Tell Minister Hussen: Reverse the UNRWA cuts, don’t punish Gaza!

In a shamefully cruel decision last Friday, Canada suspended funding to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees following unproven Israeli claims about a few of its employees. Earlier that day, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Israel’s actions in Gaza are potentially genocidal, so Canada’s decision to defund UNRWA is tantamount to an act of collective punishment against a population facing genocide. 2 million people in Gaza depend on UNRWA as a humanitarian lifeline, as Israel’s siege is manufacturing conditions of famine and disease. Canada must immediately reverse its decision on UNRWA cuts to ensure that the population of Gaza continues to receive humanitarian aid.

Use the fields below to send an email to International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen, other federal leaders and your local MP. Canada must retract its decision on UNRWA funding, and prevent Israel from starving Gaza!

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On the same day that the ICJ ruled that Palestinians in Gaza have a right to be protected from genocide, the Minister of International Development Ahmed Hussen announced that Canada was suspending additional funding to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, based on unproven Israeli allegations against a few of its employees. UNRWA is the main humanitarian agency providing services to the population of Gaza, and in many cases is the only organization in Gaza with any capacity to administer aid to the population.

Canada’s decision to cut off funding occurred at the same time that other Western countries, including the US and UK, also cut their funding.However, countries including Ireland,Norway, and Spain have expressed their continued support for UNRWA’s work, with Norway appealing to donors that they “should not collectively punish millions of people.”

In response to the funding cuts, UNRWA Commission-General Philippe Lazzarini warned that the decision by Canada and others "threaten[s] our ongoing humanitarian work" and could lead to the collapse of the operations, and says he is “shocked such decisions are taken based on alleged behavior of a few individuals and as the war continues, needs are deepening & famine looms.” The World Health Organization, the UN humanitarian chief , and Palestinian civil society , have appealed to governments not to cut off funding.

Israel’s allegation – that 12 of UNRWA’s 30,000 employees may have participated in the October 7 Hamas attack in some way – has not been proven and must be approached with significant caution. It is reported that Israel’s allegations were attained through interrogation, in a context in which Israel routinely uses torture to gain forced confessions from detainees, including children. Israel also has a pattern of manufacturing false claims against humanitarian and human rights organizations in order to persecute them, as in the case of political prisoner Mohammed El-Halabi or the 6 Palestinian human rights organizations criminalized in 2021.

Moreover, UNRWA has already taken immediate precautionary steps to fire the accused employees and launch an investigation into the allegations in an attempt to assure donors that it takes the allegations seriously. This makes Canada’s suspension of funding completely unwarranted and gratuitous.

Canada’s participation in the parallel defunding of UNRWA must be understood as part of the Israeli government’s strategy to destroy the organization and thereby erode the rights of Palestinian refugees. Israel has killed over 152 UNRWA employees since October 7th, with 253 documented incidents of Israeli attacks on UNRWA personnel, schools and facilities. In many instances, UNRWA schools have been directly targeted by Israel while sheltering thousands of displaced people seeking safety. CJPME notes that Canada has taken no action to censure Israel for its deadly attacks on UNRWA, but acted immediately to punish UNRWA based on unproven Israeli claims.

It is also very conspicuous that Canada’s decision to downgrade its humanitarian support to Gaza coincided with the initial decision of the ICJ on South Africa’s application against Israel. In its ruling, the ICJ:

  • Noted the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza and determined that Israel’s actions could plausibly amount to genocide, thereby allowing the full genocide case to proceed.
  • Ordered Israel to “take all measures within its power” to prevent all acts that could fall within the Genocide Convention, including “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”
  • Ordered that Israel “must take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”

However, Canada’s response to the ICJ ruling did not express any support for it, and did not call on Israel to comply with its legally binding provisions. Instead of putting pressure on Israel to allow humanitarian aid – as ordered by the ICJ – Canada instead cut funding to the only humanitarian organization that has any meaningful capacity to distribute aid to the people of Gaza. According to UN Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese, defunding UNRWA “overtly defies ICJ's order to allow effective humanitarian assistance.”

We are shocked by this cruel and callous act of collective punishment, which threatens the lives of a besieged population facing genocide. Please join us in urging Minister Hussen to immediately reverse his political decision against UNRWA, increase Canada’s financial support to the agency, and put concrete pressure on Israel to end its genocidal war and siege.