The Palestinians won’t cease to exist just cause they don’t have a refugee agency

Rashmee Roshan Lall
3 min readJan 27, 2024
Photo by Ahmed Abu Hameeda on Unsplash

It’s shocking that eight Western donor countries have halted their funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) on flimsy and inadequate grounds — Israeli allegations that a few of UNRWA’s staff were somehow involved in the October 7 Hamas attacks.

That’s extraordinary for a number of reasons:

First, UNRWA employs roughly 13,000 people inside Gaza and to penalise the whole UN agency — and more to the point, more than two million people in the Gaza Strip who depend on UNRWA — is deeply troubling. As UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini has said, the people of Gaza rely on his organisation “for their sheer survival”.

To defund UNRWA, as Mr Lazzarini added, “at a time of war, displacement and political crises in the region”, feels particularly uncaring to the point of callous.


Especially as Mr Lazzarini’s January 27 (Saturday) statement offered the following clarification: that “immediate action” had been taken by UNRWA against the staff members in question and an investigation by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services into “the heinous allegations will establish the facts”.

He added that “UNRWA shares the list of all its staff with host countries every year, including Israel. The agency never received any concerns on specific staff members.”

Quite so.

The US, Germany and the EU, which are among UNRWA’s biggest donors, could’ve asked for a speedy investigation and waited until it pronounced.

Instead, they appear to have moved with expedient haste in the direction indicated by Israel, whose antipathy to UNRWA (and indeed to the UN as a whole) has long been obvious. The relationship has often been called “taut” and really there’s hardly a better way to describe the bitterness over the years and particularly since October 7.

Israel says that after Hamas carried out the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, the UN has enabled an anti-Israel bias with anti-Israel policies.

But over the years, since 1949 in fact, when UNRWA was established, Israel has argued that a bespoke UN agency gives Palestinians special status among refugees and they should be satisfied with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which looks after all of the world’s refugees.

Were the ugly to come to pass — and it’s by no means certain Donald Trump (God help us all, Americans and others) would be re-elected –America’s pro-Israel tilt would be more pronounced.

Remember, the Trump administration cutting funding to UNRWA? For all her fair and compassionate conservatism tack now, as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley led the charge to cut off US funding to UNRWA. That move brought her into conflict with other administration officials including Mr Trump’s first secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who partially blocked it. Once Mr Tillerson was forced out, US funding to UNRWA was cut.

For more light reading (I’m kidding, I know it’s dark), click here for my August 2018 piece on the attitude of Mr Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to UNRWA. It explains a lot, methinks.

Originally published at



Rashmee Roshan Lall

PhD. Journalism by trade & inclination. Writer. My novel 'Pomegranate Peace' is about my year in Afghanistan. I teach journalism at university in London