Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) is calling on the U.S. and international community to restore their funding to Palestine’s primary aid agency after more than a dozen countries and the European Union announced that they were suspending funds over the past week.
In a statement released Tuesday, Sanders called for Israeli officials’ allegations against employees in the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) to be investigated but condemned the suspension of funding in a time when Palestinians in Gaza are desperately in need of humanitarian aid.
“More than 26,000 Palestinians have been killed in this war, seventy percent of whom are women and children. Today, hundreds of thousands of children face starvation and disease,” Sanders said.
“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,” the statement continued. “However, we cannot allow millions to suffer because of the actions of 12 people. The U.S. and other countries must restore funding to stave off this humanitarian catastrophe.”
Israel has accused 12 employees for the UNRWA — of 30,000 in total across the region — of having ties to the October 7 attack led by Hamas forces. Notably, Israeli officials have a long history of attacking the UNRWA, the primary source of humanitarian aid for Palestinians.
Israeli officials have provided shifting explanations for where the information behind the allegations originated from, and the allegations do not appear to have been corroborated by other world governments so far. Meanwhile, Israel’s invasion and assault has already killed 152 UNRWA staff.
However, Israel’s allegations prompted a flood of countries to announce that they were suspending funding, beginning with the U.S. At least 14 other countries and the European Union have followed so far, accounting for a majority of the UNRWA’s funding. The suspensions are threatening to shutter operations of the group, UN officials have warned.
A litany of humanitarian groups, including Oxfam and Amnesty International, have noted that the swift suspensions are brash and irresponsible considering both the dearth of scrutiny over Israel’s claims, with the country having a vested interest in blocking humanitarian aid to Gaza, and the speed with which countries leapt to suspending their funding even as Israel is starving the entire population of Gaza and wiping out nearly the entire health system of the region.
Indeed, U.S. officials have already doubled down on the decision to suspend funding. In a press conference on Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the allegations are “highly, highly credible” even as he outright admitted that the U.S. hasn’t looked into their validity, and acknowledged that “no one else can play the role that UNRWA’s been playing.”
Palestinian American writer and musician Michel Moushabeck noted for Truthout this week that the defunding of the UNRWA contributes to the ongoing “cultural genocide” of Palestinians and said that the U.S.’s suspension of funding — announced just hours after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an initial ruling ordering Israel to stop committing atrocities in Gaza — is a show of American leaders’ priorities.
“These countries’ collective decision to suspend humanitarian funding may not be a surprise given their ongoing complicity with Israel’s violence, but it is nevertheless a disgrace that instead of putting pressure on Israel to abide by the ICJ’s interim ruling and expedite humanitarian aid into Gaza, these so-called Western democracies — which are largely responsible for the Nakba and the ongoing plight and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people — are contributing to the imminent starvation of the 2 million displaced Palestinians in Gaza who are experiencing the worst humanitarian nightmare imaginable,” Moushabeck wrote.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and several other House Democrats have also called on countries to restore their funding to the UNRWA.
“Cutting off support to [the] UNRWA — the primary source of humanitarian aid to 2 million+ Gazans — is unacceptable,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on social media on Monday. “Among an organization of 13,000 UN aid workers, risking the starvation of millions over grave allegations of 12 is indefensible. The US should restore aid immediately.”