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The UNRWA Scandal: What You Need To Know

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It has now been over a week since news broke that 12 UNRWA employees were directly involved in the October 7th massacre, confirmed through cell phone location data and other evidence. Seven days ago, Israeli intelligence services also reported that 190 UN employees are "hardened Hamas militants", though it only provided names and pictures for 11 of them.¹


In case you haven't been following this news cycle, UNRWA is the UN agency that was formed in 1949 to deliver humanitarian aid and education services to Palestinian refugees and their descendents.² Refugees of other nationalities do not benefit from UNRWA support and there has been much debate in recent years as to whether or not the organisation should be disbanded.


One of the quirks of UNRWA's funding structure is that the descendents of the Palestinian refugees that fled Israel following partition in 1948 are themselves also classified as refugees. For no other nationality is this classification applied - descendents of refugees of other nationalities tend to become citizens of the country in which they were born and therefore lose their refugee status.


One reason as to why perhaps UNRWA has this unique quirk in their classification system is that some of the Middle Eastern nations where Palestinian refugees fled to do not offer citizenship to children of foreign descent that are born on their soil. However, this is not true in all cases. UNRWA has historically received the bulk of its funding from governments of primarily Western nations as part of their foreign aid spending. However, these donors were last week handed a dossier by the Israeli intelligence services that implicated their employees in Oct 7 and 16 nations have now suspended funding.³ Amongst the nations that have suspended their funding was the United States. It's important to note, however, that the bulk of the US contribution to UNRWA's budget for this funding cycle had already been delivered and the next cycle wasn't due to start for quite a while. Of this cycle, only $300,000 was yet to be received. In addition, President Joe Biden has stated that he would be willing to reinstate US contributions following a large scale internal review and fundamental changes to ensure that no portion of UNRWA's budget is being used to fund terrorism.


UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has appointed Former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna to head the panel leading the investigation into UNRWA's involvement with Hamas. The panel assigned will commence their investigation on 14 February, with an interim report expected by the end of March and a final one to be released to the public in April. Mossad have not supplied the UN with their findings, making the task all the more difficult. While it is shocking that UNRWA employees have had direct involvement with Hamas, it must be stated that it is not unusual for locally-born employees of aid agencies to have involvement with local militant regimes. This nonetheless does not excuse the fact that representatives of a UN agency may have had a direct hand in raping, massacring or at least kidnapping innocent Jewish civilians.


Had UNRWA had hard-line rules from the top down about employee conduct, forbidding involvement with the terror organisation Hamas, perhaps this situation could be avoided. Until the internal investigation is released, we will not know the full extent to which UNRWA's resources have gone towards funding Hamas.


Even if UNRWA's has not directly funded the terror organisation, by providing the Palestinian people in Gaza with the services that should rightly have been paid for by their elected government, they have had a hand in supporting the system that got Hamas elected and in enabling more of their revenues to be allocated for militias as opposed to funding services for the Palestinian people.


What you will not hear people saying much at the moment is that the UN has blood on its hands. I'm not talking about the blood of the 1,200 Jewish civilians that were massacred on Oct 7 - I think it's quite clear by now that those shouting the loudest do not care about the lives of Jews. No, the UN has the blood of 26,000 + and counting Palestinians on their hands. Why? By being complicit in the massacre that started this brutal war. I do not agree with the tactics that have been so far used by Netanyahu's military. War crimes have been committed. That is a fact. Even though I do not believe the ICJ will find Israel guilty of carrying out a genocide, the fact that they deemed it plausible is deeply disturbing. There may have been genocidal acts carried out by individuals and there has been genocidal rhetoric floated about in the Knesset by low ranking members of the government.¹⁰ Israel seriously needs to clean up its act. However, the heavy handed response does not excuse the horrific event that triggered it.


What is clear now more than ever is that, perhaps for the first time in many years, Palestinians genuinely - and quite desperately - need the aid provided to them by UNRWA. 70% of Gaza's infrastructure is now rubble.¹¹ 65,000 people are injured, most of whom require ongoing medical attention. 1.8 million people are displaced. The situation is critical.


Despite this fact, it is entirely legitimate that Western nations have suspended funding until the internal investigation has been completed. In order to provide ongoing funding, Western leaders need to be certain that UNRWA resources are not being used to support Hamas. Whether you agree with foreign aid for the Israeli military or not (I don't, by the way, for reasons I'll cover in another post), humanitarian aid budgets cannot go towards funding terrorist organisations.


Gaza is currently facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and the situation is now looking beyond hope, thanks to the actions of a few UN officials. UNRWA has stated that if funding from donors is not reinstated, it will run out of money by the end of this month.¹² If a solution is not immediately devised to address this problem, hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza may starve to death.


The way I see it, there are 2 viable options:


  1. The UN founds a new organisation to take the place of UNRWA, absorbing its infrastructure to aid logistical management. This is the more difficult of the two options and it poses a whole range of challenges, not in the least because of whether or not this will be enough to secure funding once again from former aid partners.

  2. Instead of taking to the streets to protest or complaining all over social media, which are unlikely to have any impact, people could just put their money where their mouths are and donate directly to UNRWA via their website. If a small percentage of Palestinian allies donated directly to UNRWA, they could easily raise the necessary funds in the immediate term to bridge the gap until it has been determined whether or not funding will be reinstated by Western partners.


For understandable reasons, governmental funding for UNRWA cannot be reinstated until the internal investigation has been completed. Currently, it seems unlikely that another aid organisation will be formed to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Therefore, I urge people that care about the issue to simply donate their own money via UNRWA's official donations page, which can be found here.


Given the topics covered and the amount of unsubstantiated propaganda floating around on the war in Gaza, I opted to include references for this article. My sources can be found here:

  1. https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israeli-intelligence-accuses-190-gaza-un-staff-hamas-islamic-jihad-roles-2024-01-29/

  2. https://www.unrwa.org/who-we-are

  3. https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/29/world/middleeast/unrwa-israel-gaza-terrorism.html

  4. https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/30/us/politics/aid-gaza-israel.html

  5. https://thehill.com/policy/international/4438517-biden-un-ambassador-fundamental-changes-unrwa-funding/

  6. https://www.voanews.com/a/un-chief-appoints-panel-to-review-unrwa/7471903.html

  7. https://news.un.org/en/story/2024/02/1146207

  8. https://edition.cnn.com/2024/01/29/middleeast/israel-allegations-unwra-october-7-intl/index.html

  9. https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-revises-death-toll-from-oct-7-hamas-assault-dropping-it-from-1400-to-1200/

  10. https://www.reuters.com/world/un-committee-voices-concern-about-rising-israeli-hate-speech-against-2023-10-27/

  11. https://www.wsj.com/world/middle-east/gaza-destruction-bombing-israel-aa528542

  12. https://www.unrwa.org/newsroom/official-statements/unrwa%E2%80%99s-lifesaving-aid-may-end-due-funding-suspension

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