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Israeli intel minister: End UNRWA once and for all

The remarks come amid mounting evidence implicating UNRWA employees in Hamas's Oct. 7 massacre, and an unprecedented diplomatic battle over the future of the organization.

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), at a press briefing on June 1, 2023 in New York. Credit: Evan Schneider/U.N. Photo.
Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), at a press briefing on June 1, 2023 in New York. Credit: Evan Schneider/U.N. Photo.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel said on Tuesday that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency must be ended “once and for all,” and that other international humanitarian and food organizations can serve as alternatives to funnel aid to the Palestinians.

The remarks come amid mounting evidence directly implicating Palestinian UNRWA employees in Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre, and an unprecedented diplomatic battle over the future of the organization.

“We know that UNRWA employees were part of the massacre of Oct. 7 and were involved in international war crimes,” Gamliel told international lawmakers at the Israel Allies Foundation Chairman’s conference in Jerusalem. “It is time to end UNRWA, once and for all.”

The minister added that there are multiple global humanitarian organizations which can replace UNRWA in providing education, food, medical services and shelter to Palestinians without perpetuating the conflict and taking an active role in violence as the agency does.

Lawmakers from around the world present intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel (fifth from left) with a declaration of support for the State of Israel, Tues. March 5, 2024. Courtesy: Israel Allies Foundation .

Mounting evidence against UNRWA

A bombshell Israeli intelligence report, shared with the U.S. administration, showed that dozens of UNRWA employees actively participated in the Hamas onslaught on Oct. 7, while some 10% of the agency’s 13,000 employees in Gaza are Hamas members. The revelations prompted nearly 20 countries, led by the United States and Germany, UNRWA’s biggest donors, to suspend contributions to the agency totaling $438 million, or more than half of this year’s expected funding. 

However, the E.U. resumed funding after the agency agreed to allow E.U.-appointed experts to audit the way it screens staff to identify extremists, earning them a sharp rebuke by Israel’s foreign minister on Tuesday.

While Gamliel noted that the “day after” the five-month-old war against Hamas was” not going to be soon,” she urged Christian lawmakers from more than 18 nations to press their governments to end funding to the organization now.

The parliamentarians had previously called on their governments to defund and dismantle UNRWA because of its ties to Palestinian terrorism.

Amid a groundswell of national and international concern over the U.N. agency’s connection to Palestinian terrorism, the Israeli Foreign Ministry is proposing to redirect aid to the Palestinians through the World Food Program, an organization within the U.N. that provides food assistance worldwide.

Another option under consideration, pending American support, is funneling the support through USAID, an independent American agency primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid and development assistance that has carried out smaller aid activity in Gaza.

Israel is already working with other international and UN agencies to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military on Monday released two additional recordings of phone conversations showing teachers affiliated with UNRWA talking about their part in the mass murder attacks in southern Israel.

The Oct. 7 massacre has placed renewed international focus on UNRWA’s terrorism ties and led to calls from across the Israeli political spectrum to cut all ties with the organization, while the heads of the agency, backed by the E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borell, are attempting to rescue the agency by means of an investigation into its wrongdoing.

UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini told the U.N. General Assembly on Monday that there was “a deliberate and concerted campaign” aimed at ending the agency’s operations. 

However, after decades of on-again off-again criticism of the agency, the wealth of intelligence information uncovered during Israel’s military operation in Gaza has called the continued existence of the organization in question as never before.

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