Ahmed Hussen announced a Liberal government commitment to another $40 million in aid for Gaza

Ahmed Hussen in Question Period on Jan. 30, 2024.

Canada is committing $40 million in humanitarian aid to Gaza, Ahmed Hussen, minister of international development announced Jan. 30—just days after Canada announced it was suspending funding to the United Nations agency responsible for Palestinians, over allegations that some of its employees were involved in attacks against Israel.

Canada, the United States and about a dozen other countries announced on Friday that they were suspending aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) after allegations arose that 12 employees had been involved in the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks against Israel.

The New York Times has reported that according to Israeli intelligence, one UNRWA employee was involved in the kidnapping of a woman from Israel, while another was accused of helping bring the body of a dead Israeli soldier into Gaza. Another was alleged to have been at Kibbutz Be’eri where 97 people were killed.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that according to Israeli intelligence, that about 1,200 UNRWA employees, about 10 percent of the 12,000 UNRWA staff have ties to the terrorist groups Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Hamas terrorists attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking about 240 people hostage. About 135 hostages are believed to still be in Gaza.

In the subsequent war with Hamas, 26,000 Gazans have been killed, according to the Gaza health ministry, which is controlled by Hamas.

UNWRA has been a primary supplier of education, social and health services in Gaza and the West Bank. In July 2023, Canada made a four-year commitment to contribute $100-million to the agency.

A further $60 million was allocated for relief in Gaza in November. At the time, the government said $20 million was earmarked for UNRWA, with the rest going to other UN and international aid organizations.

The announcement of an additional $40 million, “will help Canada’s partners to provide food, water, emergency medical assistance, protections services and other life-saving assistance,” according to a statement from Global Affairs Canada.

“Following Canada’s recent announcement to temporarily pause additional funding to UNRWA, Canada will work to continue with the agency and other donors to support the investigation into the serious and deeply concerning allegations, while maintaining our commitment to helping the most vulnerable Palestinian citizens in the region,” the announcement said.

The money is to be distributed to the World Food Programme ($16 million); UNICEF ($6 million); the United Nations Population Fund ($5 million); the World Health Organization ($3 million); the International Committee of the Red Cross ($3 million) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs ($2 million).

A further $5 million is to be allocated to “experienced Canadian non-governmental organization partners.”

Global Affairs Canada did not respond to questions about which Canadian NGOs were to receive funding by The CJN’s deadline.

It is also not clear if Canada has already fulfilled its 2024 pledge of $25 million to UNRWA. At a media scrum in Ottawa, Hussen declined to answer that question but repeated that Ottawa had paused “additional funding” to the UN agency.  

The International Committee of the Red Cross has been criticized by Israel and Jewish advocacy groups for its lack of attention to Israeli hostages being held in Gaza. The agency has not visited the hostages to check on their condition or delivered essential medications in the more than 100 days they have been captive.

The Red Cross has said it is dependent on an agreement with Israel and Hamas to allow it to visit the hostages.

Since Jan. 26, UNRWA has lost over half its funding, with major donors including the United States, Germany, Canada, Japan, France and Australia temporarily suspending their contributions while the agency is being investigated.

Deborah Lyons, a former Canadian Ambassador to Israel and now special envoy for Combatting Antisemitism and Holocaust Remembrance, said Canada has made the right decision to suspend funding to UNRWA while an investigation is underway.

“This is a real and critical point for UNRWA right now, with the exposure of 1,200 people who have an alleged association with Hamas and I’m very proud of the position Canada took on Friday,” Lyons said in an interview with The CJN.

“There’s always a time when you have to do some tough examining and some re-calibrating as to the purpose of the organization and how it’s structured and the job it’s doing and it may be that this is a moment for UNRWA.”

Canadians, and the government, however, still support humanitarian aid getting into Gaza, she said.  

UN Watch, a Switzerland-based advocacy group, has issued critical reports of UNRWA since 2015, documenting the agency’s antisemitic and anti-Israel teaching materials among other concerns.

Palestinians uniquely have a UN agency dedicated to their needs, while other refugees fall under the mandate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Dina Rovner, legal adviser for UN Watch said in an email to The CJN.

“After years of research and no action on the part of UNRWA or its donors, we have reached the conclusion that it is time for the international community to examine alternatives to UNRWA,” she said.

Canada stopped funding UNRWA’s general fund, contributing $19 million to an emergency fund in 2009, under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.

The Liberals reinstated full funding in 2916.

In 2022, Canada contributed $23.7 million (USD) to UNRWA. The United States, the largest single donor, contributed $344 million that year.