Israel's parliament moves to designate UNRWA as a 'terrorist organisation'

Israel's parliament moves to designate UNRWA as a 'terrorist organisation'
After its attempts to defund UNRWA failed, Israel could now designate the Palestine refugee agency as a terrorist organisation.
3 min read
27 May, 2024
Israel has launched a campaign to frame UNRWA as being in league with Hamas [Getty]

The Israeli parliament will hold a preliminary vote designating the UN's Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA as a terrorist organisation, The Jerusalem Post reported on Sunday.

The Knesset will vote in the first reading on the bill on Wednesday, the report said.

If the bill passes, Israel will then sever all ties with the body that is the main relief service provider for 5.9 Palestinian refugees across the Middle East.

"The purpose of this bill is to declare UNRWA as a terrorist organization for all intents and purposes as well as order the termination of the relations [and the cooperation] of the State of Israel with the agency, either directly or indirectly," Yisrael Beiteinu MK Yulia Malinovksy wrote in the introduction to the bill, which she authored.

The legislative push against UNRWA from Israel comes as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the wider international community have criticised Israel for blocking the entry and distribution of humanitarian aid in Gaza, leading to famine.

Just hours after the ICJ ruled that Israel was plausibly committing genocide in Gaza in January, Israel claimed that several UNRWA members had been involved in the events of 7 October, prompting many of its allies to cut funding to the UN agency. 

However, Israel has not been able to back up these claims with hard evidence, leading many countries, such as major Israeli allies Germany and Australia, to reinstate funding to the organisation.

Only the US, UK, Lithuania, Netherlands and Austria continue to withhold funds until the results of an external investigation are published.

Israel has long waged a veritable war against UNRWA, which provides a host of vital services for Palestinian refugees, including around two million people in Gaza. This includes hundreds of documented attacks on its facilities in Gaza, with over 188 UNRWA staff killed by the Israeli military during its current war on Gaza and over 300 people in total being killed due to attacks on the agency's facilities.

Israeli officials have openly said they want to destroy UNRWA and stop it from providing services to millions of Palestinian refugees. In January, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said UNRWA was "the civilian arm of Hamas in Gaza".

If the legislation passes, Israel could openly target UNRWA facilities and staff, destroying the organisation's capability to provide aid and other vital provisions to Palestinians. 

Adnan Abu Hasna, UNRWA’s media advisor in Gaza, stated that no country in the world has the right to declare a major UN organization as a terrorist entity, emphasising that such an action constitutes a dangerous escalation with wide-reaching and potentially devastating consequences.

He pointed out that UNRWA is an organisation established by a decision of the UN General Assembly, and it remains the best vehicle for the delivery of aid – such as food, education, and health services – to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.