Palestinian refugee organization, was forced to evacuate most of its international senior officials from the Gaza Strip due to fears for their safety.
The situation in the Hamas-run enclave is deteriorating and come on the back of U.S. President Donald Trump’s Administration’s decision to defund the agency.
In an ironic twist of fate, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the dedicated overseas staffers received credible death threats and threats of violence. The officials were also said to have been harassed by employees of the agency.
An agency source claimed that approximately 10 staff members crossed into Israel from the Gaza Strip on Monday. They were taken out of the Strip via the Erez Crossing, despite the fact that the checkpoint was officially closed for Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). The Israeli Defense Ministry unit that oversees the crossing said a number of foreign employees from the agency known as UNRWA “were evacuated from the Gaza Strip to Israel.”
UNRWA’s leadership has been supportive of the Hamas-inspired (along with other militant Islamist groups) so-called March of Return. Since March, increasingly violent riots – not peaceful protests – as UNRWA officials and others would have us believe – have taken place alongside the border fence separating Israel from the Gaza Strip. It must be especially galling that when Hamas-led attackers on Israel’s border are armed with guns, grenades, Molotov cocktails and wire cutters that Palestinians are “exercising their right to protest,” but when those same “demonstrators” turn on UNRWA officials it becomes a “threat to security.” Added to that combustible mix is the fact that those same staff had to flee to Israel.
UNRWA’s plea to Gaza’s Hamas authorities “to respond to its repeated demands to provide effective protection to its employees and facilities,” apparently fell on deaf ears.
UNRWA’s budget deficit in the wake of Washington’s decision to cut off its $350 million funding means that 113 jobs have been eliminated and 584 staff positions changed to part time positions.
Donor countries have pledged to give $118 million in aid as well as $46 million from the European Union.
The Trump Administration’s decision to cut funding to UNRWA (and also to East Jerusalem hospitals) was based on the U.S. assessment that the investment of tens of billions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians has neither improved their living conditions nor advanced the cause of peace with Israel.
In a recent speech at the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee annual meeting, U.S. peace envoy Jason Greenblatt reiterated America’s current stance.
“We must all ask ourselves why we should keep struggling to raise money when everyone can plainly see the Hamas regime and the Palestinian Authority are squandering the opportunities our money provides for a better future for Palestinians,” he said.
He further argued that to continue the same pattern of providing significant aid and getting neither political nor economic advancement “would be folly.”
UNRWA claims to support or supports the claims of 5 million registered Palestinian refugees and their descendants – a number hotly disputed by both the U.S. and Israeli administrations. It provides schooling for more than 500,000 children in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
Despite Israel’s government publicly backing the U.S.-led initiative to call UNRWA to account, the Israeli defense establishment is concerned that the withdrawal of funding may work to strengthen support for Hamas.