Defunding UNRWA Makes US Complicit in Genocide

Creating conditions that threaten the survival of all or part of a given population is part of the very definition of genocide under international law, writes Phyllis Bennis.

U.S. President Joe Biden outside the White House, May 2022. (White House, Adam Schultz)

By Phyllis Bennis

Earlier this year, the International Court of Justice ruled that Israel’s actions in Gaza plausibly constitute genocide. The world’s most influential judicial body ordered Israel to stop killing civilians and to admit more humanitarian aid.

Unfortunately, Israel was having none of it. Israel’s killings have continued, with over 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza now dead and tens of thousands more at risk of dying from hunger and disease. Precious little aid is getting in.

And worse, the U.S. has joined Israel’s efforts to incapacitate Gaza’s most important relief agency.

Just hours after the court’s decision was announced, Israel alleged that 12 Gazan employees of the U.N.’s Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) — the primary body responsible for providing humanitarian support to Palestine refugees — were Hamas members connected to the Oct. 7 attacks.

For more than half a century UNRWA has provided all the services in Gaza that would ordinarily be provided by a government. Most of Gaza’s doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers and street sweepers are UNRWA employees. Without UNRWA, all the other U.N. agencies and nonprofits would be unable to carry out their crucial work in the region.

UNRWA employs thousands of people in Gaza. Israel’s claim about 12 of them was dubious — and the country’s government offered no evidence for it.

In fact, the names of all UNRWA employees had been provided to Israel earlier in the year for vetting and no concerns were raised. But just in case, UNRWA immediately announced it was firing the named employees (minus two who’d been killed). And the U.N. launched two separate investigations.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, centre left, meets with United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine’s donor countries on Jan. 30, 2024. (UN Photo/Mark Garten)

Instead of waiting for these investigations to play out, the Biden administration immediately cut its entire aid allocation to UNRWA, despite the agency’s irreplaceable role in getting desperately needed aid into Gaza. Many key U.S. allies followed suit, and the U.S. Senate voted to explicitly bar UNRWA from receiving future humanitarian aid.

Some in Washington suggested they might redirect UNRWA funds to organizations like UNICEF and the World Food Program, but UNICEF and WFP together have less than 70 staff on the ground in Gaza — UNRWA has over 13,000. U.S. officials themselves had admitted earlier that UNRWA was “the only game in town” in terms of getting any significant aid into Gaza.

The impact of these cuts on the already threatened lives of 2.3 million displaced Gazans —as well as millions more Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria — can hardly be overstated. Defunding the agency further undermines Palestinians’ access to water, food, medicine, shelter, and fuel—and alongside ongoing U.S. military support for Israel, makes Washington complicit in genocide.

Thousands of Palestinians — especially babies, children, pregnant women, and the elderly— will die as a result of these cuts. And the millions of Palestinian refugees throughout the region will lose the only international agency in the U.N. system that’s mandated to protect their rights, including their right to return someday to their homes in what’s now Israel.

Creating conditions that threaten the survival of all or part of a given population is part of the very definition of genocide under international law. To feed children, treat the wounded, and save innocent lives — and avoid being complicit in genocide — the U.S. must restore UNRWA’s funding and use its leverage to compel an immediate cease-fire in the conflict.

Phyllis Bennis is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and serves on the national board of Jewish Voice for Peace. Her most recent book is the 7th updated edition of Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer (2018). Her other books include: Understanding the US-Iran Crisis: A Primer (2008) and Challenging Empire: How People, Governments, and the UN Defy US Power (2005).

23 comments for “Defunding UNRWA Makes US Complicit in Genocide

  1. robert e williamson jr
    March 4, 2024 at 17:17

    The Israelis must be having a “bang up time of it”, pardon the draconian pun, because first Joey cuts of UNRWA and now we are air dropping aid.

    Which may be for all I know much cheaper. Considering the expenses of aiding Ukraine either would be cheaper. But hell who is county money besides us U.S. citizens.

    “DOG” give me strength.

  2. bardamu
    March 4, 2024 at 14:23

    Funding Israel’s military makes the US complicit in Israeli genocide. One might modify that were the funding not repeated after the aims had become clear, but that’s a consideration for a different planet.

    Funding the client state in Ukraine has led the slaughter or disability of something at least approaching a million people.

    Even the Congressional push to stop funding the destruction of Ukraine hinges on a renewed movement to seal off America’s southern border. According to the rulers, goods and money should cross back and forth; humans should be constrained. Accordingly, the DEA cuts down competitors in the market for drugs and people to keep the price up, while the CIA swaps favors with a few better-placed traffickers to keep the business going, along with all its usually undocumented homicides.

  3. jamie
    March 4, 2024 at 08:06

    I have seen “the zone of interest” movie; back then nazi lived joyfully not far from the concentration camps, cultivating and enjoying their gardens. Then it comes to mind Borrell and his depiction of the world with Europe = garden, rest of the world = jungle, which basically showed the underlying thinking of most Europeans; Borrell is trying hard to show it meant something different and I hope he succeed, unfortunately other colleagues behave in a way similar to the nazis in that movie.

    That movie looks like an illustration of our western society, with the only difference that the concentration camps lies outside our borders, just like we send tons of our garbage to developing countries in order to keep “clean” and spotless ours; we live lives like there is non suffering, no violence, no genocide, no poverty, no hunger… while our leaders provide gas to the chambers worldwide, weapons that kill civilians, sanctions that brings countries to their knees, weaponizing aid organizations, ideologies and media, etc

    History repeats itself but often in a different way/reality

  4. JonnyJames
    March 3, 2024 at 14:30

    Not to sound cynical, but this comes as no surprise and is typical of US policy. The US is quite experienced at genocide, mass slaughter and destruction. It was founded on European settler-colonialism, genocide and slavery after all.

    In the post WWII era, the US carpet bombed Korea in the early 1950s and leveled the place to the point few buildings were left standing; it resulted in the deaths of 2-3 million people. This was a completely unnecessary act of aggression and interference that had nothing to do with defending the US.

    Then we have the war and carpet bombing of SE Asia the following decade that resulted in the deaths of several more millions, and leaving a toxic mess, unexploded ordinance etc. that they still have to deal with to this day. Both Korea and Vietnam are thousands of miles away from the US imperial “homeland”.

    These mass slaughter events were even before the current crop of so-called neoconservatives gained power, it was just good old-fashioned imperialist foreign policy.

    Then we have more recent mass slaughter and destruction events in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya etc. coupled with CIA coups in Haiti, Honduras, etc. siege warfare against Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, etc. that has resulted in the deaths and displacement of several millions of people. As we see in Gaza, siege warfare can be quite effective in reducing the population, even more than direct military destruction.

    As usual, plenty money for genocide, war, weapons, military aid giveaways to Israel, Ukraine, etc. no money for affordable health care, no money for infrastructure.

    • Rafael
      March 3, 2024 at 20:34

      Exactly! And that’s just what the US has done in its own name, both before and after it assumed command of the world capitalist system.

      For half a millenium this Euro-american world-system has organized an unrelenting holocaust that has left no part of the globe untouched. One such genocide that needs to become as well known as the Gazan events is the ongoing genocide in Congo, whose victims already number in the millions.

    • Rafael
      March 4, 2024 at 15:18


      And your list limits itself to crimes committed by the US in its own name, both before and after it assumed command of the world capitalist system. If we had to include all the horrors perpetrated by once dominant capitalist powers like England, or pretenders like Germany or Japan, or “minor gangsters” like Belgium, the list would be too long even to comprehend. For half a millennium this Euro-american capitalist empire has organized an unrelenting holocaust that has left no part of the globe untouched.

      One such genocide that needs to become as well known as the one in Gaza is the ongoing genocide in Congo, which has already claimed several million victims.

  5. Drew Hunkins
    March 2, 2024 at 16:52

    I guess everything’s OK now bc Washington’s now air-dropping aid to Gaza.

    Fund, arm, and run diplomatic cover for the occupier for decades, then air drop supplies to the occupied for a couple days as a PR stunt. Real nice. See how the game is played?

    • JonnyJames
      March 3, 2024 at 16:46

      Exactly, the DNC know that Genocide Joe needs an “election” year PR stunt to make him looks a bit less genocidal than the other Zionist freak who will run against him.

  6. Chris G
    March 2, 2024 at 15:35

    “Defunding UNRWA Makes US Complicit in Genocide*

    Wrong! The US has long been complicit in apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and the frequent massacres of Palestinians, I.e the slow motion genocide that Israel has been engaged in since its founding. But ending funding for the UNRWA now makes the US an ‘active participant’ in the genocide. As does the US bombing the Houthis and their campaign of trying to disrupt shipping to Israel to at least slow down Israel’s’s murderous campaign of slaughter in Gaza. As does shipping more weapons to Israel. As does vetoing U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding a ceasefire in Gaza. The US under Joe Biden has gone far past complicity in its support of Israel, it is now a full and willing participant in the slaughter.

  7. mgr
    March 2, 2024 at 10:57

    What a wonderful boost for international law and justice for all if these malign persons, Biden & Co., and friends at home and around the world, are held strictly accountable for their actions. Perhaps in a perverse and unintended way, Biden may actually contribute to democracy and rule of law. It’s important to have solid and shining examples of fair and even-handed justice or the idea of justice itself becomes corrupt.

    In fact, the entire US Congress, both houses, should join him in the dock. Now that would be justice served. Finally.

  8. Tom Hall
    March 2, 2024 at 10:56

    I’m struggling to think of a single U.S. action in relation to the assault on Gaza that doesn’t constitute a blatant violation of international law. And while we’re on the subject, can we drop the fatuous distinction purveyed in this matter as “complicity”? We’re talking here about an intentional, full-blooded, across the board, professionally planned genocide by the Biden administration.

    • WillD
      March 2, 2024 at 22:54

      Agree. Complicity is too passive, and does not adequately describe the US’ deliberate, and therefore active, actions to encourage and help the genocide. It is a party to it, on many counts – militarilty, financially and politically.

  9. Vera Gottlieb
    March 2, 2024 at 10:42

    The US is COMPLICIT and not only in this genocide.

  10. Barbara Barnwell Mullin
    March 2, 2024 at 10:14

    Is there not a way that we the people of the USA can individually contribute to UNRWA privately? Why are we under the control of a genocidal Congress? There must be another way to come to the aid of the Palestinians.

    • Marika Czaja
      March 2, 2024 at 19:31

      Hallo, Barbara
      Here is a link for you to make donations to UNRWA:
      UNRWA head office in Amman (Jordan) issue receipts, so our donations are quite safe from thieving IDF hands…
      Kind regards, Marika

    • Paula
      March 2, 2024 at 22:36

      You can contribute to UNRWA. I did all that I could afford. Just go to their website. Easy to find and easy to do. US participation in this genocide disgusting and I would absolutely love it if some of our best and brightest brought a lawsuit against the US government for complicity in genocide. I read someone in the EU has done just that.

    • Rafael
      March 3, 2024 at 13:59

      yes there’s a way to contribute: hxxps://

      But does anyone understand why no nation has stepped up to make good on the shortfall? China could easily do so all by itself, as could Saudia Arabia and many others. Why do the BRICS not contribute collectively? Why is no one acting???

  11. AsItIs
    March 2, 2024 at 07:54

    “Defunding UNRWA Makes US Complicit in Genocide”

    Both “The United States of America” from inception and “us” more recently have been complicit in genocide.

    The most “forgotten” complicity has been effected by way of the vehicle known as “The Paris Peace Conference in Versailles of 1919” facilitating accelerated inflection points within the ongoing process of imperialism in various presentations of “The United States of America”.

  12. TP Graf
    March 2, 2024 at 06:55

    I was actually shocked to hear John Mersheimer say this week on Judging Freedom that Biden was working hard to get aid into Gaza. Though John does stand firm on our complicity with Genocide as we continue to supply weapons and cash. I was surprised the judge didn’t bring up cutting off the UNRWA funds. Given how that entire UNRWA narrative has been called out for the ludicrous case it is, what is wrong with our allies?! At the drop of a hat–the first allegation–“neutral” Switzerland cut aid off to UNRWA?!?

    Symbolic parachute drops on the beaches is hardly a humanitarian response. Let’s get Blinken leading a convoy of 1000+ trucks into Gaza. That would be a humanitarian response and one I doubt the Israelis would attack. Of course, if they did perhaps Congress would be jolted out of the clutches of AIPAC.

    • AsItMayBe
      March 4, 2024 at 07:33

      “I was actually shocked to hear John Mersheimer say this week on Judging Freedom that Biden was working hard to get aid into Gaza.”

      Spectators and strategists differ, whilst some who believe themselves “strategists” differ in different matters/presentations which require “demonstrated” content to facilitate “perception management” of agency, consistency, facility and significance.

  13. Sol
    March 2, 2024 at 05:54

    Time to face the fact that recognizing the apartheid regime as legit against the will of the majority of people inhabiting the land, made the US complicit in Genocide from 1948.

    The isramerikkkan project, legally constitutes intent and practice of Genocide.

  14. gcw919
    March 1, 2024 at 19:42

    The brutality and viciousness of the IDF once again shows that even an “advanced” country can revert back to a level of rage and aggression that lies just beneath the surface of our so-called “civility.” It makes it even more horrific when our own government is an active participant – mostly, one supposes, because of the fear of backlash and a loss of campaign contributions. One is left with feelings of dispair……and disgust.

    • AsItIs
      March 4, 2024 at 07:46

      “One is left with feelings of dispair……and disgust.”

      Disgust is a useful tool to encourage restriction of focus enhanced by tendencies to emotionalism, although it requires significant holistic socialisation efforts to achieve significant potency to achieve an acceptable/tolerable level of “perception management”.

      Hence the logical divergence between – We the people hold these truths to be self-evident and don’t wallow in your own shit.

Comments are closed.