- by Hannah Middleton
- The Guardian
- Issue #2086
Photo: Anna Pha
Norwegian Labour MP Asmund Aukrust has nominated the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for the Nobel Peace Prize “for its long-term work to provide vital support to Palestine and the region in general,” and added that “this work has been crucial for over 70 years, and even more vital in the last three months.”
However, soon after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel “to allow effective humanitarian assistance” to reach Gazans, Israel made unsubstantiated claims that 12 UNRWA staff were involved in the 7 October incursion by Hamas.
Israel claims to have obtained confessions under ‘interrogation’ of the staff. Many believe these ‘confessions’ were extracted under torture.
The British public broadcaster Channel 4 News has said that an Israeli intelligence dossier which is the basis for the allegations includes little evidence to back up the claims.
The UK Financial Times commented that the Israeli intelligence assessment “provides no evidence for the claims, which it says are based on smartphone intercepts and captured identity cards.”
It is not a coincidence that the allegations came out immediately after the ICJ ruling.
They are clearly designed to deflect attention away from the ruling, to focus on UNRWA and to undermine any attempts to hold Israel accountable or stop the genocide.”
Following the Israeli allegations, UNRWA sacked several of its employees and the UN appointed an independent panel to review the organisation.
In a despicable decision, the Australian government immediately stopped funding UNRWA.
In suspending UNRWA funding, under international law, Australia is directly and illegally complicit in the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.
Australia joined the US, Canada, Italy, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the UK, and Scotland who have halted funding to UNRWA.
In contrast, Ireland and Norway have expressed continued support for UNRWA, saying the agency does crucial work to help Palestinians in desperate need of assistance in Gaza, while Spain and Portugal have increased their funding.
WHAT UNRWA DOES
UNRWA was founded after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 to provide Palestinian refugees who were forcibly displaced with education, healthcare, social services and jobs. It started operations in 1950. Today UNRWA has 30,000 employees. 13,000 of them are working in Gaza.
The agency’s shelters in Gaza have been repeatedly targeted by Israel, despite pleas for safe passages to deliver humanitarian aid. 152 UNRWA employees have been killed by Israel in Gaza.
UNRWA is a thorn in Israel’s side. It has provided a lifeline to Palestinians in Gaza, keeping them fed and cared for, and providing jobs for many thousands of local people in a place where unemployment rates are among the highest in the world.
UNRWA has invested in infrastructure like hospitals and schools which have made life in Gaza more bearable
RIGHT OF RETURN
UNRWA recognises that Palestinian refugees are entitled to services until they can exercise their right to return to their land as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
Resolution 194 enshrines a right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in territory Israel occupied in 1948. The UN General Assembly has reaffirmed Resolution 194 every year since 1949. Other related UN resolutions have reaffirmed the right of return, including General Assembly Resolution 169 in 1980.
However, Israel opposes the return of nearly six million Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA. Israel has worked to eliminate UNRWA in an effort to sabotage the right of return for stateless Palestinian refugees.
“They are going to let everyone die. If people in Gaza don’t die from Israeli shelling and bombs, they’ll die from famine,” Halima Loaz, a former UNRWA nurse, said.
She accused the global community of directly aiding Israel’s mass killing of Palestinians by suspending funds to UNRWA.
“Suspension of funds threatens humanitarian work in the region, especially in Gaza,” UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said. He called on countries which have frozen funding to “reconsider their decisions” as Gaza faces the risk of mass starvation.
The UN says more than 100,000 Palestinians have been killed, wounded, or are missing in Gaza, as Israel continues to press what has become one of the most destructive military campaigns in modern history.
Israeli media late last year reported that the government was conspiring to push UNRWA out of Gaza after the war, including by trying to tie the agency’s activities to Hamas.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz has said publicly: “We will work to garner bipartisan support in the US, the European Union, and other nations globally for this policy aimed at halting UNRWA’s activities in Gaza.”
Israel wants to eliminate UNRWA as part of an effort to force Palestinians in Gaza to migrate elsewhere out of desperation. Murdering or displacing Palestinians from their land will allow more illegal settlements to be built and for Gaza to become part of ‘greater Israel’.