As of writing this article, 17 countries in addition to the European Union (EU) have suspended their funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). These countries cover 78.4% of UNRWA’s annual funding, according to the latest announced budget of UNRWA (actual 2022 spending), which is about $921 million out of a total of $1.175 billion. This suspension was made under the pretext of Israeli claims that 12 UNRWA employees in the Gaza Strip (GS) participated in the October 7th, 2023 attack (Operation al-Aqsa Flood) on the Gaza envelope. According to Israeli claims, ten of them belong to Hamas, and one to Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (PIJ). There are reports that two of them have died.
It’s significant that these 17 countries swiftly responded to Israeli claims without verifying them neutrally, particularly considering Israel’s adversarial stance towards UNRWA, aiming to undermine it. Furthermore, even if the claim was true, it’s unjustifiable to penalize an extensive international institution like UNRWA. Punitive measures, if necessary, should be directed at individuals responsible, not at an organization serving six million Palestinian refugees, including over 1.5 million in GS, with 13 thousand employees solely in GS. No country or institution can guarantee the absence of employees with conflicting beliefs or commitments. They would not accept international sanctions solely based on allegations made by opposing parties against employees in their ministries or institutions.Regarding the 17 countries that suspended their support for UNRWA, they are: US, UK, Canada, France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Austria, Romania, Estonia, Iceland, Finland, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
UNRWA: Heavy responsibilities and ongoing targeting
Established by UN General Assembly Resolution 302 on 8/12/1949, UNRWA was created to provide care and employment opportunities for Palestinian refugees. Over 54 years later, it remains a crucial witness to the 1948 Nakbah and subsequent displacement of Palestinian people. Serving millions of Palestinian refugees, UNRWA provides vital educational, health, and relief aid, particularly as many still face urgent needs and continue to suffer displacement. Operating in regions such as GS, the West Bank (WB), Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.The UN General Assembly typically and strongly renews UNRWA’s mandate. The last renewal decision was in December 2022, where 157 countries voted in favour, with Israel as the sole objection and ten countries abstaining. The mandate extends until 30/6/2026.UNRWA typically faces financial strains and revenue deficits, navigating from one crisis to another to meet its basic obligations. Moreover, the Israeli occupation persists in its efforts to hinder UNRWA’s operations and dismantle it, aiming to silence the refugees who testify to its injustices. The administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump responded to Israeli pressure by halting its support for UNRWA in 2018, but President Biden’s administration reinstated support in 2021.
Is it a deliberate scheme?!
Initial reports suggest that the current targeting of UNRWA corresponds with a plan drafted by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, leaked via Israeli Channel 12 on 28/12/2023, citing official sources. The plan, summarized by the Times of Israel newspaper the next day, aims to terminate UNRWA’s operations in GS, with intentions to extend this termination to other operational areas. The plan is structured into three stages: First stage: “Demonization” of UNRWA among donor entities by accusing it of alleged cooperation with Hamas (Accused of “terrorism”) in GS. Second stage: Reducing UNRWA operations, amid a search for a different organization to replace it. Third stage: “All of UNRWA’s duties would be transferred to the body governing Gaza following the war” (assuming it will replace Hamas and will be acceptable to Israel).
It’s noteworthy that the Israeli campaign against UNRWA commenced only about four weeks after the plan was leaked. The rapid reaction of 17 countries to these accusations suggests their readiness to appease Israel without proper verification procedures. Why the haste? Moreover, questions arise regarding UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini’s decision to dismiss the 12 UNRWA employees before verifying the allegations against them, whereas procedural fairness dictates that investigations should precede any decision concerning them.
Secondly, a pressing question emerges for the UN and donor countries: why haven’t they taken action against the Israeli occupation, which bombed approximately 145 UNRWA facilities (nearly half of those in GS: Schools, centres, etc.), resulting in destruction or damage, and rendering 18 UNRWA health centres out of 22 inoperable. This extensive destruction of UNRWA’s infrastructure led to the squandering of hundreds of millions of dollars from donor countries. Thirdly, why have donor countries remained silent about the killing of 152 UNRWA employees during the Israeli war on GS thus far?!These are all crimes of much greater magnitude than the allegations being disseminated by the Israel.
So, how can these parties be surprised that some UNRWA employees embrace the spirit and ideology of resistance? After all, the overwhelming majority of Palestinians support the resistance, and the enduring plight of displacement, homelessness, oppression, and deprivation has persisted for 76 years. In a place like GS, where residents have endured a suffocating siege for 17 years and faced intermittent wars, is it surprising that some UNRWA employees identify with the resistance? They find themselves living in constant insecurity, exposed to bombings, with their homes potentially destroyed, their families killed, or displaced once again. And then they are expected to relinquish their identity, humanity and emotions!!
Finally, the swift actions of these countries serve the interests of the Israeli aggression on GS and align with the Israeli vision to tighten the screws on Palestinian refugees and erase them, and to close the largest international institution tasked with their welfare.Therefore, all countries, institutions, parties, forces and figures supporting the Palestinian people should hasten to fulfil their duties to stop the conspiracy against UNRWA and the Palestine issue.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.