20+ NGOs Condemn ‘Reckless’ Decision to Cut Off UNRWA Aid

“Countries must reverse these funding suspensions, uphold their duties towards the Palestinian people, and scale up humanitarian assistance for civilians in dire need in Gaza and the region.”

By Brett Wilkins. Published 1-29-2024 by Common Dreams

UNRWA school in Rafah, Gaza in 2009. Photo: ISM Palestine/flickr/CC

More than 20 humanitarian aid organizations on Monday condemned the decision by the United States and a growing list of nations to suspend funding for the United Nations agency that provides vital services to Palestinians suffering through a genocidal Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip.

Following Israeli claims—reportedly extracted from Palestinian prisoners in an interrogation regime rife with torture and abuse—that 12 of the more than 13,000 United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) workers in Gaza were involved in the October 7 Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel, the United States and nine other nations cut off funding to the largest humanitarian aid organization operating in the besieged coastal enclave.

UNRWA has fired several employees in the wake of the Israeli allegations, while the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services, the world body’s highest investigative authority, has launched a probe of the matter.

“We welcome UNRWA’s swift investigation into the alleged involvement of a small number of U.N. staff members in the October 7 attacks. We are shocked by the reckless decision to cut a lifeline for an entire population by some of the very countries that had called for aid in Gaza to be stepped up and for humanitarians to be protected while doing their job,” the 21 NGOs said in a statement.

“This decision comes as the International Court of Justice ordered immediate and effective action to ensure the provision of humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza,” the groups continued, referring to last week’s ICJ interim ruling in a South African-led case that found Israel is “plausibly” perpetrating genocide. “The countries suspending funds risk further depriving Palestinians in the region of essential food, water, medical assistance and supplies, education, and protection.”

“We urge donor states to reaffirm support for the vital work that UNRWA and its partners do to help Palestinians survive one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of our times,” the statement added. “Countries must reverse these funding suspensions, uphold their duties towards the Palestinian people, and scale up humanitarian assistance for civilians in dire need in Gaza and the region.”

According to UNRWA chief Phillipe Lazzarini, more than 2 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million people depend upon UNRWA for their “sheer survival.” With more than 90% of Gazans displaced by Israel’s bombardment and invasion, over 1 million Palestinians are living in UNRWA-run shelters. As Gaza teeters on the brink of famine and hundreds of thousands of its residents suffer infectious diseases, the agency is providing critical food, medicine, and healthcare. It also runs hundreds of schools in the strip.

All this while working under relentless Israeli bombardment that’s sometimes targeted UNRWA convoys, schools, shelters, and other facilities. The agency says at least 152 of its employees have been killed by Israeli bombs and bullets since October 7. Overall, more than 26,600 Palestinians have been killed and over 65,300 others wounded during Israel’s 115-day onslaught, according to Gaza officials. Most of these casualties have been women and children.

This isn’t the first time the U.S. has suspended funding for UNRWA. The Trump administration did so in 2018, describing the agency as “irredeemably flawed.” In 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden restored funding for UNRWA as it reeled from a crisis caused largely by the loss of around $360 million in American financial contributions.

U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on Monday urged the Biden administration to “immediately” restore UNRWA funding, which came a day after U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said that while the alleged complicity of a few UNRWA employees in the October 7 attacks “must have consequences,” the “tens of thousands of men and women who work for UNRWA, many in some of the most dangerous situations for humanitarian workers, should not be penalized.”

“The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met,” he added.

Helen Clark, a member of the Elders and a former prime minister of New Zealand, on Monday praised countries—including New Zealand, Norway, Spain, and Ireland—that “have shown a better approach” by continuing to financially support UNRWA.

“Gazans cannot suffer further collective punishment through suspension of UNRWA funding,” Clark said on social media.

Norway’s Representative Office to Palestine affirmed on social media that “the situation in Gaza is catastrophic, and UNRWA is the most important humanitarian organization there.”

“Norway continues our support for the Palestinian people through UNRWA,” the office added. “International support for Palestine is needed now more than ever.”

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

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