- In Jerusalem, by Mark Loewen
- bbc news
Few international aid organizations are still operating in the Gaza Strip, which is rapidly becoming a wasteland. The United Nations is one of them.
The Palestine Refugee Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was founded in 1949 and operates in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, caring for the 700,000 Palestinians who were uprooted or displaced by the establishment of the state. doing. of Israel.
The life-saving assistance that 2 million Gazans now rely on is now ending after several Western governments withdrew funding after some of its staff were suspected of involvement in the October 7 attack on Israel. The agency’s head said it may be approaching .
The mission currently runs shelters for displaced people and distributes the only aid Israel allows, but that’s not all. UNRWA provides critical infrastructure and tools of daily living that Gaza has largely lacked throughout its endless cycle of violence, siege, and poverty.
It operates medical and educational facilities such as teacher training centers and about 300 elementary schools, and also produces textbooks to educate Palestinian youth. Approximately 13,000 people are employed in Gaza alone. As the largest United Nations agency operating in Gaza, it is key to humanitarian efforts.
And it has also become a kind of political football, kicked by various sides over the years. Its very existence has been criticized by Israel as entrenching the refugee status of Palestinians and encouraging their continued desire for a right to return to the lands from which they were expelled during 1948 and subsequent wars. There is.
The fate of refugees has become a core issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Many Palestinians dream of returning to historic Palestine, part of which is now in Israel. Israel rejects that claim and has often criticized the establishment of UNRWA, which allows for inherited refugee status.
“Hate and intolerance”
Additionally, the Israeli government has long criticized the institution’s education and textbooks for, in their view, perpetuating anti-Israel views.
In 2022, the Israeli monitoring group IMPACT-se reported that UNRWA materials taught students that Israel was trying to “erase Palestinian identity, steal and alter Palestinian heritage, and erase Jerusalem’s cultural heritage.” “Anti-Semitism, hatred, intolerance and lack of neutrality.”
The European Commission identified what it called “anti-Semitic content” in the textbooks, “including even incitement to violence.” The European Parliament has repeatedly called for EU funding for the Palestinian Authority to be made conditional on the removal of such content. UNRWA previously said reports about the group’s educational materials were “inaccurate and misleading” and that many of the books in question were not used in schools.
In 2018, the administration of President Donald Trump, an ardent supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, suspended all financial support for UNRWA, calling it “irreparably flawed.”
Now, with several Western governments freezing funding, the agency is once again facing potentially serious challenges, with critical implications for the 5.3 million Palestinian refugees registered with the agency. It has a significant impact. The United States, one of the countries making this decision, is the largest donor, contributing approximately $340 million (approximately £268 million) in 2022. Germany, which also suspended lending, was next, sending in $162 million that year.
Israel has long accused UN branches of bias and anti-Semitism. And now, facing growing criticism at home and abroad over the Gaza war, the government is using the opportunity to strengthen its case and shift its focus slightly.
For Israel’s Western allies, this is an opportunity to demonstrate understanding and support for Israel, while also continuing to pressure the Israeli government to curb its attacks.
Despite suspending funding, National Security Adviser John Kirby was at pains to point out that the violations of a small number of employees “should not be blamed on the entire agency.” added that it “helped save literally thousands of lives in Gaza.” Do important work. ”
Israel’s foreign minister has called UNRWA the “private arm of Hamas” and said it should have no role in the post-conflict Gaza Strip, but this raises questions: Will the UN be able to collect fragments of the shattered territory? What will happen if I am not allowed to pick it up?