Multiple key donor countries have halted funding for UNRWA, a UN relief agency for Palestinians, amid evidence of its collaboration with Hamas in horrific acts of brutality against Israeli children, women and elderly on October 7.
The United States was the first to announce a temporary suspension of aid pending an investigation, followed by Canada, Germany, Scotland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Australia, Britain, Italy and Finland.
Early this week, Austria and Japan imposed similar bans on further funding, until the allegations against UNRWA are clarified.
These moves came as Israel’s Foreign Ministry shared with the international community contents of a damning intelligence report detailing evidence of the participation of at least 12 UNRWA workers in the mass murder, torture and kidnapping of Israelis, the Wall Street Journal, NY Times and other news outlets reported.
The intelligence was obtained through interrogations of captured terrorists and from high tech monitoring of phone calls, sources said.
“Six workers were part of the wave of Palestinian militants who killed 1,200 people in the deadliest assault on Jews since the Holocaust,” the WSJ reported, citing the dossier. “Two helped kidnap Israelis. Two others were tracked to sites where scores of Israeli civilians were shot and killed. Others coordinated logistics for the assault, including procuring weapons.”
The report described UNRWA’s role as the civil arm of Hamas, utilizing its control of education in the Palestinian refugee camps to indoctrinate children with hatred of Israel and the goal of annihilating the Jewish state.
UN chief Antonio Guterres professed to be “horrified” by the news, vowing that an “urgent and comprehensive independent review of UNRWA will be conducted,” according to a spokesman.
Immediately following the freezing of international aid, UNRWA officials announced they had fired 12 staffers identified in the reports as participants in assaults against Israelis and accomplices in the massacres.
For those watching Middle East events, the shocked reaction of UN chiefs and of some of the donor countries who halted funding rang hollow, given UNRWA’s known record of hiding behind its role as a humanitarian agency to covertly assist Hamas with money and weapons.
Allegations in the Israeli report attesting to UNRWA’s collaboration with terrorist groups are not new. They have been repeatedly brought to the UN’s attention by UN Watch, a watchdog organization based in Switzerland.
The group has for many years protested UNRWA’s actions in radicalizing Palestinian children by extolling jihadism, hatred of Israel and martyrdom, and by secretly stockpiling weapons for Hamas in UNRWA facilities.
Confirming the weapons charge, the IDF announced last week it had uncovered dozens of Hamas missiles hidden underneath UNRWA equipment. The missiles as well as some 30 Grad rockets, were found and confiscated by forces from the 261st Brigade.
Similar scenarios have occurred too many times to count but the United Nations routinely insists the organization is innocent; it’s all the fault of just a few bad apples.
Now, however, as country after country has closed its checkbook to UNRWA until the UN takes appropriate measures to purge the relief agency of terrorists, the world body is singing a different tune.
UNRWA’s Hate–Infested Textbooks
The UNRWA scandal has turned the spotlight on other toxic aspects of the organization that have until now received a pass from world leaders.
In a recent UN Watch report entitled Hate Starts Here: How UNRWA Teachers Indoctrinate Palestinian Children and Incite Anti-Semitism, UNRWA’s history of using educational materials that extol jihadist warfare and terrorism is laid bare.
The report, cited by the Jerusalem Post, describes the glorification of terrorism in textbooks used by UNRWA schools, which make up half of all schools in Gaza. The textbooks, written by the Palestinian Authority, consistently promote jihad, anti-Semitism and suicide attacks against Israelis, a fact reported on for years.
The UN Watch report outlined examples of hateful indoctrination from 2023 textbooks, including excerpts from math and science lessons. In one example, six-year olds are taught as part of a grammar lesson that “Jihad is one of the gates to paradise,” the Jerusalem Post article noted.
In another case a fourth-grade math problem reads: “The number of martyrs of the First Intifada is 1,392 martyrs, and the number of martyrs of the Al-Aqsa Intifada is 4,673. The number of martyrs in the two intifadas is _________ martyrs.”
In yet another case, a school in Nablus run by UNRWA posted a video to its official Facebook page in which a young student called for the victory of Hamas’s “Jihad warriors” in Gaza, and evoked Mohammad’s defeat of the Jews at Khaybar.
The Facebook page also shows students reading a passage from a fifth-grade Islamic Education textbook that incites violence and jihad against Israel.
Girls, too, are indoctrinated to hate Jews in UNRWA-run schools. A chapter in a high school textbook discussing the role of women in combat, according to Islam, glorifies a woman who fatally stabbed a Jew as “an example of a brave Muslim woman in defense of Muslims.”
In one of the most extreme examples of anti-Israel incitement cited in the Jerusalem Post article, an eighth-grade Arabic textbook contains a story for reading comprehension glorifying suicide attacks against Israeli soldiers. The story praises Palestinian fighters, describing how they “wore explosive belts, thus turning their bodies into fire burning the Zionist tank.”
An illustration accompanying the lesson portrays a Palestinian warrior spraying bullets at Israeli soldiers in a tank.
Despite promises from UNRWA that they would remove hateful material from student manuals, a July 2022 report by IMPACT-se (an international organization that analyzes school curricula in the quest for violence-free education) found that self-published material from UNRWA continued to encourage “jihad, violence, and martyrdom,” as well as “anti-Semitism, hate, and intolerance.”
UN Watch’s reports to the United Nations have been met with silence or outright denial, according to UN Watch’s founder and director Hillel Neuer.
“We’re accused of spreading ‘false information’ or ‘preaching hatred’,” Neuer said in a television news interview.
Twisted Minds Celebrating the Massacre
Almost four months prior to the release of the intelligence dossier by the Israeli Foreign Ministry documenting UNRWA’s participation in the Oct. 7 atrocities, the UN Watch released its own scathing report. This document described how UNRWA teachers cheered and celebrated the massacre on an online social media group called Telegram.
According to the report, the UNRWA staff in the group shared photos and a sickening video montage of Hamas’ infiltration of Israel on Oct. 7, including savage assaults against Israelis and kidnapping of hostages, along with prayers for Israel’s destruction.
The report documented several examples of twisted minds celebrating the attacks on social media, both while the atrocities were still ongoing and weeks later.
In one case, Sarah Alderawy, an UNRWA teacher in Gaza, took to Facebook on October 7 to post a video of Hamas terrorists shooting at Israeli cars that day. The video was captioned with a verse from the Koran that read “We will surely come to them with soldiers that they will be powerless to encounter, and we will surely expel them in humiliation, and they will be debased.”
UNRWA teacher Ebrahim Al Azaia posted a video on Facebook of a rocket landing in a parking lot in Israel. He included the caption “What a splendid sight!”
Afab Talab, a teacher at an UNRWA school in Gaza, posted on the day of the attacks that they represented the “first real victory” on the way to liberating all of Palestine, along with footage of Israelis at a party fleeing for their lives.
“The UNRWA Telegram group featured in this report completely eviscerates UNRWA’s denials and exposes the extent of UNRWA’s failure to do the bare minimum to address its staff’s neutrality violations,” the UN Watch report said.
Trump Put an End to US Funding for UNRWA, Biden Reversed It
A NY Post article quoted Enia Krivine, Senior Director of FDD, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, summing up the travesty of how, in three years, “the Biden administration has funneled more than $730 million into a United Nations relief organization that harbored personnel who have incited violence against the Jewish people.”
The Hamas terrorists that kidnapped and butchered Israelis on Saturday “are a generation of Gazans who have been raised in UNRWA camps,” Krivine said. “UNRWA was established to perpetuate the refugee problem. It is rotten to the core,” Krivine told The Post.
“The whole purpose of refugee programs is to reduce refugees and to repatriate refugees and to give them a life and a nation,” she added. “UNRWA does the inverse. It’s really a scandal that the US and the Europeans have funded these curricula through generations of Palestinians.
The Trump administration ended funding to UNRWA in 2018, calling it an “irredeemably flawed operation.” President Biden reversed that decision and the United States is currently the agency’s largest funder.
This is despite experts bemoaning the lack of “guardrails” and internal documents noting “a high risk” that Hamas could benefit from the money dump.
The move to restore funding under Biden succeeded despite a secret 2021 State Department report noting the agency had allowed Hamas terrorists to build tunnels under its schools and to stockpile weapons “in or near” other facilities, according to the Washington Free Beacon.
The documents disclosing these disturbing facts were obtained through a FOIA request by the Washington Free Beacon, according to the article.
A Mission That Went Off the Rails
UNRWA was established in 1948 with the intention to aid Arab refugees in the West Bank and Gaza, following Israel’s defeat of the Arab countries that had attacked the newly founded Jewish state.
The program, which originally covered 700,000 refugees, was meant to resettle the refugees in Jordan and other Arab lands. That mission went off the rails as a series of Arab leaders exploited the refuges to leverage Arab demands for Israeli territory, ostensibly for a “Palestinian” state.
With no neighboring country willing to admit the refugees, the population has swelled over the decades into more than 5.6 million as of 2019. [See Sidebar]
UNRWA today is funded by hundreds of millions of dollars in donations from a host of countries. The U.S. government has given more than $6.3 billion to the agency since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.
The State Department announced in February that it had “provided over $890 million for Palestinians” since April 2021, with more than $730 million going to UNRWA, a NY Post article said.
“Although final donor numbers for 2023 have not yet been published, in 2022 UNRWA received $344 million from the United States, $202 million from Germany and $114 million from the European Commission,” writes UN Watch.
“From Sweden came $61 million; $34 million from Norway, $29 million from France, $25 million from Switzerland, $24 million from Canada, $21 million from Britain, and $21 million from the Netherlands.”
With the majority of its budget now in doubt, UNRWA says it will be forced to halt operations within weeks if funding isn’t restored. Donor countries that have frozen their funds say the claims against UNRWA employees taking part in the murders and kidnapping of Israelis are too serious to be ignored; the truth must be established and reforms instituted before a return to the status quo.
Asked about ongoing U.S. support for Gaza and the West Bank in the long term, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-CA, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the NY Post, “We now know that UNRWA is riddled with terrorist sympathizers; their facilities have stored rockets to use against civilians, and their schools have relentlessly taught hatred of the Israeli people. The days of UNRWA underwriting Palestinian grievance and abetting the diversion of humanitarian aid to terrorist groups are over.”
Other lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee such as Senator Risch, R-Idaho, have lobbied for stricter guidelines on US funding to relief agencies in Gaza and the West Bank, urging the administration to halt funding to UNRWA until serious reforms are made.
These include legislation that would require UNRWA to cease employing people connected to terrorist movements like Hamas, promoting anti-Semitic material in its textbooks, and allowing Hamas to use its schools to store weapons.
House Hearing: ‘The UN’s Bigotry Toward Israel’
Testifying at a November 8, 2023, House hearing on “The UN’s Bigotry Toward Israel,” UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer detailed how UNRWA staff workers “regularly issue calls to murder Jews, encourage martyrdom and demonize Israelis.”
In addition, Neuer said, “we identified 133 UNRWA educators and staff who were found promoting hate and violence on social media.”
“The latest UN Watch report examines through social media entries how UNRWA senior staff reacted to the Hamas massacre,” Neuer said. “As soon as news of the slaughter broke, UNRWA officials immediately celebrated it on Facebook.”
Offering a few examples of higher ups gloating over the deadly violence, Neuer cited UNRWA school principal Iman Hassan justifying the massacre as “restoring rights” and “redressing grievances.”
Another official, Rawia Helles, Director of UNRWA’s Khan Younis Training Center, glorified one of the terrorists as a “hero” and a “prince.” UNRWA English Teacher Asmaa Rafiq Kuheil excitedly called to “sculpture the date,” adding a heart emoji.
UNRWA official Mohammed Al-Shaikh Ali posted a shocking threat to all Gazans attempting to flee across the border to Egypt, calling on Hamas to deal harshly with “anyone who talks about taking refuge in Sinai is a traitor. Anyone who tries to flee to the south should be treated the way we ought to treat traitors.”
The UNRWA scandal, as revolting as it is, “is the tip of iceberg,” former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said on a Fox News appearance. “The UN has a long history of siding with terrorists and acting as a shield and a protector for Hamas. We now know that a staggering amount of UN humanitarian aid meant for Gaza’s people has been poured into building hundreds of miles of underground terror tunnels.”
“A case can be made that we ought to take all the money meant for United Nations agencies like UNRWA and put it into escrow or cancel some of it permanently,” Gingrich said.
Alluding to a macabre situation where some of the world’s worst human rights abusers including Iran, Qatar and Pakistan, Gingrich said, “We need to be honest with ourselves about how much the United Nations is out of control, and how much it undermines American and other western values.”
Israel Aims to Permanently Oust UNRWA
The intelligence reports that Israel’s Foreign Ministry has shared with the international community about UNRWA’s participation in the October pogrom, are part of a broader agenda that calls for the removal of UNRWA from the Gaza Strip, reports JNS.
Israel’s Channel 12, which revealed the existence of the classified report, said the full document sets out recommendations for cutting back and eventually eliminating UNRWA from Gaza, and transferring its responsibilities to another entity.
The Israeli government intends to move slowly, recognizing that the U.S. sees UNRWA as a necessary player in humanitarian efforts in the Strip. Israel hopes to gradually build the case for dismantling the organization, linking that goal to discussions on “the day after” Hamas,” JNS explained.
Kobi Michael, a senior researcher at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), told JNS that UNRWA was established because of pressure by the Arab world to secure a platform to leverage the interests of Arab leaders against the State of Israel, using the Palestinian [refugee] issue.”
Michael quoted the views of James Lindsay, an American who worked with UNRWA from 2000 to 2007, part of that time as its general counsel. For more than a decade, Lindsay has called for a close scrutiny of UNRWA’s activities, saying it doesn’t solve the Palestinian refugee problem as its mission mandates, but rather perpetuates it.
Lindsay has pointed out that the root of the problem is that UNRWA defines refugees very differently than the UNHCR, an UN body which handles all the rest of the world’s refugees.
“UNHCR does not consider someone a refugee who has acquired citizenship in another country. In other words, if you have been a refugee but then you become a citizen, you can no longer be a refugee,” Lindsay told UN Watch in 2019.
“If you can’t be a refugee under those definitions, then a very large number of UNRWA Palestinian refugees would not be refugees at all, the attorney said.
“For instance, in Jordan approximately 90% of the people UNRWA considers Palestine refugees are citizens of Jordan, and they would not be refugees under UNHCR, or under the terms of the U.N. Convention [Relating to the Status of Refugees].”
“The idea that we are still talking about Palestinian refugees is not reasonable,” Lindsay pointed out. “We’re talking about five million fifth-generation ‘refugees’ who are not refugees at all.”
The “Palestinian national consciousness is very ill, sick. During the three decades under the umbrella of the Oslo process, the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people were poisoned by the Palestinian Authority, and later on by Hamas,” Kobi Michael told JNS. “The process of reconstruction [after the war] will require very deep changes to Palestinian society and leadership.”
Many doubt such a transformation is even possible, let alone likely. Only time will tell.