Major donors to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) have suspended or cut their funding after accusations surfaced that around 12 of its tens of thousands of Palestinian employees were suspected of involvement in the October 7 attacks in Israel by Hamas.
But who exactly is the UNRWA?
UNRWA was established in 1949 by a UN General Assembly resolution. If the year rings a bell in your mind, it is because the agency was established following the war surrounding the founding of Israel, when 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes in what is called the Nakba or Catastrophe.
Today, the UNRWA directly employs 30,000 Palestinians, serving the civic and humanitarian needs of 5.9 million descendants of those refugees, in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and in vast camps in neighbouring Arab countries.
In Gaza, it employs approximately 13,000 people, running the enclave's schools, its primary healthcare clinics and other social services, as well as distributing humanitarian aid.
The agency operates in various regions, including the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, and focuses on areas such as education, healthcare, relief services, infrastructure, and emergency response.
Its services in Gaza have increased in importance since 2005.
Since Israel launched its war on Palestine after the October 7 attacks, around a million Gazans have been sheltering in UNRWA schools, clinics and other public buildings. This accounts for nearly 45% of the enclave's population.
Nearly the entire Gazan population now relies on UNRWA for basic necessities, including food, water and hygiene supplies.
More than 150 UNRWA staff have been killed since the start of the war.
The main donors
Financial support for the agency comes from various United Nations member states, regional governments, and the European Union, constituting over 89% of its funding.
The agency secures funds from the standard UN budget and financial contributions from other UN entities. Leading government contributors encompass the United States, Germany, the European Union, Sweden, Norway, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, and Turkey.
Following the allegations, several nations, such as the United States, Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, have temporarily halted their financial contributions to the agency.
The UNRWA chief, Philippe Lazzarini expressed shock at the funding cut, emphasising the irresponsible nature of penalising an entire agency and the community it serves, based on allegations against a few individuals.
This move has prompted Palestinian officials, including Hamas, to criticise the decision by nearly a dozen Western countries to suspend funding for UNRWA. Urging an immediate reversal of the move, they highlight the great risks this decision poses in the midst of the ongoing war.