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Countries pause UNRWA funding over alleged Oct. 7 complicity

Israel's U.N. envoy blasts the body's secretary general for imploring donor countries to guarantee the continuity of UNRWA operations.

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), during a visit at al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on Oct. 12, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), during a visit at al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on Oct. 12, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

The United States and several other countries have suspended funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency over accusations that a number of its employees took part in Hamas’s Oct. 7, 2023 massacre.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Sunday that out of the 12 UNRWA employees implicated, nine had been terminated, one was dead and the identities of the other two were being clarified.

UNRWA fired the 12 employees after Israel provided intelligence regarding their complicity.

In the wake of the accusations and dismissals, the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, Italy, Finland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Scotland suspended their funding to the U.N. agency.

However, Guterres implored the countries that have suspended their contributions “to, at least, guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s operations,” drawing a rebuke from Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Gilad Erdan.

“The U.N. Secretary-General has proven once again that the security of the citizens of Israel is not really important for him. After years in which he ignored the evidence presented to him personally about UNRWA’s support and involvement in incitement and terrorism, and before he conducted a comprehensive investigation to locate all Hamas terrorists in UNRWA, he called to fund an organization that is deeply contaminated with terrorism,” tweeted Erdan.

“Every country that continues to fund UNRWA before a comprehensive investigation of the organization should know that its money might be used for terrorism, and the aid that will be transferred to UNRWA may reach the Hamas terrorists instead of the people of Gaza. I call on all donor states to suspend their support and demand an in-depth investigation that will investigate the involvement of all UNRWA employees in terror,” Erdan continued.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called on the United Nations to dismiss UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini and vowed to prevent the agency from having any role in post-war Gaza.

“In Gaza’s rebuilding, @UNRWA must be replaced with agencies dedicated to genuine peace and development,” Katz tweeted on Saturday.

The Palestinian Authority on Sunday described the suspension of funds as a form of “collective punishment,” decrying the “deplorable double standards” and calling the move by foreign donors “highly politicized, disproportionate and unjustified.”

Asked to comment, Marcus Sheff, CEO of the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE), said, “Sadly, this is not a bug. It is a feature of UNRWA. How many other UNRWA-affiliated terrorists do we think raped, maimed and murdered Israelis on Oct. 7?”

IMPACT-SE is an Israeli non-profit organization that monitors the content in school textbooks, including texts used in UNRWA-run schools in Palestinian refugee camps.

“UNRWA runs the majority of schools in Gaza, where it teaches jihad, martyrdom and the burning of Israelis as a barbecue party. Statistically, the majority of the Oct. 7 terrorists—over 1,500—will have gone to these UNRWA schools, where they were systematically radicalized over years,” he noted.

UNRWA under fire

Since Oct. 7, UNRWA has come under fire numerous times, prompting Knesset lawmakers to reassess Israel’s relationship with it.

Reports released by IMPACT-SE and the U.N. Watch NGO document UNRWA employees expressing support for the attacks on social media.

Soldiers found missiles hidden among UNRWA relief supplies while UNRWA-marked aid sacks were found filled with dirt and used in the lining of Hamas tunnels.

Palestinians are the only refugee population with its own dedicated U.N. agency. The rest of the world’s refugees fall under the mandate of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Israeli officials have called for UNRWA to be closed and for Palestinian refugees to be brought under the aegis of the UNHCR.

Israel’s biggest criticism of UNRWA is that unlike the UNHCR, the agency defines refugee status as hereditary and irrespective of citizenship in other countries, resulting in the number of Palestinian refugees increasing over time.

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