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Defunding UNRWA Contributes to the Ongoing Israeli Genocide in the Gaza Strip, in Contradiction to the ICJ’s Provisional Measures
Defunding UNRWA Contributes to the Ongoing Israeli Genocide in the Gaza Strip, in Contradiction to the ICJ’s Provisional Measures

In response to Israeli accusations claiming that 12 out of 13,000 UNRWA Gaza-based staff were involved in the 7 October 2023 operations, the USA, EU, UK, Canada, Italy, Australia, Germany, Netherlands, and Finland suspended funding to the UN agency. States’ decisions to suspend UNRWA funds serve Israel’s ongoing aim to eliminate UNRWA (and with it the Palestinian refugee issue). This also contradicts the ICJ’s provisional measures and further obstructs UNRWA’s ability to provide aid and assistance in the Gaza Strip. Moreover, the defunding of UNRWA constitutes political blackmail by using the prevention of humanitarian aid as a method of warfare and deepens states’ involvement in the Israeli genocide in the Gaza Strip. 

Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Israel Katz, stated that “UNRWA will not be part of the day after” in the Gaza Strip and has already begun to lobby states – namely those that have suspended funding - to ensure this becomes a reality. At the same time, Benny Gantz, Israeli War Cabinet Minister, stated that the war in Gaza may take 10 years, if not more. It is clear from Israeli statements and actions since the ICJ ruling, it has no intention of following the provisional measures the court set forth on 26 January 2024.

Regardless of whether or not UNRWA staff were involved in the 7 October operations, defunding UNRWA and penalizing the dying, starving, thirsty, ill and displaced Palestinians of the Gaza Strip is, at the very minimum, collective punishment. These decisions contradict the ICJ’s binding provisional measure to ensure immediate humanitarian aid, and more critically, contribute to the Israeli genocidal war. In order to prevent the genocide of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, states are obligated to facilitate the work of UN agencies and international organizations, not defund them and further cripple their abilities to provide life-saving aid. According to UN Special Rapporteur, Francesca Albanese, on the occupied Palestinian territory, the states that have defunded UNRWA are “collectively punishing millions of Palestinians at the most critical time, and most likely violating their obligations under the Genocide Convention.”

The Israeli allegations against UNRWA and its personnel are not new. Since its inception, UNRWA has been strategically targeted by Israel through defamation and slander campaigns in an attempt to eliminate the Agency. These campaigns intensified since the Oslo Accords and subsequent 30 years of “peace process,” severely hampering the Agency’s ability to fulfill its mandate to provide aid and services to Palestinian refugees. It is clear that the Israeli defamation and defunding campaigns against UNRWA are part of its strategy to obliterate the Palestinian refugee issue. UNRWA’s funding is particularly vulnerable as it is voluntary and therefore dependent on the goodwill of states and the political environment. Funding UNRWA is an international responsibility that stems from the UN and states’ obligations toward Palestinian refugees; it is not a favor. However, Israel has been continuously and deliberately manipulating the political environment to serve its agenda and goals – the recent allegations serve as an outstanding example.

In this particular instance, the allegations came after the ICJ ruling, which includes measures for Israel to ensure the provision of adequate humanitarian aid and assistance to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The recent allegations were preceded by a notable increase in UNRWA’s statements that included Israel’s deliberate targeting of UN staff and facilities in the Gaza Strip – several of which were cited in the ICJ ruling. It is quite apparent that the timing and nature of Israel’s allegations are deliberate, as they serve its ongoing strategy to weaponize humanitarian aid.

Since the launch of Israel’s genocidal war against the Gaza Strip, Israel has killed 152 UNRWA staff, damaged 141 installations, in addition to rendering only 4 out of 22 health facilities operational. Israel continues to target UN facilities, particularly UNRWA structures that are serving as extremely inadequate shelters for 1.7 million internally displaced Palestinians. As of 15 January, due to repeated Israeli bombardments of the Gaza Strip causing multiple displacements, UNRWA has been unable to keep track of the Palestinian internally displaced population which had previously been 1.9 million.  

Rather than call for an investigation and prosecution of the killings of these UN employees, and compensation for the destroyed UN facilities, colonial states have decided based on Israel’s allegations to temporarily suspend funding to the UN agency with the most presence and legitimacy to provide humanitarian aid and services in the Gaza Strip. According to Philippe Lazzarini, the Agency’s Commissioner-General, “UNRWA is the primary humanitarian agency in Gaza, with over 2 million people depending on it for their sheer survival.”

The suspension of UNRWA funds serves Israel’s goal to eliminate the agency, its wider strategy to weaponize humanitarian aid and also contributes to the genocide in the Gaza Strip. As such, states that have taken these decisions are further involving themselves in the Israeli genocide of Palestinians. 

In order to ensure that the 2 million plus Palestinians in the Gaza Strip receive the lifesaving aid and assistance they are entitled to, BADIL calls on:

  • States and the UN to immediately increase their contributions to UNRWA during this life-threatening time as a fulfilment of their obligation to prevent Genocide;
  • Private companies and individuals to make and/or increase their contributions to UNRWA to bridge the current financial gap resulting from states’ defunding decisions;      
  • UN Secretary General to urgently seek an emergency fund resolution for UNRWA by the UN General Assembly;
  • The UN to take strategic and long-term measures to change UNRWA’s funding mechanism from voluntary to obligatory on member states in order to liberate UNRWA from colonial states’ political blackmail.