Pauses in UNRWA Funding

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

On Friday, January 26, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) stated that it “opened an investigation into several employees suspected of involvement in the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel by Hamas.” The allegations, which were originally made by Israeli authorities, pertained to 12 of UNRWA’s 30,000 employees, 9 of whom had their contracts terminated in response.  

Several countries, including the U.S., paused their funding to the humanitarian organization in response. UNRWA’s Chief Philippe Lazzarini warned that lifesaving assistance, such as food, healthcare, and education, is threatened without this financial support. 

Regional sources report on the allegations: 

The Times of Israel explained the allegations against these individuals: “Employees of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees kidnapped Israelis, transported ammunition and the body of a dead soldier, and took part in a murderous assault on a kibbutz on October 7.” For example, “one UNRWA school counselor from Khan Younis in southern Gaza is ‘accused of working with his son to abduct a woman from Israel’” and another “employee was ‘described as taking part in the massacre at a kibbutz where 97 people died.’”  

In response, UNRWA “fired several people and promised a thorough investigation into the claims,” stated in Ahram, and “Israel has vowed to stop the agency’s work in Gaza after the war.” While the U.S. Department of State advocated for “complete accountability for anyone who participated in the heinous attacks,” it also emphasized that “UNRWA plays a critical role in providing lifesaving assistance to Palestinians, including essential food, medicine, shelter, and other vital humanitarian support.” 

Doha News juxtaposed the reactions to these claims against responses to the broader war: “Over 150 UNRWA workers were killed by Israel in Gaza, the highest ever among UN staffers, yet the U.S. failed to call for a probe or even simply condemn… The Arab League warned against grave repercussions of an incitement campaign waged against the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) coupled with the decision by some countries to cut their financial support to the refugee agency.” 

Al Jazeera notes, the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland, Estonia, Japan, Austria, and Romania had paused funding for the humanitarian organization by Monday. However, Ireland and Norway “expressed continued support for UNRWA, saying the agency does crucial work to help Palestinians displaced and in desperate need of assistance in Gaza.” Sharing this sentiment, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares stated “that while Spain is closely following the investigation into Israel’s claims, the accused are 12 individuals out of a total of around 30,000 UNRWA employees.” 

Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres assured: “Any UN employee involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution,” according to Sky News Arabia. Guterres further specified that “the tens of thousands of men and women who work for UNRWA, many in some of the most dangerous situations for humanitarian workers, should not be penalised. The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met.” 

Reports on UNRWA employees’ broader association with terrorist groups were mixed. Haaretz cited allegations that “around 10 percent of employees at UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, have ties to Islamist terrorist groups. This is according to intelligence reports reviewed by the [Wall Street] Journal. The reports state that around 1,200 of UNRWA’s roughly 12,000 employees in Gaza have links to Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” 

Some networks, such as Arab News, shared that the Israeli government is “not known for its truthfulness.” Writer Daoud Kuttab warned: “Not a single piece of information has been made public or independently verified, which fits into the Israeli routine: make an accusation, provide superficial evidence and refuse to cooperate with any serious investigation. Months later, after the damage is done, Israel hopes and expects that the issue will be forgotten.” 

Asharq Al-Awsat covered similar concerns. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said that “the suspension of funds to UNRWA coincides with Israel’s plan to displace the people in Gaza, indicating that this suspension comes during challenging times and at a time when the International Court of Justice has ordered Israel to allow aid to enter Gaza immediately.” 

According to an UNRWA spokesperson and highlighted in The Jerusalem Post, “If the funding is not resumed, UNRWA will not be able to continue its services and operations across the region, including in Gaza, beyond the end of February.” 

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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