British-Palestinian man brings legal case against UK govt over UNWRA defunding

British-Palestinian man brings legal case against UK govt over UNWRA defunding
A British-Palestinian man whose family are in Gaza is bringing a legal case against the government for its suspension of funding to UNRWA.
4 min read
29 March, 2024
The UK government has yet to reinstate funding to UNRWA despite the absence of evidence to support Israel's allegations [GETTY]

The British government faces a legal challenge from a British citizen over its defunding of UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, as the aid agency reels from Israel's unfounded allegations that its employees were involved in the 7 October Hamas attack.

On Wednesday, London-based law firm Bindmans LLP reported sending a letter to Foreign Secretary David Cameron on behalf of their client, a British-Palestinian man concerned for his family's welfare, refugees in Gaza.

On January 27, Rishi Sunak's government, along with the US and European Union, announced the suspension of funding to the agency following Israel's claim that 12 UNRWA staff members participated in the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on 7 October.

Israel has yet to provide evidence to support its allegation against the staff members, who were immediately dismissed by UNRWA. EU officials, aid agencies and US intelligence services have cast doubt over Israel's claims which some have labelled a smear campaign to discredit the agency.

The legal challenge is seeking the restoration of funding to UNRWA and argues that the government's decision was taken without due consideration of evidence, international obligations or based on Foreign, Commonwealth and Development office policies.

If the government does not announce the restoration of funding to UNRWA by 2 April, a judicial review will be launched.

Alice Hardy, lawyer and Bindmans partner told The New Arab that their client decided to take legal action because his family, like the majority of those in Gaza, is in "a desperate situation" and dependent on aid provided by UNRWA.

"We've sent a pre-action letter on his behalf setting out why the decision to withdraw funding to UNRWA, the largest provider of humanitarian assistance to Gaza, appears to be unlawful, [and] asks the Government to reinstate funding as soon as possible," Hardy said.

"We hope that the Foreign Secretary will treat it with the seriousness it deserves".

The individual's parents are UNRWA-registered refugees in Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, a neighbourhood which has been repeatedly bombed by Israel, including one attack in November which killed nearly 200 people and injured over 770.

Five and a half months of war alongside Israel's tight control over aid supplies have left the 2.3 million population on the brink of famine. Gaza's health ministry has said that at least 30 people, including children and the elderly, have died from dehydration and malnutrition in recent weeks.

In February, UNRWA director Philippe Lazzarini said that Israel was out to destroy the organisation, which is the main agency operating in Gaza.

"Right now we are dealing with an expanded, concerted campaign by Israel aimed at destroying UNRWA," he told the Swiss newspaper group Tamedia.

"It is a long-term political goal because it is believed that if the aid agency is abolished, the status of the Palestinian refugees will be resolved once and for all - and with it, the right of return. There is a much larger political goal behind this," Lazzarini said.

Several donors, including the European Union, Australia, Canada and most recently Japan, have reinstated their funding programs after saying they were satisfied with the UN's interim report on the allegations.

The UK has yet to follow suit, despite urgent calls from UNRWA, who has warned that the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon are at risk if funds dry up.

Earlier this month, Cameron told the UK's House of Lords that UNRWA is the only body capable of delivering aid in Gaza, but did not give an explanation as to the funding suspension.

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Hardy said that the suspension contradicts the government's own international development policies.

"The UK government's strategy for international development sets out four priorities, including to: 'provide life-saving humanitarian assistance and work to prevent the worst forms of human suffering'.

"Given the catastrophic situation in Gaza, including an impending, man-made famine, the ongoing decision to cease funding to UNRWA is not only morally wrong but flies in the face of that strategy".

The agency is facing added pressure after the US Congress passed a bill last week which will block millions of dollars of funding to UNRWA until March 2025.

Following the suspension, the UK government has said it is waiting on two UN inquiry assessments. An interim report led by a former French foreign minister was presented to the UN Secretary General on 20 March, and a full report will be made public in mid-April.