Several countries have withdrawn funding from UNRWA recently, under accusations that 12 employees (out of 13,000) have been allegedly involved in the Hamas attack against Israel on 7th October, 2023. Over 50% of UNRWA's funding has been cut, mainly by the USA and Germany. These cuts were done within a week of evidence being supplied by Israel, despite immediate remedial action by UNRWA (termination of contracts of the accused) and the necessity of its immediate continued operation due to the need for aid by Gazans.

In addition, it has been evidenced over years that Israel sees UNRWA as an issue, with senior politicians explicitly mentioning UNRWA as needing to "destroy UNRWA". The recent ICJ ruling also includes measures for Israel to "refrain from acts under the Genocide convention, prevent and punish the direct and public incitement to genocide", implying that such activities are likely or assuredly already happening. Additionally, there have been multiple recent instances of evidenced killing of civilians, some in front of Western cameras.

The question is, what are the motivating factors for why support for UNRWA was immediately withdrawn based on allegations of a vast minority working with Hamas, while plentiful evidence and reporting of incidents and activities that may be considered war crimes or incitement of genocide or the likes thereof do not motivate withdrawal of support by those same countries?


2 Answers 2


There are other accusations which allege a deeper UNWRA-Hamas beyond just those 12 employees. According to Wikipedia:

According to Israel, these twelve employees are just the "tip of the iceberg". Israel also alleges that UNRWA facilities and vehicles were used in the 7 October attacks. Israel said it has compiled a case "incriminating several UNRWA employees for their alleged involvement in the massacre, along with evidence pointing to the use of UNRWA facilities for terrorist purposes". Israel also alleges that there is a structural relation between UNRWA and Hamas, and the names provided so far are "just the tip of the iceberg".


It was further reported by Reuters that the Israeli intelligence dossier accuses 190 UNRWA employees of being "hardcore" Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants, while overall 10% of UNRWA staff was considered to have some affiliation with those organizations.


Intelligence estimates suggest that about 1,200 UNRWA employees, 10% of UNRWA's 12,000 in Gaza, have links to militant groups, with a higher percentage of male employees connected to Hamas compared to the general male population in Gaza. The intelligence information, according to the article, was gathered through signal intelligence, cellphone tracking data, interrogations of captured Hamas militants, and documents recovered from dead militants.

If the link was limited to just those 12 employees and they had been found out and removed from the organization then there would be little in the way of continuing funding. If these stronger allegations prove true then continuing UNWRA support would be akin to funding Hamas.

From donors' perspectives here's not a lot of downside to pausing funding. They'll argue they can provide aid in other ways. That's the gist of the Netherlands' statement on suspending UNWRA support:

‘These accusations are simply too serious,’ the minister said. ‘We first need to know the full results of this investigation and what further steps the United Nations will take. The Netherlands will continue providing humanitarian aid to the civilian population in Gaza through other channels.’

while Israel continues to be provided military aid after the ICJ ruling?

There have actually been attempts at suspending some military support to Israel. For example, a Dutch court case brought by rights' groups argued the Dutch failed in their obligation under article 1 of the genocide convention by allowing the supply of F35 parts to Israel (background analysis here).

So I understand your question. On the one hand Israeli allegations of UNWRA support for terrorism are immediately heeded by suspending funding. On the other hand, allegations of genocide are met by inaction.

I'll explain this discrepancy by discussing some of the power dynamics at play rather than trying to make a legal argument (plenty of legal analyses on this issue can be found online and these cases are making their way through the courts).

Like I said earlier, it's easy to suspend aid for UNWRA because there are no compelling obligations. The obligation to help the Palestinian people is a moral one and it can easily take on an alternative form (even if that means being a little less efficient). So for policymakers the decision between possibly supporting terrorists after being warned and spending the money on alternative aid is an easy one to make.

On suspending military aid to Israel there are many contributing factors that make it harder to suspend funding:

  • Israel is defending itself against Hamas; to do that successfully it needs support. The alternative way of support would be to get involved directly as a party to the conflict. That's of course way riskier politically, it risks losing your own troops as well as reprisal attacks from terror groups.

  • For the US, Israel is an important ally. Even if they don't agree with all Israeli decisions in the war, turning their back on them has disadvantages. Besides losing an important ally, Israel is going to fight their war no matter what. While being an important ally the US can try to exert red lines. It loses that leverage if it turns its back on Israel now.

  • For US allies the previous point hold with regards to both their relation with Israel and the US.

  • Israel's allies reject the allegation of genocide. While they see that there are a lot of civilian casualties, they view them as collateral damage proportional to the military objective of defeating Hamas. In your question you say regarding the preliminary ruling in the ICJ case "implying that such activities are likely or assuredly already happening". That implication isn't there, that is your spin. It's merely a reiteration of article 1 of the genocide convention, i.e. countries should always do what's within their power to prevent genocide.

With these perspectives in mind, policymakers have little incentive to cut support for Israel. Of course they will insist on minimizing civilian casualties and trying to broker a sustainable peace. But that doesn't involve cutting military support. As long as Israel is faced by terrorist groups with military grade weapons and guerilla tactics, it will need a military response.

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    Can you please take into account in your answer the Israeli bias against UNRWA, conflict of interest (Israel being a combatant, and also supplying evidence), and why other alleged issues have not been taken into account anti-Israel? Put over-simplified, it is accusations vs accusations, yet the consequences are different. Jan 30 at 22:21
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    @AhmedTawfik it's not just "accusations vs accusations", it's evidence. Have you looked at the evidence? Jan 30 at 22:23
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    @ErelSegal-Halevi They're quoted as "Alleged", not "proven", right? On the other hand, one could argue the civilians being killed in the links in my question to be of similar weighting. Jan 30 at 22:26
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    @AhmedTawfik did you look at the evidence? Jan 30 at 22:33
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    Without seeing the evidence that Israel provided to fellow intel agencies. We could guess this on our own. Hamas is a violent totalitarian regime, there is not a single institution in Gaza that is (or was) not being controlled by Hamas, they just killed every single person who openly protested their regime. So UNRWA could not have operated in Gaza without following Hamas' orders, including hiring Hamas personel to whichever positions they desired to take. Just look at how even the Red Cross cannot open their mouths against Hamas.
    – Jacob3
    Jan 30 at 22:41

Why is support for UNRWA being removed while Israel continues to be provided military aid after the ICJ ruling, and killing unarmed civilians?

Because Western countries say Israel is not doing any genocide, i.e. not intentionally killing civilians? (In fact, AFAIK, even Russia or China don't go that far in their criticism of Israel.)

Also, I'm not convinced the UNRWA funding withdrawal is permanent. Similar past events argue for that. (US withdrew funding under Trump, Biden restored it. EU/EP withheld some funds in 2021, over the textbooks controversy.) So, there's probably a fair bit of virtue signalling there, and UNRWA funding will probably return, at least from the EU. In the US, it might matter who wins the next elections.

  • The question is not about genocide or accusations of genocide. UNRWA was not accused of genocide either. Jan 30 at 21:25
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    @AhmedTawfik: and do you think Western countries think Hamas just accidentally/unintentionally killed civilians? Do you think that's why they declared them terrorists, because they think they accidentally killed civilians, rather than intentionally? I do ponder how much of that I need to spell out in my answer... Jan 30 at 21:38
  • Let's take it easy. In my question, I've explained that there have been multiple reports of such intentional killing of civilians - video evidence. So this argument can't hold. Jan 30 at 21:41
  • @AhmedTawfik: you're getting ever more unclear in your comments. Are you talking about videos of Hamas or Israelis doing that? Anyhow, the level of dismissiveness regarding accusation against Israel is roughly proportional with how much help they give Israel, i.e. US which gives most aid to Israel said the ICJ case was “meritless, counterproductive and completely without any basis in fact whatsoever”. Also, if you're talking about Israeli settlers killing Palestinians, that's a different matter... Jan 30 at 21:43
  • ... the US for instance condemned those and took some token [visa] measure against the settlers. But the US doesn't consider those acts state policy of Israel. Also, your first comment under my answer is "The question is not about genocide", but you explicitly mentioned those allegations in your Q's last para. Jan 30 at 21:45

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