Funding freeze threatens vital UNRWA services in west bank refugee camps.

In the refugee camps of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Palestinian residents dependent on the U.N. agency UNRWA for essential services such as schooling and healthcare are apprehensive as funding from donors has been temporarily halted. The pause in funding is a response to accusations that some UNRWA staff members participated in the Hamas attack on October 7.

While much attention has been directed at UNRWA’s emergency operations in war-ravaged Gaza, where it plays a crucial role in aiding the 2.3 million inhabitants, the agency is also a lifeline for over 870,000 Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, particularly in the West Bank. UNRWA operates 96 schools and 43 primary healthcare facilities in the region.

Residents, like Mohammad al-Masri from Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem, express concern about the potential halt in aid, emphasizing the crucial role UNRWA plays in providing assistance to residents, particularly in refugee camps.

Last month, UNRWA announced the dismissal of staff following allegations from Israel that 12 out of its 13,000 employees in Gaza were involved in the October 7 assault by Hamas fighters. The accusations against UNRWA have reignited Israeli calls to dismantle the agency, seen by both sides as closely tied to the longstanding refugee problem stemming from Israel’s creation in 1948.

With no resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in sight, the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled from British-ruled Palestine 75 years ago, and their descendants, still assert their right to return to their homes within Israel’s borders. Israel rejects this, contending that they chose to leave and have no such right.

For individuals like 85-year-old Daoud Faraj, who has spent most of his life in the Aida refugee camp near Jerusalem, the potential cut-off of aid poses a significant threat to health services and education managed by UNRWA in the camp.

UNRWA is hopeful that donors will reconsider their funding decisions after a preliminary report on Israeli allegations and the agency’s response. However, if funding is not restored, the agency warns of a possible cessation of operations, impacting not only Gaza but also other locations where they operate, as stated by agency spokesperson Kazem Abu Khalaf.

Meanwhile, outside UNRWA’s West Bank operations hub in Jerusalem, protests led by Israelis, including Deputy Mayor Aryeh King, demand the closure of the agency, with demonstrators holding placards reading “Expel UNRWA.”