Several human rights officials are warning that the US and other countries suspending support to the Palestinian UN aid agency will be catastrophic for the people of Gaza. The Israeli war and blockade placed Gaza on the brink of famine and widespread death. The US and several other countries cut aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) after Israel alleged a small number of low-level staff members participated in the October 7 attack.
On Sunday, Michael Fakhri, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, posted on X, “Some states decided to defund UNRWA for the alleged actions of a small number of employees. This collectively punishes +2.2 million Palestinians. Famine was imminent. Famine is now inevitable.”
On Friday, Israel informed UNRWA that 12 of its staff members had participated in the October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel. A senior Israeli official said, “A lot of the intelligence is a result of interrogations of militants who were arrested during the Oct. 7 attack.”
The allegations generated from intelligence obtained during interrogations of Palestinians could be problematic. Since October 7, Israel has engaged in widespread campaigns to arrest Palestinians. Once in detention, Palestinians are subject to well-documented sexual abuse, humiliation, beatings, and torture. The brutal conditions in Israeli prisons have killed some detainees.
UNRWA Secretary-General Philippe Lazzarini took immediate action by firing the accused staff members. Still, the Joe Biden administration elected to halt aid transfers to the organization. Additionally, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said UNRWA should be removed from Gaza once Tel Aviv ends military operations in the Strip.
On Sunday, Lazzarini warned that if aid transfers are not restated, UNRWA will have to suspend operations. “I urge countries who have suspended their funding to reconsider their decisions before Unrwa is forced to suspend its humanitarian response,” he said. “The lives of people in Gaza depend on this support, and so does regional stability.”
Reports from Gaza explain Palestinians are eating rotting food, stray animals, and animal feed to try to survive. A spokeswoman for UNRWA said future aid deliveries are in jeopardy. “I don’t know how long we can continue, it’s not a perfect science, but right now, our operations are in serious jeopardy,” she said. “We will continue to deliver humanitarian assistance for as long as we can. Under the current circumstances, that’s going to be very difficult to do.”
The US is the UNRWA’s largest backer. The agency is in charge of nearly all UN aid shipments into Gaza. Since October 7, Israel has severely restricted the delivery of aid into Gaza. The war has displaced around 2 million people and destroyed much of the Strip’s medical facilities, creating a dramatically increased need for aid.
Before the war, nearly half of Gazans were dependent on UNRWA support. Haneen Harara, a worker at a Dutch non-governmental organization, fears the cuts will cause a disastrous situation. “This will be a catastrophic situation,” she said. “If UNRWA shuts down it will make the situation so much worse. Even before this news there were huge limits on the aid entering Gaza.”
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) explained that if countries UNRWA is a “lifeline” for Palestinians and without funding, “death and suffering” will increase in Gaza. “In the Gaza Strip, the humanitarian crisis has reached catastrophic levels, and any additional limitations on aid will result in more deaths and suffering.” The MSF statement added, “Humanitarian organizations are already grappling to meet even a fraction of the urgent needs in Gaza. Much more aid is required to meet those needs, not less.”