UNRWA logo (Getty)

In a letter to the President of the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, February 22, 2024, Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), warned that the agency had reached a “breaking point.”

This latest appeal came after countries suspended their support for UNRWA.

So what is the story and why this warning?

The Israeli propaganda machine launches an inflammatory speech against the most important UN agency, UNRWA, which is responsible for the relief and work of Palestinian refugees.

The essence of the Israeli media discourse is based on the fact that the organization’s continued work leads to the prolongation of the “Palestinian refugee problem,” and that the existence of this international organization is an obstacle to “peace.”

The behavior of this international organization is consistent with the “terrorist” behavior of the Hamas movement.

This propaganda cannot constitute any harm to the legal status of millions of Palestinian refugees (5.9 million Palestinian refugees), or affect their inalienable rights, nor can they remain refugees forever.

It is not difficult to discover that Western countries provide support to Israel, whether in conditions of peace or war, and that they are the ones who prolonged the refugee crisis and deepened their suffering over 7 decades and more.

With the war of extermination waged by Israel against 2.3 million people in the Gaza Strip (72% of whom are refugees), 17 countries - in addition to the European Union - suspended their aid to UNRWA.

These countries cover 78.4% of UNRWA’s total annual resources, according to the latest announced budget (2022);

That is about $921 million out of a total of $1175 million.

This was done under the pretext of the Israeli claim that 12 UNRWA employees in the Gaza Strip had participated in the attack on October 7, 2023.

UNRWA has been subjected to direct and clear Israeli targeting for years, despite the importance of its role for millions of refugees.

Israel succeeded in pushing 17 countries - most of them Western - to suspend their funding to UNRWA.

There are ten urgent observations that we present in this regard, which are:

There are digital data indicating that suspending UNRWA funding has fundamental repercussions related to the lives of millions of Palestinian refugees in all their places of residence, including education, health, relief, and infrastructure. This will lead to an increase in the rate of poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment, which may lead to the dispersion of refugees more and more, and may push them To migrate to Western countries.

In this regard, Western countries are concerned with addressing the causes of migration and addressing its roots.

The inability of the International Agency to fulfill its international obligations towards refugees will have a significant impact on the host countries that are essentially suffering from severe and accumulated economic and social crises, and are practically unable to meet their needs, which may lead to social and political unrest, and it is also expected that This affects the security and stability of the region, including the security of the occupying state.

Suspending funding to UNRWA – due to an act that may have been committed by individuals that would affect millions of refugees – is prohibited under international law, is classified as a form of “collective punishment” and may therefore amount to a war crime.

This decision is illegal and unethical;

Because countries falling under the framework of the United Nations have pledges and obligations towards other peoples during humanitarian crises resulting from disasters, earthquakes and wars.

What is the situation with refugees since 1948?

This decision will cause severe harm to the refugees in the five UNRWA areas of operation, especially to the Palestinian refugees and displaced persons in the Gaza Strip.

Because of the war of extermination waged by Israel there.

It is worth noting that those who depend entirely on UNRWA in the Gaza Strip now have essentially been living under an illegal Israeli siege since 2007. This stifling and unjust siege has destroyed the hopes and ambitions of refugee youth, and has killed their humanity.

The countries that suspended their funding to UNRWA made a mistake three times;

Once when it initially contributed to creating a Palestinian refugee crisis and allowed the establishment of the State of Israel on the ruins of the rights and land of the people of Palestine, without any legal basis, and its inability or perhaps unwillingness over the course of decades to return them to their cities and villages from which they were displaced during the Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967. .

The second time was when it allowed this international organization to beg for crumbs of money for the relief and work of Palestinian refugees, making it, and the refugees it serves, vulnerable to blackmail and humiliation alike.

The third time was when she was led into the occupation’s deception and believed its lies in the most difficult humanitarian circumstances.

There are indications and information indicating that Israel, since the Oslo Accords in 1993, has begun to promote that UNRWA no longer has a real need, and that the world must be concerned with the establishment of a Palestinian state, which will be discussed five years after this agreement!

It has made plans for this, as more than one official has stated publicly.

Israel has taken advantage of the war of annihilation it is waging against the Gaza Strip.

To continue its campaign against UNRWA.

Israel does not want the King Witness to remain alive, which is a strategic Israeli goal that it does not hesitate to achieve. It even considers the refugee issue to be an obstacle to normalization processes with Arab countries.

Replacing UNRWA with any other international body is unacceptable, for several reasons, the most important of which is that UNRWA has deep experience spanning decades, works through its large human cadre (33,000 employees), and has a long record of dealing well with the needs of refugees.

UNRWA also has a political and legal meaning linked to the longest refugee crisis in modern history, in addition to the service goal it performs towards refugees (Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank, in addition to occupied Jerusalem).

While other international organizations do not have the advantages that UNRWA possesses, neither politically, nor legally, nor in services, it does not confirm the legal status of Palestinian refugees.

The suspension of funding by donor countries coincides with the decision of the International Court of Justice, which displeased Israel, which is considered a clear reaction from these countries in favor of Israel.

This court accepted the South African request, and considered that there are strong indications that Israel has committed genocide, and that Israel is actually accused, not verbally.

These countries have turned a blind eye to the occupation's crimes against United Nations centers, and the martyrdom of more than 150 UN employees, in addition to targeting the refugee shelters of the agency itself, and the martyrdom and wounding of hundreds of them.

While the perpetrator is known (which is Israel) and does not require a lot of effort and investigative research, there are no steps, no procedures, no penalties, not even formalities.

On the other hand, these countries impose collective punishment on 5.9 million refugees.

Due to the behavior of individuals (12 employees out of 30,000 employees), investigations have not proven that they committed what is considered a violation of “neutrality.”

What logic is this?!

Is this comment consistent with states’ obligations and respect for United Nations bodies, including the United Nations General Assembly, which established UNRWA, or the International Court of Justice, which called for the necessity of introducing humanitarian aid?

It is sad and sad that the Arab countries’ financial and in-kind contributions amount to (5.1%) to the UNRWA Fund, according to UNRWA’s financial report for the year 2022, out of total international contributions.

This percentage does not contribute to meeting the needs of refugees, and this percentage cannot compensate for the significant shortfall if the major countries go ahead with their decision to suspend funding (78%).

The question that arises is: Why is this contribution so small? And why are the Palestinian Arab refugees left to blackmail Western countries?

Israeli behavior towards the international organization or countries' suspension of their financial contributions cannot change the legal status of UNRWA, which was established by a resolution issued by the General Assembly.

The decision cannot be canceled except by a similar decision.

Therefore, these measures do not change the legal mandate of UNRWA.

The expected effect of all this noise or blackmail is to render this international organization practically unable to fulfill its international obligations, which may render this organization impotent.

With the passage of time, Israel and the Western countries supporting Israel may take advantage of an appropriate international opportunity to present the project to the General Assembly to abolish UNRWA and replace it with another international body.

UNRWA is an expression of international will.

The Member States of the United Nations, through the United Nations General Assembly, have mandated UNRWA to provide assistance and protection to Palestine refugees until a just and lasting political solution is found that addresses their plight.

UNRWA is linked to Resolution 194, a resolution issued by the United Nations General Assembly.

What is required?

The countries that suspended funding for UNRWA should immediately reconsider their decision, and even increase their financial contributions to fill the chronic deficit, ensure the continuation of the agency’s work, and provide its vital services to refugees.

These countries, with their political and economic influence, should make diplomatic efforts to link UNRWA’s budget to the budget of the United Nations itself.

These countries must respect the decision of the International Court of Justice issued in January 2024, which called for providing humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza, and not empty it of its content or circumvent it.

This behavior constitutes an insult to the United Nations and its bodies, especially the International Court of Justice.

These countries should demand the formation of an international investigation committee regarding Israel’s targeting of United Nations headquarters, including UNRWA centers, and the martyrdom of more than 150 UN employees.

The perpetrator is known and the victim is known!

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.