Canada announces $25m for Palestinians, with some earmarked for UNRWA

A young girl outside her home in Gaza in January 2019. (Photo by Hosny Salah/Pixabay)

Up to $4 million of Canada’s most recent round of aid to Palestinians will go to the embattled United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA, The CJN has learned.

The agency has been a magnet for controversy over the years because of its alleged ties to terrorist groups and use of hateful teaching materials in the schools it runs.

On May 28, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $25 million in new funding to support Palestinian civilians “facing urgent humanitarian needs in Gaza, as well as those affected by violence in the West Bank,” according to a statement from his office.

The funds will go United Nations agencies “and other organizations with proven track records of delivering assistance effectively and in accordance with Canadian requirements,” the statement said, but did not elaborate.

The CJN requested a breakdown of how the Canadian aid to Palestinians will be allocated, and learned that UNRWA is on the list of recipients.

Where is the money going?

An “immediate” $10 million will go toward urgent food assistance, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as for psychosocial support for the most vulnerable, including children. Here’s how that amount is broken down:

  • Up to $4 million will go to UNRWA for “immediate food, non-food, health, psycho-social support and water/sanitation/hygiene services” in Gaza and the West Bank
  • $1 million will go to the International Committee of the Red Cross for emergency medical needs in Gaza and the West Bank
  • $2 million will go to the World Food Programme for emergency food assistance, including cash, electronic vouchers and in-kind commodities in Gaza
  • $1.5 million will go to the UN Population Fund for emergency health care for women and girls in Gaza and the West Bank
  • $750,000 is allocated to the World Health Organization for trauma and emergency care in Gaza and the West Bank
  • $750,000 goes to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to meet the specific needs of children, including emergency psycho-social support

An additional $10 million will support humanitarian and rebuilding efforts “to lay the foundation for sustainable recovery,” such as vital medical infrastructure and measures to help families.

Lastly, up to $5 million will be dedicated for “peacebuilding initiatives that advance the goal of a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

In a statement announcing the new funding, the prime minister described the fighting in May between Israel and Hamas as “alarming—we have all seen the disturbing images of displaced civilians, loss of life, and pain inflicted on families.” The new assistance will help “the most vulnerable Palestinian civilians cope with the impacts of the recent conflict.”

Canada’s complicated relationship with UNRWA

The funding is on top of the $90 million over three years Canada earmarked for UNRWA in December. The Liberals reinstated funding to the agency in 2016 after Stephen Harper’s Conservatives froze it because of its ties to terrorist groups, including Hamas.

In January, Canada announced an investigation into teaching materials which promote anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism used in schools run by UNRWA in the West Bank and Gaza.

In March, Karina Gould, Minister of International Development, told The CJN in an interview that Ottawa will not withhold funding to UNRWA as the investigation proceeds.

Canada’s assistance in the West Bank and Gaza “reinforces the goal of a two-state solution and is aligned with Palestinian needs,” the statement from the prime minister’s office added.

In an interview with The CJN Daily podcast with Ellin Bessner, airing May 31, York Centre Liberal MP Ya’ara Saks defended the new aid package.

“We have to remind ourselves there are people behind all of this. There are human beings. There are Israelis whose homes have been bombed by rockets. And there are Palestinians whose homes have been destroyed as well. They live under a regime that doesn’t serve them,” Saks said.

“And we have to do our best as an international community not to abandon them, because if we do—and we only leave it to Hamas to support them—I shudder to think we’ll ever get anywhere forward.”

She said Canada has some of the “most rigorous accountability and funding safeguard standards of any country, with enhanced due diligence measures… We will not tolerate misuse or diversion of funds for terrorism.”

Saks said the funding is “in line with Jewish values. We’re not allowed to abandon the work.”

In April, U.S. President Joe Biden announced $235 million in aid to Palestinians, restoring part of the assistance cut by former president Donald Trump. Two-thirds of that aid will go to UNRWA.