Should Canada restart funding for UNWRA?

Canada is facing increasing pressure from humanitarian advocates and Muslim and Arab Canadians to restore funding to UNRWA, the UN aid organization for Palestinian refugees, as mass famine looms in Gaza.

More than two million Gazans are on the brink of catastrophe, humanitarian groups say, as aid delivery is hampered by Israel’s near-total blockade of the Palestinian enclave and its ongoing war against Hamas.

‘The air drops are pathetic and depressing. They provide photo opportunities for governments that want to give the impression that they want to help,” says Alex Neve, an international human rights lawyer and senior fellow at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

“It’s a powerful indictment of the fact that no government, not the Canadian government and even the United States, seems able to convince the Israeli government to do the right thing,” Neve said.

In January, the Trudeau government suspended funding to UNWRA in response to allegations that agency staff played a role in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

Asked Thursday whether he would restore funding amid worsening humanitarian conditions, Trudeau did not confirm one way or the other.

“The current humanitarian crisis and disaster in Gaza is heartbreaking for everyone,” he said, adding that the government is monitoring the UN investigation into the allegations.

Children dying from malnutrition

The airdrops come on the heels of a visit by the World Health Organization to two hospitals in northern Gaza last weekend. The WHO last visited the area in October during the early stages of the war between Israel and Hamas.

Authorities recorded severe levels of malnutrition and shortages of fuel, food and medical supplies and found that at least 10 children had died of starvation.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysesus called on Israel on Day X to “ensure that humanitarian aid can be delivered safely and regularly.”

“Civilians, especially children, and healthcare workers need more help immediately. But the key medicine all these patients need is peace. Ceasefire.” Ghebreysesus wrote in his social media post.

The ‘flour massacre’

The WHO update came five days after an incident in which more than 100 people died. In the early hours of February 29, thousands of hungry Palestinians crowded around a convoy of aid trucks in northern Gaza. They hoped to get a bag of flour to feed their hungry families.

Israel Defense Forces Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said troops fired warning shots to disperse a mob that was trying to ambush the convoy. Israel maintains that most of the people died after being trampled in a stampede or run over by aid trucks.

But witnesses say soldiers shot at people and then the dead and wounded were run over by Israeli tanks. Doctors reported treating dozens of people who had been shot. UN human rights experts condemned the event, called “flour massacre.”

In an interview with CTV News, Sari Bashi, West Bank program director for Human Rights Watch, says Israel is deliberately causing a famine.

“We are concerned that the Israeli military is failing to meet its obligations as an occupying power to ensure that civilians adequately receive life-saving aid and, in fact, is actively preventing the delivery of life-saving aid and using hunger as a weapon. of war.”

A day after the deadly chaos, the European Union announced on March 1 that it would restore funding to UNWRA.

Canada has yet to decide whether to do the same.

Anger over UNRWA defunding

Israel claimed that 12 of UNRWA’s 13,000 workers were directly involved in the October 7 Hamas attacks that killed some 1,200 Israelis.

After the allegations emerged on Jan. 26, Canada and more than a dozen other donor countries, including the United States, Britain, Germany and Australia, suspended payments while the United Nations quickly launched an investigation.

Canada had previously committed $100 million to UNRWA over four years. A quarter of that money was spent in 2023, but this pause means Canada is holding back $75 million in funds, including an upcoming payment in April.

Israel’s claim came to light on the same day that the International Court of Justice ruled that something “plausible” was happening in Gaza.

Israeli soldiers position themselves next to dented UN vehicles perched precariously on construction rubble at the UNRWA compound, where the army discovered tunnels into the UN agency’s main headquarters that the army says Hamas militants used to attack his forces during a ground operation in Gaza. , Thursday, February 8, 2024. The Israeli military says it discovered tunnels beneath the main headquarters of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza City, alleging that Hamas militants used the space as a power room. The opening of the tunnels marked the latest chapter in Israel’s campaign against the embattled agency, which it accuses of collaborating with Hamas. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Warning of “catastrophic conditions,” the ICJ ordered Israel “to take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian aid.”

The initial case accusing Israel of contravening the United Nations Convention on Genocide was brought to the World Court by South Africa.

On Wednesday, South Africa, alarmed by a “situation of widespread famine caused by continued egregious violations,” filed a new application urging the ICJ to impose additional orders on Israel without a hearing.

Judicial fight and calls for sanctions

Last weekend in Toronto, hundreds of protesters angry over the defunding of UNRWA blocked International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen and other guests from entering the main doors of the Art Gallery of Ontario to attend a Prime Minister’s reception. Italian minister. Giorgia Meloni.

In video published on X, a protester is heard shouting at Hussen: “How dare you call yourself a Muslim? What a shame… You are complicit in the genocide. “You are complicit in the murder of my family and friends.”

UNRWA says a minimum of 500 trucks of humanitarian aid are needed each day to meet basic needs, although in reality far fewer arrive.

Human rights advocates say Canada needs to do more than simply restore funding to UNRWA.

Neve says the Trudeau government should impose sanctions on Israel to pressure it to comply with the ICJ ruling and allow in significantly more humanitarian aid.

“Sanctions have been imposed against Hamas and other armed Palestinian leaders, but nothing has been implemented against Israeli officials or Israeli military officers.” Neve said.

The government’s reluctance to act has forced a group of human rights and Palestinian-Canadian lawyers to take legal action.

they are suing the liberal government in federal court to prevent it from exporting military goods and technology to Israel.

Pressure grows as the death toll in Gaza rises. The Hamas-run health authority estimates that more than 30,000 Palestinians have died in five months of war, more than a third of them children.

This week, as Israel faced harsh rebukes around the world for its obstruction of humanitarian aid delivery following the “Flour Massacre,” the Jewish state provided a new estimate of alleged Hamas infiltration.

“More than 450 UNRWA employees are military agents of terrorist groups in Gaza… this is not a mere coincidence. This is systematic,” Hagari, the army’s top spokesman, said Monday. Hagari provided no evidence to support his accusation.

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