UNRWA Funds Cut - US Signs Death Warrant For Surviving Palestinians in Gaza
The US, and 12 other countries have crippled United Nations Relief and Works Agency
The International Court of Justice was explicit in its judgment that South Africa had made a plausible case that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians. Their verdict, among others, obliged the Israeli government to do everything in its power to avoid acts of genocide, and to allow the immediate entry of humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Israel has defied the rulings and proceeded to engage in continued violence against Palestinians. Over 1001 people (perhaps, a lot more are still to be uncovered from under the rubble) were killed since the ICJ ordered Israel to prevent genocide. This amounts to an average of over 150 people each day, sometimes ascending to 215 people.
Analysts aver that what seems to have gone astray in the ruling was an explicit call for an immediate ceasefire. It was a roundabout imperative. The Israeli and the United States’ governments are on the lookout for reasons to sidetrack from the demand for liability and preserve licence to continue massacring Palestinians.
This has prompted International grassroots organisations, and justice-oriented legal pressure bodies to escalate their campaign an end to Israel’s genocide of Palestinians.
In reprisal for the ICJ ruling, the US, which is the largest contributor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) , pronounced a full financial cut. A dozen other Western countries followed suit, these include Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Finland, Netherlands, UK, Italy, and Australia.
They did not appreciate the defiance of the ICJ in calling out Israel as being guilty of genocide. Their contributions alone amount US $ 672.2 million and it can quickly soar leaving UNRWA famished for much-needed funds.
The UNRWA holds the mandate for serving Palestinian refugees, and is currently the single largest provider of humanitarian assistance to Gaza. More than 700,000 people in Gaza are currently facing life-threatening diseases — which are treatable with medical aid that UNRWA provides.
The 2.3 million population of Gaza, more than half of whom are children, faces the risk of starvation. For Western colonialist-imperialist countries to keep UNRWA in a tremulous situation, and, perhaps, having it wound up, is a blatantly racist political goal.
In making these abrupt cuts, the US and its allies have cited the Israeli military’s allegations that 13 UNRWA employees had participated in the October 7 Hamas attacks. These unproven allegations are dubious, and are made to divert media coverage of the two separate court cases, namely, accusing Israel of genocide and the US of complicity.
Until the investigations launched by the UN are completed, the punishment and allegations remain unfair. It is common practice and an immoral tactic for Israel to accuse solidarity organisations, and their staff of being ‘guilty of aiding and abetting terrorism’.
Owing to the Administrative Detention Law, many Palestinian social activists who protest the occupation are held without trial, without ever having broken the law. As this measure is supposed to be preventive, it has no time limit.
The person is detained without legal proceedings, by order of the regional military commander, based on classified evidence that is not revealed to them. This leaves the detainees helpless – facing unknown allegations with no way to disprove them.
Under international scrutiny, Washington has admitted that it did not independently verify Israel’s claims.
Is the UNRWA as an instrument to further legitimise Palestinian claims?
The Zionists now view the UNRWA as an obstacle to the eradication of the Palestinians as a recognisable people, because it keeps millions of them together and allows them to demand their right of return to their homes as enshrined in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194.
In fact, the UNRWA was created as a separate organisation away from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), because under UNHCR provisions, there exists the right to return for refugees forcibly displaced and dispossessed by war. This is not the case in the UNRWA where the demand has to be political and universal.
Noted historian Ilan Pappe observes: “If committed activists needed an additional reason for why what they are doing is essential and just, then the ICJ’s ruling is a chilling reminder of what is at stake here”. Pappe describes the decision of South Africa to approach the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as ‘moral and brave’.
South Africa’s sole intention was to obtain a ruling that would bring an end to the genocide of the Palestinians in Gaza. At the same time Pappe argues that South Africa’s primary intent was to justify their claim that Israel’s actions should be defined as genocide under the terms of the genocide convention.
Pappe believes the ICJ missed an opportunity to stop the genocide, mainly because it still treated Israel as a democracy and not a rogue state. Israel policy makers have conveniently interpreted the absence of a clear edict on a cease fire as license to persist with their genocide. We see this every day.
True, a ceasefire may have taken time to come into effect, but the image of Israel in the international community would have been vastly sullied by a clearer ICJ directive. Such a ruling would have probably deterred western countries from blocking the UNRWA’s funds, because the humanitarian crisis is deadly. Public outcries against the genocide would have multiplied and halted the UNRWA boycott.
The ICJ has called Israel’s actions genocidal. A clear call to cease fire would have allowed for powerful civil society protests notably the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions Movement to be even more widely accepted.
What is important to note is that, despite all this, boycotts and divestments are growing, while talk of sanctions are ongoing although informally. If the movement for sanctions gains pace, it would surely be the most powerful political intervention possible.
Sanctions would have surely petrified the Israeli regime. The struggle against apartheid in South Africa has demonstrated this. South Africa has now urged all countries that are supporting Israel in this war to cease their support to Israel. We must await who will heed this urgent summons.
Sanctions would leave Israel isolated especially at a time it wants the Palestinians to suffer debilitating agony because of the boycott of UNRWA. Meanwhile, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called the UNRWA's aid as “the backbone of all humanitarian response in Gaza.
Guterres says decisions of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) are binding. Restoring, and even strengthening UNRWA’s capacities, must be an additional political goal for the international community.
Spain, for example, has reacted and promised three times their normal share to the UNRWA. If this becomes a growing trend, including from the Global South, it can embarrass western colonial powers and prod them into restoring funds.
Death by starvation is the clear intent of Israel and all of its backers. All of the western powers have unwaveringly defended Israel’s supposed “right to defend itself.” They, therefore, countenance Israel’s campaign of carnage.
The numbers are staggering: 30,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, wounded 65,000 others, razed more than half Gaza’s essential infrastructure to the ground and left 1.9 million people (85 percent of its population) internally displaced. Without blinking an eye, Israel and its allies have now signed a death warrant for tens of thousands to meet the same fate.
If the ongoing massacre were to continue, what would be left of Gaza in a month or a bit more? The ICJ has to act in a way that Israel’s actions are overturned. After all, colonialism itself is a crime, and settler colonial projects such as what Israel is imposing need stringent counter weights.
Sadly, International law has failed to stop a single crime of the Israeli regime, whether they are killings, or illegal imprisonments, and destroying vital facilities and infrastructure. Instead, Israel relentlessly pursues the ongoing strategy of ethnic cleansing.
More and more countries in the Global South, people on the Arab Streets, and in Europe share one common sentiment. They ask: What more does Israel need to do to be categorised as a ‘rogue’ state?
The ICC and ICJ have previously punished other African and Eastern Europe dictators. International instruments such as the ICC and ICJ must be strengthened or else, global systems will perish in injustice and the powerful will get away with criminality while the poorer countries will face punitive actions as they have done in the last decades.
Palestinian groups, including the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Rafah, described the move to destabilise the UNRWA as “a continuation of the genocide practiced by the occupation forces in Gaza,” which would lead more than two million Palestinians in the Strip to “die of starvation.”
The UN Secretary-General Guterres has called on countries that suspended their funding to UNRWA to restore it. Distressing scenes from media sources detail children fighting over stale bread, and being forced to eat grass to alleviate gnawing hunger.
There is no clean water and illnesses such as cholera and diarrhoea are rife, with no functioning hospitals to care for the sick. People have had amputations done without anaesthesia simply because facilities are unavailable.
Martin Griffiths, the UN’s emergency relief chief reports this crisis of tragic proportions: “Great majority” of 400,000 Gazans normally served by UN agencies are now “are actually in famine”.
The withdrawal of funding for UNRWA by the United States and other Western powers exemplifies their direct collusion with the Netanyahu regime in bombing and starving the Palestinians out of Gaza.
A “Victory of Israel Conference” held on Sunday in Jerusalem confirmed Israel’s intention to permanently annex the occupied territories. It called for the re-establishment of Jewish settlements in Gaza and their expansion in the West Bank.
This is compatible with Israel’s aim of confiscating Gaza for Israel. This aim extends far beyond Gaza including Gaza and the West Bank, some six million Palestinians in 58 refugee camps, spread over Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, that depend on aid funnelled through UNRWA and its 30,000-strong staff.
A classified Israeli foreign ministry report leaked in December proposed the “elimination of UNRWA”, beginning with a campaign alleging cooperation of UNRWA staff members with Ham. Recently, Noga Arbel of the right-wing Kohelet Foundation told the Knesset, “It will be impossible to win this war if we do not destroy UNRWA” and prevent it from “allowing terrorists to be born” by providing services to Palestinian refugees.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz declared that his aims include “promoting a policy ensuring that UNRWA will not be a part of the day after” an Israeli victory in Gaza.
Consider this too. Given the billions of barrels worth of oil in Palestine, some advocates believe that fossil fuels are influencing Israel’s attacks.
If this whole ICJ process ends with the usual conclusion that international law has no power to stop the destruction of Palestine and the Palestinians, this will have even a greater impact on the question of Palestine. In fact, this could severely undermine the confidence, which is already very low, of the global south in enforcing the universality of international law.
Guterres has said: “Nothing can justify the collective punishment of the people in Gaza.” The World Health Organization reports more than 100,000 Palestinians dead, injured, or missing and presumed dead in the besieged Gaza Strip. Most international aid agencies have conveyed their concern and deep outrage at the decision taken “amid a rapidly worsening humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.
All of Israel’s allies defend Israel’s supposed “right to defend itself,” as its armed forces have killed nearly 30,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, wounded 65,000 others, razed more than half Gaza’s essential infrastructure to the ground and left 1.9 million people (85 percent of its population) internally displaced.
Without blinking an eye, Israel and its allies have now signed a death warrant for tens of thousands more. Israeli forces are fighting a brutal and malicious battle against unarmed civilians.
More than 800 civil servants from the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union have released a statement criticising their governments’ support of Israel in its ongoing aggression on Gaza, warning that such policies could be contributing to war crimes and violations of international law.
The ‘transatlantic statement’ emphasised that Western governments risk being complicit in “one of the worst human catastrophes of this century” by failing to hold Israel to the same international humanitarian aid and human rights standards they apply to other countries.
With the world keenly watching, Israel and Hamas are negotiating a truce. Israel, in particular, needs a face server. If they lose, it would be a political catastrophe for the country and its current leaders.
A truce must have a protracted pause in the fighting in Gaza; an exchange of Israeli hostages taken by Hamas with Palestinian prisoners illegally lodged in Israeli jails. Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad want to win the release of all Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. The Israelis are highly unlikely to buy that.
There will have to be some conciliation and, within that, Israel must not impose an asymmetric solution. A lasting peace demands symmetry and justice.
Ranjan Solomon is a political commentator, human rights activist, and sports enthusiast. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.