The campaign against UNRWA reveals the double standards endured by Palestinians

Allegations against Palestinian bodies come with swift censure, but accusations against Israel’s military are met with hesitation and calls for a thorough investigation

Many think that Israel's long campaign against the agency is intended to remove Palestinian refugees as an internationally monitored and protected group and as a political issue. AP
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An international investigation revealed on Monday that Israel has failed to provide evidence to support its damaging allegations that staff at the UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, had links to militant groups. The conclusion should leave no one in any doubt of the double standards that have been applied to Palestinian and Israeli organisations in this conflict.

In January, Israel accused 12 UNRWA employees being involved in the brutal attacks carried out by Palestinian factions on October 7. Israel stepped up its accusations in March, claiming that more than 450 UNRWA staff were operatives in extremist groups. The international reaction was more than a dozen donor countries swiftly suspending funding for what is the only humanitarian lifeline for millions of beleaguered Palestinian refugees.

However, many of these same countries, despite being confronted with evidence of a string of human rights abuses and probable war crimes committed by Israeli forces over the past 200 days, have failed to display a similar rush to judgment. On the contrary, the US House of Representatives on Saturday passed a bill that includes billions of dollars’ worth of military aid for Israel.

The US – formerly the UNRWA’s main financial donor and among the first to halt funding once the accusation was made against the agency – has also been hesitant about even limited action against Israeli forces accused of human rights abuses; on Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, when asked about reports of American sanctions against Israeli units accused of abuses in the West Bank said “these investigations, these inquiries, it's something that takes time. That has to be done very carefully, both in collecting the facts and analysing them”.

In addition, it seems that although another major donor – the UK – will likely resume its funding to the UNRWA, it will take place after the agency’s purported links to Hamas have been addressed, Whitehall sources told The National. So, where allegations against Palestinian bodies come with swift censure and future funding is subject to further scrutiny, accusations against Israel’s military are met with caution and calls for a thorough investigation.

The Israeli allegations against the UNRWA were serious in their content but mendacious in character. The agency has more than 30,000 staff in total; 13,000 of them are in Gaza. Even if the Israeli allegations had been backed up by credible evidence, its accusations covered only a fraction of the UNRWA’s staff – more than 160 of whom have been killed since Israel’s assault on the enclave began last year.

The UNRWA does not have a police force or intelligence wing to vet every person who works for it and, given that Hamas has been the only authority in Gaza for more than two decades, it is unrealistic to think UNRWA and other aid organisation will not cross paths with the movement during its day-to-day operations.

Many Palestinians will agree with comments from UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini and Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi at the UN Security Council late last week that Israel’s long campaign against the agency is intended to remove Palestinian refugees as an internationally monitored and protected group and as a political issue.

If the UNRWA is unempowered or dissolved then so too is the Palestinian refugee issue. This frees Israel from its responsibility for the dispossession that its forces and the international community oversaw between 1947 and 1949.

The UNRWA’s staff will be the first to say the agency should not exist – but that’s because instead of Palestinians living as a displaced and occupied people in need of international aid, Palestinian society should enjoy the autonomy and self-government that is the right of people the world over.

Transparency and accountability are needed and it is positive that the UNRWA is working to address concerns. But as it takes positive steps, so should its donor countries, which now have no excuse not to resume their contributions to this life-saving organisation.

Published: April 24, 2024, 3:00 AM