Reparations for Palestine: A JPC's Call for Courage and Justice
By: Khaled Sasa
Disclaimer: The views are those of the author's alone and do not represent the views of UNA-Canada.
I’m a 22-year-old Palestinian-Canadian interning remotely with the World Food Programme’s (WFP) West African Regional Bureau (RBD), in Dakar, Senegal, as a Junior Professional Consultant (JPC) in their Research Assessment and Monitoring unit. This experience, thanks to the International Youth Internship Program (IYIP), still feels surreal, especially since I have always wanted to work within the United Nations (UN) system.
An older Syrian Travel Document for Palestinian Refugees. As a Palestinian refugee, I never possessed an actual passport until becoming a Canadian citizen.
Born in Abu Dhabi, UAE, to Palestinian parents, we only possessed a Syrian travel document for Palestinian refugees when we sought a better life on Turtle Island. As a 4-year-old settler, I experienced an identity crisis. During my childhood, my mother always urged me to proudly state my Palestinian nationality, when asked. Thus, despite the Canadian curriculum’s erasure of Palestine, I pointed out my homeland on maps, and proudly told peers and teachers I was Palestinian. I grew up, like many Palestinians, incredibly frustrated by our dispossession.
My Paternal Palestinian Grandmother told me she was forcibly removed from her home in 1948. It has since been converted into a City Hall.
Throughout my life, I followed discussions on countless resolutions proposed at the UN General Assembly, supporting Palestinian rights. I also saw UN officials repeatedly condemn Israeli violations of international law; such as its illegal expansion of colonies in the Occupied West Bank. I could have become cynical, watching Israel continue to commit its crimes with impunity, despite UN condemnation. Indeed, the UN Partition Plan for Palestine, adopted in 1947, greenlit a campaign of ethnic cleansing against its Indigenous inhabitants.
Despite my grievances towards the UN, I acknowledge its critical role in supplying life-saving assistance to Palestinians. I witnessed firsthand how UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, provided food, healthcare, and education for Palestinian refugees. Now, during my internship, I see the crucial steps the WFP is taking towards not only ending global hunger, but also supporting sustainability, autonomy, and climate adaptation.
12-Year-Old Me on a Trip to the UN Headquarters, Always Dreamed of Working for the UN, and 10 Years Later, That Dream Came True!
My role as a JPC includes assessing the capacities of country offices that are covered by the RBD, and identifying how they can be better supported. I have created my own comprehensive tool that helps me compare and understand the needs of each country. In addition, I assist colleagues with other tasks, as needed, such as translating tables from French to English, creating graphs, and contributing to research. Most recently, I had the privilege of taking part in a collaborative webinar between WFP and the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), about the impacts of conflict on food security in West Africa. I created a formal summary report highlighting key points from all of the speakers, following the event.
In addition to my role with WFP, the United Nations Association in Canada (UNAC) frequently checks in and assigns activities and tasks for me and other JPCs. The monthly Subject Matter Expert (SME) sessions, ensuing discussions, and the opportunity to meet and interact with fellow JPCs in my cohort have been humbling, thought-provoking, and rewarding. I am amazed and inspired by my conversations with my cohort, how knowledgeable and critical they are about world issues, and their willingness to create positive change. The UNAC team and my peers have all supported me and given me confidence to stay true to myself and not shy away from speaking truth to power.
Finally, as Palestinian writer and activist Mohammed El Kurd made clear in his speech to the UN recently, Palestinians are exhausted by the international community’s empty words when it comes to Palestine. Yet, I believe that just as the UN facilitated the colonization of Palestine, the very principles it was founded on will lead to its liberation. It is my strong passion for human rights and global justice, rooted in my Palestinian identity, that brought me to my internship role. I urge my peers to never forget what led them to the UN in the first place, to keep in mind the organization’s foundational principles, and to use that knowledge to direct them in their work. I am incredibly grateful to have obtained this opportunity, and to see the support I have received from members of my cohort. I look forward to continuing to learn and grow from this experience and am excited to see where it will take me next!