UNRWA in Turmoil: Israel Accuses Staff Members of Involvement in Terror Attacks

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The main UN agency in Gaza, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), is facing turmoil after Israel accused some of its staff members of involvement in Hamas’ terror attacks on October 7. As a result of these allegations, the UNRWA has fired several employees, although the specific details of the allegations have not been made public. In response, the US and several other countries have paused funding to the organization. This funding pause comes at a critical time as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza continues to worsen.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement on Sunday confirming that nine of the 12 UNRWA staff members implicated in the allegations had been terminated. He emphasized that any UN employee involved in acts of terror would be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution. Additionally, Guterres called for an independent review into the matter. Despite the allegations, he urged countries to continue providing financial assistance to the UNRWA, which supports two million Gazans who rely on its aid for daily survival.

The allegations against the UNRWA have also led to a suspension of funding from nine countries, further exacerbating the organization’s financial crisis. However, Guterres emphasized that the employees implicated in the alleged acts should face consequences, rather than punishing the entire staff of UNRWA who work in dangerous situations to provide critical assistance to the desperate populations they serve.

UNRWA was established by the United Nations after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war to assist displaced Palestinians. The organization defines Palestinian refugees as individuals who lost their homes and means of livelihood during the 1948 War. The number of Palestinian refugees now stands at 5.9 million, but Israel has firmly rejected their right to return, citing concerns about changing the country’s Jewish character.

Since its establishment, UNRWA’s mandate has been repeatedly renewed by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency has provided aid to four generations of Palestinian refugees, covering education, healthcare, camp infrastructure, social services, and emergency assistance. Tragically, at least 152 UNRWA staffers have been killed in Gaza since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

Neither Israel nor UNRWA have provided specific details about the alleged involvement of UNRWA employees in the October 7 attacks. However, an Israeli official revealed that Israel had shared information about 12 staff members with the US and UNRWA. UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini commented that he received information about the alleged involvement of several employees and immediately terminated their contracts. In response to the IDF’s claim that UNRWA facilities were used for “terrorist purposes,” the agency stated that it had no additional information and that an investigation into these allegations would be conducted.

Hamas has criticized the decision to terminate the employees’ contracts, accusing Israel of undermining UNRWA and other humanitarian relief organizations in Gaza. The relationship between Israel and the UN has deteriorated significantly in recent months, with senior UN officials criticizing Israel’s conduct in Gaza and Israeli diplomats angered by UN calls for a ceasefire.

With several countries suspending funding for UNRWA, the organization’s ability to provide crucial assistance is at risk. The US, as the largest donor to UNRWA, had previously cut support under the Trump administration but restored it under President Biden. UNRWA Chief Lazzarini has called the funding suspensions “shocking” and urged countries to reconsider, emphasizing the humanitarian consequences of withholding support during a time of war, displacement, and political crises in the region.

In conclusion, the UNRWA is grappling with internal turmoil as allegations of staff involvement in terror attacks have led to terminations and a suspension of funding. While accountability is necessary, it is critical to ensure that the entire organization’s ability to provide essential aid to the people of Gaza is not compromised. As the crisis deepens, the international community must find a way to support the UNRWA and the millions of Palestinians who depend on its assistance.