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David Cameron has fallen for Israel’s dodgy dossier on Unrwa

Israel's long history of making false claims about events in Gaza should arouse scepticism about its report on Unrwa staff taking part in the 7 October attacks. Not, it seems, in the UK
British Foreign Secretary David Cameron on 17 January, 2024 (Reuters)

Two decades ago, British Prime Minister Tony Blair ordered the invasion of Iraq on the basis of his infamous “dodgy dossier”, which falsely asserted that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. 

Today, it’s looking possible that British Foreign Secretary David Cameron ordered the suspension of donor aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (Unrwa), which provides assistance to some six million Palestinian refugees, on the basis of what looks like it may be another dodgy dossier.

According to a report broadcast on 5 February by Channel 4 television, Britain, along with other donor countries, made its decision based on a “confidential Israeli document” asserting that “more than 10 Unrwa staffers took part in the events of 07/10”.

The Channel 4 report said that the Israeli document had supplied “no evidence” to support its claim that Unrwa employees were involved in the atrocities on 7 October other than identification details of alleged staff members.

This raises a life-and-death question: why did the donors go ahead and cut the vitally needed humanitarian funds on the basis of unproven and uncorroborated allegations? All the more so because of the potentially devastating consequences. 

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Chris Gunness, former Unrwa spokesperson, argued in the Channel 4 film that the decision to suspend aid was arguably a violation of the Genocide Convention because “it will devastate the lives of 1.3 million people dependant on Unrwa food lines”.

Very embarrassing questions arise for Britain and other donor countries.

Did we simply take the word of the Israelis? Or did we conduct our own investigation before suspending funding? 


The indications are that the British government made a decision that would impact the lives of starving Palestinians based on allegations they had no way of judging were true. 

Certainly, Israel has made important allegations that demand investigation. No question of that.

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But we could have waited until the interim report of an independent review of Unrwa, currently being carried out by Catherine Colonna, former French foreign minister, with help from the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Sweden, is published next month.

Or we could have judged for ourselves.

As matters stand, it looks as if Cameron jumped to attention solely based on claims made by a government which has long had a strong interest in discrediting Unrwa. 

Defunding Unrwa: With this act, western powers are likely complicit in genocide
Read More »

As Israeli television has reported, based on a “high-level classified foreign ministry report”, Israel plans to push Unrwa out of the Gaza Strip. 

The plan involves three stages: the publication of a report alleging Unrwa cooperation with Hamas; followed by the promotion of alternative organisations to provide welfare services; and finally, the removal of Unrwa from Gaza altogether. 

According to sources, the classified report will shortly be discussed by the Israeli cabinet.

Given the existence of such a clear-cut Israeli agenda when it comes to Unrwa, it is bewildering that donor countries such as Britain should have swallowed Israeli claims so uncritically - and acted upon Israeli demands so promptly. 

A well-placed source has told me that Cameron suspended funds to Unrwa “only on the basis of information in the public domain”.

On 6 February, I asked the Foreign Office if this was true - I had received no answer as this article was going to press. 

If my source is right, Cameron cut off funds to Unrwa based on a document that provides no proof of wrongdoing.

Huge Israeli pressure

To be fair, serious questions also surround Unrwa chief Philippe Lazzarini. When the Israeli claims were made, he responded by sacking the employees against whom the claims were made.

It would have been wiser to have suspended the Unrwa workers, placed them under investigation and established the facts.

It is easy to guess why he acted the way he did. Lazzarini's organisation has been under huge pressure from Israel, and he may have wanted to signal his shock and horror at the allegations.

However, his failure to observe due process had the opposite effect because it gave credibility to the Israeli claims.

It’s not as if Israel deserves to be automatically believed. The Israeli military has repeatedly been caught out making false and fabricated statements about events in Gaza and elsewhere. This means that every claim emanating from Israel should be treated sceptically. (The same applies, of course, to Hamas.)

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Cameron trashed the ICJ even before it had reached its judgment, and have continued to do so since

So far, Britain treats every utterance by Israel as close to gospel truth. Let’s compare the British government's response to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling to its response to Israel’s claim about Unrwa and 7 October. 

The ICJ produced an evidence-based document to support its ruling that there is a plausible case Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. 

Yet British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Cameron trashed the court even before it had reached its judgment, and have continued to do so since. 

By contrast, Britain responded at once to allegations regarding Unrwa produced by Israel and suspended funds to the one agency capable of delivering aid in the face of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Cameron was a naive young MP when he voted for the invasion of Iraq based on Blair's dodgy dossier 21 years ago. Now he’s broken off aid to Unrwa based on what looks very much like another dodgy dossier. 

I haven't seen the Israeli document, but if Channel 4 is right, the British foreign secretary has been played again. Like a violin. Will he never learn?

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Peter Oborne won best commentary/blogging in both 2022 and 2017, and was also named freelancer of the year in 2016 at the Drum Online Media Awards for articles he wrote for Middle East Eye. He was also named as British Press Awards Columnist of the Year in 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015. His latest book is The Fate of Abraham: Why the West is Wrong about Islam, published in May by Simon & Schuster. His previous books include The Triumph of the Political Class, The Rise of Political Lying, Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran and The Assault on Truth: Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and the Emergence of a New Moral Barbarism.
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