The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is facing a significant diplomatic controversy

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4 min readJan 29, 2024

Very few international relief organizations are able to continue their work in the rapidly developing wasteland that is Gaza. Among them is the United Nations.

After the establishment of Israel in 1948 forcibly removed 700,000 Palestinians from their homes or forced them to flee, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) began providing aid in 1949. Its operations extended to Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.

Several Western governments have suspended financing amid suspicions that some UNRWA staff were complicit in the 7 October attacks on Israel. As a result, the lifesaving aid that two million Gazans rely on could soon come to an end, according to the head of the agency.

However, there is much more to the mission than just running refugee shelters and distributing the limited supplies that Israel would accept. After years of violence, isolation, and poverty, UNRWA supplies essential infrastructure and everyday necessities that Gaza has desperately needed.

It produces the textbooks used by Palestinian students and operates medical and educational facilities, such as teacher training centers and around 300 elementary schools. Approximately 13,000 people are employed by it in Gaza alone. It has played a crucial role in humanitarian efforts in Gaza as the largest UN organization there.

Additionally, it has evolved into a political football that different factions have used to their advantage. Israel views it as further solidifying the Palestinians’ position as refugees and fueling their aspirations for a right of return to the land they were forcibly displaced from in 1948 or in subsequent massacres.

Throughout the Arab-Israeli conflict, the plight of refugees has occupied centrality. A lot of Palestinians would love to go back to the land that was once Palestine — even though some of it is now in Israel. That assertion is denied by Israel, which has frequently criticized the UNRWA setup for allowing refugee status to be passed down through generations.

‘Bigotry and hatred’

In addition, the Israeli government has long criticized the agency’s curriculum and textbooks, claiming that they promote anti-Israel sentiment.

According to IMPACT-se, an Israeli watchdog group, UNRWA promoted “anti-Semitism, hatred, intolerance and lack of neutrality” in 2022 and taught students that Israel was trying to “erase Palestinian identity, steal and falsify Palestinian heritage, and erase the cultural heritage of Jerusalem.”

There was what the EU deemed as “anti-Semitic material” — “including even incitement to violence” — in the textbooks. Removing such content should be a requirement for EU financing to the Palestinian Authority, according to the European Parliament’s repeated calls. Reports on UNRWA’s educational materials were deemed “inaccurate and misleading” according to the organization, which further clarified that the majority of the books in question were not really utilized in any of its schools.

The Trump administration, which has long been supportive of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, cut off all funding to UNRWA in 2018 due to what it deemed as the agency’s “irredeemably flawed” operations.

The organization is once again in what might be a major crisis, this time with major ramifications for the 5.3 million Palestinian refugees that are registered with it, as a number of Western nations have frozen their financing. Contributing almost $340 million (£268 million) in 2022, the United States is its largest donor and one of the nations making the choice. Next on the list is Germany, which has similarly frozen its funding and sent $162 million that year.

Various UN agencies have long been accused by Israel of antisemitism, prejudice, and other serious crimes. Now, the administration is using this chance to strengthen its case and change the subject away from the conflict in Gaza, which is drawing more and more condemnation both domestically and internationally.

This is an opportunity for Israel’s Western friends to demonstrate empathy and solidarity with the Jewish state while simultaneously increasing the pressure on the Iranian regime to stop the onslaught.

The White House National Security Adviser, John Kirby, was careful to clarify that the actions of a small number of employees “should not impugn the entire agency” — an organization that, he said, had “helped save literally thousands of lives in Gaza” — even though he had temporarily frozen the funds. Their work is crucial.

Who will be allowed to pick up the pieces of a devastated land if the United Nations isn’t? Israel’s foreign minister has called UNRWA “the civilian arm of Hamas” and stated that it shouldn’t have any involvement in post-conflict Gaza.!!-%22A-m%C3%A9h%C3%A9sz%22-TELJES-FILM-MAGYARUL-VIDEA-id5953284-id668399359?country=us!!-%22Im%C3%A1dlak-ut%C3%A1lni%22-TELJES-FILM-MAGYARUL-VIDEA-id5953284-id668400375?country=us