International aid agencies say they are outraged at the decision by major global donors to cut funding to UNRWA, the UN Palestinian aid agency after allegations some members took part in the October attacks on Israel.
A statement by 21 agencies, including Oxfam, Save the Children and ActionAid, branded the move by 10 countries, including the US and UK as ‘reckless’ and said it could lead to a complete collapse of all aid to the beleaguered population.
It read: ‘As aid organisations, we are deeply concerned and outraged that some of the largest donors have united to suspend funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the main aid provider for millions of Palestinians in Gaza and the region. This comes amid a rapidly worsening humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.
‘The suspension of funding by donor states will impact life-saving assistance for over two million civilians, over half of whom are children, who rely on UNRWA aid in Gaza. The population faces starvation, looming famine and an outbreak of disease under Israel’s continued indiscriminate bombardment and deliberate deprivation of aid in Gaza.’
‘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.’
UNRWA Vital Lifeline
UNRWA, which provides aid to more than 5.6 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, said it had launched a probe into 12 staff members who allegedly took part in the attacks of October 7th.
The agency has sacked nine of those accused. Two others are missing and one is dead.
The Palestinians have accused Israel of falsifying information to tarnish UNRWA, which was set up to help refugees of the war at Israel’s founding in 1948 and to which more than half Gaza’s population look to for day-to-day assistance.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had described UNRWA as ‘the backbone of all humanitarian response in Gaza’ and appealed to all countries to ‘guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s life-saving work.’
The agency said it would be unable to continue operations in Gaza and across the region beyond the end of February if funding was not resumed, and according to its latest figures 152 UNRWA staff have already been killed and 145 UNRWA facilities damaged by bombardment.
Meanwhile the UAE has allocated $5 million to support the humanitarian operations being carried out by the United Nations in the Gaza Strip and to support UNRWA’s efforts to alleviate the suffering of the people of Gaza and scale up the urgent humanitarian response to their needs.
According to an Israeli intelligence dossier about 190 agency employees, including teachers, have doubled as Hamas or Islamic Jihad militants. However the UN has not formally received a copy of the dossier and the group has denied all accusations, describing its role as only supplying humanitarian relief.
Chris Gunness, who was UNRWA’s director of communications for 13 years until 2020, accused Israel of ‘news management’.
He explained: ‘It is likely the Israelis have had this information for months and, in the interests of justice and closure for the grieving Israeli families, they could have presented it to the UN much earlier. Instead, they chose to put it out the day after the international court of justice’s ruling.
‘Donors are taking what I consider to be collective punishment. It’s punitive and disproportionate, and the people who are going to suffer are women, children, the wounded, the sick, the dying. They are being punished by the British government and others and it’s an utter disgrace.’
He said the funding withdrawal was ‘collective punishment – like cutting funding to the NHS (the UK’s National Health Service) because of the actions of Lucy Letby’, referring to a British nurse convicted of murdering seven newborn babies.
UNRWA has cared for Palestinian refugees and their descendants since 1949. As well as Gaza, it operates in the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan and employs thousands of Palestinians to run schools and medical clinics and deliver aid. In Gaza, almost 1.5 million people out of a population of about 2.1 million are registered as refugees, according to the agency.
According to the Gaza Health Ministry the death toll among Palestinians reached 27,585 on Wednesday February 7th, with thousands more unaccounted for and most likely buried under rubble.