At least 15 countries, including the U.S., U.K., Germany, and Japan, have suspended funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), as a handful of others have promised to keep funding the agency.
Israel has accused 12 UNRWA employees of being involved in the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7. The staff members include individuals who are alleged to have kidnapped a woman, handed out ammunition, and taken part in a massacre at a kibbutz in Israel, according to an Israeli intelligence report reviewed by The New York Times. UNRWA said that it has terminated the contracts of the accused staff members.
Israeli authorities allege that the connection between UNRWA and Hamas goes deeper than these 12 staffers, telling U.S. officials that around 10% of UNRWA’s Gaza staff have ties to militant groups in the Gaza Strip, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The allegations reportedly played a key role in convincing Washington and others to suspend aid to UNRWA. The organization is one of the few aid groups able to operate in the enclave during Israel’s military campaign.
Lack of UNRWA funds could have devastating impact in Gaza as soon as February
UNRWA does not have significant financial reserves, so the funding suspensions may impact the agency’s services as soon as February, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Sunday. Aid groups have warned of a catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza, with the World Food Programme estimating that Gaza is getting less than 30% of the required aid. UN officials are worried that UNRWA will be unable to fund the 150 shelters they run, which are currently home to approximately 1.2 million Gazans. The agency is also a key supplier of food, water, and medicine to civilians. “The lives of people in Gaza depend on this support,” the agency’s commissioner-general said.
Israel says UNRWA will not be a part of ‘the day after’ in Gaza
Israel is aiming to stop UNRWA’s activity in Gaza for the long term. Foreign Minister Israel Katz wrote on X that the refugee agency will “not be a part of the day after,” the war, accusing the group of worsening the refugee crisis, obstructing peace, and serving “as a civilian arm of Hamas in Gaza.” There have been decades of tension between UNRWA and Israel, which has accused the agency of perpetuating the conflict by granting refugee status to the descendants of Palestinians who were forced out of modern-day Israel when the nation was established in 1948 and allowing anti-Israeli sentiments to dominate its schools. UNRWA has dismissed these claims, and has emphasized its neutrality in the conflict. It has also criticized Hamas for stealing its supplies, and condemned the storage of weapons in its facilities.
Arab countries could fill in UNRWA funding gap left by the West
The 15 countries that have suspended their funding provided UNRWA with more than 60% of its financing in 2022. Some nations, including Norway, Ireland, and Spain, have said they will continue to fund UNRWA. “We need to distinguish between what individuals may have done, and what UNRWA stands for,” the Norwegian government said. Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said that while Spain is tracking Israel’s investigation closely, the accusations are aimed at only 12 out of 30,000 UNRWA employees. One former UNRWA spokesperson told Al Jazeera that Arab states, which have not been major funders of the agency so far, could make “UNRWA’s financial problems disappear overnight” if they ramped up their contributions to compensate for the drop-off in Western funding.