Mon 22 Apr 2024 6:44 pm - Jerusalem Time

Israel fails to condemn UNRWA

The final report of the independent review committee appointed by the United Nations regarding Israeli allegations of the involvement of employees of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) revealed that Israel failed to provide evidence to support its accusations to this UN body regarding the employment of people belonging to “terrorist groups.” », in addition to emphasizing that the agency has strong frameworks to ensure compliance with the principles of humanitarian neutrality, despite the persistence of some problems.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres formed this independent committee, headed by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, following Israeli allegations in late January of the involvement of 12 UNRWA employees in a Hamas attack against the Israeli settlements and kibbutzim surrounding Gaza on July 7. Last October.

These allegations prompted the United States, in addition to more than a dozen countries, to suspend its funding to UNRWA, although many of them have since resumed payments.

Israel has long pressed to close UNRWA under the pretext that it helps perpetuate the conflict with the Palestinians. Because it grants refugee status to the descendants of those who were displaced from their country. Israel also accuses the agency of employing “anti-Semitic” people and using textbooks that Israel considers “inflammatory.”

The United Nations immediately distanced itself from the accused staff and launched an internal investigation. Likewise, Guterres commissioned the committee headed by Colonna to conduct a comprehensive review of the agency's neutrality.

Although Colonna and members of her team conducted interviews with UNRWA employees as well as Israeli and Palestinian officials, the independent commission, which includes three research organizations: the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Sweden, the Michelsen Center for Human Rights in Norway, and the Danish Institute for Human Rights, noted that UNRWA Israel regularly provides lists of the names of its employees for audit, adding that “the Israeli government has not reported any concerns to UNRWA regarding any UNRWA employees based on employee lists since 2011.”

The committee stressed that Israel has not yet proven any of its broader allegations about the involvement of UNRWA employees in Hamas or Islamic Jihad activities, noting that last March “Israel issued public allegations that a large number of UNRWA employees ) Members of terrorist organizations (...) However, Israel has not yet provided supporting evidence on this.”

UNRWA employs 30,000 Palestinians to serve the civil and humanitarian needs of 5.9 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, and camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Among them are about 2.3 million people in the Gaza Strip who need urgent aid after most of them were forced to leave their homes due to the Israeli attack. They are struggling to obtain water, food, shelter and medical care, while hundreds of thousands of them face the risk of famine.

The Colonna review makes clear that UNRWA is “indispensable” to Palestinians throughout the region, adding that “in the absence of a political solution between Israel and the Palestinians, UNRWA remains pivotal in providing life-saving humanitarian assistance and basic social services, particularly in the areas of health and education.” For Palestinian refugees in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank.

Therefore, “UNRWA cannot be dispensed with, nor its services for the human and economic development of the Palestinians.”

Although it acknowledges that UNRWA is indeed more stringent than most other similar institutions, the committee stresses that there are a number of ways in which the “guarantees of neutrality” for the UN agency’s staff can be improved, such as expanding the capacity of the internal oversight service, providing more personal training and more Support from donor countries.

The report stated that “the review revealed that UNRWA has established a large number of mechanisms and procedures to ensure compliance with humanitarian principles, with an emphasis on the principle of neutrality,” in addition to that it “possesses a more sophisticated approach to neutrality than United Nations entities or other similar non-governmental organizations.”

In addition to the Colonna report, the three Scandinavian research bodies sent a more detailed technical assessment to the UN, also saying: “The Israeli authorities have not yet provided any supporting evidence and have not responded to letters from UNRWA in March and again in April. It requests names and supporting evidence that would enable UNRWA to open an investigation.

It added that she found “very limited” evidence of repeated Israeli allegations against UNRWA that its schools across the region use Palestinian Authority textbooks with anti-Semitic content.

It added: “Three international evaluations of Palestinian Authority textbooks in recent years provided an accurate picture (...) Two identified the presence of bias and hostile content, but did not provide evidence of anti-Semitic content.” A third evaluation conducted by the Georg Eckert Institute in Germany “studied 156 Palestinian Authority textbooks and identified two examples that were found to display anti-Semitic ideas, but indicated that one of them had already been removed, and the other had been changed.”

The interim report that Colonna submitted to Guterres in mid-March “found that UNRWA has a large number of mechanisms and procedures to ensure compliance with the humanitarian principle of neutrality, and the committee also identified critical areas that still need to be addressed.”

While the suspension of US funding continues until March 2025, most donor countries have resumed their funding to UNRWA in recent weeks.

The United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services is conducting a separate internal investigation into the October 7 attack.


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Israel fails to condemn UNRWA