Antony Blinken

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is seen during an October 3, 2022 press conference in Bogota, Colombia.

(Photo: Guillermo Legaria/Getty Images)

While Dismissing ICJ Genocide Finding, US Cuts UNRWA Funds Over Israeli Allegations

"How has the U.S. reacted to these allegations against UNRWA? It suspended funding," said one British expert. "How has the U.S. reacted to the International Court of Justice ruling that there are plausible grounds that Israel is committing genocide? Nothing."

Note: This article has been updated to include comments from UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini.

The Israeli government's allegations that 12 employees of the United Nations Palestinian refugees agency were involved in Hamas' October 7 attack pushed the United States to promptly halt funding for the organization on Friday—leading journalists and advocates to note that a top international court's finding that Israel is "plausibly" committing a genocide in Gaza has not convinced the U.S. to stop arming the Israeli military.

Hours after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) announced its preliminary ruling in a case brought by South Africa, ordering Israel to stop acts of genocide in Gaza, the United Nations Relief and Public Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) announced it had fired 12 of its 30,000 workers after the Israeli Foreign Ministry called for "an urgent investigation by UNRWA regarding the involvement of its employees in the terrorist events of 10/7."

"The Israeli authorities have provided UNRWA with information about the alleged involvement of several UNRWA employees in the horrific attacks on Israel on October 7," Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the agency, said in a statement.

Lazzarini said the agency was opening a thorough investigation into the allegations, while the U.S. State Department quickly released a statement saying it had "temporarily paused additional funding for UNRWA" while the investigation takes place.

As The New York Times reported Saturday, "it's not entirely clear" what Israel's precise allegations are, how the employees were allegedly involved in the attack on southern Israel, or "what kind of work they did or how senior they were" at UNRWA.

The agency is almost wholly funded by donations from U.N. member states. After the State Department announced its suspension of some of its funding, countries including Canada, the United Kingdom, Finland, Australia, and Italy said they were following suit.

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, toldSky News that the decision by several countries to slash funding for the UNRWA "on the basis of allegations, not proven claims," was "a disgrace."

"The rest of the world is looking at this—they are aghast quite frankly," said Doyle. "How has the U.S. reacted to these allegations against UNRWA? It suspended funding. How has the U.S. reacted to the International Court of Justice ruling that there are plausible grounds that Israel is committing genocide? Nothing. Did the U.S. say it would be suspending the sale of arms, the massive bombs that have been used in the Gaza Strip to destroy civilian infrastructure, as part of [what] might constitute genocide? Not a bit. Is it continuing? Yes."

UNRWA is one of the largest employers of Palestinians in Gaza—where nearly half of adults are unemployed—and operates schools, medical clinics, and shelters while administering housing assistance, emergency loans, and overseeing other operations.

Lazzarini said Saturday that the suspension of funding would "threaten our ongoing humanitarian work across the region including and especially in the Gaza Strip" and said it was "shocking" that countries would halt funding even as the workers in question were fired—particularly since Israel and other countries were long aware of all the employees working for UNRWA:

UNRWA shares the list of all its staff with host countries every year, including Israel. The Agency never received any concerns on specific staff members.

Meanwhile, an investigation by OIOS into the heinous allegations will establish the facts. Moreover, as I announced on 17 January, an independent review by external experts will help UNRWA strengthen its framework for the strict adherence of all staff to the humanitarian principles.

I urge countries who have suspended their funding to re-consider their decisions before UNRWA is forced to suspend its humanitarian response. The lives of people in Gaza depend on this support and so does regional stability."

Cutting funding to the agency is akin to accelerating "genocide by collective punishment, cutting desperately needed relief aid," said historian and former British ambassador Craig Murray.

Doyle wasn't alone in noticing the contrast between the U.S. responses to the ICJ and to Israel's allegations.

"It took [U.S. Secretary of State] Antony Blinken about three seconds to suspend UNRWA aid based on mere allegations that 12 employees [were] linked to Hamas' attack, but despite concrete evidence that the Israel Defense Forces has indiscriminately and deliberately massacred tens of thousands of Palestinians—plausibly a genocide, ICJ said—ZERO suspension of Israel military aid," said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now.

Following the ICJ ruling, U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.), who have led lawmakers in a call for the U.S. to demand a cease-fire since October, released a statement arguing the court's findings put "the U.S. government on notice for enabling violations of the Genocide Convention."

"The Biden administration must not only affirm the legitimacy of this ruling and facilitate an immediate cease-fire—it must comply with federal and international law by suspending military assistance to the Israeli government," said Tlaib and Bush.

Like Israeli officials, the Biden administration has dismissed the findings of the ICJ, with National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby saying Friday that the court did not find Israel "guilty" of genocide.

Journalist and rights advocate Daniel Denvir pointed out that hours after the ICJ said South Africa's claim that Israel is committing genocidal acts in Gaza is "plausible," the news was dwarfed at the Times by its coverage of the UNRWA allegations.

"Israel has killed 101 UNRWA workers in Gaza and has bombed its schools and camps. Guess what you get when you google UNRWA & Israel now?" said Al Jazeera's Sana Saeed.

Historian Remi Brulin noted that Israel has previously designated Palestinian civil rights organizations as terrorist groups "on wholly spurious grounds."

"None of this necessarily means that the specific allegations about these 12 UNRWA members are untrue," said Brulin. "But evidence needs to be provided. And it is quite remarkable that the U.S. could decide so quickly that cutting all funds to UNRWA was the correct, necessary measure here."

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.