Just International

Cutting Aid to Refugees, US Advances Israel’s War on Palestinian Existence

By Aaron Maté

While rushing weapons to the Israeli government’s assault on Gaza, the Biden administration embraces Israeli allegations about UNRWA without bothering to investigate them.

1 Feb 2024 – In early November, as the Biden administration faced growing outcry over its partnership with Israel’s mass murder campaign in Gaza, Secretary of State Antony Blinken turned to UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, for an attempted face-saving photo opportunity.

“I spoke with UNRWA staff in Gaza,” Blinken wrote on Twitter, sharing a photo of himself in a virtual meeting with four agency workers. “I heard about the extraordinary lifesaving work they are doing in the face of extremely difficult conditions. We are working to expedite assistance to them so that they can get it to the Palestinian people.”

While claiming to expedite aid to UNRWA, Blinken’s State Department has in fact helped enforce Israel’s blockade of the Gaza death camp, all while expediting US weapons shipments for a relentless bombing campaign that has left it largely destroyed.

The Biden administration’s commitment to Israeli savagery is so extreme that not even the “extraordinary lifesaving work” of UNRWA, which provides essential services to millions of Palestinians in Gaza and other regions, can be spared. The US, along with Germany, France, Japan, Switzerland, Canada, Netherlands, Italy, Australia and Finland, has suspended aid to UNRWA in response to Israeli claims that 12 of the agency’s 13,000 employees took part in the Hamas-led Oct. 7th attack.

The Israeli government unveiled its allegations against UNRWA on Friday just as the International Court of Justice found plausible grounds to accuse of Israel of genocide in Gaza, and ordered it to cease blocking aid. By embracing Israel’s allegations against UNRWA, the White House and its allies not only helped deflect attention from the ICJ ruling, but make clear that Israel has their blessing to ignore it.

According to the Washington Post, the Biden administration’s decision to suspend UNRWA’s funding was made so quickly that it came “in a matter of hours” after receiving a so-called “dossier” from Israeli intelligence. The US rushed to support Israel’s allegations despite acknowledging that it hadn’t bothered to scrutinize them. “We haven’t had the ability to investigate [the allegations] ourselves,” Secretary Blinken told reporters. “But they are highly, highly credible.” Blinken did not explain how he has developed the ability to vouch for “highly, highly credible” allegations that he has not investigated.

The “credibility” of the allegations was soon illuminated by Israeli officials, who admitted that “a lot” of their so-called “intelligence” about UNRWA was “a result of interrogations of militants,” Axios reported. Anyone familiar with Israeli practice understands that such “interrogations” are a euphemism for torture. Perhaps for that reason, a New York Times article laundering the Israeli claims omitted any mention of the interrogations that produced them.

Rather than inform its audience that Israel’s “intelligence” about UNRWA came via army interrogators that routinely practice torture, the Times reported that Israel relied on intercepted phone calls and text messages from Gaza. Just like brutalizing detainees, this also is standard Israeli practice: when establishment outlets like the Times were laundering Israeli claims – now long-forgotten – about a supposed Hamas command center under Al-Shifa and alleged militant activity at other hospitals, US and Israeli intelligence officials also claimed to have obtained the “intercepted communications” of Hamas fighters. Israel even released supposed “recordings” of calls between Hamas fighters that were widely mocked as transparent forgeries.

Days after the Times’ report, the Wall Street Journal followed up with an article even more subservient to the Israeli narrative. According to Israeli intelligence, the Journal declared, “around 10% of all of [UNRWA’s] Gaza staff have ties to Islamist militant groups,” including “23% of Unrwa’s male employees… indicating a higher politicization of the agency than the population at large.”

The Journal did not detail the evidence for its Israeli sources’ extraordinary figures, nor explain what these UNRWA workers’ supposed militant “ties” entail. By contrast, the story’s lead reporter, Carrie Keller-Lynn, has amply documented ties to politicization and militancy — specifically, that of the Israeli army. Before becoming a journalist, Keller-Lynn served in the Israeli Defense Forces and even boasted that a close friend “literally created social media for the IDF.” She has also worked as a research assistant for former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the Hoover Institution, a leading neoconservative think tank. In since-deleted Twitter activity, Keller-Lynn was found to have liked posts mocking the deaths of Palestinians in Gaza.

The mere act of scrutinizing Israel and its media stenographers’ allegations obscures a more fundamental point: even if every torture-derived claim about a small group of UNRWA workers were true, nothing can justify cutting off a lifeline for millions of Palestinian refugees, even if they weren’t currently enduring a genocide. After all, no one alleges that UNRWA was aware of or involved in its employees’ alleged actions. As Sky News reports, based on a review of Israel’s purported evidence, “Israeli intelligence documents make several claims that Sky News has not seen proof of and many of the claims, even if true, do not directly implicate UNRWA.”

The suspension of aid also could not be any more hypocritical: while immediately cutting off UNRWA funding based on evidence-free allegations about a tiny number of employees, the Biden administration has refused to cut off any of its massive weapons shipments to an Israeli government whose leaders openly incite genocide as its military carries one out.

The White House insists that its funding pause is a “temporary” measure until UNRWA can “begin to restore donor confidence.” But just as he has openly rejected the Biden administration’s stated commitment to a Palestinian state, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also clear that he aims to shutter UNRWA for good. “The time has come for the international community and the U.N. itself to understand that UNRWA’s mission must be ended,” Netanyahu declared on Wednesday. “UNRWA is perpetuating itself. It seeks to preserve the issue of Palestinian refugees.”

Indeed, in punishing UNRWA, the US is servicing a long-time Israeli goal of destroying Palestinian nationalism.

As Jonathan Cook writes, UNRWA “has provided a lifeline” to Palestinians in Gaza by offering food and jobs “in a place where unemployment rates are among the highest in the world.” UNRWA has also maintained vital infrastructure that makes “life in Gaza more bearable, when Israel’s goal has long been to make the enclave uninhabitable.” UNRWA’s schools, “staffed by local Palestinians, teach the children their own history, about where their grandparents once lived, and of Israel’s campaign of dispossession and ethnic cleansing against them.” UNRWA “is the sole agency unifying Palestinians wherever they live, even when they are separated by national borders and Israel’s fragmentation of the territory it controls,” – thereby helping to preserve Palestinian national identity and the attendant hope for self-determination, an aspiration that Israel seeks to crush. And not least, “UNRWA keeps alive the moral case for a Palestinian right of return – a principle recognised in international law but long ago abandoned by western states.”

The Israeli government openly identifies UNRWA as an obstacle to its hopes of ethnically cleansing Gaza and destroying the Palestinian struggle for freedom. “It will be impossible to win the war if we do not destroy UNRWA, and this destruction must begin immediately,” former Israeli Foreign Ministry official Noga Arbell told a Knesset hearing earlier this month. “They must be abandoned. Or they must go to hell.”

In late December, a classified Israeli Foreign Ministry report detailed a multi-stage plan to permanently shutter UNRWA’s operations in Gaza after the current assault comes to an end. The report complained that Israel’s main patron, the US, sees UNRWA “as a positive player in the humanitarian efforts in the Strip.” In embracing Israel’s allegations, the Biden administration has clearly shifted its thinking. It undoubtedly helped Israel’s cause that the United Nations’ top court has just advanced a genocide case in which the US is clearly implicated. For White House officials anxious about their recognized complicity in genocide, what better distraction than changing the subject to an allegedly compromised United Nations agency which serves the very population that the US is helping to exterminate.

The Biden administration’s transition from using UNRWA for image-laundering photo opportunities to cutting off its funding also exemplifies its embrace of Trump administration policies that it previously renounced. Long before Biden cut funding to the Palestinian refugee agency, Donald Trump did it first.

On his way out of government service in January 2021, Trump’s openly anti-Palestinian ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, reflected on his legacy: “There’s no going back on what we’ve been able to do. I’m frankly somewhere between addicted and intoxicated with what I’ve been able to do, and how much joy it gives me. We’ve changed the narrative dramatically.”

If Friedman has come down from his prior intoxication, he can undoubtedly experience new joy today. His successors are not only abetting Israel’s genocide in Gaza, but targeting the main agency that helps keep surviving Palestinian refugees, and their hopes for a decent future, alive.

Aaron Maté is a journalist with The Grayzone, where he hosts “Pushback.” He is also a contributor to Real Clear Investigations and the temporary co-host of “Useful Idiots.”

5 February 2024

Source: transcend.org

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