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Palestinians evacuate wounded after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, on October 12 2023Anas-Mohammed/Shutterstock.com

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(LifeSiteNews) — On April 20, an independent report commissioned by the United Nations found that Israel had supplied “no evidence” to back its claims that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was “totally infiltrated by Hamas.”

The claim, made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a U.N. assembly on January 31, was backed by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who said the charge was “very, very credible.”

U.S. backing for the claims led to the suspension of funding for UNRWA, which is widely acknowledged to be the main provider of food, water, and medical supplies to the Palestinians in Gaza. According to Israeli media, this was the aim of an Israeli “campaign” to defund the only agency capable of preventing famine in Gaza.

READ: Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem thanks LifeSite readers for emergency aid to Gaza

Following the publication of the report, authored by the former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna and published by the U.N. here, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on April 24 that: “Top Israeli Officials Acknowledge Failure of Campaign to Halt UNRWA International Funding.”

The admission comes after the U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for a “quantum leap” in humanitarian funding to “avert imminent famine, and further preventable deaths.”

On the same day, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N. told the assembly “the time has come to defund UNRWA,” saying “UNRWA is giving the Palestinians destructive hope that Israel can be destroyed.”

Despite the collapse of widespread support for Israel’s campaign against UNRWA, it appears to be determined to continue its effort to cut off this lifeline to the Palestinians alongside its traditional allies, the U.S. and the U.K.

This is the aim of the “campaign” announced in the Israeli press to smear and defund the aid agency which is keeping Palestinians barely alive.

U.S. support for claims

Blinken’s remarks of unqualified support for the Israeli allegations came in response to a dossier created by Israeli intelligence. In it, 12 UNRWA members were said to have taken part in Operation Aqsa Flood on October 7.

It is now alleged that the contents of the dossier were generated in part by confessions forced through torture.

Blinken gave this opinion during a press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on January 29: “We haven’t had the ability to investigate [the allegations] ourselves. But they are highly, highly credible.”

READ: Col. Douglas Macgregor torches Trump over support for bill funding wars in Ukraine and Israel

UNRWA ‘at breaking point’

As the Times of Israel reported, the groundless allegations which Blinken found “highly credible” led to the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan all halting funds to the only relief agency capable of averting what the U.N. has called a “man-made famine” in Gaza.

As a result, the head of UNRWA, Philip Lazzarini, warned weeks later that the agency “was at breaking point” and would soon run out of money to provide water, food and medicine in the ruins of Gaza.

Israel announced on March 24 that it “would no longer approve UNRWA food aid to northern Gaza.” Lazzarini responded, “This is outrageous & makes it intentional to obstruct lifesaving assistance during a man-made famine.”

With Israeli cooperation halted, UNRWA continues to attempt to deliver vital supplies to the stricken population of Gaza – in defiance of the danger to aid workers, as evidenced by the killing of the World Central kitchen aid workers in early April.

‘Intentional’ killing of aid workers

The IDF struck their convoy three times, as Haaretz reported, killing one Palestinian, three Britons, and a U.S. citizen – as well as two further aid workers from Poland and Australia.

The strike on a clearly marked aid vehicle, traveling on an approved route, came after the Israeli authorities were notified of the convoy. Speaking of the attack, Benjamin Netanyahu said it was a “tragic case of our forces unintentionally hitting innocent people in the Gaza Strip. This happens in war, and we will investigate it to the end.”

The investigation concluded with two officers fired, three more reprimanded, and a statement from the Netanyahu government reported by CBS News on April 5.

“Despite the deaths of the aid workers, however, a spokesperson for Israel’s government insisted Thursday that his country was setting a ‘new gold standard’ in preventing civilian casualties,” the report said.

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders portrayed a far more disturbing reality, saying in February that Israel intentionally targets its own and other aid workers. Christopher Lockyear, its secretary general, told the U.N. Security Council on February 22:

This is all too familiar – Israeli forces have attacked our convoys, detained our staff, and bulldozed our vehicles, and hospitals have been bombed and raided. Now, for a second time, one of our staff shelters has been hit. This pattern of attacks is either intentional or indicative of reckless incompetence.

He spoke of his “fear … rooted in experience” that Israel will launch a further assault on the Gazan city of Rafah:

As I speak, more than 1.5 million people are trapped in Rafah. People violently forced to this strip of land in southern Gaza are bearing the brunt of Israel’s military campaign. 

We live in fear of a ground invasion.

With a million-and-a-half Palestinians concentrated in a city built for 150,000 inhabitants, and with Israel now saying an assault on Rafah “looms,” Lockyear’s fears seem justified.

READ: How the US government used Ukrainian neo-Nazis to build up anti-Russian sentiment

U.S., U.K. continue funding freeze

Despite the Israeli claims having been found to be baseless, the U.S. and U.K. restrictions on funding UNRWA remain in place. Switzerland has also announced it will not resume funding to UNRWA “until Hamas lays down its arms,” echoing the false claims the aid agency is “infiltrated” by the group.

The U.S. Special Envoy for Humanitarian Issues recently said the risk of famine was “very high” in Gaza. The Israelis acknowledged the mounting catastrophe arising from the starvation of two million Gazans, but said the U.N. was to blame. CBS, who reported the Israeli response, also noted “a third of children under the age of two in Gaza are currently acutely malnourished, according to the U.N. children’s charity UNICEF.”

Only UNRWA could ‘stave off famine’

How important is UNRWA in preventing mass starvation? Conor Echols reported for Responsible Statecraft on April 2 that UNRWA is “the only aid agency that could stave off famine in Gaza faces an existential crisis.”

Citing “U.S., Israeli attacks” which have pushed UNRWA “toward collapse,” he warns along with many others of a looming famine in Gaza.

As a result of the unevidenced Israeli claims, the U.S. Congress passed a bill last month halting all funding to UNRWA until March 2025.

Canada and Sweden resumed UNRWA funding on the March 9, as witnesses came forward from UNRWA to claim the Israelis had forced their confessions by torture.

On March 14, Janez Lenarčič, the head of humanitarian aid and crisis management at the European Commission, said he had seen no evidence of Israel’s claims, nor had any other nation been supplied with evidence by Israel.

Reuters reported him saying, “Even if those allegations, at the end of the day, prove to be true, that doesn’t mean that UNRWA is the perpetrator.”

Australia followed suit in resuming UNRWA funding the next day, March 15, citing the recognition that “we have children and families who are starving. We have a capacity … to assist them and we know that UNRWA is central and vital to delivering that assistance.”

Germany resumed “working with UNRWA” on April 24, following a similar move by Japan. Only the U.K., the U.S., and Switzerland remain committed to the undeclared policy of deliberate starvation of the Palestinians.

When the State Department cannot see

Whilst it was swift to rate Israeli claims as credible without evidence, the U.S. State Department simply “has not seen” testimony from UNRWA workers which states they were tortured to produce confessions for the Israeli dossier.

A Times of Israel piece from March 8 describes the claims, recorded in an unpublished UNRWA report of February 2024 “seen by Reuters”:

The document says several UNRWA Palestinian staffers had been detained by the Israeli army, and added that the ill-treatment and abuse they said they had experienced included severe physical beatings, waterboarding, and threats of harm to family members.

The report continued with a description of methods used against the general Palestinian population:

In addition to the alleged abuse endured by UNRWA staff members, Palestinian detainees more broadly described allegations of abuse, including beatings, humiliation, threats, dog attacks, sexual violence, and deaths of detainees denied medical treatment.

So how did the State Department respond to these allegations? On March 18, The Intercept’s Ryan Grim asked deputy State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel to respond to the claim that UNRWA staff members “were tortured” to extract confessions of involvement with Hamas.

Grim said to the State Department spokesman:

When you originally talked about the allegations against the 12 staff, you have said that UNRWA itself was the one who forwarded those allegations alone. You said you found them credible, but since then UNRWA itself has said that its staff were tortured by Israel in order to get some of those confessions extracted.

Grim then asked:

Does that change your view of the evidence that was presented by Israel, and if UNRWA was credible enough for you believe the allegations the first time, is UNRWA credible enough when they make an allegation of torture against its staff?

Patel replied, ‘I’ve not seen that reporting, Ryan,’ adding that “we continue to find the allegations that were laid out a number of months ago to be credible.”

This came despite the report by Channel Four’s Lindsey Hilsum on February 5 that the Israeli dossier produced as a result of the alleged torture contained “no evidence” for the claims that UNRWA members were involved in the October 7th attacks.

READ: Warnings of ‘mass starvation’ in Gaza as Western powers freeze UN relief funds

Hilsum said the dossier, which she had seen, “provides no evidence to support its explosive new claim that U.N. staff were involved in the terror attacks on Israel.”

In addition, the new U.N. report states that Israel did not respond to letters from UNRWA in March and April requesting names and evidence to support the claims made in the dossier.

Following these allegations, a U.N. report later in March documented claims of a campaign of harassment of UNRWA workers in the West Bank by Israeli forces.

With Israel’s leader and its officials alleging that UNRWA is a terrorist organization, it is noteworthy that this line of attack has deep roots.

A decades-long campaign

The campaign to undermine and destroy the main provider of clean water, medicine, and food aid to the Palestinians has been ongoing for almost 20 years.

This 2007 report from the “contemporary conservative” U.S. lobby group the Jewish Policy Center charged that UNRWA

has been providing food, medicine, and social services to the Palestinian people for 57 years. Unfortunately, UNRWA has never taken steps to withhold assistance to extremist groups. In some cases, it has cooperated openly with terrorists. Today, as UNRWA provides assistance in Gaza, it is directly providing financial and material support to the Hamas terrorist organization.

Aside from the aim of restricting aid and provoking mass starvation, one further object of the self-confessed Israeli campaign to destroy UNRWA may be to prevent the emergence of news such as that broken by its media adviser on April 21.

“Every ten minutes a child is killed in Gaza, and every day 67 women are killed, including 37 mothers. We are talking about hundreds of orphans. There are about 18,000 orphans who have lost everything; family, love and life,” said Adnan Abu Hasna in an interview reported by Middle East Monitor.

He claimed that only “a third” of the volume of aid trucks was now able to reach those in need, and that the Israeli operation prevents access to UNRWA warehouses formerly used by the rest of the international aid organizations.

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Last legs

The damage done by what The Cradle called “the Israeli smear campaign” may prove to be irreparable. With U.S. funding suspended for almost a year, there seems no way to make good the $450 million loss suffered by UNRWA as a result of the suspension of its funding.

British Tory MPs have led calls to keep the funding freeze in place, depriving UNRWA of another of its major funders. The U.S. was formerly the number one donor to the aid agency.

This week, UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini gave his summary of events:

UNRWA is under constant attack. Constant pressure, constant calls of dismantling and constant social media assassination.

I told the UN Security council last week that the attacks on UNRWA have nothing to do with neutrality issues.

In reality they are motivated by the objective to strip the Palestinians of their refugee status.

Whilst he said UNRWA had sufficient funds to operate through June to July of this year, he added “it is very precarious. We continue to function hand-to-mouth.”

Israel has been determined to prevent these hands reaching the mouths in need. If its policies and ground assault continue with U.S. backing, there will be fewer hands and mouths altogether. 

Given the evidence, this seems to be the solution towards which the Israeli campaign is moving.

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