On January 26, the same day the International Court of Justice ruled that Israel’s siege of Gaza is “plausible genocide” and ordered a series of emergency measures to protect the people there, the Canadian government announced cuts to humanitarian aid to Palestine.
Minister of International Development Ahmed Hussen announced that Canada was suspending additional funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which is the main conduit for humanitarian services to Gaza where 2 million people rely on it for their survival.
Ottawa’s decision is based on an unproven claim by the Israeli government that 12 UNRWA employees, out of a total of 30,000, may have participated in some way in the October 7 attack by Hamas. The agency has dismissed the accused employees and started an investigation into the allegations.
Britain and the US have also cut UNRWA funding, but other countries including Ireland, Spain and Norway have committed their ongoing support for the agency’s work. The Norwegian government called for continued assistance and stated that countries like Canada which are cutting funding “should not collectively punish millions of people.”
Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General for UNRWA, said the funding cuts are a threat to the agency’s humanitarian work and that he was “shocked such decisions are taken based on alleged behavior of a few individuals and as the war continues, needs are deepening and famine looms.”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the World Health Organization other humanitarian aid organizations have all appealed to governments to not cut off UNRWA funding.
Canadians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East (CPJME) says Ottawa’s move to defund UNRWA run parallel to “the Israeli government’s strategy to destroy the organization and thereby erode the rights of Palestinian refugees.” The group notes that Israel has killed over 152 UNRWA employees since October 7, with 253 documented attacks on UNRWA personnel, schools and facilities, with several schools being directly targeted by Israel while sheltering thousands of displaced Palestinians.
In a press release on January 29, CJPME said that “Canada has taken no action to censure Israel for its deadly attacks on UNRWA but acted immediately to punish UNRWA based on unproven Israeli claims.”
Hussen’s announcement is all the more striking given that it was made on the same day the ICJ – the highest court in the world – released its initial decision about Israel’s siege. In its official response to the ruling, Ottawa refused to either support the ICJ or call upon Israel to comply with the emergency measures. Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly stated that “Canada has no clear response.”
In fact, Canada’s decision to cut humanitarian aid – in the face of a World Court order that Israel allow such aid to freely flow – shows that its position is quite clear: support for genocide against the Palestinian people.
CPJME has organized an online campaign to pressure the Canadian government to reverse its position on UNRWA, to increase funding and to pressure Israel to end its genocidal war and siege of Gaza.
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