In suspending funding to UNRWA, the West has become an active participant in Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians

Israel has made life impossible for Gazans by eliminating all material conditions for their survival including the crucial support provided by the UN refugee agency

January 31, 2024 by Peoples Dispatch
Palestinian refugees in line for food in the rain outside the shelter in Deir al-Balah (Photo: UNRWA)

The United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) is under attack from Israel and its allies in the West yet again. The speed, manner, and timing of the decisions to suspend funding for the Palestinian refugee agency confirms their broader complicity with Israeli attempts to ethnically cleanse Gaza.

So far, more than a dozen countries, including the UNRWA’s primary donors the US and Germany, have announced that they are suspending funding for UNRWA. This is expected to have a massive impact, particularly on the UNRWA’s humanitarian work during the ongoing Israeli war in Gaza. The decision to suspend the aid was taken after Israel made allegations on Saturday that around a dozen UNRWA staff in Gaza were involved in the Al Aqsa Flood Operation on October 7. These allegations appear to be based off of confessions extracted from Palestinian detainees, likely victims of torture.

The US and its close allies in the West took the prompt decision to cut funding before an investigation had been conducted into Israel’s allegations, and despite UN and UNRWA officials promising prompt inquiry and action against the accused. 

The move also came at a time when numerous international bodies, including the International Court of Justice (ICJ), have called for an urgent increase in humanitarian aid inside the besieged enclave to safeguard the lives of the more than 1.9 million displaced people.

UNRWA work cannot be replaced

In a statement, Amnesty International called the decision to suspend the funding to UNRWA “inhuman,” as it would cause “further suffering to 2 million Palestinians, who are already facing the risk of genocide and an engineered famine.”

A group of 20 organizations. including Oxfam, Save the Children and Action Aid also issued a statement on Monday saying they are “deeply concerned and outraged” by the decision of some of the largest donors to suspend funding UNRWA, “the main aid provider for millions of Palestinians in Gaza and the region.”

They mentioned that the aid cut came “amid rapidly worsening humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza,” caused by the 115 days of Israeli war and noted that “UNRWA is the largest humanitarian agency in Gaza, and their delivery of humanitarian assistance cannot be replaced by other agencies working in Gaza.”

The suspension of the funding to the UNRWA will impact the “life saving assistance for over two-million civilians, over half of whom are children,” the statement said. It noted that the Palestinian population in Gaza is already facing “starvation, looming famine and an outbreak of diseases under Israel’s continued indiscriminate bombardment and deliberate deprivation of aid in Gaza.”

Out of nearly 1.8 million displaced Palestinians in Gaza, there are around a million taking shelter in UNRWA-run facilities. The agency has been unable to provide basic amenities to all these people due to restrictions imposed by Israel on the flow of aid into Gaza.

The suspension of the funding risks “further depriving Palestinians in the region of essential food, water, medical assistance and supplies, education, and protection.” If this is allowed to happen, it would mean a large number of Palestinians may be forced to leave Gaza, and therefore leave their home of Palestine.

Ethnic cleansing

Israel has targeted UNRWA facilities and staff since the first days of the current war on Gaza, killing over 152 of its staff members and damaging nearly 145 of its facilities. 

The UNRWA was formed by the UN General Assembly in 1949 to serve refugees forcibly displaced by Zionist militias during the creation of the Israeli state in 1948. Its mandate includes all Palestinian refugees in occupied Palestinian territories, as well as in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. In 2019, over 5.6 million Palestinian refugees were registered with UNRWA. 

Israel has been opposed to UNRWA as its work threatens the Zionist mission of ethnically cleansing occupied territories from Palestinians by forcing them out and denying their right to return. The mission of the UNRWA itself is deeply rooted in the “right to return.” As the agency states on its website, “The right of return is enshrined in UN General Assembly resolution 194. UNRWA was established to provide assistance pending the implementation of that resolution, which has been reaffirmed by the General Assembly since 1948.” Israel opposes the right to return because the return of Palestinian refugees would create a Palestinian majority within the Zionist state. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself has called for the dismantling of the agency because it “perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem.” 

Some argue that Western support for the agency was based on a desire for pro-Western “stability” in the region. “Historically, the primary concern, certainly on the part of the US, was that Palestinian refugees might be susceptible to communist recruitment,” said Anne Irfan, a lecturer at University College London, in an interview with National Public Radio

However, this support is highly susceptible to the given changes in the political moment. In 2018, the US government under Donald Trump announced a drastic cut to UNRWA funds. While some of this funding was restored under Joe Biden, his administration put strict conditions on the use of those funds. This has led some to allege US complicity in the Zionist agenda of impeding Palestinian refugees’ right to return.

“The Israel-intended defunding crisis is aimed at gradually and surreptitiously precipitating its de-facto decommissioning, incapacitating UNRWA’s actions and disabling its mandate,” said the Badil resource center for Palestinian residency and refugee rights in a 2021 press release.

The US House of Representatives held a hearing on defunding the UNRWA on Tuesday, which was interrupted by protesters.