International leaders who lined up to pledge their support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following the largest open-air prison break on 7 October paved the way for Israel’s ensuing genocide against the Palestinians. Now, the suspension of funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees, complements Netanyahu’s physical genocide by exacerbating the looming Israeli-made famine and hardship for Gaza’s 2.3 million civilians. It also endangers Palestinian refugees in the occupied West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon who depend on UNRWA for basic necessities, including education and healthcare. In short, it is the final phase of the Israeli genocide.
UNRWA was created by the UN General Assembly in 1949 to provide Palestinian refugees with humanitarian support, including schools, health clinics and other social services. The hasty freezing of financial aid by the US and other donor countries without first conducting independent investigations into the veracity of Israeli claims against UNRWA employees was cabalistic, adds to the Israeli blockade and deepens the suffering of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip.
Sky News has reviewed the Israeli dossier on the alleged “evidence” against UNRWA staff. It has stated that it “has not seen proof and many of the claims, even if true, do not directly implicate UNRWA.” Nevertheless, the Agency’s Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini summarily terminated the employment of those accused, without due process, possibly hoping to avert the very hyperbolic reaction from the donor countries.
The imprudent decision to halt funding for the largest and oldest UN agency serving Palestinians will likely lead to the malnourishment of young children.
This decision will also impede UNRWA’s ability to deliver crucial humanitarian assistance to the two million displaced civilians in Gaza, including 17,000 children who are unaccompanied or have been separated from their parents as a result of Israel’s pogrom in Gaza.
After all the damage is done, it may very well be that the Israeli claims against the UNRWA employees are either exaggerated or unfounded. This would make them very similar to the debunked Israeli disinformation regarding decapitated children, rape, sexual violence and mutilation of women during the 7 October incursion.
Having said that, even if Israeli allegations against a handful — just 12 out of 13,000 employees in Gaza — of low-level individuals have some validity, why should UNRWA be responsible for the conduct of employees outside their working hours, and not associated with their duties? In more than 100 days of Israel’s orgy of slaughter, UNRWA has had 152 employees killed, a staggering 1,300 per cent more than the number of staff members accused of wrongdoing. Keeping this in mind, one must question whether donor nations and UNRWA’s Commissioner General considered the possibility that these allegations could be an Israeli gambit to deflect from its responsibility for murdering 152 UNRWA employees.Now, let’s examine how donor nations responded to UN peacekeepers when staff faced accusations of misconduct. In 2021, the UN Secretary-General concluded that it was credible that 450 members of the peacekeeping force in Gabon were guilty of child rape and sexual exploitation. Unlike the response to the UNRWA allegations, however, the US and other donors did not suspend funding to the peacekeepers when these reports of sexual abuse emerged. More importantly, they continued the funding even after the allegations were verified. Canada, for example, did not freeze its aid even after its own investigation accused the UN of “‘glaring’ accountability gaps” in handling sexually abusing people they’ve been sent to protect.”
Yet, immediately after Israel raised still to be verified allegations against a very few UNRWA staff, Canada and other donors pre-empted any investigation and froze funding to an organisation that currently provides vital humanitarian assistance to a population enduring siege and relentless bombing.
As in the Western hypocrisy about the genocide in Gaza, the incongruent responses to the two UN bodies reveals that Western virtue is gauged by the identity of the victim and victimiser. In response to the more than 2,000 allegations of sexual abuse, the accusers were from Africa and Haiti. In the second case, the unverified allegations against the 12 Palestinian individuals came from Israel. The disparity in the two UN cases is a stark illustration of the clearly evident Western bias, and how it’s driven by the victims’/victimisers’ race rather than a commitment to justice and fairness.
By immediately pausing UNRWA funding, Western donors indulge Israeli arrogance and its absurd obsession to discredit UNRWA’s vital role in preventing starvation for the “less than equal” 2.3 million human beings in Gaza. It has got to the point where Israeli Minister of “Defence” Yoav Gallant equates UNRWA’s humanitarian lifeline in Gaza to a war against Israel, telling a delegation of UN ambassadors that UNRWA is “Hamas with a facelift”. Evoking his rhetoric on Israel’s military objectives in Gaza, the Israeli prime minister told the same delegation that “UNRWA’s mission has to end”.
It’s crucial to recognise that Israeli efforts to undermine UNRWA are not a recent development and are not necessarily linked to the current offensive in Gaza. For years, Israel has actively lobbied different US administrations to defund the UN agency. In 2017, after a meeting with the then US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, Netanyahu told reporters, “It is time for UNRWA to be dismantled…”.
Israel is fixated on “ending” UNRWA because the agency is a live registry of the Palestinian refugees who continue to challenge a diabolical 75-year-old Israeli prophecy. Following the Palestinian Nakba of 1948, an Israeli foreign ministry study predicted that “The most adaptable [Palestinians] and best survivors would ‘manage’ by a process of natural selection and others will waste away. Some will die but most will turn into human debris and social outcasts and probably join the poorest classes in the Arab countries.”
In 2018, Israel succeeded when Trump heeded Netanyahu’s demand and cut US aid to UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority (PA) after the PA rejected the Trump/Kushner steal of the century proposal. The defunding was rescinded by the Biden administration, but bankrupting UNRWA remains Israel’s last hope to turn the Palestinian refugees, “into human debris and social outcasts”.
Undeniably, UNRWA has provided Palestinian refugees with the basic humanitarian assistance to help them endure life in the miserable refugee camps. When I write on this subject, it’s not merely an abstract academic analysis; it comes from my own personal experience, having grown up in one of those Palestinian refugee camps. For instance, aid from UNRWA provided me, along with tens of thousands of children since 1950, the chance to attend school.
As someone who was raised in a refugee camp, I want to emphasise the significant impact that defunding UNRWA will have on children growing up under similar conditions. The camps are among the most densely populated areas on our planet. In my camp, with a population exceeding 30,000 living in less than 0.2 square mile, the absence of UNRWA funding would mean that children won’t receive vaccinations against communicable diseases such as cholera, hepatitis, tuberculosis, polio and many others.
A number of pupils in my own school suffered from polio, at least two in my grade. I remember them grasping forearm crutches while lugging their flailing limbs from class to class, or sitting on the sidelines while we ran in the schoolyard. And those were still considered the fortunate ones, as many others had quietly faded away, losing their lives to other preventable diseases.
Without UNRWA, I probably wouldn’t have been able to become a professional engineer, postgraduate and author; most importantly, I wouldn’t have had the chance to write about my own experiences as a Palestinian refugee. UNRWA’s humanitarian role has been instrumental in shaping the futures of countless individuals in otherwise very challenging circumstances.
Perhaps that’s precisely why Israeli leaders want “UNRWA’s mission… to end”. Over the past 74 years, UNRWA schools have played a crucial role in educating tens of thousands of Palestinian children, contributing to the emergence of one of the most educated groups in the Middle East. UNRWA’s help made it possible for the refugee camps to extricate a highly educated progeny out of the fissures of catastrophe, thereby thwarting Israel’s wish to relegate Palestinians to being “human debris”.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.