Biden Administration Should Move Swiftly in its Review of UNRWA

February 1, 2024

J Street is deeply disturbed by reports that approximately twelve employees of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) may have been involved in the horrific October 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel.

We welcome UNRWA’s immediate action in response to these serious allegations, including the termination of employment contracts and the launch of a high-level investigation. Following investigations, UNRWA must take any further appropriate corrective measures, including reviewing its existing policies and procedures.

The Biden Administration has appropriately paused funding to UNRWA temporarily, as it reviews both the allegations and the UN’s response. As President Biden’s UN Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield has said, “we need to look at the organization, how it operates in Gaza, how they manage their staff, and to ensure that people who commit criminal acts, such as these 12 individuals, are held accountable immediately so that UNRWA can continue the essential work that it is doing.”

While allegations against individual employees are appropriately investigated, it is important to note the critical role UNRWA plays in providing lifesaving assistance to Palestinians, including essential food, medicine, shelter, and other vital humanitarian support. The organization currently hosts over 1 million displaced Gazan civilians across over 150 shelters in the territory. We note that even amid the allegations, a senior Israeli official recognized the critical necessity of UNRWA’s ongoing operations at this time, saying, “If UNRWA ceases operating on the ground, this could cause a humanitarian catastrophe.” The official stated that with no other organization capable of fulfilling UNRWA’s functions, “Israel is not pushing to shut down UNRWA.”

In light of the desperate humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the critical role played by UNRWA, we urge the Administration to move swiftly in its review to ensure that this pause in funding – and similar suspensions by partner countries – does not impact the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid as the agency operates off limited funds already disbursed.