Israel widely condemned for bill designating UNRWA as terrorist organization

Mohamed Badereldin, Sunday 2 Jun 2024

International NGOs, countries, and international governmental organizations condemned Israel for a preliminary bill designating the UNRWA as a terrorist organization.

lazzarini
Commissioner-General of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, Philippe Lazzarini. AP

 

The bill passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset on 29 May. A subsequent bill aims to sever all ties with the agency revoking immunities and protections afforded to its staff. 

The bill would not only incapacitate UNRWA, but also criminalize the organization, its staff, and its activities including the schools and refugee camps run by the agency. 

The bill is required to be read three more times to pass.

Here are some of the main reactions so far: 

Organization of Islamic Cooperation
 

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) condemned on Sunday the “illegal” actions of Israeli authorities to undermine the status and role of the UNRWA.

The OIC added that these actions constitute an extension of Israel's serious violations of the United Nations Charter, the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and relevant UN resolutions.

The organization reaffirmed the mandate granted to UNRWA by the United Nations and the necessity of the continuation of its role and responsibilities, which represent a top priority from a political, humanitarian, and relief standpoint. 

European Union
 

The European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell said the EU rejects any attempts to label the UNRWA as a terrorist organization, and stressed that it will remain an indispensable lifeline for Palestinians.

This came following Borrell's meeting with UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini in Brussels on Thursday. Borrell reiterated the EU's support for UNRWA, praising its work and team, and said the union's member states have resumed their financial support for the agency, with "the next batch of European Union funding being on its way."

Kuwait
 

The Kuwaiti Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sunday expressed Kuwait's steadfast support for the United Nations and its agencies.

The statement condemned the Israeli threats against UNRWA, including attempts to designate it as a terrorist organization and demands to vacate its buildings in East Jerusalem. 

The ministry stressed the necessity for the international community to come together to protect the multilateral global governance system, of which UNRWA is a part.

Qatar
 

Qatar condemned the move to designate UNRWA as a terrorist organization and strip it of its diplomatic immunity in a press statement issued on Sunday.

The Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs considers these actions as an extension of the systematic campaign aimed at dismantling the agency, at a time when the need for its vital humanitarian services is increasing due to the disastrous consequences of the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip.

The ministry renewed Qatar's call for the international community to firmly stand up to the Israeli schemes seeking to liquidate the agency and deprive millions of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon of its essential services.

Belgium
 

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belgium, Hadja Lahbib condemned the bill in a post on X on Saturday.

Lahbib denounced these attempts, insisting that the work done by UNRWA is "essential" for the Palestinians "in the face of the dramatic humanitarian situation in Gaza."

"Belgium condemns the Israeli parliament's attempts to classify UNRWA as a terrorist organization and to remove the immunity of its staff," Lahbib said in her statement.

Doctors Without Borders
 

The international medical charity Doctors Without Borders has led the wave of condemnation in a statement on Thursday.

Doctors Without Borders International Secretary-General Christopher Lockyear warned that this move "would have terrible consequences as it could amount to a free license to attack UNRWA facilities and its humanitarian personnel, and would further endanger civilians seeking the protection of the UN agency."

Lockyear called the bills an "outrageous attack on humanitarian assistance and an act of collective punishment against the Palestinian people." 

UNRWA
 

UNRWA Chief Philippe Lazzarini condemned Israel's "campaign against UNRWA," stating that "the war in Gaza has produced a blatant disregard for the mission of the United Nations, including outrageous attacks on UNRWA employees, facilities and operations,” in an opinion piece published Friday in the New York Times.

Lazzarini said "these attacks must stop and the world must act to hold the perpetrators accountable." 

He accused Israeli officials of "not only threatening the work of our staff and mission, they are also delegitimizing UNRWA by effectively characterizing it as a terrorist organization that fosters extremism and labeling UN leaders as terrorists who collude with Hamas."

UNRWA, which coordinates nearly all aid to Gaza, has been in crisis since January when Israel accused about a dozen of the agency's 13,000 Gaza employees of involvement in the 7 October Hamas offensive, allegations that have since been debunked.

The now-debunked accusations made by Israel in January led to many donors freezing some $450 million in funding at a time when Gaza's 2.3 million people are in dire need of food, water, shelter and medicine.

Many countries have since resumed their donations, while others have not – including the United States, which passed a law blocking funding until at least March 2025.

An independent review of UNRWA, led by French former foreign minister Colonna, found some "neutrality-related issues" but said Israel had yet to provide evidence for its leading allegations.

Created in 1949, the agency employs around 30,000 people in the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

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