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Israel's Proposal To Designate UNRWA As A Terrorist Organisation Is An Outrageous Attack On Humanitarian Assistance

Opinion from Medecins Sans Frontieres

On 29 May, a bill aimed at designating UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, as a terrorist organisation passed a preliminary reading prior to three further readings in Israel’s Parliament, known as the Knesset. A second bill that would lead to the severing of all ties with the UN agency and strip it of various immunities was also proposed and passed a preliminary reading. These two bills would not only forbid UNRWA from operating in Israel entirely but would also criminalise the organisation, its activities and its staff.

"The Israeli Knesset's preliminary bill to designate UNRWA as a terrorist organisation is an outrageous attack on humanitarian assistance and an act of collective punishment against the Palestinian people. We strongly condemn the proposed designation and stand in solidarity with UNRWA, which serves as a lifeline, providing essential relief to millions of Palestinians and acting as the backbone of aid delivery to the people in Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the region. By branding the UN agency created to aid Palestinian refugees as a terrorist entity, Israeli authorities would be perpetuating a narrative that vilifies and marginalises an entire population and those who provide them with assistance, says MSF Secretary General, Christopher Lockyear.

This follows months of intimidation against UNRWA, including an attack on its offices in Jerusalem. It is the culmination of the continuous systematic obstruction of vital humanitarian aid, including into the Strip, effectively choking Gaza. This occurs while Israeli forces continue attacking populated areas resulting in mass civilian casualties in areas designated as ‘safe zones’ by Israeli forces, continue with the destruction of civilian infrastructures including hospitals, and with the repeated forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of people trapped in Gaza.

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Not only is humanitarian aid being obstructed but if the bill passes a final reading, it will also be criminalised under Israel’s Anti-Terrorism Law, in contradiction with international humanitarian law. This would have terrible consequences as it could amount to a free license to attack UNRWA facilities and its humanitarian personnel and would further endanger civilians seeking the protection of the UN Agency. Humanitarian workers must always be protected, and civilians spared.

Israel’s allies, who are all members of the United Nations, must stand against this move to criminalise humanitarian assistance and ensure that UNRWA can continue its essential work. These governments must pressure Israel to stop the bloodshed and provide assistance to Gaza."

MSF Australia was established in 1995 and is one of 24 international MSF sections committed to delivering medical humanitarian assistance to people in crisis. In 2022, more than 120 project staff from Australia and New Zealand worked with MSF on assignment overseas. MSF delivers medical care based on need alone and operates independently of government, religion or economic influence and irrespective of race, religion or gender. For more information visit msf.org.au

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