Countries cutting of funds to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA) are Complicit in Humanitarian Catastrophe

On Friday 26 January 2024, we joined many around the world who were relieved at the finding of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that South Africa’s case against Israel for contravention of the Genocide Convention was on the face of it plausible. Stemming from this, the ICJ delivered six immediate provisional measures that must be taken, including that “Israel must take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”

It is thus staggering that on the same day the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK), and now other states such as Canada, Australia, Austria, Italy, Netherlands, Japan, Switzerland, and Finland have announced a complete pause on all humanitarian aid to UNRWA. These announcements came on the heels of allegations from the Israel Defence Force that 12 (of its thousands of staff) were implicated in the atrocities committed by Hamas on 7 October 2023.

It is right to condemn the brutal attacks by Hamas, to grieve with the families of the hostages that continue to be held, and to call for their immediate release. It is at the same time right to condemn the new decisions to remove support for humanitarian aid in the midst of potential genocidal suffering.

UNRWA has acted swiftly to investigate and deal with the allegations of individual’s complicity with the Hamas attacks. It continues to be the bedrock of all humanitarian assistance in Gaza. The consequences of cutting aid to UNRWA now will be catastrophic.

We have previously called for the US, UK, and others to halt their military support to Israel. Their continued military support, particularly in light of the ICJ’s ruling on Friday, is outrageous. It is time for powerful actors in the West to look into the mirror and see what they have become – aggressors against one of the most vulnerable, hungry, cut off, and devastated groups of people on the planet. Just as he declared when opposing the illegal US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Desmond Tutu would want us to “Be the agent of compassion, not the agent of destruction.” We urge all states to do everything within their power to comply with the ICJ’s provisional measures, especially to take all action necessary to stop the killing, and to ensure adequate humanitarian relief.

Statement issued by The Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, 29 January 2024.

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