An UNRWA staffer holds a traumatized Palestinian baby in Gaza.

An UNRWA staffer holds a traumatized Palestinian baby in Gaza on March 13, 2023.

(Photo: UNRWA/Facebook)

US Pariah Status Grows as Finland Resumes UNRWA Funding

"Collectively punishing millions of Palestinians over allegations concerning a few individuals is never acceptable," said one campaigner. "Other E.U. member states must follow."

As the United States doubled down on banning funds for the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, Finland said Friday that it would resume contributions to the lifesaving organization in an implicit rebuke of unsubstantiated Israeli claims—reportedly extracted via torture—that staff members were involved in the October 7 attacks.

Finnish Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Ville Tavio announced during a press conference that the country's €5 million ($5.4 million) annual contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) would be reinstated, with 10% of the funding reserved for "risk management."

"Improving UNRWA's risk management, i.e. starting to prevent abuses and close supervision, gives us sufficient guarantees at this stage from the perspective of risk management that support can continue," said Tavio. "As a result, UNRWA's support for this year will proceed."

"In the future, UNRWA will also require annual bilateral discussions with Finland on how to improve the efficiency of risk management," the minister added. "It is of paramount importance to ensure that our money does not end up benefiting terrorism."

Led by the United States, more than a dozen nations including Finland suspended UNRWA funding after Israeli officials accused 12 of the agency's 13,000 employees in Gaza of participating in the Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini terminated nine of the 12 employees accused by Israel. However, Lazzarini later admitted to having no evidence to support their firing, calling the terminations an act of "reverse due process." An Israeli dossier cited by countries suspending UNRWA funding also contained no concrete evidence of staff involvement in the October 7 attacks.

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) earlier this week called Israeli claims that UNRWA is a Hamas proxy "flat-out lies."

UNRWA employees say they were tortured into making false confessions about involvement in Hamas and October 7. The staffers accuse Israeli interrogators of severely beating and waterboarding them, as well as threatening to harm their relatives.

The European Union and nations including Canada, Sweden, Denmark, and Australia subsequently resumed funding for UNRWA, while other contributors including Saudi Arabia increased their donations.

"For the time being there is no alternative to UNRWA," Danish Minister for Development Cooperation Dan Jørgensen said earlier this week.

The United States, however, continues to withhold UNRWA contributions, as do other nations including Japan, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. An agreement reached earlier this week between Congress and the White House as part of a $1.1 trillion militarized spending package extends the ban on UNRWA funding until next March.

On Friday, the House of Representatives voted 286-134 on a bill sanctioning UNRWA while giving Israel $3.8 billion in armed aid. The Biden administration is also seeking an additional $14.3 billion in armed assistance for Israel while repeatedly sidestepping Congress to expedite emergency weapons shipments.

UNRWA supports Palestinian refugees not only in Gaza and the illegally occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, but also in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. In Gaza, agency staff provide shelter, food, water, clothing, blankets, and other essential humanitarian assistance amid Israel's genocidal war and siege, which have killed and maimed more than 113,000 Palestinians while displacing around 90% of the embattled strip's 2.3 million people. With deadly starvation spreading rapidly in Gaza, the agency's work is more needed than ever.

It's perilous work. According to figures from the Aid Worker Security Database, at least 196 humanitarian workers—most of them UNRWA staffers in Gaza—have been killed in Palestine since last October. One in every 100 UNRWA workers in Gaza has been killed by Israeli bombs and bullets, the highest toll in United Nations history.

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