Canada, Sweden, and the EU have broken ranks with the eighteen countries who decided to arbitrarily withdraw funding from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) during one of the worst humanitarian crises in Gaza in recent times.

The decision, taken by many of the top donors, although not all, (Belgium, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, and Ireland refused to be browbeaten) was driven by nothing more than allegations. These were outlined in a six-page dossier from Israel, without supporting evidence and stated that twelve of UNRWA staff from the organisation’s 13,000 workers in Gaza engaged in the October 7th attack. It has since emerged that the dossier relied on confessions from UNRWA staff who were tortured by their Israeli captors.

These allegations were all that was needed to persuade the eighteen countries including the US, UK, Germany, and the EU to ‘pause’ their contributions to UNRWA. The UNRWA estimates that donor suspensions will leave it with a $440m funding shortfall. The decision by the US, Germany, and the EU to suspend donations was particularly hard, as they were the top three funders to UNWRA’s $1.17bn budget in 2022,

Ilan Pappé, author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, issued a withering criticism of those countries choosing to suspend funding, telling Al Jazeera that this was “the Global North following blindly the Israeli cue on UNRWA”.

However, Canada’s announcement that it will be lifting its temporary pause on funding to the UNRWA followed by Sweden and the EU, may offer a glimmer of hope that even those countries who had previously danced to Israel’s tune will not continue to do so without question.

Meanwhile, Israel has been desperately trying to add credibility to its story and has called on the so-called independent UN Watch, a Geneva based non-governmental organisation, for further evidence.

It has not failed to disappoint. UN Watch’s, Executive Director, Hillel Neuer recently addressed U.S. Congress to ask it to take the lead in dissolving UNRWA. During his remarks, Mr. Neuer presented UN Watch’s new report, which alleges that teachers in a 3,000-member UNRWA staff Telegram group cheered and celebrated Hamas’s 7th October massacre. He also went on to repeat that there was credible evidence, without providing any, that at least 12 UNRWA employees participated in the October 7th attacks, 1200 employees are linked to terrorist groups, and 6,000 have family members with ties to terrorist groups. He concluded by saying that “it is immoral to continue funding the agency with taxpayer dollars.”

This is the same Hilel Neuer selected as one of the “top 100 most influential Jewish people in the world” by the Israeli newspaper Maariv in 2017. He is an outspoken defender of Israel and has been a vehement critic of the UN’s human rights councils’ actions even before October 7th. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) is reported to have full control of the organisation, with one of the principal activities seen as ‘lobbying for the removal of UN personnel who are considered critical of Israel.” The real problem for the people of Palestine is that this body is hugely influential and is viewed as legitimate and independent.

In fact, since UNRWA was established in 1949 from the ashes of what Palestinians still refer to as the Nakba (the “catastrophe”) Israel, supported by UN Watch after its creation in 1993, has done everything in its power to undermine UNRWA’s teaching and humanitarian work.

“We have been warning for years: UNRWA perpetuates the refugee issue, obstructs peace, and serves as a civilian arm of Hamas in Gaza,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz this week.

All the evidence suggests that this is nothing more than Israeli propaganda in its attempt to justify the continued onslaught on the people of Gaza, a smokescreen to divert attention from the order by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Israel should take steps to prevent any acts of genocide in Gaza.  

It is not enough to bomb and murder more than thirty thousand of the population, allow children and babies to starve, displace over one million from their homes and communities, force them to live in squalid refugee camps and deprive them of food and electricity. They need to ensure that the one agency in a position to offer some comfort or relief from the relentless cruelty is unable to do so.

The fact that Israel can produce a dossier that would be thrown out of a UK court in seconds, whilst at the same time manage to push the burden of proof on to the defendant (UNRWA), is another example of the injustice being inflicted on the Palestinian people by Israel and its allies. The fact that such shoddy propaganda is accepted at face value by eighteen contributing countries, including 8 of the major donors, is disgraceful.

So, whilst there is a glimmer of hope in that three donors have resumed their funding, the amount of new and unfrozen funding is not enough to make up the gap.  Israel and pro-Israeli advocacy groups seem intent on doing everything in their power to dismantle the agency.

If they succeed, the situation for people who rely on UNRWA’s aid and services in the region – particularly in devastated Gaza – looks bleak,

According to Juliette Touma, UNRWA’s communications director. “The agency will soon be forced to choose how to prioritise life-saving healthcare, shelter, and food aid, and who gets those services – before shutting down completely.  Inevitably, the highest price is going to be paid by the Palestinian refugees.”

In the words of Michael Higgins, Ireland’s president, “this is nothing more than a scandalous travesty.”


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