Genocide prevention group warns of UNRWA funding threat to Gaza

Genocide prevention group warns of UNRWA funding threat to Gaza
The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention has said that the suspension of aid to the UN agency marks a serious esclation in the crisis in Gaza.
3 min read
02 February, 2024
The Lemkin Institute statement said that the suspension of funding for UNRWA is a 'serious escalation' of the crisis in Gaza [Getty]

A leading genocide prevention group has sounded the alarm over threats to the future of the UN's Palestine refugee agency, saying that "genocidal acts against Palestinians" will continue unless funding to the organisation is reinstated.

The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention said it was "deeply concerned" by the decision of several countries - including the US, UK, and Germany - to suspend funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

The statement, issued on 31 January, said that the suspension of support to UNRWA was a "serious escalation" of the crisis in Gaza.

The decision could also violate an order issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) during South Africa’s genocide case against Israel, and violates the countries’ responsibilities under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the group said.

"It represents a shift by several countries from potential complicity in genocide to direct involvement in engineered famine," the institute's statement read. 

"We further warn that withdrawing funding for UNRWA functions as a fulcrum by which genocidal acts against Palestinians will spread from Gaza to other critical, endangered zones for Palestinian life."

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The US, Australia, Canada, Italy, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the UK, and the Scottish government suspended funding to UNRWA, one of the leading aid agencies in the besieged enclave, following allegations from Israel that 12 of its 30,000 employees participated in the 7 October attacks on southern Israel.

Israel is yet to provide further details or evidence on the claims, and has since said that six individuals from the agency were involved in the 7 October attack. UNRWA said that they have launched their own investigation into the allegations. 

The suspension of funding comes as Gaza is plunged into a deep humanitarian crisis after Israel began cutting off the supply of all fuel, aid, electricity, and water to Gaza on 9 October. 

The statement from the Lemkin Institute cites a number of scholars and officials who have condemned the suspension of funding to UNRWA, and the devastating effect this would further have on Palestinians. 

Genocide case against Israel 

The statement comes a week after the ICJ delivered an interim ruling calling on Israel to refrain from impeding the delivery of aid into Gaza and improve the humanitarian situation. 

The ruling ordered Israel to take all measures within its power to prevent acts of genocide in the besieged enclave and to punish incitement to genocide.

However by obstructing the work of UNRWA and continuing attacks on their staff in Gaza, Israel may be violating the ICJ’s orders, the Lemkin Institute said.

"The Lemkin Institute worries this action is timed in such a way to be made in retaliation against the ICJ’s order for preventative measures in South Africa v. Israel," the statement said. 

The organisation said this may be part of Israel's "long-term goal of Israeli factions that hope to strip refugee status from UNRWA’s constituent populations".

UNRWA was established in 1949, following the Nakba (or catastrophe) in which 750,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes by Zionist militias during the creation of Israel.

The organisation was  set up to provide healthcare, education and humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, the occupied West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.