Biden administration has temporarily halted funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the body responsible for Palestinian refugees, following allegations of staff involvement in Hamas’s October 7th attacks against Israel. The pause in funding comes after Israeli authorities provided information suggesting that 12 UNRWA employees may have been involved in the Hamas terrorist attack that saw fighters raiding southern Israel, resulting in an estimated 1,200 casualties and the taking of 240 hostages, with over 100 individuals still in captivity.
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller expressed the United States’ deep concern over these allegations, stating, “The United States is extremely troubled by the allegations that twelve UNRWA employees may have been involved in the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel.” He added that the Department of State is temporarily suspending additional funding for UNRWA while they thoroughly review the allegations and assess the steps taken by the United Nations to address this issue.
This move follows the Biden administration’s delivery of $75 million to UNRWA in October, a decision that bypassed a long-standing congressional block on the funds. This funding had faced criticism due to concerns that Hamas members might be employed within the organization.
In response to the allegations, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini announced that the agency had launched an investigation into the staff members involved. He also revealed that the organization had immediately terminated the contracts of the suspected individuals ahead of the investigation, emphasizing, “Any UNRWA employee who was involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.”
UNRWA plays a vital role in providing critical aid and services to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and other regions, including housing, food, schools, healthcare, and more. The agency has been a lifeline for many Palestinians affected by the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.
While UNRWA has faced criticism in the past, particularly from Israel and its supporters, accusing the agency of employing or coordinating with U.S.-designated terrorist groups like Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, it remains a crucial humanitarian organization for those in need. The agency was established after Israel’s 1948 War of Independence to serve an estimated 700,000 Palestinian refugees, but its mission has expanded over the years to include descendants of the original refugees and their families.
Former President Trump had cut funding for UNRWA in 2018, but funding was resumed under the Biden administration. Despite the current investigation and temporary pause in funding, Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the U.N. secretary-general, emphasized the critical nature of UNRWA’s mission, stating, “There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza who rely on UNRWA’s humanitarian work, who rely on humanitarian assistance, even more now than they did before. The Commissioner-General, I think, has taken very swift and strong measures right away. At the same time, our humanitarian work needs to continue. Lives depend on it.”
The situation continues to develop as investigations progress, and the implications for UNRWA and its mission remain under close scrutiny.