'How will we live?' Gazans devastated by cuts to UNRWA funding

Palestinians join Arab leaders in calling for funding to vital UN agency to be reinstated

Displaced Palestinians receive food aid at the UNRWA centre in Rafah in southern Gaza. AFP
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Palestinians in Gaza reacted with panic and concern to news that major donors have halted funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees that provides vital services across the enclave.

"We are very worried about the decision. It is not easy to imagine losing everything," said a Gaza resident, who choose not to reveal their identity due to security concerns.

"All aspects of life have been lost," they said.

Major donors including the US announced they will halt funding for UNRWA after Israel alleged that 12 of the agency's employees were suspected of involvement in the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas.

The agency said it is investigating the report and has dismissed nine of the 12 staff accused by Israel. It said that if the funding does not resume in February, the agency will not be able to resume its services in Gaza and across the Middle East.

UNRWA provides vital services in Gaza, where the population is facing starvation after more than three months of war during which the delivery of aid into the strip has been restricted.

"The aid from UNRWA helps people survive, without it where will people get their food from?" said the resident.

Long before the war broke out in October, the agency was already struggling to collect aid from donors.

In Gaza, UNRWA is the primary humanitarian agency, with over two million people depending on it for "their sheer survival", according to the agency.

The war has led to a humanitarian catastrophe that has displaced the majority of the enclave’s 2.3 million people and caused widespread hunger.

Why are western countries cutting funding to UNRWA, Gaza's main aid organisation?

Why are western countries cutting funding to UNRWA, Gaza's main aid organisation?

The agency employs 13,000 Palestinians in Gaza and says it will be forced to halt operations within weeks if funding is not restored.

Relatives of UNRWA staff members spoke to The National on condition of anonymity about their concerns over the funding cuts.

"If the funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees stops, how will we live?", a Palestinian with connections to the agency told The National.

Another Palestinian with family connections to UNRWA said they thought that Israel was deliberately pressuring the agency with the aim of pushing Palestinians out of Gaza.

"They want people to leave Gaza, but other countries will not welcome them, so we remain refugees asking for our rights," they said.

"We have lost our home and stability. We console ourselves with the fact that we have a job that provides us with a salary at the end of the month but everything is expensive now," said the source, who also did not want to be named.

Israel accused of campaign against UNRWA

The Arab League had accused Israel of pursuing a "systematic campaign" against UNRWA in reaction to the funding cuts.

“The suspension of financing to the agency robs the Palestinians of any glimmer of hope, undermines peace prospects and pushes the region into further instability,” the Arab League said.

Salah Abed Al Atti, the head of the international committee to support the rights of Palestinians, told The National that funding must be reinstated to ensure that millions of Gazans receive life-saving aid.

"There is a severe risk if the agency is halted that the population will not receive any of the required humanitarian aid. There is no apparatus in the Gaza Strip capable of distributing aid," Mr Al Atti said.

"If these countries do not reconsider, they will be considered complicit in the genocide being waged against civilians in Gaza and will be violating the International Court of Justice's decision that stated to mandate the flow of humanitarian aid," he said.

Mr Al Atti was referring to a ruling by the ICJ on Friday, in which the UN's highest court ordered Israel to take all measures to prevent genocide against Gazans and allow vital aid into the Palestinian enclave, but stopped short of demanding it halt its military campaign.

Mr Al Atti also accused Israel of working to ensure that Gaza becomes uninhabitable and people are forced to evacuate.

Israel denies accusations of genocide or claims that it is trying to force Palestinians out of the Gaza Strip. It says it is fighting a war to destroy Hamas in response to the October 7 attacks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected mounting pressure to agree to a ceasefire and vowed to fight until victory against Hamas.

More than 26,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since October 7, and more than 64,000 have been injured, according to Gaza's Ministry of Health.

Updated: January 31, 2024, 10:33 AM