The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the main humanitarian agency in Gaza, faces an unprecedented funding crisis after its main international donors, the United States in head, have reduced its funding due to “terrorism”. allegations.
UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini called the moves to withhold funding “additional collective punishment” for Palestinians already reeling from nearly four months of relentless Israeli bombardment.
The end of the aid came quickly after Israel accused 12 UNRWA personnel of being involved in the October 7 Hamas attack in Israel. The UN took action against UNRWA personnel linked to the attack, but expressed opposition to the withdrawal of funding.
“As the war in Gaza continues unabated, and as the International Court of Justice calls for more humanitarian aid, it is time to strengthen, not weaken, UNRWA,” Lazzarini said in a statement. THURSDAY.
“If funding remains suspended, we will most likely be forced to stop our operations by the end of February, not only in Gaza but throughout the region. »
Israeli claims remain unverified
The Palestinians have accused Israel of falsifying information to tarnish UNRWA in Gaza, which employs 13,000 people and runs schools, health clinics and other essential services. Experts said the Israeli claims remained unverified.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Tuesday that Israel had not yet shared the intelligence file with the UN.
Yasmine Ahmed, UK director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), told Al Jazeera that HRW was not aware that the UN, nor any of the states funding UNRWA, had seen written documents proving what had been alleged by Israel.
“That doesn’t mean it wasn’t provided,” she added.
Ahmed said HRW had asked the British government what written evidence it had seen of the allegations that led it to withhold funding.
Here is more information about UNRWA and its critical importance to Palestinians, particularly in Gaza.
Why was UNRWA created?
UNRWA was established by the United Nations General Assembly on December 8, 1949, to provide basic assistance, including food, health care and education, to tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees. More than 700,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced before the creation of Israel in 1948, which Palestinians remember as the Nakba, or “the catastrophe”.
UNRWA operations are spread across the occupied West Bank – including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
What does it do?
UNRWA supports some six million Palestinian refugees living inside and outside Palestine. It is like a quasi-state providing direct services, such as schools, primary health centers and other social services. It also provides loans to Palestinians.
However, it does not operate refugee camps, as maintaining public order and security is not part of its mandate.
UNRWA operates separately from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which was also established in 1949. Although UNHCR provides temporary protection and assistance to refugees, it does not have a mandate over Palestinian refugees in UNRWA areas of operations.
Although it provides humanitarian aid to Palestinians, the UNRWA body does not have a mandate to resettle Palestinian refugees, something Israel opposes.
In 2021, approximately 545,000 children were enrolled in UNRWA schools; Social Safety Net Program (SSNP) assistance reached 398,044 beneficiaries; and 1.7 million received essential humanitarian assistance.
Why is this important to Palestinians?
UNRWA helps Palestinians in multiple ways, providing them with multiple resources.
Since Israel launched its war against Gaza on October 7, around a million Palestinians in Gaza, nearly 45 percent of the enclave’s population, have taken refuge in UNRWA schools, clinics and other public buildings. UNRWA schools and buildings are operating beyond capacity to provide shelter for internally displaced Palestinians who have very limited safe spaces.
Almost the entire population of Gaza now depends on UNRWA for their basic needs, including food, water and hygiene products.
The UN agency employs thousands of Palestinians in its schools, health centers and other social programs, providing much-needed employment opportunities for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation for seven decades.
More than 30,000 Palestinians work for UNRWA in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the vast refugee camps in neighboring Arab countries. Its services in Gaza have grown in importance since 2005, when Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade causing an economic collapse with one of the highest unemployment rates in the world.
As of December 2023, the International Labor Organization and the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics determined that at least 66% of jobs have been lost in Gaza since the start of the war. UNRWA helps reduce the unemployment gap among Palestinians by providing them with employment.
Who are the biggest donors to UNRWA?
In 2022, the main government donors to UNRWA were the United States, Germany, the European Union, Sweden, Norway, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and Turkey.
The United States, Germany and Switzerland have funding suspended to UNRWA following these allegations.
The European Union (EU) announced on Monday that it would examine whether it could continue funding UNRWA in light of the allegations. However, the organization does not anticipate additional funding for the organization until the end of February.
Norway, a major donor, has urged other donor countries to think about the broader consequences of funding cuts.
“UNWRA is a vital lifeline for 1.5 million refugees in Gaza. Now more than ever, the agency needs international support. To avoid collectively punishing millions of people, we must distinguish between what individuals may have done and what UNRWA represents,” Espen Barth Eide, Norway’s foreign minister, told Reuters on Wednesday.
How many camps and Palestinian refugees does UNRWA have?
- In Gaza, 1,476,706 Palestinians are registered as refugees in eight Palestinian refugee camps.
- In the occupied West Bank, around a quarter of the 871,537 registered refugees live in 19 refugee camps, while others live in towns and villages.
- There are nine official camps and three unofficial camps in Syria, where 575,234 registered Palestinian refugees live.
- 489,292 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon’s 12 refugee camps.
- 2,307,011 refugees live in Jordan, where there are 10 UNRWA camps. There are three unofficial camps and other refugees live around the camps.
What does the aid freeze mean for the Palestinians?
Now that UNRWA’s biggest donors have frozen their aid, Palestinians inside and outside Gaza face starvation.
“It is difficult to imagine that the people of Gaza will survive this crisis without UNRWA,” said Thomas White, director of UNRWA affairs in Gaza and deputy UN humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory.
“Rafah has become a sea of people fleeing bombing,” he said, referring to the relentless Israeli bombing that has destroyed more than 70 percent of homes in Gaza and displaced nearly two million people.
Why does Israel want to weaken UNRWA?
Israel has long advocated dismantling UNRWA, arguing that its mission is obsolete. On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that UNRWA was “perforated with Hamas.”
Netanyahu’s accusations against UNRWA have not been supported by facts. His claim that UNRWA was infiltrated by Hamas has been called into question because the UN agency shares its personnel list with Israel.
“Every year, UNRWA shares its staff list with the host countries where it works,” said Stéphane Dujarric. “For its work in Gaza and the West Bank, UNRWA shares its personnel roster with both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government, as the occupying power in these areas. »
Israel has long sought to end UNRWA, arguing that the UN body “perpetuates” the Palestinian refugee issue because it allows Palestinians to transfer refugee status throughout generations and Israel has refused to accept the right of return of these refugees.
Israel’s recent allegations against UNRWA employees surfaced on the same day as the ICJ’s interim ruling ordering Israel to prevent acts of genocide and increase aid to Gaza.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these allegations were made public immediately after the ICJ decision,” said Diana Buttu, a Palestinian international law jurist. “It aims to depart from the ICJ decision and focus attention on UNRWA and undermine any attempts to hold Israel accountable or end the genocide. »
Former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, wrote that the charges against the 12 UNRWA staff “constitute a propaganda counter-narrative to the ICJ judgment and reduce the credibility of the evidence of UNRWA in court.”
Amazing. The BBC has just begun its news coverage with an 8-minute segment on unproven allegations of UNRWA personnel’s involvement in Hamas.
Much more coverage than they gave to the ICJ’s interim ruling that Israel is plausibly committing genocide.
The BBC is an absolute disgrace.
– Craig Murray (@CraigMurrayOrg) January 28, 2024
Israel also wants to eliminate UNRWA to force Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank to migrate elsewhere out of desperation, according to Zaid Amali, an UNRWA cardholder and civil society activist in the West Bank.
There is evidence that Israel has consistently attempted to forcibly displace Palestinians, apart from a long history of state-sponsored policies. settlers displacing Palestinians from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israeli Ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich recently reiterated ideas for Palestinians “voluntarily migrating” out of Gaza, a euphemism for forced displacement.
“This move to target UNRWA is part of this overall goal of displacing more Palestinians (from their land) in order to build more illegal settlements,” he said. said Al Jazeera.