Israel is refusing to release the full intelligence dossier it compiled about the 12 members of the UN Palestinian aid agency it alleges participated in the Hamas October 7 attack. The US and several other countries cut funding in response to the Israeli assertion, potentially igniting a famine in the besieged enclave.
UNRWA employs 30,000 people, including 12,000 in Gaza, and is the key to providing life-saving aid to the 2.3 million Palestinians in the Strip. The four-month Israeli onslaught in Gaza has caused a humanitarian crisis as nearly the entire population of the Strip has been displaced and now relies on assistance to survive.
On January 18, Israel claimed that 12 members of UNRWA participated in the October 7 Hamas attack. UNRWA quickly terminated living employees identified by Tel Aviv. Still, the US and several other top donors to UNRWA suspended funding to the group.
What intelligence Israel has about the 12 members who participated in the attack is still in question. Israel has released a summary of its intelligence dossier. However, Tel Aviv is refusing to release the complete dossier. “I don’t think we need to give intelligence information,” stated Lior Haiat, a spokesperson for Israel’s foreign ministry.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken admitted the US has not verified the Israeli assertions. On Monday, the UN announced an investigation into the accusations by Catherine Colonna, the former minister of foreign affairs of France.
Matthias Schmale, UNRWA director in Gaza from 2017 to 2021, said Hamas has no involvement in his former organization. “During my almost four years in Gaza, I had to fire only one staff member for direct involvement [in Hamas]. This was the exception, not the norm.”
He added, “Hamas de facto authorities are NOT involved in UNRWA’s core services, which include education and health. Hamas mostly respected that it cannot interfere in the running of the Agency, and we were able to conduct our work in conformity with UN standards and norms.”
The outcome of the investigation may not have much of an impact as Tel Aviv has already stated its plans for UNRWA. In the short term, Israel wants the organization to continue to deliver aid. Tel Aviv fears without the assistance, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza will grow so large that Tel Aviv will have to halt its military operations.
A memo in the Israeli military instructed officials not to criticize UNRWA until it had a replacement. That policy did not prevent Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant from telling a UN delegation that “UNRWA is Hamas with a face-lift.”
“If UNRWA ceases operating on the ground, this could cause a humanitarian catastrophe that would force Israel to halt its fighting against Hamas,” a senior Israeli official told the Times of Israel. “This would not be in Israel’s interest and it would not be in the interest of Israel’s allies either.”
That seems to be one point UNRWA and Israel agree upon. “In 4 months of war, around 100,000 people in Gaza were killed, injured, or are currently missing. This represents nearly 5% of the population. You can easily figure out what this would [mean] in your city or country,” Director of UNRWA Philippe Lazzarini posted on X.” In addition, around 17,000 [children] are unaccompanied or separated from their families. More than 80% of the population has been displaced, most several times.”
A spokesperson for the UN said, “For us, UNRWA’s activities remain essential for the survival of Palestinians in Gaza.” 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.”
In the long-term, Tel Aviv is calling for the primary aid agency for the Palestinians to be abolished or undergo significant reforms post-conflict in Gaza. “We want there to be a plan of action on how to replace them. We want our international partners to either reform UNRWA entirely or to come up with an alternative,” an Israeli official explained to the Wall Street Journal. US officials told the outlet there was broad agreement with Israel on the need for reforms.