Should Belgium also stop funding UNRWA? 'Fear is not a good counsellor,' says Middle East expert

Israel has accused 12 UNRWA workers of complicity in the Hamas attack on 7 October. The accusation came on the same day that the International Court of Justice ruled on genocide charges against Israel. In the aftermath, several countries suspended their funding for UNRWA. Will Belgium do the same?

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) focuses on aid and development for Palestinian refugees in the Middle East. Following Israel's claim that 12 of its staff were involved in the Hamas attack, the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Finland and Japan decided to cut off financial support to the agency. Belgium has not yet done so, but the issue is on the agenda.

"Why stop funding a vital humanitarian organisation because of the crimes of a few employees?"

Stopping payments to UNRWA is a bad idea, Middle East expert Brigitte Herremans told Het Nieuwsblad. "This is a hasty decision, one not based on logic. Why stop funding a vital humanitarian organisation because of the crimes of a few employees?"

The staff mentioned by Israel have since been dismissed, and an investigation has been launched. "Stopping funding is a form of collective punishment of an entire organisation, based on the fear that Israel will accuse donors of supporting Hamas. But fear is not a good counsellor," Herremans says.

UNRWA says it currently has funding until February. After that, it may have to suspend essential services such as food distribution and medical care. The 13,000 staff in Gaza, including teachers and health workers, would not be paid at a time when the population is facing famine and extreme bombardment.

Eli Ringer, honorary chair of the Forum for Jewish Organisations, says more clarity is needed. Until then, "everything should be put on hold", he said.

"There is a serious suspicion of collaboration between terrorists and some members of UNRWA. This suspicion must be taken very seriously and investigated seriously. It is, therefore, very logical for several countries to (temporarily) suspend their cooperation," he told Het Nieuwsblad.

The suspension of funding to UNRWA by several countries will have "catastrophic consequences" for the Gaza Strip, the heads of several UN agencies warned on Wednesday. "Withdrawing funds from UNRWA is dangerous and will lead to the collapse of the humanitarian system in Gaza, which will have far-reaching consequences."



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