Several progressive U.S. lawmakers are urging the Biden administration to restore funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which the White House halted after employees of the U.N. agency were accused of involvement in the 2023 Hamas attacks in Israel.
Earlier this month, Israeli government authorities presented UNRWA with allegations that as many as 12 of the agency’s employees participated in the Oct. 7, 2023, attacks. The U.S. State Department on Jan. 26 announced a temporary pause in U.S. funding to UNRWA, pending a review of the allegations and steps the United Nations will take to address those concerns.
Since then, some progressive lawmakers have urged the Biden administration to reverse course and reinstate the funding for the agency, which was established for the express purpose of providing humanitarian services to Palestinians displaced during the founding of the Israeli state in 1948.
“Obviously, it’s not acceptable for any of the 13,000 UNRWA employees in Gaza to be involved with Hamas, and allegations against the 12 people charged must be investigated,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said on Jan 30. “However, we cannot allow millions to suffer because of the actions of 12 people.
“The United States and other countries must restore funding to stave off this humanitarian catastrophe.”
Mr. Sanders argued that UNRWA remains a vital source of food, water, and humanitarian services for the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip. He said that about 1.1 million Palestinian civilians are at risk of starvation amid the halt to UNRWA funding.
“Among an organization of 13,000 U.N. aid workers, risking the starvation of millions over grave allegations of 12 is indefensible,” she added. “The United States should restore aid immediately.”
In a statement she shared with Politico, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) cast doubt on the veracity of Israeli claims against the UNRWA.
“To take concerning allegations as fact without any investigation, especially in light of the Israeli government’s well-documented history of using torture and obtaining forced confessions, as a means to suspend life-saving aid demonstrates the emptiness of the Biden administration’s claims to care about Palestinian lives,” said Ms. Tlaib, who is the first Palestinian American member of Congress.
‘Highly Credible’ Allegations
At a Jan. 29 press conference, Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged UNRWA to investigate the allegations involving its employees immediately, review its procedures, and “hold people accountable as necessary.”
Mr. Blinken said the U.S. side hasn’t “had the ability to investigate” the allegations but called them “highly, highly credible.”
The department is actively reviewing the evidence it has received from the Israeli government and is discussing these details with Congress on an ongoing basis, according to an emailed response from a spokesperson, who didn’t provide specifics.
“We very much support the work that UNRWA does. We think it’s critical. There is no other humanitarian player in Gaza who can provide food and water and medicine at the scale that UNRWA does,” Mr. Miller said. “We want to see that work continued, which is why it is so important that the United Nations take this matter seriously, that they investigate it, that there is accountability for anyone who is found to have engaged in wrongdoing, and that they take whatever other measures are appropriate to ensure that this sort of thing cannot happen again.”