| Protesters gather outside UN headquarters in response to the decision by the US and UK to defund Unrwa in New York City on 31 January 2024 Reuters | MR Online Protesters gather outside UN headquarters in response to the decision by the US and UK to defund Unrwa in New York City, on 31 January 2024 (Reuters)

War on Gaza: UNRWA and the West’s sickening hypocrisy

Originally published: Middle East Eye on February 7, 2024 by Othman Moqbel (more by Middle East Eye)  | (Posted Feb 10, 2024)

The world’s inconsistencies towards the ongoing Middle East crisis were laid bare last week.

In response to the International Court of Justice’s ruling that the Israeli government had a case to answer on charges brought forward by the South African government on genocide, there was no action.

However, within hours of unverified Israeli allegations that 12 out of the 30,000 employees at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) were involved in the Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel on 7 October, the U.S. State Department announced that it was pausing funding to the UN aid body, despite a lack of concrete evidence or an independent investigation.

In fact, the British broadcaster Channel 4 disclosed that, from the Israeli dossier they had seen, there was no supporting evidence to prove the allegations made against UNRWA staff.

The UK, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Finland, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Estonia and Japan have all followed suit.

While none have taken any action to apply any serious pressure to stop the suffering of Palestinians in accordance with the provisional measures stipulated by the ICJ, they have chosen instead to worsen the dire situation of Gaza, by pausing $500m of funding which threatens UNRWA’s ability to operate beyond this month.

Since UNRWA was set up in 1949, it has been a critical element in providing support to Palestinian internally displaced people and refugees. As the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week in an appeal for countries not to cut UNRWA’s funding, it is “the backbone of all humanitarian response in Gaza”.

Gaza lifeline

UNRWA has become even more important since October in supporting almost the entirety of Gaza’s population, as the majority of all aid entering Gaza comes via the agency.

At a time when there are not nearly enough supplies getting to the communities that need them, the decision to kill UNRWA will most certainly lead to the killing of Palestinians. Indeed, shutting down UNRWA will constitute one of the single deadliest attacks on Gaza in this gruesome conflict.

Hosting 1.4 million civilians in temporary shelters and providing them with food, water and accommodation, UNRWA is indispensable and irreplaceable. It also provides access to healthcare and education. No other agency has the reach nor capacity to implement its scale of operations, and therefore trying to replace what UNRWA does in a matter of weeks is impossible.

There is no other way of putting it: cutting off funds to UNRWA means cutting off one of the last lifelines for Gaza.

When humanitarian organisations resort to extreme, worst-case options, like airdropping aid into Gaza, why on earth would the world decide to cut off funding for one of the few agencies that can deliver aid relatively smoothly and efficiently?

The ICJ called on the world to increase humanitarian aid to Gaza, while the decision to attack UNRWA will lead to a dramatic decrease in aid reaching the impacted families and communities.

For even if an organisation did have the reach to replicate what UNRWA was doing, few would risk it. More than 150 Unwra staff have been killed by Israeli attacks since October, the highest number of United Nations aid workers killed in a conflict in the history of the UN.

Further, one can be certain that even if another body did replace Unwra, they too would become victims of unproven accusations and reputational smears, in the pursuit of politicising humanitarian aid for Palestinians.

Galling hypocrisy

Accusations of criminal activity and corruption committed by UN agencies are nothing new.

But when UN organisations were accused of breaking U.S. and UK sanctions in Syria, UN peacekeepers accused of committing heinous crimes in Haiti, or UN Development Programme projects accused of corruption and theft in Iraq and Afghanistan, western funding did not stop, and rightly so.

If aid had been stopped from reaching Syrians or Haitians during the height of their crises, countless lives would’ve been lost.

Similarly, stopping UNRWA from funding food, water and healthcare for Gazans, amid the bombs and bullets raining down upon them, will cost countless Palestinian lives.

What is more astounding is that the U.S. pulled its funding without investigating the claims made by Israel regarding the 12 UNRWA employees and despite all 12 being dismissed by the agency.

The U.S. pledged $343.9m in funding to UNRWA in 2022. Now, effectively because of hearsay, they are halting funding during the highest-ever recorded levels of food insecurity. The level of hypocrisy is galling and will be devastating for the people of the besieged Gaza Strip.

It can be difficult to get any true perspective as this conflict unfolds and the death toll spirals by the minute.

But take a step back. Look again at how the international community reacted to the ICJ ruling, choosing to do nothing.

And look again at how the international community reacted to the currently unproven Israeli allegations about a dozen UNRWA staff, choosing to stop funding aid to Gazans during a brutal conflict.

Whom do you think will history condemn?

Othman Moqbel is a British-Palestinian non-profit executive. He is currently CEO of Action For Humanity, the parent charity of Syria Relief, the largest Syria-focused NGO in the UK. He was formerly a trustee of ACEVO, Charity Futures. and was CEO of Human Appeal from 2010 to 2017. In 2015 he won ACEVO fellowship award as one of best CEO and In 2017, Othman Moqbel was nominated for the BOND Humanitarian Award.

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