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Defunding of UNRWA reveals U.S. culpability in Israel’s genocide in Gaza

Photo: Gaza City after an Israeli airstrike on Oct. 9, 2023. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

At this critical moment, the United States and other Western countries are threatening to further suffocate Palestinians by blocking funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). These countries are directly culpable in Israel’s genocide in Gaza.

Latest data from Gaza’s Health Ministry describes a harrowing number of nearly 27,000 Palestinian murdered — 10,000 of those children — due to Israel’s heinous genocidal attacks since the launch of Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on Oct. 7. This amounts to nearly 1 in 100 Palestinian dead in the last four months. Israel’s criminal attacks are also creating near-famine conditions across historic Palestine, where more than half a million people in Gaza are facing “catastrophic hunger.” 

Francesa Albanese, UN special rapporteur for the West Bank and Gaza, described the sanctions as “collectively punishing millions of Palestinians at the most critical time.”

UNRWA formed to meet the basic needs of Palestinians

UNRWA was formed on Dec. 8, 1949 by the UN General Assembly after the 1948 Nakba, where 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from their land after the creation of Israel. It was created specifically to support the dispossessed and became a permanent agency since Israel refused the right of Palestinians to return and continued its agenda of systematic expulsion. 

Though UN agencies and NGOs are often rightfully criticized by many Palestinians for aiming to depoliticize their struggle, UNRWA nonetheless offers crucial services to refugees in the absence of critical infrastructure and services. UNRWA serves Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan – effectively meeting the needs of nearly 6 million registered refugees through schools, primary health centers and other social services. In 2021, nearly 500,000 children were enrolled in UNRWA schools and 1.7 million people received critical humanitarian aid. UNRWA was also the largest employer in Gaza, employing more than 13,000 — mostly Palestinians — across the strip. 

As the principal provider of humanitarian assistance in Palestine, ceasing UNRWA operations will lead to disastrous ramifications for Palestinians who are already suffering in unthinkable conditions created by Israeli’s genocidal attacks. This is a fact well-understood by right-wing Israeli officials like Netanyahu who have long-championed the closure of this agency. Their goal is to suffocate the Palestinians and create dire enough conditions that they will evacuate the land, paving the way for the completion of Israel’s ethnonationalist Zionist project.  

Haytham Abdo, a leader with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, has stated that the attacks against UNRWA are due to its acting as “a witness for the Palestinian refugee [crisis].”

Renewed attacks against UNRWA

Israel renewed its attacks on UNRWA in the immediate wake of the International Criminal Court’s finding of plausible evidence of Israel committing genocide against Palestinians. Not only did the ICJ provisional ruling order Israel to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza, it also urged Israel 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.” 

Instead of focusing on the damning findings and air-tight case argued by the South African legal team, mainstream corporate news media immediately shifted focus away from Israel’s crimes. 

Israel released a dossier falsely accusing 12 UNRWA workers of participating in the Oct. 7 Palestinian Resistance counter-offensive, along with baselessly alleging that 190 workers had ties to Hamas or Islamic Jihad. The U.S., UK, Australia and other European countries have since suspended funding to UNRWA based on this shaky evidence offered by Israeli intelligence. 

Other countries, however, like Spain, Ireland and Norway have expressed their support to continue funding UNRWA, breaking from the pro-imperialist consensus on this matter.

Philippe Lazzarini, the head UNRWA, said it was “immensely irresponsible to sanction an agency and an entire community it serves because of allegations of criminal acts against some individuals.” Since Oct. 7, 150 UNRWA workers have been killed by Israel, the largest casualty of UN staff in history.

Insider sources reveal that the Israeli intelligence is based on forced confessions extracted from torture of Palestinians who were detained on Oct. 7. This means that not only have these countries been directly complicit by continuing to fund Israel, they are now actively denying millions of Palestinians food and basic humanitarian assistance, just because Israel said so while ignoring irrefutable evidence of genocide. While the Biden administration has dragged its feet in condemning Israeli atrocities, it was shamelessly quick in collectively punishing Palestinians.

Israel has a dark record of targeting aid workers on false claims of ties to the Palestinian Resistance. Even in 2016, the UN raised alarm about Israel’s treatment of prisoners that amounts to torture. Thus, it is clear that Israel is pulling out all stops to distract the world from its acts of genocide, and the Western countries are helping Israel with it.

This is a U.S.-Israeli genocide

The current conditions in Palestine have been described as one of the worst man-made catastrophes with unparalleled levels of suffering. Not only has Israel launched an inhumane level of bombardment and imprisonment of a people under siege for over 70 years, it is actively preventing the passage of humanitarian aid to reach them. Defunding UNRWA will only further this devastation, and it reveals the active role in which the United States and other Western governments are playing in Israel’s genocide. 

It is clear that these governments will only carry out its own interests, even in the face of evidence of genocide. This is why we cannot rely on our government to end this slaughter — the liberation of Palestine will be achieved through the steadfastness of the Palestinian people, backed by an organized international solidarity movement.

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