Pro-Palestine activists have held an “emergency occupation” of Birmingham New Street Station, protesting against the British government’s “deplorable decision” to suspend funding to UNRWA.

Called with less than 24 hours notice, around 100 people gathered on the station concourse yesterday evening (Monday 29 January) to voice their opposition to the UK suspending payments to the UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

Several countries including Japan, Austria, the US, Germany and Italy have suspending payments to the UN agency, placing the delivery of aid to the besieged Palestinian territories in a precarious position.

Protesters took part in an impromptu sit-in at the station from 5pm and remained in the building for a couple of hours. The direct action was one of many that have taken place at the station since the current escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas intensified in October last year.

Seated on the floor in the centre of the station near the ‘Ozzy the Bull’ statue, protesters waved Palestinian flags, held up placards and chanted “Ceasefire now” and “Gaza”.

One banner read: “Weapons made here kill children in Gaza” as supporters chanted “Rishi Sunak, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide!”

Speaking on a megaphone, one of the organisers of the rally told the crowd: “What is it, the fourth of fifth time we’ve come to New Street and occupy the New Street Station because again and again and again, we come demanding a simple demand, a human rights demand which is a ceasefire.”

She added: “How many more times do we have to come here and tell Rishi Sunak and this complicit government to just call for a ceasefire?”

Campaigners are protesting the UK government's decision to cut funding to UN Palestinian aid agency UNRWA BStWC
Campaigners are protesting the UK government’s decision to cut funding to UN Palestinian aid agency UNRWA

Speeches were met with cheers in between continued chants of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “From the sea to the river, Palestine will live forever.”

The station remained open during the protest and passengers continued to use services as usual. As with previous pro-Palestine sit-ins at New Street Station; police, security and staff allowed the action and no incidents were reported.

Zahid has been attending Gaza solidarity protests at the station for several months. Addressing attendees yesterday, he said: “We want freedom, justice and peace for all people regardless religion or ethnicity from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea.”

Gaza aid situation “desperate”

UN aid agency UNRWA representatives have described their current situation as “extremely desperate” as  the humanitarian needs in Gaza continue to grow.

The agency has sacked several of its staff over allegations they were involved in the 7 October Hamas attacks within Israel, killing about 1,300 people – civilians and military – and taking around 250 others back to Gaza as hostages.

At least 26,000 people, mostly women and children, have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched military attacks in response, according to the Gaza health ministry. Another 1.7 million people have fled their homes since the Israeli bombardment, many of them reportedly sheltering at UNRWA facilities.

Of UNRWA’s 12,000 employees in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims “there were 13 UNRWA workers who actually participated, either directly or indirectly, in the 7 October massacre.”

Renewed Palestine solidarity protests have been taking place across Birmingham since October Adam Yosef
Renewed Palestine solidarity protests have been taking place across Birmingham since October

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “horrified” by the accusations but said civilians in Gaza should not be penalised for the allegations, appealing to donor countries to “guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s operations”.

“Of the 12 people implicated, nine were immediately identified and terminated by the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini; one is confirmed dead and the identity of the two others is being clarified,” he said.

Human rights groups have condemned the decision of the UK and other countries to suspend aid funding to the UN agency.

Amnesty International said the decision “will deal a devastating blow to more than two million refugees in the occupied Gaza Strip for whom the organisation serves as a sole lifeline” and urged involved states to reverse their decisions.

“It is deeply shocking – indeed inhumane – that several governments have taken decisions that will cause further suffering to two million Palestinians, who are already facing the risk of genocide and an engineered famine just days after the International Court of Justice ruling concluded that the survival of Palestinians in Gaza is at risk,”said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

“It is particularly appalling that such action has been taken over allegations concerning 12 employees out of UNRWA’s entire staff of 30,000,”

UNRWA was founded in 1949 and is the largest UN agency in Gaza with 13,000 employees. The aid agency – which is additionally active across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria – is almost entirely funded by voluntary donations. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry described the funding cuts as “collective punishment.”

An UNRWA spokesperson said that if funding was not resumed, the agency would be unable to continue its aid operations beyond the end of February.

Although the EU Commission is reevaluating its funding to UNRWA, European countries including Belgium, Ireland, Denmark, Norway and Spain have committed to continue funding the UN agency.

WATCH | Gaza Ceasefire Now protest in Birmingham New Street Station:

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