering from diseases will be deprived from getting their medications and so many people will suffer.”
Barghouti: “Some people will lose their shelters. So it is an act of collective punishment against people who are…who are not victim…who are not…who have not done anything wrong.”
Sharp: “Sure but let’s look at it from the United States point of view. They are the biggest contributor here. They’re asking for reforms and they say we don’t believe that taking care of other nations and other people have to rest solely on the shoulders of the United States. That’s a fair comment, isn’t it?”
Barghouti: “No because if they are talking about reform, why now? Why they are not talking about reform for instance of World Health Organisation or food prog…food [unintelligible] or any other UN agency? No; these are political decisions that Mr Trump is taking to punish Palestinians and to force Palestinians to take wrong political decisions that affect their future. In other words Mr Trump is only fulfilling the wishes of Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, who’s trying to kill the issue of Jerusalem, to kill the issue of refugees and practically to block any possibility for future negotiations and for peace in this place. This action by the United States government will only create more instability in this region and you are talking about six million [sic] refugees who are deprived, who have suffered in their lives for six…for 70 years from being displaced by Israeli ethnic cleansing and now they are being punished by the government of the United States.”
Once again making no effort to challenge Barghouti’s “ethnic cleansing” lie or his misrepresentation of the number of people registered as refugees, Sharp closed the interview there.
In the next edition of the programme, listeners heard an edited version of that interview (from 01:22 here) in which – once again – Barghouti’s falsehoods were amplified without any challenge whatsoever.
Barghouti: “This decision by the Trump administration is another irresponsible, reckless and harmful decision which is…which represents in our opinion an act of collective punishment against millions of Palestinian refugees who have been victims of occupation and the policy of Israeli ethnic cleansing that displaced them from their country in 1948 and they are also still subjected to the policy of apartheid and racial discrimination by Israeli occupation. It’s an act of collective punishment against people who will now suffer deprivation, who will lose education, who will lose healthcare. And we don’t understand why the United States continue to be complicit in Israeli policies.”
Moreover, Barghouti was brought back for yet another interview on the same topic in a later edition of the programme which will be discussed in part two of this post.