OpinionIsrael at War

Preventing terrorists from stealing humanitarian aid

On “the day after” the Israel-Hamas war, governments must ensure proper oversight of the billions in aid that will pour into Gaza.

Trucks with aid arrive on the Gaza side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing, Feb. 17, 2024. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90
Trucks with aid arrive on the Gaza side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing, Feb. 17, 2024. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90
Olga Deutsch
Olga Deutsch
Olga Deutsch is vice president of NGO Monitor.

Elected officials are paying increasing attention to the question of “the day after” the Israel-Hamas war. It is certain that, whenever and however the war ends, billions in humanitarian and development aid will pour into Gaza, including from the U.S. and Europe.

To ensure this aid has a positive impact, donors must address the problem of Hamas’s years-long diversion of aid to terrorist purposes. They must ensure it does not happen again.

Hamas’s looting of aid began well before the Oct. 7 atrocities. For example, Mohammad El-Halabi, the former head of Gaza operations for the powerful NGO World Vision, was arrested in 2016 and 2022. He was eventually convicted of assisting Hamas in the construction of tunnels and military installations, the acquisition of arms and equipment, and other crimes.

Another case is the controversial Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA. Members of the organization participated in the Oct. 7 massacre and it allowed Hamas to use its facilities. It also admitted that personnel from the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health “removed fuel and medical equipment from the agency’s compound in Gaza City” during the current war. 

Moreover, during the inspection of an aid shipment in November 2023, Israel uncovered several oxygen concentrators meant to aerate terror tunnels.

These and many other incidents have exposed critical gaps in various aid organizations’ oversight and accountability policies. Donor governments, including the U.S., must immediately address systemic weaknesses in partner vetting and delivery mechanisms.

Aid diversion by terror groups is not just a political question. The problem is not limited to Gaza and it poses a serious threat to conflict regions around the world.

For example, during a Feb. 28 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) raised pointed questions regarding U.S. assistance to Yemen. Hagerty focused on a $1.1 million grant from USAID—the U.S. government’s international development agency—to Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA)’s Yemen operations.

In 2018, NPA settled a civil suit brought by the U.S. Justice Department prompted by NPA’s training of the Iranian military, Hamas and other terror groups. Citing this affair, Hagerty asked Biden administration officials: “Can you guarantee that our taxpayer dollars that are going to Yemen aren’t in some way being diverted to the Houthis to support [terrorist] activity?”

In a previous incident, a special UN. Security Council report concluded that at least half the World Food Program’s food aid to Somalia—totalling $485 million in 2009—was diverted to “a web of corrupt contractors, radical Islamist militants and local United Nations staff members.”

To address these challenges and ensure the integrity of humanitarian aid programs, the U.S. and other donor countries must develop robust mechanisms to vet the organizations and entities involved. Obviously, this includes ensuring that aid materials arrive at their designated destinations. But it must also address the exploitation of provision of services and advocacy projects—which often use funds from humanitarian aid programs—for incitement and radicalization.

Some mechanisms that could be used are independent monitoring bodies, comprehensive background checks and electronic tracking of aid distribution. Once these policies are in place, USAID and other agencies must make sure they are implemented through strong independent oversight. Reliance on self-reporting is clearly inadequate and vulnerable to manipulation. Fostering a culture of accountability should be a priority for all parties involved.

The war in Gaza, like all conflicts, is not an “all or nothing” game. The political debate surrounding humanitarian aid should not be reduced to the claim that any alternative to unbridled aid at any cost is somehow anti-humanitarian or unprincipled. Instead, aid should be delivered in an effective, responsible and transparent manner.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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