New Delhi: The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is facing a critical funding shortage, with an agency spokesperson warning that without resumed financial support, operations may cease by the end of February.
Recent allegations by Israel and issuing a six-page dossier against UNRAW have sparked a funding crisis, raising concerns about the agency's future and its ability to address the urgent needs of those in Gaza.
The Israeli intelligence dossier alleges that some UNRWA staff participated in abductions and killings during the October 7 raid that ignited the Gaza conflict.
The dossier claims that 190 UNRWA employees, including teachers, had dual roles as Hamas or Islamic Jihad militants, providing names and pictures for 11 of them. In response, UNRWA has fired some staff and is conducting an internal investigation.
The Palestinians accuse Israel of falsifying information to tarnish UNRWA's reputation. The dossier includes accusations against a school counsellor who allegedly assisted his son in abducting a woman during the Hamas infiltration, resulting in casualties and hostages.
Eleven Countries including the US and UK, have suspended funding, with Japan and Austria also joining the list. Japan's foreign ministry expressed extreme concern over alleged staff involvement in a terror attack on Israel, urging UNRWA to investigate the allegations promptly and thoroughly. India pays annually around five million US dollars for the agency.
Leading US newspapers, including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, have reported on the Israeli intelligence dossier, alleging that nearly 200 UNRWA workers are affiliated with Hamas or Islamic Jihad. Another Wall Street Journal report, citing the same dossier, claims that approximately 1,200 out of UNRWA's 12,000 employees in Gaza have connections to these militant groups.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to confirm the dossier's contents in an interview, describing UNRWA as "perforated with Hamas." He asserted that 13 UNRWA workers participated in the October 7 massacre, accusing UNRWA schools of promoting doctrines of terrorism. The UN has refrained from commenting, citing an ongoing internal investigation into the agency.
Since the launch of a major military operation by Israel in response to the October events, over 26,000 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the health ministry. Another 1.7 million people have fled their homes, with many seeking refuge at UNRWA facilities.
Calls for investigation amid accusation against UNRAW staff
The diplomatic fallout underscores the gravity of the situation, as international actors navigate a delicate balance between addressing allegations and preserving the essential humanitarian functions carried out by UNRWA.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed his horror but concurrently urged donor countries to ensure the uninterrupted operations of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
Guterres revealed that nine of the 12 individuals implicated had been promptly identified and terminated by UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini. One individual is confirmed deceased, and efforts are underway to ascertain the identities of the remaining two. Emphasising that Gaza should not face repercussions for the allegations, Guterres called for continued support for UNRWA's vital operations.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged the deeply troubling nature of the reports about UNRWA staff involvement. While stressing the imperative need for the organisation to conduct a thorough investigation, hold individuals accountable, and reassess its procedures, Blinken also underscored UNRWA's indispensable role in providing essential assistance to men, women, and children in Gaza. He emphasized the necessity for the organization's ongoing role in meeting the critical needs of the population.
On another front, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz took a stern stance by cancelling scheduled meetings with Commissioner-General Lazzarini and openly calling for his resignation on Monday.
What is UNRAW
UNRWA stands for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. It was established in 1949 after the war surrounding the creation of Israel, which displaced 700,000 Palestinians. The agency now directly employs 30,000 Palestinians, catering to the needs of 5.9 million descendants of those refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, and neighbouring Arab countries.
What does UNRAW do
UNRWA provides essential services like education, healthcare, and humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees. In Gaza, it manages schools, healthcare clinics, and other social services, especially crucial since the economic collapse in 2005 due to blockades by Israel and Egypt.
Why is UNRAW important
UNRWA has become a lifeline for many in Gaza, with over a million Gazans, nearly 45% of the population, seeking shelter in UNRWA facilities. The agency provides necessities like food, water, and hygiene supplies. The conflict has made Gaza highly dependent on UNRWA for essential services.
Who funds UNRAW
Most of UNRWA's funding (over 89%) comes from contributions by United Nations member states, including the European Union. In 2022, top government donors included the United States, Germany, the European Union, and others. However, recent allegations have led some countries, including the US, UK, and others, to suspend their funding. India provides around five million dollars annually.
Why Does Israel criticise UNRAW
Israel has long argued that UNRWA should be dismantled, claiming its mission is obsolete and fosters anti-Israel sentiment. Netanyahu accuses UNRWA of being "perforated with Hamas," teaching doctrines of terrorism in schools.
What is going to happen
Countries suspending funding based on allegations could impact UNRWA's operations. The agency warns it may not continue beyond February without resumed funding. This adds strain to UNRWA, which has faced financial challenges for years.