Why does Israel seek to destroy UNRWA?

Immediately after the International Court of Justice’s 26 January ruling that Israel is plausibly committing acts of genocide in Gaza, Israel baselessly accused a handful of employees of the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) of participating in the 7 October operation.

These allegations were based on confessions that were likely obtained under torture of Palestinian detainees. Nevertheless, the United States pulled its funding of UNRWA, prompting other countries to do the same.

Slowly, Canada, Sweden and Australia – among others – have restored their funding. But the United States, in a bipartisan effort, continues to refuse to resume funding the agency that provides a humanitarian lifeline to Palestinian refugees not just in Gaza, but also in the occupied West Bank, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

Israel’s current attacks on the agency are paradoxical, explains Lex Takkenberg.

It is intent on getting rid of an organization that actually relieves it of a major responsibility. As the occupier, Israel is mandated to provide aid to the occupied under international law.

Takkenberg is a senior adviser with the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development and a lecturer at the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs at Fordham University.

For decades, he worked at UNRWA. He was the first chief of its Ethics Office and held various other positions there.

“What we now see is the effect of the extreme right-wing coalition that thinks, well, UNRWA is a manifestation of the international community’s permanent responsibility for the unresolved question of Palestine, including the refugee issue. And if we do away with UNRWA, that suits our Zionist agenda,” Takkenberg tells us on The Electronic Intifada Podcast.

He discussed the history and context of Israel’s attacks on the agency – and the various efforts over the last seven decades to thwart or prevent implementation of the right of return for Palestine refugees.

Articles we discussed

Video production by Tamara Nassar

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Excellent overview of the UNRWA oversight system, but unfortunate that he does not immediately highlight that staff and the Agency should not be have penalized or taken action on unproven allegations, but the agency should’ve been allowed to complete its investigations. There was no overwhelming evidence that could’ve led to summary dismissal.

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).