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Western Countries Punish UNRWA For Work In Gaza Strip

Above photo: UNRWA workers carry essential supplies for distribution in Gaza. UNRWA Partners/X.

A set of Western countries, including the US and Germany, announced they would cease funding UN’s agency for Palestine refugees as famine looms over Gaza.

Late on Saturday, January 27, a set of Western countries announced they would cease funding UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees, after Israeli authorities alleged implication of some staff members in the attack conducted by Hamas against Israel on October 7, 2023.

In a matter of hours, the United States, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Italy, and a couple of other allies announced they would cease contributions to the organization’s work. While some of them stated the cuts would be temporary, until an internal investigation is concluded, UN officials pointed out that the move will essentially end the agency’s work on the ground — at the worst possible moment, as 2 million people in Gaza depend on it for the very limited food, water, and other necessities they are able to get.

Some high-income countries reacted differently, however, stating their explicit support for the UNRWA as it continues to do its job. Among these were Norway and Ireland, whose minister of foreign affairs, Micheál Martin, said the country “has no plans to suspend funding for UNRWA’s vital Gaza work.”

As pointed out by Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA Commissioner-General, the agency is hosting thousands of displaced people in its centers and providing what health care is possible in the circumstances. “Some 3,000 core staff out of 13,000 in Gaza continue to report to work, giving their communities a lifeline which can collapse anytime now due to lack of funding,” Lazzarini warned.

The US and Germany are UNRWA’s two top donors. In 2022, they provided over USD 545 million to the agency — more than the other 18 top donors from the Global North combined. It seems highly unlikely that the ministries of foreign affairs of these countries could not anticipate the effects of the decision they, rather hastily, took.

What needs to be pointed out is that the moves by the high-income countries came after a day of intensified campaigning by Israel to cast doubts over the agency’s work. Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz stated on Saturday that UNRWA “should be replaced” in the light of the accusations made by his government.

It also has to be taken into account that the US, Germany’s, and partners’ decisions come barely a day after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) confirmed its jurisdiction over the case of genocide conducted by Israel against the Palestinians, brought forward by South Africa. As the ICJ instructed Israel to take interim actions 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,” it also committed all states parties to the Genocide Convention to adhere to the same instructions.

In other words, the ICJ’s decision binds countries — including those which decided to take steps that will, without any doubt, bring even more strife to the people in Gaza — to protect Palestinians against Israeli aggression that has killed over 26,000 people until today.

As the decision to decimate UNRWA was taken in Washington and Berlin, reports kept pouring in of the inhumane conditions in which Palestinians in Gaza are living. Because of incessant rain, tens of thousands of people displaced to Rafah saw their tents, which are not much of a shelter in any case, completely flooded. There are still no significant quantities of food or water getting into the Gaza Strip, and those hospitals still standing have seen their basic infrastructure destroyed.

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