A Palestinian student sits on a motorcycle as he watches a protest at the gate of the headquarters of UNRWA in Gaza City.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a significant break from the policies of former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, the Canadian government of Justin Trudeau announced this week that it will resume funding the United Nations Relief and Work Agency.
Harper reduced Canada’s funding to the organization, which has been criticized as having ties to Hamas, from $32 million in 2007, to $19m. in 2009, and stopped funding it entirely in 2010. He redirected the Canadian funds instead to other addresses aiding the Palestinians.
Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canada’s minister of International Development and La Francophonie, announced Wednesday that Ottawa would provide $20m. to UNRWA and another $5m. to the organization’s’ emergency appeal for Palestinian refugees impacted by the crisis in Syria.
“With this funding, Canada joins all other G7 countries in supporting UNRWA’s efforts to meet the ever increasing needs of Palestinian refugees, assists in providing basic services for vulnerable people, and contributes to stability in the region,” the Canadian government said in a statement.
The statement said that it is “critically important” to the Canadian government that the money be used for its stated purpose. As such, according to the statement, “there will be enhanced due diligence applied to UNRWA funding. Today’s funding is accompanied by a very robust oversight and reporting framework, which includes regular site visits and strong anti-terrorism provisions.”
In August, following the arrest of two workers
for international aid organizations in Gaza for allegedly diverting funds to Hamas, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter (Likud) told Israel Radio that “it is clear that the number of UNRWA clerks who are working for Hamas is close to 100%.” Dichter is a former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
The Foreign Ministry had no comment on the Canadian move, reflecting an ambivalence in Jerusalem over the issue. On the one hand, the organization is deemed as highly problematic by many policy makers, while on the other hand there is an appreciation that it does help people in Gaza, and that the alternative would be for it to stop working and have Hamas take over control of its functions.
Israel has no policy of lobbying governments to stop funding UNRWA. In 2015 the US gave $380m. to the organization; the European Commission, $137m.; the United Kingdom, $100m.; Saudi Arabia $96m.; and Germany $92m.
David Cape, the chairman of the Canadian Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, issued a statement saying that, while his organization supports Canadian humanitarian aid for those genuinely in need, particularly those devastated by the Syrian conflict, “we continue to have serious reservations about UNRWA, an organization that is implicated with terrorist groups such as Hamas.”
According to Cape, “Hamas is notorious for diverting funds and materials provided by the international community intended for humanitarian aid to terrorist purposes.”
He said that his organization communicated these concerns to the Canadian government, which has both acknowledged them and put measures into place to ensure “meaningful accountability and oversight.”