Israel/OPT: States must reverse cruel decision to withdraw UNRWA funding

The decisions by at least nine donor countries to suspend funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), following allegations that individual staff members were involved in the 7 October attacks in southern Israel, will deal a devastating blow to more than two million refugees in the occupied Gaza Strip for whom the organization serves as a sole lifeline, said Amnesty International. The organization is urging states to reverse their decisions and refrain from suspending funding to UNRWA.

“It is deeply shocking – indeed inhumane – that several governments have taken decisions that will cause further suffering to two million Palestinians, who are already facing the risk of genocide and an engineered famine just days after the International Court of Justice ruling concluded that the survival of Palestinians in Gaza is at risk”

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General

“It is particularly appalling that such action has been taken over allegations concerning 12 employees out of UNRWA’s entire staff of 30,000,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

“The allegations over the involvement of UNRWA staff in the 7 October attacks are serious and must be independently investigated; anyone against whom there is sufficient admissible evidence should be prosecuted in fair trials. But the alleged actions of a few individuals must not be used as a pretext for cutting off life-saving assistance in what could amount to collective punishment.”

The UK, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Japan and Finland joined the US, Australia and Canada in pausing funding to the aid agency. Together, they provided more than half of UNRWA’s budget in 2022. The decision follows allegations that 12 UNRWA staff were involved in the 7 October attacks in Israel carried out by Hamas. UNRWA immediately dismissed nine employees over the allegations and has launched an investigation.

“Amnesty International Australia urges the Australian government to demonstrate its commitment to international law and to humanity and to recommence the delivery of all funding for UNRWA,” said Nikita White, Amnesty International Australia’s International Issues Campaigner.

“It is crucial the government continues to contribute aid to address the unparalleled humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and ensure UNRWA is not forced to suspend its operations and further put at risk the lives of 2 million people”

Nikita White, Amnesty International Australia’s International Issues Campaigner

At a time when Israel, the occupying power, continues to flagrantly violate its obligations vis-à-vis Palestinian refugees in Gaza and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, UNRWA has long served as a sole lifeline, offering indispensable humanitarian aid, education and shelter. The agency also provides desperately needed aid for millions of other Palestinian refugees living in neighbouring Arab countries.

“To withdraw funding to the main provider of aid to the people of Gaza only days after the ICJ ordered Israel to provide humanitarian assistance as a measure to preventing genocide is unconscionable. All states have a duty to ensure the provisional measures ordered by the ICJ are implemented.

“Following the ICJ’s ruling, the Australian government must do everything it can uphold the obligation to prevent genocide, and this including stopping the export of arms to Israel. Australia exported thirteen million dollars in “arms and ammunition” to Israel over the past five years, and approved 322 defence exports to Israel over the past six years,” said Nikita White.

Norway, Spain, Ireland and Belgium are among states that have announced they will not suspend funding, recognizing the vital role that UNRWA continues to play in the distribution of humanitarian aid to those in desperate need.

“It is disgraceful that instead of heeding the ICJ’s ruling, and the court’s finding that the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is at serious risk of deteriorating further, key states, including the United States, Canada, the UK, Germany, Australia, and France have cut off funding to the main provider of aid for civilians in Gaza,” said Agnès Callamard.

“All states have a clear duty to ensure the ICJ measures are implemented, including those ordering Israel to take immediate and effective measures to ensure the provision of humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians in Gaza as a key step to preventing genocide and further irreparable harm”

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General

“Some of the very governments that announced they will cut off funds to UNRWA over these allegations have, in the meantime, continued to arm Israeli forces despite overwhelming evidence that these arms are used to commit war crimes and serious human rights violations. Rushing to freeze funds for humanitarian aid, based on allegations that are still being investigated, while refusing to even consider suspending support for the Israeli military is a stark example of double standards,” said Agnès Callamard.

“Instead of suspending vital funding to those in need states should be working to halt arms transfers to Israel and Palestinian armed groups and pushing for an immediate and sustained ceasefire and full humanitarian access to help alleviate devastating suffering.”

The state of Israel and right-wing groups have for years led a smear campaign against UNRWA, which plays a key role in protecting Palestinians’ right of return to their lands.