February 28, 2024

New dispute over UNRWA in Gaza

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has become a new dividing line in the US-led Western bloc.
Keywords: UNRWA, Gaza, Israel, War, Media, Civilian, Conflict, Palestine, United Nations, Refugees
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The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has become a new dividing line in the US-led Western bloc, with Spain refusing to join the funding blockade and sending an additional €10 million to Gaza on January 31, 2024. Spain has thus tripled its funding to Palestine to around €50 million in recent months. The Spanish monarch, Felipe VI, at a meeting with accredited correspondents in Madrid, called for enabling maximum humanitarian access to Gaza to help its people, a durable ceasefire and recognition of the state of Palestine with “mutual security guarantees, full independence and recognized borders.” He urged the immediate release of Israeli hostages.

Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg, Scotland, and Ireland also refused to stop funding UNRWA. Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Edda urged countries that export weapons to Israel to “evaluate whether they are contributing to potential genocide.” He said UNRWA “represents a lifeline for millions of people suffering from tragic conditions in Gaza…” The European Union decided not to suspend funding to UNRWA, and await the results of the investigation announced by UNRWA.

British foreign secretary David Cameron proposed on Jan 30, 2024, that Britain will consider recognizing a Palestinian State, a move welcomed by the Labour Party, but regarded by observers as too tentative. On a positive note, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) disapproved of a conference in Jerusalem that called for the resettlement of Gaza, in which Israeli ministers participated. The FCDO said, “The UK’s position is clear: Gaza is occupied Palestinian territory and will be part of the future Palestinian state. Settlements are illegal. No Palestinian should be threatened with forcible displacement or relocation.”

Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni asserted, “Italy will always support an independent Palestinian state. We do not agree with Netanyahu.”

Israel quietly whittled down its claim that 12 UNRWA employees were involved in Hamas’ October 7, 2023 attacks, to just four. Previously, UNRWA Gaza Director, Greta Gunnarsdottir, informed the UN that out of the 12 persons accused by Israel, two are dead, one cannot be identified and one does not work for UNRWA. In Britain, the news that Israel had drastically downscaled its allegations against UNRWA prompted demands for full restoration of funding to the relief agency.

China’s envoy, Zhang Jun, told the Security Council, “The ICJ has taken forceful action” in “the face of repeated violations of international law” and repeated breaches of “human dignity, morality, and conscience.” He said China urges greater diplomatic efforts and an international conference on peace, together with Palestine’s full membership of the United Nations. Calling for an impartial investigation into accusations against UNRWA staff members, he said this should not divert attention from the humanitarian situation in Gaza and urged major donor countries to reconsider their decision to halt UNRWA funding. 

International Court of Justice

On the day the ICJ delivered its interim ruling, the European Union stated, “Orders of the International Court of Justice are binding on the parties and they must comply with them. The European Union expects their full, immediate, and effective implementation.”

The ICJ ordered Israel to “take all measures within its power” to prevent further bloodshed in Gaza in line with Genocide Convention obligations but did not order a cease-fire. The court also ordered Israel to take “immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance in the Gaza Strip.

British MP Richard Burgon (Labour) pointed out that the ICJ is the world’s top court and its orders are binding. He urged the UK Government to suspend arms sales to Israel and help uphold the judgment. Yet, many observers lamented that Gazans continued to be killed since the ICJ ruling. As many as 174 Palestinians were killed on the day of the ruling itself.

Human Rights

The human rights situation in Gaza remained dismal. On Jan 30, Shin Bet forces dressed in doctors’ scrubs and women’s clothes entered Ibn Sina Hospital in the West Bank city of Jenin and killed three Palestinian militants in critical care. Israel later identified the dead men as Mohammad Jalamana, a spokesperson for Hamas’s military wing, Basel Ghazawi, of Islamic Jihad, and his brother Mohammed. They were allegedly involved in planning the attack of Oct 7, 2023.

On January 30, 2024, the bodies of 30 Palestinians were found in a mass grave in a school in Beit Lahia in northern Gaza, hands cuffed behind their backs, eyes blindfolded; all had been executed. Hamas urged the prosecution of those guilty of this crime. Israel has so far not commented on the incident.

Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) officially admitted that they were pumping seawater inside the 350-400 miles long underground tunnel network, a measure that could contaminate Gaza’s entire water supply, and make agriculture impossible in the Strip. Regarding the hostages (more than a hundred) being held by Hamas in the tunnels, IDF spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said the army operations were guided by intelligence about the location of hostages.

Euro-Med Monitor’s chairman Ramy Abdu released a list of 51 women who were forcibly ‘disappeared’ and discovered to be in Israel’s Damon Prison. Video clips have surfaced almost daily since the ICJ interim ruling on Jan 26 of Israeli forces bombing civilians after advising them to move to a “safe” area. 

The Hamas attack of Oct 7, 2023, reportedly killed around 1,200 Israelis and triggered a disproportionate response from Israel, killing at least 26,900 Palestinians and injuring 65,949. Fierce bombing in civilian areas has displaced almost 85 percent of Gaza’s population and created an acute shortages of food, clean water, and medicine, according to the UN.

References:

  1. Top Spanish diplomat calls UN agency for Palestinian refugees ‘indispensable,’ vows to maintain support, Anadolu Ajansi, Jan 29, 2024. https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/top-spanish-diplomat-calls-un-agency-for-palestinian-refugees-indispensable-vows-to-maintain-support/3122073
  2. Spanish king calls for ‘durable’ cease-fire in Gaza, Anadolu Ajansi, Jan 31, 2024. https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/spanish-king-calls-for-durable-cease-fire-in-gaza/3124123#:~:text=Humanitarian%20aid%20should%20be%20provided,hostages%2C%20according%20to%20the%20report
  3. Humanitarian response in Gaza ‘completely dependent’ on UNRWA, says relief chief, UN News, Jan 31, 2024.

https://news.un.org/en/story/2024/01/1146067#:~:text=China’s%20Ambassador%2C%20Zhang%20Jun%2C%20said,ICJ%20has%20taken%20forceful%20action.&text=Now%2C%20it%20is%20time%20for,and%20achieve%20peace%2C%20he%20said.

  1. 30 Palestinians held by Israel found dead, handcuffed inside Gaza school: NGO, Anadolu Ajansi, Jan 31, 2024. https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/30-palestinians-held-by-israel-found-dead-handcuffed-inside-gaza-school-ngo/3124135#:~:text=%E2%80%9CThirty%20handcuffed%20and%20blindfolded%20bodies,Israeli%20forces%20before%20their%20death

https://t.co/D0hWRSAMCH

  1. Cameron says UK to consider recognising Palestinian state but not everyone is buying it, Middle East Eye, Jan 30, 2024. https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/uk-israel-palestine-david-cameron-state-recognition
  2. IDF confirms flooding Hamas tunnels in Gaza with seawater, Times of Israel, Jan 30, 2024. https://www.timesofisrael.com/idf-confirms-flooding-hamas-tunnels-in-gaza-with-seawater/#:~:text=Measure%20utilized%20as%20army%20works,ground%20operation%20in%20Gaza%20Strip&text=The%20Israel%20Defense%20Forces%20said,open%20secret%20for%20several%20weeks
  3. ‘Settlements Bring Security’ conference in Jerusalem: FCDO statement, Jan 30, 2024

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-statement-on-settlements-bring-security-conference-in-jerusalem#:~:text=The%20UK’s%20position%20is%20clear,with%20forcible%20displacement%20or%20relocation

  1. Israeli special forces disguised as doctors kill three militants at West Bank hospital, The Guardian, Jan 30, 2024. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/jan/30/israel-forces-disguised-women-medics-storm-hospital-jenin-west-bank
  2. Norwegian FM extends an invitation to countries that export weapons to Israel, Al Quds, Jan 31, 2024. https://www.alquds.com/en/posts/108942
  3. European Commission Statement on UNRWA, Jan 29, 2024. https://civil-protection-humanitarian-aid.ec.europa.eu/news-stories/news/european-commission-statement-unrwa-2024-01-29_en
  4. EU says it expects from Israel ‘full, immediate, effective’ implementation of ICJ ruling, Anadolu Ajansi, Jan 26, 2024. https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/eu-says-it-expects-from-israel-full-immediate-effective-implementation-of-icj-ruling/3120070

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Sandhya Jain

Sandhya Jain is a political analyst, independent researcher, and author of multiple books. She is also editor of the platform Vijayvaani

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