It’s no coincidence that Israel found cause to deprive the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency of funding right after the ICJ genocide ruling
After more than four months of a bombing campaign that has killed over 27,000 people in Gaza, Israel’s recent accusations that UNRWA employees were involved in Hamas’ October 7 insurgency led many Western nations to immediately cut critically needed funding.
This means the most vulnerable Palestinians – over 2 million people in Gaza, starving and in desperate need of medical care and shelter – will go without support from the UNRWA, the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, when the current funding dries up. According to the UNRWA, this could be by the end of February, and, “not only in Gaza but also across the region.” The UNRWA also supports Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.
Not coincidentally, the Israeli claims against 13 of the UNRWA’s 13,000 Gaza employees came immediately after the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) ruling on South Africa’s genocide case against Israel. While the ICJ did not demand a halt to Israel’s relentless bombing throughout Gaza and firing on Palestinians lining up for food aid, it did order Israel to prevent genocide (which many, myself included, would say Israel has already been committing).
Under the ruling, Israel is to “take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.” The body in place to do this is the UNRWA, but Israel wants to ensure it cannot operate.
Deflecting from the ICJ spotlight (and any media focus on genocide), Israel did the opposite of taking measures to address starvation in Gaza – it caused the UNRWA to lose its major funding. The UNRWA supports Palestinian refugees’ most basic needs, including food aid and healthcare, both urgently needed for Palestinians bombed continuously since October, without drinking water, without food, undergoing mass (preventable) starvation.
Additionally, many of the Palestinians requiring surgery or amputations due to injuries have undergone these procedures without anesthesia and in dank conditions causing further illness and disease. After Israel bombed nearly all of Gaza’s hospitals and attacked medical personnel and ambulances, all following a continuously tightened 16-year-long blockade, healthcare is all the more urgently needed in the enclave.
At the end of January 20, aid organizations issued a joint statement of outrage and concern over the cuts to the UNRWA, noting it will “impact life-saving assistance for over two million civilians, over half of whom are children... The population faces starvation, looming famine and an outbreak of disease under Israel’s continued indiscriminate bombardment and deliberate deprivation of aid in Gaza.”
The statement noted that 145 UNRWA facilities have been damaged by Israeli bombing. Many of these facilities are schools in which displaced Palestinians were sheltering. By this point, the attacks on such schools have been numerous, killing Palestinians who fled bombing elsewhere only to then be killed in what they thought might be off-limits to Israel – a UN school.
Over a million Palestinians are taking shelter “in or around 154 UNRWA shelters,” the statement said. “The countries suspending funds risk further depriving Palestinians in the region of essential food, water, medical assistance and supplies, education, and protection,” it added.
Where’s the evidence?
According to Israel, its claims that UNRWA workers were complicit in Hamas attacks are based on intelligence data. However, while a summary of the allegations was shared with media, the intelligence in question was never shown to the media, the public, or apparently even to Western officials.
As mentioned earlier, it isn’t coincidental that Israel sprung the accusations immediately after the ICJ ruling. But what some may not know is that even back in December, The Times of Israel reported that Israel is hoping to push the UNRWA out of Gaza post-war. The original source was a “high-level, classified Foreign Ministry report.”
The recommended plan apparently begins with “a comprehensive report on alleged UNRWA cooperation with Hamas.” This would be followed by replacing the UNRWA and transferring its responsibilities to “the body governing Gaza following the war.” It would seem that Israel has now started enacting this plan… after creating the conditions for mass starvation in Gaza.
Cutting aid funding while supporting terrorists elsewhere
Cutting funding to an agency providing desperately needed life basics to a population under siege is not only unethical – it also goes against UN convention and is inconsistent with the ICJ ruling (albeit the latter only applies to Israel).
American human rights lawyer and professor of international law Francis Boyle made this point recently, stating: “For the governments who did this, they are now in violation of article 2(c) of the Genocide Convention: ‘Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.’”
Boyle also made the point that the US and UK, among other Western countries, have been “aiding and abetting Israeli genocide against the Palestinians,” and that the US is “in violation of its own genocide convention implementation act.”
Let’s recall that the same Western nations (the US, UK, and Canada) that so hastily cut aid to the UNRWA were happy to fund the White Helmets in Syria, in spite of the abundance of evidence of their participation in crimes against Syrian civilians, as well as of the links at least some of them had with Al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups. Their backers wrote this off as “a few bad apples,” but don’t apply the same logic to the 13 Palestinian UNRWA employees (out of 13,000) in Gaza whom Israel condemns.