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Palestinian Organizations Warn Against Potential Complicity in Genocide Due to UNRWA Funding Cut Impacting Humanitarian Aid to Gaza
01، Feb 2024

Al Mezan, Al-Haq, and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) strongly condemn the decision of several donor states to suspend funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). Targeting the humanitarian agency that plays a crucial role in preventing mass starvation and death in Gaza, based on unverified allegations originally against 12 employees, and now reduced to four, amounts to an act of collective punishment against 5.9 million Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA. If the (already) insufficient funding results in a significant reduction or complete cessation of UNRWA's life-saving activities in Gaza, these states may be implicated in complicity with genocide.

On 26 January 2024, the same day that Israel raised its unverified allegations against UNRWA, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) acknowledged the plausibility of Israel committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. Since the plausible genocide ruling, Israeli authorities have intensified their orchestrated campaign against UNRWA, alleging that at least four out of UNRWA’s 30,000 employees are linked to the attack carried out by Palestinian armed groups on 7 October 2023. We acknowledge that UNRWA has dismissed the implicated staff, and the United Nations (UN) has initiated an inquiry into the allegations. While the UN and other states verify the Israeli allegations, it is crucial to remind them that obtaining forced confessions through torture, or any other forms of coercion is a serious breach of international human rights law[1] .

Israel's prolonged campaign to close down UNRWA is fundamentally driven by the core issue embedded in UNRWA's mandate: the implementation of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (III). Since 1948, UNRWA has served as a vital support system for millions of Palestinian refugees residing across the occupied Palestinian territory and in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, to whom Israel has consistently denied their inalienable right to return. Our organizations stress that UNRWA must be preserved as an institution to protect the rights of Palestinians, still systematically denied their inalienable right of return and left for generations to live in refugee camps, denied their freedom of movement and basic human rights.

The international community has clear and unequivocal legal obligations to the Palestinian people who remain under the permanent responsibility of the United Nations until the Palestinian question is resolved. This includes obligations to protect and provide for Palestinian refugees and facilitate, without further delay, their right of return to their homes and lands from which they were forcibly expelled by the Israeli military and Zionist militias between 1947 and 1949—obligations which are partly met, in terms of humanitarian assistance, by UNRWA. Notably, the denial of return of the Palestinian people, deliberately and permanently fragments the Palestinian people as a group, and coupled with Israeli statements and plans to destroy Palestinians as a group, including its plan to dismantle UNRWA to deny Palestinian refugees their right of return, may in itself amount to a genocidal act.

At the time of writing, the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Iceland, Japan, Austria, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania have abruptly suspended funding from UNRWA based on Israel’s assertions. This decision is particularly disconcerting considering our persistent appeals to these same states to cease providing arms to Israel and impose arms embargoes and economic sanctions. Despite compelling evidence of Israel committing numerous international crimes in Gaza—including acts of genocide—over the past three and a half months, our pleas have consistently been disregarded. This exposes these states' egregious double standards in the application of their obligations under international law.

Seventy percent of the population in Gaza are refugees registered with UNRWA. During the ongoing genocidal military campaign carried out by Israel in Gaza, at least 26,900 Palestinians, including 152 UNRWA staff members, have been killed. This represents the highest number of UN aid workers killed in any conflict in the history of the UN. Moreover, at least 141 UNRWA facilities have been destroyed or damaged, including the headquarters in Gaza City. UNRWA-run schools, sheltering hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons, have also been targeted, resulting in the death of 357 displaced individuals and injuries to 1,255 others. Despite these challenges, UNRWA persists in its operations and remains the primary provider of relief services to Palestinians in Gaza.

The decision to cut funding to the primary provider of humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza is even more sinister as it comes just a few days after the ICJ ordered Israel to take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in Gaza. The timing of Israel's recent allegations against UNRWA suggests a malevolent motive to circumvent the applicability of the legally binding ICJ provisional measures in the case of South Africa vs. Israel. In effect the conveniently timed allegations, amount to  reprisals against UNRWA, whose statements are referenced with support in the authoritative ICJ ruling against Israel for plausible genocide, and against the Palestinian people in Gaza.

The suspension of funding to UNRWA will significantly curtail the agency's operations in all areas, with a particularly pronounced impact in Gaza, where the population is grappling with conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction and erasure deliberately created by Israel. Our organizations caution that the suspension of funding to UNRWA, leading to the halt of humanitarian aid in Gaza, could potentially constitute complicity in genocide, especially for the primary donors of UNRWA, namely Germany and the United States.

We applaud Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg, Ireland, Spain, Slovenia, and Scotland for demonstrating moral and legal judgment and refraining from withdrawing funding from UNRWA. Our organizations call on donors to immediately resume their funding for UNRWA to ensure the continuity of its relief role, especially in the face of the ongoing Israeli genocide in Gaza. We emphasize the need to increase funding to address the unprecedented challenges in the midst of a collapsed healthcare system, the risk of famine, the spread of epidemics, and the lack of basic humanitarian services for Palestinian civilians in Gaza.