UNRWA on the brink: Canada restore funding now!


At least 29,606 Palestinians killed and 69,737 injured in Israeli attacks on Gaza since October 7. The revised death toll in Israel from the October 7 attacks stands at 1,139. – Al Jazeera Live updates, 24 February 2024

UN calls Gaza a “death zone”

Gaza has become a death zone. – Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General

Across the war-ravaged Gaza Strip, severe malnutrition has shot up dramatically since the start of the war on 7 October, from under one percent of the population to over 15 percent in some areas.

The World Food Program has suspended its aid deliveries to Northern Gaza due to lack of security for both humanitarian personnel and those seeking assistance.

MSF condemns attacks on its shelters

In a written condemnation by Médecins sans frontières (MSF) of Israeli attacks on one of its shelters, Director General Meinie Nicolai states in part:

The amount of force being used in densely populated urban environments is staggering, and targeting a building knowing it is full of humanitarian workers and their families is unconscionable.

See also Israel has created a medical apocalypse in Gaza (thenation.com, 20 February 2024).

UN panel finds credible the claims of sexual assault of Palestinian girls and women

UN experts say they have seen “credible allegations” that Palestinian women and girls have been subjected to sexual assaults, including rape, while in Israeli detention, and are calling for a full investigation.

The panel of experts said there was evidence of a least two cases of rape, alongside other cases of sexual humiliation and threats of rape. Reem Alsalem, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, said the true extent of sexual violence could be significantly higher:

We might not know for a long time what the actual number of victims are. – Reem Alsalem

She noted that reticence in reporting sexual assault was common because of the fear of reprisals against victims. She said that in a wave of detentions of Palestinian women and girls after the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on 7 October, there was an increasingly permissive attitude towards sexual assault in Israeli detention centres.

Alsalem added:

I would say that, on the whole, violence and dehumanisation of Palestinian women and children and civilians has been normalised throughout this war.

UNRWA  is “on the brink of collapse”

The UN agency serving Palestine refugees (UNRWA) has reached breaking point due to Israeli calls for its abolition and the associated funding freeze, just when it is needed most. – UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was created by UN General Assembly resolution 302 (IV) of 8 December 1949 “to carry out […] direct relief and works programmes” for Palestine refugees. The agency began operations on 1 May 1950.

On 22 February 2024 UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini wrote to the President of the UN General Assembly to inform him, and through him all UN Member States, that

the Agency has reached breaking point, with Israel’s repeated calls to dismantle UNRWA and the freezing of funding by donors at a time of unprecedented humanitarian needs in Gaza. The Agency’s ability to fulfil the mandate given through General Assembly resolution 302 is now seriously threatened.

He continues:

In just over four months in Gaza there have been more children, more journalists, more medical personnel, and more UN staff killed than anywhere in the world during a conflict…. The last remaining hospitals are collapsing, and doctors amputate children’s limbs without anesthetic, which puts pain at a new level for children, their parents, and medical personnel. According to UN experts, famine is imminent.

Concerted Israeli campaign to destroy UNRWA

Since the ICJ ruling, there has been a concerted effort by some Israeli officials to deceptively conflate UNRWA with Hamas, to disrupt UNRWA’s operations, and to call for the dismantling of the Agency – UNRWA chief

The Commissioner-General outlines in his letter actions taken by some Israeli officials to “deceptively conflate” UNRWA with Hamas, to disrupt UNRWA’s operations, and to call for the dismantling of the organization, including:

  • Demanding a US $4.5 million “usage fee” for its Kalandia Vocational Training Centre in East Jerusalem as well as ordering UNRWA to vacate the premises;
  • Actions by the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem to evict UNRWA from its HQ of 75 years;
  • Statement by the Israeli Minister for Finance that UNRWA’s tax exemption privileges will be revoked;
  • Refusal of access to Jerusalem for hundreds of UNRWA local staff to reach UNRWA’s HQ, schools and health centres.

The pernicious list goes on and on, including a statement by Prime Minister Netanyahu on 31 January 2024 that UNRWA was “in the service of Hamas”.

Implications of UNRWA’s collapse go beyond the dire humanitarian impact

Lazzarini writes of the twin impending disasters:

Dismantling UNRWA will undermine UN efforts to address Gaza’s humanitarian crisis and worsen the crisis in the West Bank….

In the longer-term, it will end UNRWA’s [widely-acknowledged] stabilizing role…. It will also weaken prospects for a transition and a political solution to this long-standing conflict.

Lazzarini further explains:

Calls today by the Government of Israel for UNRWA’s closure are not about the Agency’s neutrality. Instead, they are about changing the long-standing political parameters for peace in the occupied Palestinian territory set by the General Assembly and the Security Council. They seek to eliminate UNRWA’s role in protecting the rights of Palestine Refugees and acting as a witness to their continuing plight.

UNRWA’s mandate embodies the promise of a political solution. Two weeks before the 7 October attacks, the Israeli Prime Minister presented to the General Assembly a map of a future Israel that encompassed all of Palestine; whereas UNRWA’s mandate to provide services to Palestine Refugees within this same area is an obstacle to that map becoming a reality.

The Commissioner-General asks:

Will the parameters of peace for Palestinians and Israelis be wiped away by obstructing UNRWA’s mandate and defunding the Agency outside of any political agreement and consultation with Palestinians?

Or will this moment of great crisis be used as a catalyst for peace[?]

In addition to UN member states continuing to sustain UNRWA in the best interests of the Palestinian Refugees, Lazzarini makes a further appeal that the organization’s funding structure be amended so that it is no longer so reliant upon voluntary contributions that make it vulnerable to wider political considerations, such as UNRWA faces now.

US intelligence report casts doubt on many of Israel’s claims against UNRWA

A Guardian article of 22 February 2024, citing the Wall Street Journal in turn, states that a National Intelligence Council report had

“low confidence” in the basic claim that a handful of staff had participated in the attack, indicating that it considered the accusations to be credible though it could not independently confirm their veracity.

Even more serious, the NIC “cast doubt” on Israel’s accusations that the UN agency was collaborating with Hamas in a wider way.

According to the WSJ, the NIC report

mentioned that although the UNRWA does coordinate with Hamas in order to deliver aid and operate in the region, there was a lack of evidence to suggest it partnered with the group.

Israel has not shared the raw intelligence behind its assessments with the US.

NIC report also finds Israeli bias, mischaracterization and distortion of UNRWA

According to the WSJ, two sources familiar with the NIC report state that it notes Israel’s “dislike” towards UNRWA, with one source further elaborating that

There is a specific section that mentions how Israeli bias serves to mischaracterize much of their assessments on UNRWA and says this has resulted in distortions.

The four-page report by the National Intelligence Council was circulated across US government officials last week, the Wall Street Journal reported. Established in 1979, the NIC comprises senior and veteran intelligence analysts who work alongside US policymakers on American policy.

RI President Peggy Mason comments:

We have today written to Prime Minister Trudeau, International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen and Foreign Minister Joly calling for the immediate restoration of funding to UNRWA and support for action by the General Assembly to put the organization on a solid financial footing commensurate with the importance of its work for Palestinian Refugees in Gaza and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Whither Canada?


Israel rejoins Paris ceasefire negotiations

The New York Times reported Friday that Israel has rejoined ceasefire talks in Paris, in a reversal by Netanyahu of his earlier decision last week to withdraw his negotiators.

According to the article:

One person briefed on the talks, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were indications that both Hamas and Israel were willing to negotiate over an interim deal that could exchange 35 Israeli hostages who are either medically frail or older for an undetermined number of Palestinian prisoners.

Israeli media on Saturday reported “outline of an agreement”

We have a basis on which to build a plan and the negotiations. – informed source

According to the Times of Israel, an “outline of an agreement” has been reached in talks in Paris this weekend. An Israeli delegation, which includes the heads of its internal and external intelligence services, met the director of the CIA, Qatar’s prime minister and Egypt’s most senior intelligence official in a bid to “unblock” progress towards a truce and the return of hostages held by Palestinian militants.

US vetoes Arab-backed UN resolution demanding ceasefire in Gaza

Once again casting the lone negative Security Council vote, on 20 February 2024 the US vetoed an Arab-backed ceasefire resolution, with 13 votes in support and the UK abstaining.

Zhang Jun, the Chinese ambassador, said:

The continued passive avoidance of an immediate ceasefire is no different from giving a green light to the continued slaughter.

According to the Guardian report:

US Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield looked on stony-faced as a series of Washington allies including France, Slovenia and Switzerland explained their reasons for voting for the resolution, despite sharing the US’s reservation that it did not include any condemnation of Hamas…

They all argued the humanitarian disaster in Gaza was so dire that stopping the fighting took precedence over such concerns.

The US argued that calling for an immediate ceasefire would undermine the ongoing negotiations with Hamas for a ceasefire and the release of hostages, not explaining why less pressure on Israel would help to that end.

US draft resolution is decried by MSF in SC briefing

The people of Gaza need a ceasefire not when “practicable” but now. – MSF chief

The US has drafted an alternative resolution, which calls for a temporary ceasefire “as soon as practicable”, and calls on Israel not to proceed with a planned offensive on Rafah, the southernmost Gazan city where more than a million Palestinians have sought refuge.

However, no date has yet been set for the start of formal deliberations on the US draft resolution and it has already been decried by at least one humanitarian organization, with MSF chief Chris Lockyear telling the Security Council on 22 February 2024:

A new draft resolution by the United States ostensibly calls for a ceasefire. However, this is misleading at best….

The people of Gaza need a ceasefire not when “practicable,” but now. They need a sustained ceasefire, not a temporary period of calm. Anything short of this is gross negligence.

Muslim groups say MPs won’t be welcome in mosques until they commit to Gaza ceasefire and other measures

Canadian Muslims aren’t willing to settle for “tokenism” or “empty words and false promises.” – CCI Director Twakkal

In a powerful letter to MPs, Muslim groups, including the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the Canadian Council of Imams (CCI) and hundreds of others, call on MPs from all parties to commit to the following:

  1. Condemning the war crimes being committed by Israeli forces;
  2. Supporting an immediate ceasefire urgently needed to protect civilians sheltering in Rafah and beyond;
  3. Demanding the immediate resumption of funding for UNRWA, a lifeline for millions of refugees which was suspended without reasonable basis;
  4. Opposing the flow of arms and military equipment to the Netanyahu government, which, as confirmed by the ICJ, is engaged in plausible genocide; and
  5. Standing in defence of civil liberties, including the right of Canadians to express solidarity with the Palestinian people without fear of reprisal.

Following the list of demands, the letter states:

If you cannot publicly commit to all of the above, respectfully, we cannot provide you with a platform to address our congregations. Ramadan is about humanity. This Ramadan, more than ever, only those MPs who share in our commitment to humanity will be welcome to address us in our sacred spaces.

Moving Palestinian closing statement at ICJ hearing on legal implications of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory

What does international law mean for a nation bestowed with inherent rights, but enjoying none? – Riyad Mansour, Palestinian Ambassador to the UN

Back in our 13 October 2023 blog post, we touched on the request from the UN General Assembly to the International Court of Justice for an Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences arising from the Policies and Practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.

The Court began hearing oral submissions on 19 February 2024. Future posts will consider the potentially significant implications of this Advisory Opinion, once rendered, on international efforts to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.

We wish today to draw attention to the moving closing statement to the court by Palestinian Permanent Representative to the UN Riyad Mansour (which begins on page 109).

He states in part:

  1. After 75 years, justice can no longer wait for the day Israel has an epiphany and suddenly decides to reverse course, and commit to the law and United Nations resolutions. Our journey in the search for justice has brought us before you, before the International Court of Justice, following the General Assembly’s decision to seek your guidance.
  2. We call on you to confirm that Israel’s presence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is illegal, that the presence of its occupation forces and settlers is illegal, and that its occupation must thus come to an immediate, complete and unconditional end. This occupation has served as cover for Israel’s colonial designs: the acquisition of Palestinian territory by force….
  1. A finding from this distinguished Court that the occupation is illegal and drawing the legal consequences from this determination would contribute to bringing it to an immediate end, paving the way to a just and lasting peace.
  2. In closing, honourable judges, the State of Palestine appeals to this Court: to guide the international community in upholding international law, ending injustice and achieving a just and lasting peace.
  3. To guide us towards a future in which Palestinian children are treated as children, not as a demographic threat. In which the identity of the group to which we belong does not diminish the human rights to which we are all entitled.
  4. A future in which no Palestinian and no Israeli is killed. A future in which two States live side by side in peace and security. The Palestinian people only demand respect for their rights. They ask for nothing more; they can accept nothing less and nothing else.

Israeli intentions for the “day after”

A long-awaited postwar plan by Israel’s prime minister shows that his government seeks open-ended control over security and civilian affairs in Gaza.

According to AP:

The plan outlines a scenario in which Israel will retain indefinite security control across a demilitarized Gaza.

Indefinite Israeli security control and a “neutral buffer zone” in areas of Gaza connecting to Israel — also in the plan — will run counter to any push to establish a fully independent Palestinian state, which the US has backed and which many supporters see as the only way to create a lasting peace in the region.

In terms of Gaza governance, the two-page document appears to rule out not only Hamas (to which the US also objects) but the Palestinian Authority (PA) as well. The US has called for some form of revitalized PA to govern Gaza.

Ceasefire.ca comments:

Once again, we must point out the obvious — that American objections to transparent Israeli plans to thwart any possibility of a viable, independent Palestinian state in the aftermath of the Gaza war will be meaningless to stop Israel acting on those plans, unless the US and its allies make it clear there will be serious negative consequences for Israel continuing on that path.

Whither Canada?

We reiterate our call for Canada to signal its seriousness about tangibly supporting irrevocable steps toward a two-state solution by immediately granting official recognition to the Palestinian state.

Editor’s note: see the full list of Calls for Action to the Government of Canada regarding the Gaza conflict after the Ukraine Update.


Today, standing shoulder to shoulder with our Allies and partners, Canada committed to further assistance, including military and humanitarian support, for Ukraine. We will stand with Ukraine with whatever it takes, for as long as it takes. Slava Ukraini!” – PMO statement, 24 February

Prime Minister Trudeau and three other leaders, the European Commission President and the Prime Ministers of Italy and Belgium, arrived in Kyiv on Saturday to show solidarity with Ukraine on the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion.

In his meeting with Ukrainian President Zelensky, Prime Minister Trudeau also signed a “new historic agreement on security cooperation” between the two countries which, according to the Prime Minister’s statement,

builds on the G7 Joint Declaration of Support for Ukraine, and outlines key, long-term security commitments for Canada to continue supporting Ukraine as it defends its sovereignty and territorial integrity, protects its people, and rebuilds its economy for the future.

As part of this commitment, Canada will provide $3.02 billion in critical financial and military support to Ukraine in 2024.

The Prime Minister’s statement ends with the pledge that

We will continue to work closely with our Allies and international partners to support Ukraine and Ukrainians as they continue to fight for their freedom, for their independence, and for democracy.

Rand expert urges Ukraine-Russia talks to end the war sooner rather than later

To mark the grim Ukraine war anniversary, The Rand Blog featured a Q&A with some of its experts. One question concerned negotiations:

Putin has made some noises about negotiations; are these for real? Or a ploy? How might the West think about these?

While one expert, William Courtney, dismissed Putin’s remarks as designed to secure tactical breathing space on the battlefield, the other, Miranda Priebe (co-author of two Rand studies we have featured in past posts), had a different view:

It is hard to know how serious these reports are, but it is worth following up to find out. Some commentators argue that showing an openness to negotiations would signal weak will and encourage Russia to keep fighting. It is not clear that this is true.

Moreover, Ukraine and Russia will have to talk at some point to bring the war to an end. This is a process that might take a long time, so it makes sense to start sooner rather than later.

Ceasefire.ca comments:

In our view Priebe offers wise council, but there is no sign at all that Ukraine’s Western allies are listening. Meanwhile, military spending worldwide soared by 9% to a record high of $2.2tn last year and is likely to grow further in 2024, aided by Russia’s war in Ukraine and Israel’s assault on Gaza.

But some Ukraine experts continue to explore negotiation possibilities

U.S. diplomacy is urgently needed for a negotiated settlement to preserve Ukraine’s future. – forthcoming report of George Beebe and Anatol Lieven

For the video of a recent expert discussion hosted by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, click on the arrow below.

For a transcript of the webinar discussion, click Two Years On: What is the Path Forward in Ukraine?  (21 February 2024).

Project Ploughshares to host webinar THIS WEEK on how to get from war to peace in Ukraine


Whither Canada on the Gaza Conflict?

Canada has the means to impose real consequences on Israel – Ceasefire.ca

As we have repeatedly emphasized, Israel will not change course without the prospect of real consequences for its grossly illegal conduct of the war in Gaza.

Accordingly, we again call on the Government of Canada to suspend all transfers of military goods to Israel directly or to Israel via the United States.

 We also reiterate our calls for Canada to immediately:

  • reinstate full funding to UNRWA;
  • officially recognize the state of Palestine; and
  • call on Israel to abandon its ground invasion of Rafah and immediately comply with all aspects of the ICJ provisional orders, including in particular immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of humanitarian aid to Gaza civilians now in desperate need.


The parliamentary e-petition calling for an end to Canadian arms transfers to Israel has now closed for signature, reaching a total number of 82,248.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: < justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca  >

Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly: < melanie.joly@parl.gc.ca >; Parliamentary Secretary Rob Oliphant: < rob.oliphant@parl.gc.ca >

International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen: < ahmed.hussen@parl.gc.ca >

Leader of the NDP Jagmeet Singh: < Jagmeet.Singh@parl.gc.ca >

Leader of the Conservative Party Pierre Poilievre: < pierre.poilievre@parl.gc.ca >;

Conservative Foreign Affairs critic: < michael.chong@parl.gc.ca >

Leader of the Bloc Quebecois Yves-François Blanchet: < Yves-Francois.Blanchet@parl.gc.ca>

Green Party Critic Elizabeth May: < Elizabeth.May@parl.gc.ca >

And find your local Member of Parliament HERE.

Photo credit: WHO (Nasser Hospital); GOC (Trudeau & Zelensky); UNICEF/Eyad El Baba

Ceasefire.ca is a public outreach project of the Rideau Institute linking Canadians working together for peace. We depend on your donations as we accept no funding from government or industry to protect our independence. Thank you for your support….

Tags: Canada and official recognition of Palestine, Canadian Council of Imams (CCI), G7 Leaders' Statement of February 2024, Gaza "death zone", Gaza ceasefire negotiations, ICJ hearings, Israel, Israeli bias against UNRWA, Israeli post-war plan, MSF chief Chris Lockyear, MSF Director General Meinie Nicolai, National Council of Canadian Muslims, National Intelligence Council (NIC), Palestine, Palestinian Permanent Representative to the UN Riyad Mansour, Project Ploughshares webinar on Ukraine peace prospects, Quincy Institute webinar on UKraine War Two Years On, Reem Alsalem the UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, sexual assault of Palestinian girls and women, The Rand Blog Q&A, two-year anniversary of Ukraine war, UNRWA, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini, US draft ceasefire resolution, US Security Council veto, World Food Program (WFP)