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From the New York Times, I'm Sabrina Tavernisi, and this is The Daily. We turn now to Israel, where a growing list of countries around the world have suspended funding to a UN Refugee Agency for Palestinians.


Israel has now shared its intelligence claiming at least 13 UN aid workers actually took part in the Hamas attack on Israel on October seventh.


Late last month, An explosive allegation that workers from a crucial UN relief agency in Gaza had taken part in the October seventh attacks stunned the world and prompted major donors, including the US, to suspend funding. Today, Jerusalem Bureau Chief Patrick Kingsley on what this could mean for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and how it might complicate Israel's strategy in the war. It's Tuesday, February sixth. Patrick, hi.


Hi, Sabrina.


The last time we talked, late last year, there was this growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Most of the population had been displaced. Disease and hunger were starting to emerge as bigger and bigger problems. Now the situation has gotten worse. In the midst of all of this, the main UN relief agency in Gaza, known as UNRA, has been engulfed in scandal over accusations that some of its staff actually played a role in the October seventh attack.




Tell me this story and what we know.


What we know is this. On January 18th, the head of UNRA, Philip Gazzarini, went to what was expected to be a routine meeting with a senior Israeli diplomat to discuss delivery of aid and fuel to Gaza, the supplies that Amra helps to coordinate. Instead, the Israeli diplomat dropped a bombshell accusation. He claimed that roughly a dozen employees of Umbura had either participated in the Hamas-led raid on Israel on October seventh, or in one case, in its aftermath.


Wow. So that is quite a bombshell.


It's a very serious allegation. This is just a small, tiny minority of the 13,000 employees of Amrara in Gaza. But nevertheless, it's too many. Certainly not what you expect of a UN agency that is devoted to neutrality and humanitarianism.


Right. Actually, tell us what this agency does in Gaza.


Omra is the main aid organization for Palestinians that is run by the United Nations. In times outside war, it provides education and primary health care for roughly 5 million Palestinians across the Middle East, including more than a million in Gaza itself. It runs hundreds of schools and provides education for roughly 300,000 guards and children. Since the war has begun, it has been the primary supply of shelter to displaced Palestinians. More than half the population is now living in an Amra facility. Its schools and other facilities have provided a roof over the head of some 1.2 million guards since the start of the war.


A crucial organization, especially in this moment.


Yes, absolutely. After that meeting with the senior Israeli diplomat, Lazzari-Ni, the head of Amra, begins to fire nine of the employees who are accused of participating in the attack. Two of them, we believe, are already dead, and at least one of them in the attack itself. Then the UN starts to tell the donor states that provide Amrah with most of its funding, chief among them, the United States. That led to senior American diplomats being briefed on the claims, and they were presented by Israeli officials with a dossier outlining these claims. On that same day, Now, Amra decided to announce to the world that these allegations had been made against some of their employees and that some of them had already been fired. Now, the UN has fired nine UNRE members. We understand two more are being looked into. That news led the United States and then a cascade of more than a dozen other countries to suspend their funding for Amra, pending further investigation. The US has paused funding to the UN agency that is actually providing aid to the Palestinians. Canada announced it, too, has temporarily paused any additional-The latest to hold aid being Germany.


Japan and Austria became the latest countries to suspend payments. This came on the same day hours after the UN's top court ordered Israel to take measures to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza. That the International Court of Justice in The Hague had ruled that in order to prevent a genocide, Israel needed to supply more aid to to Gaza. And so at a time when more aid was supposed to be coming in to Gaza, the UN's biggest aid agency was running the risk of collapse. The head of UNRA is calling for all those nations who are suspending funding right now to change their minds. Given the desperate fight of so many, this would be a heavy blow if UNRA's operations were suspended in some way. And indeed, we've been told by OMRA's leadership that if the funds aren't restored by the end of February, it will struggle to operate. That could have grave implications for the distribution of aid and the provision of shelter to more than a million Gazans just at the wrong time. Just as we're told that famine is looming in parts of Gaza, more than half the buildings in Gaza are damaged or destroyed, according to UN estimates, and around 2 million people out of 2.2 million have been displaced.


So it couldn't be happening this convergence of events at a worse time.


Right. An already bad situation is likely to get a lot worse for Gaussons.


Yes, exactly.


What were the actual charges, Patrick? I mean, what did you learn about that?


Well, to begin with, it really wasn't clear what the specific allegations were. We had this statement from Amra saying that there were claims against various employees. There was talk of a dossier, but no one was releasing any information. What me and our colleague, Ronem Bergman, did, we spent the weekend calling up as many sources as we could reach, trying to find out exactly what this dossier had said. Two days after the allegations broke, we finally got our hands on the the dossier itself. And what it alleged was shocking. It said that, for example, one of the employees, a teacher, had been involved in a raid on the Israeli village of Be'arree, where roughly 100 people were killed during the October seventh attack. It said another person was involved in the kidnapping of a woman. It said that a third person was involved in the capture of a soldier's corpse on October seventh, and so on and so on. The list went on. The dossier said the information was mainly taken from wire taps of people's phones and also through the no location of people's phones on the day of October seventh. We could only confirm the identity of one of the people accused, but we had no way of verifying the material ourselves.


All we was that Amr had decided themselves to take action, both firing nine people and announcing the news publicly. That wasn't all. The dossier also had another claim, and even bigger claim that had not previously been reported. And that was that according to the Israeli military, roughly a 10th of Amr's staff of 13,000 inside Gaza were affiliated or members of Hamas and other militant factions. And this was an astonishing claim for an agency that is supposed to be neutral, supposed to be independent of political groups, let alone armed groups. And once again, this was an impossible to verify claim, and the Israelis have not publicly produced any evidence to support it. Nevertheless, they say that this calculation is taken by cross-referencing a list of Amrass staff members in Gaza with lists or a list of Hamas members that the Israeli military had taken during its invasion of Gaza from computers that they found in Hamas bases inside the territory.


But Patrick, what exactly does Israel mean when it says 10% of the staff, some 1,300 were considered members of Hamas? Are we talking about militants? Or are we talking about government bureaucrats? Because, of course, Hamas is the government of Gaza.


The claim was that roughly 200 of those 1,300 were involved in militant activities. The rest of the 1,300, so the vast majority, were people involved in the political movement or the social movement of Hamas. Remember that Hamas is not just an armed faction that fires rockets at Israel or that attacked Israel on October seventh. It's also a social movement that has deep roots in society and helps to run a civilian government. There is quite a lot of overlap between its membership and the general population of Gaza, which is not to say that the majority of Gazans are affiliated with Hamas, but just to say that in a way, it's not that surprising that any large institution in Gaza would have some level of overlap with a political movement and a social movement as large as Hamas. Amra takes its staff predominantly in Gaza from the population of Gaza. The 13,000 Amra staff members are mostly not international aid workers from other countries. They come from the place that they are working in, Gaza. And indeed, if you go anywhere in the world, any experience The aid worker will tell you that it's a constant challenge to maintain independence from any armed group or rebel group, be it in South Sudan or Northern Sri Lanka.


These are common challenges that affect the aid sector wherever they work. All that said, the UN is supposed to be a politically neutral body, and that's what gives the UN its gravitas and its power. This is an institution that's meant to be above politics, above division, and it's not supposed to be compromised by any party to a conflict. So its workers should not be members of Hamas or any other Palestinian political armed group, for that matter.


Right. If it's true, this claim would be hugely damning.


Yes. And once this information, this 10% figure, was brought to the attention of the wider world, it cemented in the eyes of Umra's critiques, the idea that something was rotten within Umra. And that came as more countries suspended their funding. It led a couple of days later. I think it's time that the international community in the UN itself understand that UNRE's mission has to end. To Benjamin Netanyahu, for the first time since the allegations were made. There are other agencies in the UN. There are other agencies in the world. They have to replace UNRU. Calling specifically for AMRAS dissolution.


What, if anything, has Hamas said about this? I mean, do they confirm or deny that these folks are, in fact, members of Hamas?


I asked the Hamas folks on that question and didn't get a clear answer. What they have publicly said is that they condemn AMRAS for criticizing the actions of anyone who has participated in what they see as legitimate resistance against Israel, but what much of the world sees as acts of brutal terrorism. They also criticized Amr for firing some of its employees based on material given to it by Hamas's enemy, Israel.


Patrick, this relationship between Amra and Hamas is very fraught. Unra is responsible for critical services in Gaza, social safety net for a big swath of the country, and that's in normal times, and has to navigate working side by side with the government, which is Hamas, which is considered a terrorist group by the US and the EU and others. Now, in the midst of the war, is even more critical to the people of Gaza who are trying to survive the bombardments and the invasion following Hamas's October seventh attack on Israel. But Unra is also now facing the scrutiny for having staff associated with that attack. That's all very complicated.


It's hugely complicated. Amr is independent of Hamas. It's got formerly nothing to do with the group, but it nevertheless operates within a dictatorial regime in which Hamas is the ruler. That forces it to work side by side with Hamas. At the same time, they also have to coordinate with the Israeli armed forces in order to ensure that aid and other supplies and also their own international employees can enter and exit Gaza. This has all been very difficult to navigate for years. During the 2021 war with Israel, for example, or just after it, the most senior Amra official in Gaza made comments that were perceived to be favorable towards Israel's military operations. There was such an outcry in Gaza and from Hamas because of that, that this official was withdrawn from Amra. But from the Israeli perspective, this tension between Amr and Hamas is a fig leaf that obscures a more symbiotic relationship in which Amr is not fully independent and operates, in their view, under Hamas's influence. Amrah denies denies that completely and says that it's totally neutral. But nevertheless, the accusation has long been that Amr works under the influence of Hamas. So in a way, this latest incident It's just one in a long line of flashpoints between Amr and Israel that goes back decades.


If for Palestinians, Amr is an icon and something of a protector, to many Israelis, it's a consistent problem. And this latest incident simply confirmed perceptions that Israelis have long held about the group.


We'll be right back.


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Patrick, you said that many in Israel have long believed that UNRA is a consistent problem. What do you mean by that?


What I mean is they take issue with what they say that the agency fundamentally stands for. That goes all the way back to the reasons why it was founded in 1949, a year after Israel was founded. At that time, you had roughly more than 700,000 Palestinian refugees who had fled or been forced from their homes during the wars that surrounded the creation of the state of Israel. To care for those refugees who have been scattered all across the Middle East, in Lebanon, in Jordan, and in Gaza, the UN founded one of the first UN agencies in its history. It was called the UN Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees, or UNRA for short. Its job was to provide education and other services to those refugees. For the 74 years since, it has basically acted, implicitly, if not directly, to maintain the identity of those Palestinian refugees and to, in the Israeli view, sustain the idea in those refugees' minds that one day, because they're refugees, they might actually return to the place that they were forced from, and they might one day come back live in the homes that their families lived in in what became Israel.


But to Israelis, that is an enormously threatening idea, because if If you had 5 million Palestinians returning to Israel as these refugees and their descendants now number, it would completely dilute the Jewish character of the Jewish state, and Israelis don't want that. To Israelis, it's also threatening because the idea of five million people coming from territory where Israel has fought many wars for decades with is a security threat. It's also a logistical threat. How How would it work if 5 million people or even a small minority come to Israel and try to move into the villages where they want to live, many of which were destroyed? Then there's another perspective, which more or less acknowledges all the criticisms that Israel makes about the very character of the institution of Amrah. But in the Palestinian perspective, this is a good thing. While many people who are classified today as Palestinian refugees were not alive in 1948, they nevertheless feel that it is their right to return to land on which their ancestors lived on many years previously. In a sense, there's quite a lot of common ground between the Israeli and Palestinian perspective of Amrah One side just thinks it's a bad thing and the other thinks it's a good thing.


I guess I get how this agency could symbolically represent a threat to Israel. But in reality, how much is this aid organization actually a threat to the state of Israel? I mean, how much are they actually working toward Palestinians getting to return to what is now Israel?


Well, the claim is not that the leaders of Amrah are going around directly mobilizing Palestinian refugees to return to Israel. A lot of the debate around Amrah centers on what is taught in its schools. In Israel, it has not gone unnoticed that of the dozen people accused of participating in the October seventh attack, several of them were either teachers or workers in those schools. The curriculums in those schools have also come under tremendous Israeli scrutiny. In one case, research has highlighted how a textbook glorified a Palestine militant who was involved in a terror attack on Israeli civilians in the 1970s called Talal Mugrabbi. In other cases, Israeli researchers have highlighted maps of Palestine published in textbooks used in Amra schools that do not include the state of Israel. Amra has, in some cases, acknowledged these criticisms and has said it's taken action to withdraw those particular materials from circulation. And Palestinians, for their part, also make similar criticisms of the Israeli education system, where you often see maps of Israel that don't include the West Bank or Gaza or assume that the West Bank is part of the state of Israel. And Palestinians, in general, point out that the education system that is provided in Amra schools and in other parts of the Palestinian education system is of a fairly good standard.


The literacy rate among Palestinians, it stands at 95%, which is nearly 10 points higher than the global average. The other major criticism that Israelis make about Amra is that it somehow turns a blind eye to Hamas's militant activity that Hamas or other militant groups have stored ammunition inside Amra facilities or have fired rockets from very close to Amra schools or even dug tunnels underneath its buildings. And Amra says that when it finds out about this, it takes action and has even publicized some these transgressions itself, and that ultimately it can't do much if people fire rockets from close to its schools. It's not an armed institution and has no means of combating that.


For the critics of Unra, the idea is basically that Unra is supporting the Hamas agenda, which is, of course, the destruction of Israel, through propaganda and then looking the other way when Hamas uses their facilities for war. But UNRA is saying, We don't have a military to stop any of this stuff. We're just trying provide services the best we can in an extremely difficult environment.


Yes. That's why an allegation like the ones we've been hearing in recent days have been so damaging because it suggests that UNRA isn't just an independent institution working within a difficult environment, but that it has been infiltrated by people who are members of the group that the UN is saying it's independent from.


I have to imagine that people who've been making these accusations all of these years are feeling pretty satisfied these allegations have come to light and are being seen by the world and taken seriously by the world?


I think yes and no. Some people are delighted. They're saying, We've always said this, and finally, these ideas are getting prime time. Others may agree fundamentally that OMRA is this nefarious organization, but they don't feel this is the time to try and bring it down because as much as they dislike the premise of what OMRA stands for, they recognize that it plays a huge and important role in sustaining life, ultimately, during a devastating war that has killed roughly one in 100 Gazans, according to Gazan official estimates. They don't have a plan for what could replace Umra and who could step in, who has the manpower and the logistical footprint to deliver aid, to provide shelter. There are fears that if Amrah collapses, it would hugely worsen what is already a very dire humanitarian situation. I've spoken to Israeli officials and former officials, and they see it as part of a lack of strategic planning on the part of the Israeli government, which is avoiding very difficult questions about what Israel wants to see in Gaza after the war ebbs. For some of them, it's also exactly the wrong thing to be doing at a time when Israel stands accused of genocide, and in particular, when the world's highest court, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, has just ordered Israel to prevent genocide, in part by increasing more aid to Gaza.


And on the same day that that order was made, we instead see a number of countries start pulling funding for the biggest aid operation in the Gaza Strip, which Which raises questions about whether, in fact, we'll see less aid rather than more.


Right. Obviously, the question of aid is most critical to the ongoing struggle of Gazans to simply survive this war. But for Israel, the idea that the main aid agency in Gaza would be hobbled, and therefore the humanitarian crisis there would get worse, is both a practical problem, but also a problem for how the world sees Israel in this moment.


Absolutely. It's a perception problem for Israel, but it's also a perception problem for many of the Western countries, including the United States, who were the first to pull funding for Umbra as this scandal broke. If Israel has a reputation problem as a result of this war, so too does the United States and the Biden administration because of its support for Israel. Its own reputation and perceptions of its intentions are also wrapped up in Israel's fate and Gaza's.


Yeah, it's a very tricky situation for the US and other funders. On the one hand, they don't want to be perceived as having anything to do with anyone who has anything to do with Hamas. On the other hand, they also don't want to be seen as being responsible in any way for this humanitarian crisis, one that will get worse if the one real aid organization goes away.


Exactly. But we have seen it attempts by US officials to cast this suspension in a different light. We've seen stories come out saying that actually the US was not due to send more funding for a while and that the last remaining tranche of the funding it was supposed to provide in this particular funding cycle was minimal and that, in essence, the suspension was more of a symbolic move than one that would actually have practical effect on OMRA's budget.


So trying to walk it back a bit.


Exactly. All that said, while the US is the main funder or the largest funder of OMRA, the collective effect of all the other suspensions from more than a dozen other countries could well be damaging enough to leave OMRA in major trouble. And according to OMRA, it could go out of business, they say, by the end of the month because there are so many other suspensions of funding from other sources.


Actually, many in Israel, the US and countries around the world, and most of all, Gazans, are aligned in having pretty serious interest in Amr not collapsing right now.


Exactly. The key words there are right now. While this war goes on, certainly there is a strange and perhaps surprising alignment of interests, if not motives. In the long term, of course, there are main profound disagreements, not only about the future of Amrah, but the future of Gaza and who should govern it, what role should Hamas play, what role should Israel play, what role should other Palestinian leaders play, and of course, what role should Amrah play and should it play any role at all? Israel wants to see a completely different architecture of aid agencies and aid distribution. Others think it's entirely the wrong time to be discussing revamping the aid system in a territory where more than 80% of people are displaced, more than half the buildings are damaged or destroyed, and one in 100 people has been killed.


Patrick, thank you.


Thank you, Sabrina.


The Times reports that Unra is set to lose at least $65 million by the end of February as funding cuts made by donors begin to kick in. In all, 18 states or institutions announced suspensions of funding. Some, like the United States, had already made scheduled payments, but others, including Finland, Germany, Japan, and Sweden, had not and now set to miss them. We'll be right back. Here's what else you need to know today. On Monday, a powerful storm pummled California for a second day, with wind and rain causing flooding, mudslides, and widespread power outages. The relentless downpour, which began on Sunday morning, dumped a record amount of rain on Los Angeles, making Sunday the 10th wettest day in the history of the city. At least three people died across the state, including from falling trees in Northern California. On Monday afternoon, as the rain continued, officials warned of the potential danger of more flooding and mudslides. Today's episode was produced by Ricky Nowetzky, Will Reid, and Sydney Harper, with help from Mujd Zady. It was edited by Paige Cawet with help from MJ Davis Lynn, fact-checked by Susan Lee, contains original music by Marion Lozano and Alicia Baitu, and was engineered by Chris Wood.


Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Lansberg of WNDYRLE. That's it for The Daily. I'm Sabrina Tavernousi. See you tomorrow.