The Israel-Hamas war in Gaza has resulted in the deaths of over 100 UN employees, making it the deadliest conflict ever for the UN in such a short period. The UN Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, reported that some of these employees were killed while queuing for bread, while others died along with their families in their homes. As Israel’s devastating aerial and ground war against Hamas in densely populated Gaza continues, the casualties continue to rise.
The loss of these UN employees has had a profound impact on the agency and the people of Gaza. Philippe Lazzarini, the UNRWA Commissioner-General, expressed his devastation on social media, stating that over 100 UNRWA colleagues were confirmed killed in just one month. These colleagues included parents, teachers, nurses, doctors, and support staff. Lazzarini emphasized that these individuals should never have been killed and that their deaths represent the suffering of the people of Gaza.
Juliette Touma, the Director of Communications at UNRWA, echoed Lazzarini’s sentiments, emphasizing that these employees were not just UN workers but also civilians who should never have been targeted. She expressed her grief for their loss and called for an end to the violence that is claiming innocent lives.
The global body has announced that UN staff worldwide will observe a minute of silence, and flags will fly at half-mast on Monday to honor the fallen colleagues. This gesture serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by these individuals in their efforts to provide aid and support to the people of Gaza.
This conflict in Gaza has now surpassed previous deadly incidents involving UN aid workers. The next most deadly conflict was in Nigeria in 2011 when a suicide bomber attacked the UN office in Abuja, killing 46 staff members. The ongoing conflict in South Sudan has claimed the lives of 33 UN staff, and 33 were killed in Afghanistan in 2009 during battles with the Taliban. Additionally, seven non-UN Palestinian aid workers have also been killed in Gaza.
Aid workers are protected under international humanitarian law, but there are few precedents for such cases going to trial. Concerns about ensuring future access for aid groups and the difficulty of proving intent are cited as impediments to justice. It is crucial to hold those responsible for these attacks accountable to prevent further loss of life and ensure the safety of aid workers in conflict zones.
UNRWA, established in 1949 after the first Arab-Israeli war, provides essential public services such as schools, healthcare, and aid to Palestinian refugees. Many of its 5,000 staff members in Gaza are themselves refugees. While UN staff rules dictate compensation for employees in the event of death, including funeral costs and annual payouts for families, UNRWA is facing financial difficulties and can only guarantee payment of staff salaries at the end of the year.
The deaths of these UN employees highlight the urgent need for a peaceful resolution to the Israel-Hamas conflict. Innocent lives should never be caught in the crossfire, and aid workers must be able to carry out their vital work without fear for their safety. The international community must come together to find a lasting solution that brings an end to the violence and ensures the protection of all civilians, including those providing humanitarian assistance.