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8,000 plaintiffs file lawsuit in District of Columbia demanding permanent defunding of UNRWA

“UNRWA is a disaster for both Israel and the Palestinians. In fact, the Palestinians deserve a lot better than UNRWA.”

A U.N. Relief and Works Agency building in the southern Gaza Strip, Nov. 29, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
A U.N. Relief and Works Agency building in the southern Gaza Strip, Nov. 29, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

More than 8,000 plaintiffs, including 1,500 dual American-Israeli citizens and 6,500 Israelis, have filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia demanding permanent defunding of the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Robert J. Tolchin in Brooklyn and Nitsana Darshan-Leitner in Tel Aviv. 

“UNRWA is a disaster for both Israel and the Palestinians. In fact, the Palestinians deserve a lot better than UNRWA. They deserve an organization that will not designate them as refugees indefinitely,” Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, founder of Shurat HaDin—Israel Law Center, an Israeli-based civil rights organization that has represented hundreds of terror victims in many lawsuits, told JNS. 

“If UNRWA keeps teaching Palestinians that one day they will return to their homes in Tel Aviv, Acre and Haifa, and continue feeding the illusion of the right of return, Palestinians will never have a chance at a better life,” she added. 

The U.S. is a major funder of UNRWA. In 2023 alone, U.S. support for UNRWA reached a record high of $422 million. Deprived of it, UNRWA could collapse which is the goal of the lawsuit, especially in light of UNRWA’s terror involvement. 

“Twelve UNRWA workers were directly involved in Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre of 1,200. They murdered Israelis. One was even filmed abducting the remains of Ayelet Samerano’s son, Jonathan,” Darshan-Leitner said.

“The IDF found rocket launchers, missiles and tunnels inside and underneath UNRWA’s facilities. They found Hamas’s servers inside UNRWA’s headquarters. This is evidence of the pivotal role that UNRWA plays in Hamas’s operations,” she added. 

UNRWA’s involvement goes beyond the atrocities that took place in southwestern Israel on Oct. 7. While 10% of UNRWA’s employees are confirmed Hamas terrorists, half of the workforce identifies with Hamas, with more than 6,000 Hamas members related to UNRWA workers. 

“The writing was on the wall about UNRWA 50 years ago, when Congress prohibited U.S. funding unless UNRWA affirmatively prevented any of it from going to what was then referred to as ‘guerilla fighters,’” said attorney Tolchin, representing the plaintiffs.

“Unfortunately, for years U.S. administrations have looked the other way and funded it, even though it was widely known that UNRWA in Gaza had become infested by Hamas. It is time for the U.S. administration to take the blinders off,” he added. 

“The blood of my sister and her husband and the fate of an entire family held hostage for more than four months is on the hands of the administration that pours millions of taxpayer dollars into the purse of Hamas,” said plaintiff Maurice Shnaider, whose sister Margit Silverman and her husband were murdered by Hamas in Kibbutz Nir Oz on Oct. 7 and whose niece, Shiri Bibas, his nephew-in-law, Yarden Bibas, and their two babies Kfir (9 months old at the time) and Ariel Bibas (4 years old) were abducted by Hamas in Gaza and are still unaccounted for. 

“Why did they not stop this before? Why did they continue to pay them after it was revealed that a UNRWA teacher held hostages in his home? What else must happen for them to come to their senses? It’s enough,” he added. 

According to Darshan-Leitner, the current funding suspension put in place after Israel submitted evidence of UNRWA’s terror involvement on Oct. 7 will likely end in a few weeks.

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