FRESH AIR

Contrary to news stories, aid is getting to north Gazans without UNRWA’s help

Mar 26, 2024 | Ahron Shapiro

Aid trucks at the Kerem Shalom crossing (Image: Shutterstock)
Aid trucks at the Kerem Shalom crossing (Image: Shutterstock)

Australian media reported on March 26 that the IDF has stopped facilitating the transfer of aid to northern Gaza through UNRWA,  the UN agency for Palestinian refugees under investigation for its ties to the terror group Hamas – often with headlines that implied that all aid to northern Gaza was now being blocked. For instance, several News Limited papers ran with the headline “Israelis ‘blocked aid for Gazans’” while the Australian used “UN Agency ‘banned from delivering aid to starving.”

In addition to the misleading headlines, most of these failed to provide important context that the IDF has been coordinating large amounts of aid through other channels, rendering UNRWA’s non-participation irrelevant. Moreover, the IDF says UNRWA had not even requested to send an aid convoy to north Gaza for some six weeks.

The centrepiece of the AFP story featured in all the papers noted above was a statement by UNRWA’s head Philippe Lazzarini.

“Despite the tragedy unfolding under our watch, the Israeli Authorities informed the UN that they will no longer approve any @UNRWA food convoys to the north,” Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the agency, said on X. “This is outrageous & makes it intentional to obstruct lifesaving assistance during a man-made famine.”

In the face of UNRWA’s allegations, the Daily Telegraph story read, “Israeli authorities did not immediately respond to request for comment,” an edited version of the paragraph that ran in the original AFP story, that “Israel did not immediately respond Sunday to Agence France-Presse’s (AFP) request for comment about Lazzarini’s statement.”

However, Israel’s response was readily available by Monday afternoon Australia time. Just 14 hours after Lazzarini’s tweet, COGAT, the IDF department that is responsible for all transfers of goods into Gaza via Israeli crossings, published the following post, spread over three tweets:

Over the last month, we facilitated over 350 food and other aid trucks to northern Gaza with responsible agencies and the private sector. Israel also goes to great lengths to facilitate aid to northern Gaza, including by opening a new crossing in northern Gaza, 1/3

Setting a maritime route and facilitating over 40 airdrops with thousands of food packages. @UNRWA has long forsaken its role in facilitating aid to northern Gaza. While we’ve been working with aid orgs and other UN agencies to facilitate large amounts of aid to the north, 2/3

@UNRWA went over 6 weeks without requesting a single convoy. Only over the past few days, they made but 3 requests. We will continue working with agencies and organizations that are not involved in terror to facilitate humanitarian aid to the people who need it. 3/3

Therefore, at the very least, the story should have been re-checked by the papers before publication to see if an Israeli response had been available

In any event, since that time, COGAT has added another statement, this time in video form, saying, among other things, that “Israel, in collaboration with the private sector and other organisations coordinated dozens of convoys [over the past six weeks]. UNRWA did nothing,” and also that “the amount of aid that is delivered to Northern Gaza is not dependent on UNRWA.”

COGAT provides daily updates on its facilitation of aid into Gaza, and where applicable does specify the aid that is provided to northern Gaza in particular.

COGAT statistics for March 24 included the facilitation of 29 aid trucks into northern Gaza and  88 tons of aid airdropped there.

The following day, COGAT coordinated 22 food aid trucks entering northern Gaza and 159 tons of airdropped aid packages (1 ton each) there.

Meanwhile, evidence of UNRWA employee involvement in Hamas’ October 7 massacre of Israelis continues to grow, even as the watchdog NGO UN Watch has amassed volumes of evidence showing the coordination of UNRWA with Hamas and militant extremism going back many years that has only begun to attract the world attention.

Furthermore, on March 21, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) published a report “Hamas Efforts, Assisted By UNRWA, To Seize Control Of Humanitarian Aid Entering Gaza Strip” detailing aid coordination between UNRWA and Hamas that continues to the present day.

In light of the evidence of UNRWA’s complicity with Hamas, the United States’ latest budget stopped all aid to UNRWA through to March 2025 and redirected aid to other West Bank and Gaza projects through the US Agency for International Development.

In the wake of the exposure of its complicity with Hamas and other very problematic behaviours, UNRWA has been determined to present itself as indispensable to getting aid to Palestinians – and thus not funding UNRWA amounts to denying desperate Palestinian civilians lifesaving aid. Lazzarini’s tweet yesterday was very much part of that campaign. The media, both international and Australian, should be subjecting such UNRWA claims to appropriate critical review and scepticism. This means not only making sure they include Israeli replies, but also reporting the overwhelming evidence that, contrary to what UNRWA says, aid can be and is being distributed in Gaza without that agency’s participation.

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