BBC News website coverage of UNRWA funding suspensions

Previously we discussed a BBC News website report relating to suspensions of funding for UNRWA in light of allegations that some of its employees were involved in the October 7th Hamas attack on Israel:


That report was the first of several on the story, with three additional articles appearing on the BBC News website in the days that followed, none of which were tagged UNRWA:

UNRWA claims: UN chief in aid plea after staff accused of helping Hamas in Israel attack uncredited, published January 27th 2024

UNRWA: Key UN Gaza aid agency runs into diplomatic storm by Mark Lowen, published January 28th 2024

UNRWA: Gaza aid agency says it is ‘extremely desperate’ after funding halted by Robert Plummer, published January 29th 2024

The first of those reports includes the following portrayal of UNRWA:

“Created in 1949, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, is the biggest UN agency operating in Gaza. It provides healthcare, education and other humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. It employs around 13,000 people inside Gaza.”

Readers are not given any explanation as to why Palestinian refugees have different criteria (including hereditary status) to refugees from the rest of the world and a separate UN agency that refrains from working towards their integration (even in territories administered by Palestinians) and resettlement in host countries. Readers are not told why refugee camps continue to exist in the Gaza Strip (which has been under Palestinian control for over eighteen years) and in areas that have been under Palestinian Authority control for nearly three decades. No explanation is given for the fact that most of the over two million registered Palestinian refugees in Jordan hold full citizenship.

The report states:

“Some countries have said they will continue their support for UNRWA. Norway’s representative to the Palestinian Authority said the organisation has a “crucial role” in distributing aid, and emphasised the “need to distinguish between what individuals may have done, and what UNRWA stands for”.”

The BBC did not inform readers of the fact that the current director general of Norway’s ministry of foreign affairs, Leni Stenseth, was the deputy commissioner general of UNRWA until as recently as September 2023 or that she was sent to run UNRWA’s Gaza office in 2021 after the director of operations there incurred the wrath of Hamas, the Hamas dominated UNRWA workers’ union and assorted NGOs:


As has been the case in previous BBC reports, this one also ignores the topic of Hamas’ theft of humanitarian aid.

“UNRWA says it is struggling to get humanitarian aid to many of the estimated 1.7 million people – nearly three-quarters of the population – displaced by 12 weeks of fighting.”

The third report, by Robert Plummer, gives more up to date information concerning the suspension of funding to UNRWA but does not mention the European Commission:

“More countries have halted funding to the largest UN agency operating in Gaza, as the crisis deepens over the alleged role of some staff in the 7 October Hamas attacks on Israel.

Japan and Austria said they were suspending payments to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

The US, UK, Germany and Italy are also among those who have suspended funding.”

Plummer mentions – but does not link to – reports by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal which provide more details concerning the allegations against UNRWA employees.

“According to a report in the New York Times, an Israeli intelligence dossier alleges that nearly 200 UNRWA workers are Hamas or Islamic Jihad operatives, without providing detailed evidence.

The dossier also alleges that at least 12 workers crossed into Israel on 7 October. UNRWA has sacked nine of those employees and says it is investigating.

Another report published by the Wall Street Journal, also citing the Israeli intelligence dossier, alleges that about 1,200 of UNRWA’s 12,000 employees in Gaza have links to Hamas or Islamic Jihad.”

Since the publication of Plummer’s report, the Israeli channel N12 has published additional information about the 12 UNRWA employees who participated in the October 7th attacks, including a teacher and a social worker.

BBC audiences are not informed that the WSJ report also includes the following:

“Since Oct. 7, Hamas has stolen more than $1 million worth of Unrwa supplies, including fuel and trucks, according to the intelligence report. The intelligence assessment alleges that Hamas operatives are so deeply enmeshed within the Unrwa aid-delivery enterprise as to coordinate transfers for the organization.”

Neither does Plummer’s report mention the recent exposure of widespread support for the October 7th Hamas massacre in an UNRWA teachers Telegram group (including a former BBC employee).

The report does however quote an UNRWA representative – Juliette Touma, the director of communications – who has frequently appeared in BBC content in recent months.

“”We are extremely desperate. It has come at a time when the humanitarian needs in Gaza are growing by the hour,” she said, adding that she had visited the territory herself last week.

“People continue to be displaced. People are hungry. The clock is ticking fast towards famine.

“We are doing everything possible to avert us from getting towards famine. But this lack of funding that we have been faced with now, when at least 10 of the largest donors have put a temporary pause on the funding, this is going to have very, very serious repercussions on what is, right now, the largest humanitarian operation in Gaza.””

Two of these BBC reports include a chart showing the donations pledged by fifteen countries in 2022. Readers are not informed that UNRWA’s total budget for 2022 was $1.2 billion or that 44% of UNRWA’s spending ($568 million in 2022) goes to the Gaza Strip, where some 1.48 million people are registered as refugees while 14% goes to Jordan, where over 2.3 million registered refugees are located. In 2022, 47% of UNRWA’s budget in the Gaza Strip ($268 million) was spent on education – a topic which is portrayed in Mark Lowen’s report as follows:

“It [UNRWA] runs medical and educational facilities, including teacher training centres and almost 300 primary schools – as well as producing the textbooks that educate young Palestinians. In Gaza alone, it employs some 13,000 people. As the biggest UN agency operating in Gaza, it has been key to humanitarian efforts. […]

…Israeli governments have long denounced the agency’s teaching and textbooks for, in their view, perpetuating anti-Israel views.

In 2022, the Israeli watchdog IMPACT-se said UNRWA educational material taught students that Israel was attempting to “erase Palestinian identity, steal and falsify Palestinian heritage, and erase the cultural heritage of Jerusalem”, adding that the agency promoted “anti-Semitism, hate, intolerance and lack of neutrality”.

The European Commission identified what it called “anti-Semitic material” in the schoolbooks, “including even incitement to violence”. The European Parliament has called repeatedly for EU funding to the Palestinian Authority to be conditional on removing such content. UNRWA has previously said that reports made about its educational material were “inaccurate and misleading” and that many of the books in question were not used in its schools.”

Lowen’s report mentions the subject of Palestinian refugees but does not adequately explain that the real meaning of “a right of return” is the elimination of the Jewish State: [emphasis added]

“Its [UNRWA] very existence is criticised by Israel as entrenching the status of Palestinians as refugees, encouraging their continued hopes of a right of return to land from which they were driven in 1948 or during successive wars.

The fate of refugees has been a core issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Many Palestinians harbour a dream of returning to historic Palestine, parts of which are now in Israel. Israel rejects that claim and has often criticised the set-up of UNRWA for the way it allows refugee status to be inherited.”

As in the other reports, Lowen promotes the narrative that “lifesaving assistance” is under threat due to the suspension of aid:

“Now, says the agency’s head, the lifesaving assistance on which two million Gazans rely could be about to end, as several Western governments suspend their funding over allegations that some UNRWA staff were involved in the 7 October attacks on Israel. […]

Now, as several Western governments freeze their funding, the agency is again in potentially serious trouble – with significant implications for the 5.3 million Palestinian refugees registered with it. The US, one of the countries taking the decision, is its biggest donor, contributing some $340m (£268m) in 2022. Germany, which has also suspended financing, comes next, having sent $162m that year.”

Notably, none of the BBC’s three reports mentions other UN agencies which are currently operating in the Gaza Strip such as the World Food Programme and the United Nations Office for Project Services.

The most remarkable parts of Lowen’s report, however, are his description of UNRWA as “something of a political football, kicked by various sides over the years” and the following paragraph:

“Israel has long accused branches of the UN of bias, antisemitism and worse. And now, a government facing increasing criticism at home and abroad over the war in Gaza has seized on this opportunity to bolster its argument – and somewhat shift the focus.” [emphasis added]

Apparently Mark Lowen would have BBC audiences believe that publication of the fact that UN employees supported and took part in a terrorist organisation’s unprecedented attack on a UN member state is no more than an attempt to change the subject.

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  1. says: Grimey

    As the IPC (aka BBC) needs to reduce its expenditure, it could start with scrapping its “BBC News” that nobody I know ever watches- due to its anti-Israel reporting – and follow that up with sacking its nasty little antisemitic football presenter on £1m-plus salary.

  2. says: Marita

    Israel is winning a very necessary battle and kicking out all the lies being told
    by the liars in the UN. It should have happened earlier by the way. There is so much
    proof that no smart person will have the gall to deny it.

  3. says: Dena Lipman

    Is it helpful for me to continually complain to BBC and OFCOM? I am at a loss to understand how the BBC coverage has been so constantly biased and is inciting antisemitism. I have made complaints and received generic responses but the many omissions of balance, ignoring the evidence of Hamas treatment (& UNWRA) of its population, preventing Gazan people from evacuating, stealing aid, video evidence of extensive tunnel network, evidence of children’s teaching materials and TV & training programmes etc are disgraceful and poor journalism which should be called out.

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