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UNRWA assistance at a shelter in Deir al-Balah in Gaza. UNRWA X page

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was established as a subsidiary organ of the United Nations General Assembly on December 8, 1949 and became operational on May 1, 1950. It is one of the largest United Nations programs, and it has been the main supplier of food, water and shelter to civilians during the IDF’s assault on Gaza.

On the same day that the ICJ met to hear South Africa’s charge of genocide against Israel, the Times of Israel published an article with the headline, “UNRWA sacks staffers who allegedly participated in Oct. 7 attack,” saying that “Israel provided intel incriminating 12 employees of UN agency for Palestinians, allegedly also revealed use of organization’s vehicles and facilities during assault.” The source of the “intel” was described as coming from the IDF and Shin Bet as “a result of interrogations of militants who were arrested during the October 7 attack.”

UNRWA responded by firing 9 employees who were the targets of the allegations. Immediately, the US and Canada halted their funding of the agency, and were soon joined by The United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Finland. These countries provided nearly 60% of UNRWA’s budget in 2022. Under international law, it is Israel’s responsibility as occupying power to provide basic services to its captives, but since its inception, UNRWA has assumed this responsibility.

Two things should be emphasized here. First, no evidence has been made public to support the allegations, and this may well be the latest in a series of Israeli “hasbara” efforts ("hasbara” is a uniquely Israeli mode of propaganda, used to distract world opinion from their targeting of civilian areas, as well as to shift blame for large numbers of civilian deaths from Israel to Hamas, the UN, South Africa, etc.) Similar sensational stories, such as the tale of the 40 beheaded babies, have run their course, served their purpose, and been forgotten due to the fact that they were entirely made up. The timing of this one is certainly suspicious, and the Anglophile press has eagerly seized upon this story, de-emphasizing the ICJ ruling.

Secondly, if it is indeed the LIkud regime’s intention to exploit the Oct. 7 attacks as a pretext for ethnic cleansing, such a plan will be furthered by the predictable spike in mortality rates which will occur if the cuts in UNRWA’s funding prevent it from providing food, healthcare and emergency assistance to the well over a million forcibly displaced persons in Gaza.