The humanitarian catastrophe that Israel is bringing to Rafah is already being exacerbated by Israel’s financial war on the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini, told The Associated Press that a convoy of food donated by Türkiye has been sitting for weeks in the Israeli port city of Ashdod. The agency said that the Israeli contractor they work with received a call from Israeli customs authorities “ordering them not to process any UNRWA goods.” That stoppage means 1,049 shipping containers of rice, flour, chickpeas, sugar and cooking oil—enough to feed 1.1 million people for one month—are stuck, even as an estimated 25% of families in Gaza face catastrophic hunger.
Juliette Touma, communications director for the agency, said that UNWRA’s bank account with Bank Leumi, which the agency has held for decades, was also frozen this week. In addition, Touma said that Israeli customs authorities notified the agency that UNRWA will no longer be granted tax exemptions. Israel’s Finance mMinister Bezalel Smotrich, tweeted on Feb. 8 that “the state of Israel will not give tax benefits to terrorist aides.”
The agency has been able to reroute other aid shipments through Port Said in Egypt, but Lazzarini warned Friday that the holdup means further difficulties in the already challenging task of aid distribution to Gaza. About 80% of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been displaced by the war. Aside from Rafah, there are an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 people still in northern Gaza that UNRWA has not been able to reach due to Israeli obstructionism.