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Knee-jerk reaction to Tel Aviv's UNRWA charges shows some countries putting cart before horse: China Daily editorial | Updated: 2024-01-29 20:02
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A Palestinian boy arranges bags of flour distributed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Jan 29, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

Israel's intention in alleging that 12 staff members of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East were involved in Hamas' Oct 7 attacks is open to question.

The head of Israel's Military Intelligence Directorate, Aharon Haliva, met with senior United States officials on Friday, and gave them "specific names and which organizations they are affiliated with, whether Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad or others, and what exactly they did on Oct 7", and showed them that "we had solid intelligence from different sources", Israeli officials familiar with the matter told the media.

The US State Department said it had "temporarily paused additional funding" to the agency in the wake of the allegations. And Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, the Netherlands and Japan soon followed suit. This means the UNRWA, which is in charge of providing subsistence for millions of refugees in Gaza, who are already struggling with hunger, will soon be put out of operation if no new sources of funding are forthcoming in a short time.

It is no secret that Tel Aviv wants to paralyze the agency, if not totally uproot it from the Palestinian enclave. It has viewed the agency as a protective umbrella for anti-Israel forces in Gaza since its founding in the late 1940s, and its disabling has been a key part of Tel Aviv's long-term plan to "neutralize" the Gaza Strip. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz suggested on Friday that Israel will seek to stop the UNRWA from operating in postwar Gaza.

But despite Israel's allegations, the international community, including the US and its allies, has regarded the UNRWA as an indispensable player in Gaza and beyond over the past more than seven decades, during which it has taken care of about 5.9 million Palestinian refugees that have been displaced from their homes since the war in 1948. The existence of the agency is a testimony to Israel's continuous expansion and the grave impacts it has had on Palestinians.

With about 13,000 employees, the UNRWA represents one of the few channels that still enable humanitarian assistance to trickle into the besieged Gaza Strip. Over the past more than three months, about 152 employees of the agency have died in Israel's "self-defense" offensive. That's why not all the US' allies, including Norway and Ireland, are following its lead and they insist they will continue to give funding to the agency.

That the agency has sacked the suspected members of staff before the UN launches its investigation into the charges conveys the urgency with which the UNRWA is acting in an effort to persuade all funding parties to continue their support. The move should by no means be taken as evidence that the UNRWA admits Tel Aviv's allegations are true.

It is notable that the Israeli allegations against the UNRWA on Friday came almost at the same time the International Court of Justice issued orders that Israel must act immediately to prevent genocide in Gaza. The timing effectively diverted the world's attention from the ICJ's condemnation of Israel's actions in Gaza.

Even if Israel's allegations are substantiated, as long as the agency takes all necessary measures to solve the problem and plug its loopholes, Israel has no reason to deny the legitimacy of it. Shame on those immediately suspending their support for the Palestinian refugees even before Israel's charges are substantiated while talking big about their concern for civilians' lives.

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