Germany to restore funding for UN Palestinian aid agency, disappointing Israel

Berlin says UNRWA is ‘vital and irreplaceable;’ Israel says decision is ‘regrettable’ and will not promote security in the region

Damaged headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza City on February 15, 2024, amid ongoing Israel-Hamas war. (AFP)
Damaged headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza City on February 15, 2024, amid ongoing Israel-Hamas war. (AFP)

Germany said on Wednesday it plans to resume cooperation with the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, signaling a resumption of funding that was frozen after Israel accused 12 UNRWA staff of participating in the Hamas-led October 7 attack.

The allegations prompted 16 donor states, including the biggest, the United States, to freeze some $450 million of funds, a blow to UNRWA’s operations as it grapples with the humanitarian crisis unleashed by Israel’s assault in Gaza.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry called Germany’s decision “regrettable and disappointing.”

The move by Germany, UNRWA’s second biggest donor, followed the publication on Monday of a review led by the former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna into UNRWA’s procedures for ensuring adherence to humanitarian principles of neutrality.

In a statement, the German foreign and development ministries urged UNRWA to swiftly implement the report’s recommendations, including strengthening its internal audit function and improving external oversight of project management.

“In support of these reforms, the German government will soon continue its cooperation with UNRWA in Gaza, as Australia, Canada, Sweden and Japan, among others, have already done,” the statement said.

Germany said it was aiming to support “UNRWA’s vital and currently irreplaceable role in providing for the people in Gaza.”

UNRWA and other UN agencies must be able to carry out their jobs of distributing aid in the territory, which was “more important than ever in light of the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza,” the statement said.

“Germany will coordinate closely with its closest international partners on the disbursement of further funds. UNRWA’s short-term financing needs in Gaza are currently covered by existing funds,” it added.

A Palestinian man transports sacks of humanitarian aid at the distribution center of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 3, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

Israel responded to the development by saying it shared with Germany and other donor countries “detailed information about hundreds of Hamas military operatives and many hundreds of other operatives belonging to the terrorist organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad — all UNRA employees.”

“These are not some rotten apples — this is a rotten and poisoned tree,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Oren Marmostein said in a statement.

Noting that Germany considers Hamas a terror organization, Marmorstein warned that “the transfer of German taxpayers’ money to UNRWA…will not contribute to promoting the security and well-being of the residents of the area, Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

He added that Israel will “continue to work closely with the German government through all channels to channel humanitarian aid to Gaza through other agencies.”

UNRWA employs 32,000 people in the Palestinian territories and nearby countries, including 13,000 in the Gaza Strip, where it is by far the biggest aid agency, running schools and social services for refugees who make up the majority of Gazans.

Video showing an UNRWA worker driving a white UN jeep, and abducting the body of Jonathan Samerano, who was killed by Hamas terrorists on October 7 (Screenshot)

UNRWA communications director Juliette Touma welcomed Germany’s decision as both very positive and timely. “We are so grateful. Germany has been a very committed donor to the agency,” she said.

The Colonna-led review said Israel had yet to provide evidence to support its accusations — made on the basis of aמ UNRWA staff list given to it in March — that a significant number of UNRWA staff were members of Gaza terrorist groups.

The review found that UNRWA had “a more developed approach” to neutrality than other similar UN or aid groups, although “neutrality-related issues persist” such as staff publicly expressing political views, textbooks with problematic content being used in some UNRWA schools, and politicized staff unions making threats against UNRWA management and disrupting operations.

Israel rejected the findings, saying it only provided “cosmetic fixes,” and reasserting its position that the agency was intertwined with Hamas and could not play a future role in Gaza.

Israel has alleged that 12 UNRWA staff actively participated in the Hamas-led October 7 onslaught in which 1,200 people were killed and another 253 taken hostage.

The assault on southern Israel triggered Israel’s war against the terror group in Gaza.

This picture taken during a media tour organized by the Israeli army on February 8, 2024, shows Israeli soldiers inside an evacuated compound of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza City. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Israel subsequently claimed another 30 UNRWA staffers assisted or facilitated those crimes on October 7 and as much as 12 percent of the organization’s staff — some 450 people — were affiliated with terror organizations.

The United Nations is investigating the accusations against the 12 employees in a separate probe by its oversight office. After those accusations surfaced in late January, UNRWA said it sacked 10 of the accused, and that the other two were dead.

Accepting the recommendations of the Colonna-led review on Monday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on all countries to actively support UNRWA as it is “a lifeline for Palestine refugees in the region.”

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said on Tuesday that UNRWA currently has enough funding to pay for operations until June.

The head of the Arab League hailed the report, saying it showed that Israel’s allegations were baseless and part of a “systematic campaign” meant to end the mandate of the agency.

UNRWA’s headquarters in Gaza City, February 8, 2024. (Emanuel Fabian/ Times of Israel)

The United States has yet to restore funding to the agency, however, with the White House saying Tuesday it would “have to see real progress” before doing so.

Israel has long complained about the agency, founded in 1949 to care for Palestinian refugees. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for UNRWA to be shut down, saying it is infested by terror elements and unjustly seeks to perpetrate Palestinian refugee crisis.

Numerous past reports have found that UNRWA schools and teachers continue to teach hatred of Jews and glorify terrorism, including a 2022 report by the IMPACT-SE organization that UNRWA textbooks continue to contain incitement. A 2023 report by the same organization along with the UN Watch group cited dozens of examples of social media posts by UNRWA employees that “glorify terrorism, encourage martyrdom, demonize Israelis and incite antisemitism.”

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