UNRWA staff in Gaza 'fear for their lives', strongly deny Israel's accusations
Israel accused, in a file prepared by its intelligence service (Mossad), some employees of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) of participating in the Hamas-led 7 October attack on Israeli military bases and civilian settlements in and around the "Gaza envelope".
According to Israeli claims, 190 UNRWA employees, including teachers, belong to Hamas or Islamic Jihad, and local Israeli and international media agencies published pictures of 11 UNRWA employees who were accused of being in the Palestinian resistance groups and participated in the 7 October attack.
As a result of these as-of-yet unproven allegations, about 11 Western countries, including the United States, ceased funding the United Nations agency. UNRWA, for its part, and seemingly to avoid further sanctions, dismissed some of its employees until the completion of internal investigations.
Mohammed, one of the UNRWA employees being targetted and who preferred to remain anonymous while speaking to The New Arab, was stunned when he was informed by UNRWA that he had been dismissed from his job at a school in Gaza City and is currently being investigated.
"I am shocked because I was fired from my job. I never belonged to any Palestinian faction or was involved in any military actions in the Gaza Strip," he stressed to The New Arab.
"I am ready for any internal investigations, and I can prove my innocence of the Israeli charges," he added.
But what is immensely concerning for Mohammed, a father of four children and the only breadwinner for his elderly parents, is that his life is now in danger, and he is overwhelmed by the fear that the Israeli army will target him and his family.
"In this war, Israel has adopted a policy of genocide against every person it claims is wanted and all members of his family (...) The situation is terrifying, and none of us can protect ourselves from death or even from Israel's retaliatory measures," he remarked.
Sahar, a Palestinian woman from the city of Rafah, shares Mohammed's concern about her brother's life since he is accused by Israel of helping Palestinian militants kidnap and bring one of the captured Israelis to the Gaza Strip. Her brother was recently injured by an Israeli bombing on her family's home about two weeks ago.
"Because of Israeli allegations, we lost everything in our lives: home, security, and reassurance... My brother is currently fighting death while we are fighting against the terror that haunts us if the Israeli army decides to carry out more air strikes against us," Sahar said to TNA.
According to Sahar, her brother received a text message via email stating that he was suspended from work and that he had been referred for investigations regarding Israeli allegations of his involvement in activities on behalf of the Hamas movement.
"My brother has never belonged to Hamas, and he is politically independent... He is a normal person who loves life and lives it simply and spontaneously, without any chronicity or extremism," she explained.
Recently, Israel has launched an overarching campaign against UNRWA, accusing it of "covering up" what it claims are "Hamas crimes against Israeli civilians."
Similarly, Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz declared that UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini should resign. "UNRWA employees participated in the October 7th massacre (…) Lazzarini must draw conclusions and resign," he added.
For its part, UNRWA vehemently denied the Israeli accusations, stressing that it is only a relief organisation and emphasised that it is conducting official investigations into the Israeli allegations and will hold those involved accountable legally if Israel's claims have any merit.
At the same time, UNRWA strongly denounced the decision by several Western countries to suspend funding, stressing that this would have catastrophic consequences, mainly since more than two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip depend on it to obtain aid daily in light of the continuing Israeli war.
In repeated statements, the UN agency has said that it will be unable to continue its operations in Gaza and throughout the region beyond the end of February if funding is not resumed.
Hindiyah Al-Shanti, a Palestinian refugee who was displaced to the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, expressed her fears of dying of starvation if she was unable to obtain "the food aid that UNRWA has provided to them on a daily basis since the outbreak of the war."
The 45-year-old mother of seven children said to TNA, "If UNRWA stops distributing aid, this means that I and my children will definitely die of hunger (...) We do not have any source of income in light of this fierce war."
UNRWA was established to help Palestinian refugees who were forcibly displaced by Zionist forces during the establishment of Israel in Palestine in 1948.
UNRWA provides life-saving services to about 5.6 million Palestinian refugees in its five fields of operation, including Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, as well as the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip.