Daoud Kuttab: West should not have believed Israel over UNRWA

The synchronized decisions of many Western countries to suspend their financial support to one of the most important UN agencies in the Middle East is not an innocent act. The Israeli government, not known for its truthfulness, has concocted evidence against 12 Palestinians — who are among 13,000 employees of the UN Relief and Works Agency — that they shared with major Western capitals. Tel Aviv claims that those 12 participated in the attacks on Israelis on Oct. 7 and that they used UN vehicles.

Not a single piece of information has been made public or independently verified, which fits into the Israeli routine: make an accusation, provide superficial evidence and refuse to cooperate with any serious investigation. Months later, after the damage is done, Israel hopes and expects that the issue will be forgotten. The amazing thing is the speed of the domino effect that has taken place, with little attention paid to the claims or any acceptance of the fact that UNRWA has dismissed the 12 accused and has begun a serious investigation.

The history of Israeli lies is so big and has been thoroughly and repeatedly proven that one wonders why so many respected countries fell for them once again. Here are a few recent cases. Israelis claimed that there were babies who were beheaded on Oct. 7 and the news got all the way to the US president, only to be debunked and even denied by the Israeli army. Systematic rape has been claimed and insisted on, yet no proof has been provided.

Previously, Israel accused six Palestinian human rights organizations of being terrorist groups, with the aim of getting Western donor countries and foundations to stop supporting them. That failed when funders insisted on irrefutable proof and Tel Aviv could not provide it. In fact, Israel has not even moved to arrest the heads of the organizations that it claims are terrorists. It has banned Ubai Aboudi, the US-Palestinian head of the Bisan Center for Research and Development, from leaving the West Bank — a clear violation of the US-Israel understanding — yet no attempt has been made to arrest him.

Perhaps the most blatant unproven accusation was levied against the former Gaza head of the World Vision Organization, Mohammad El-Halabi. Israel accused El-Halabi of diverting $50 million to Hamas, yet it was unable to provide a single piece of evidence to back up this accusation. Never mind the fact that the sum involved is more than 10 times bigger than the humanitarian organization’s entire budget for the Occupied Territories. El-Halabi, who has been in jail for six years, has refused to accept a plea bargain that would give him freedom because he insists he did not do anything wrong.

The history of Israeli lies is so big and has been thoroughly and repeatedly proven that one wonders why so many respected countries fell for them once again


El-Halabi, who lost 40 percent of his hearing during the torture and interrogation phase, withstood the physical pressure. However, the 12 UNRWA staff fired last week may not be able to withstand any torture and may sign anything under duress.

In this UNRWA case, as in all the others, Israel will refrain from total cooperation with the UN, but will give it cherry-picked evidence. In a few months, the agency will not be able to fully complete its investigation, but the damage will have been done.

Even if we are to accept that a tiny fraction of the employees of this well-disciplined agency committed a crime, why would an entire agency be punished? And, more importantly, why punish the Palestinian people who desperately need its services? UNRWA is the most reliable and present organization that can adhere to the orders of the International Court of Justice in delivering aid to Palestinians.

The timing of the Israeli decision (we have no idea how long they have held the information that they blitzed Western capitals with) is also suspect. Israel clearly had other motivations for its synchronized efforts in major capitals. The world court, a UN agency, accepted and quoted the reports of other UN agencies during its interim verdict on the genocide complaint against Israel. In retaliation, what Israel has tried to do is show the unreliability of a UN agency.

Furthermore, anyone following Israel’s position on UN agencies in general and UNRWA in particular knows that it abhors them. UNRWA reminds it and the world of the Palestinian refugee issue and the right of return of Palestinian refugees, as stated in UN General Assembly Resolution 194.

The problem is not only in Israel’s selfish, unethical and even genocidal efforts, but also the part played by many Western countries, which either consciously or unconsciously once again fell for synchronized Israeli lies and deception against an important UN agency. This agency has nothing to do with the opinions or even actions of a few Palestinians, regardless of whether or not Israel’s allegations about them are true.

Daoud Kuttab, an award-winning Palestinian journalist, is a director of Community Media Network. X: @daoudkuttab. This article was originally published in Arab News

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