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Terrorists deeply embedded within UNRWA staff

Many Hamas operatives register as agency employees.

Boys at an UNRWA school in the Gaza Strip, September 2011. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/U.N. Photo.
Boys at an UNRWA school in the Gaza Strip, September 2011. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/U.N. Photo.

Amid bombshell revelations that United Nations Relief and Works Agency staff members were active participants in Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre, new information has emerged shedding light on the refugee agency’s deep links to Gaza’s terrorist rulers.  

While most of this information, gathered by Israeli intelligence and various state bodies, has not yet been made public, Israel Hayom reported several details on Monday.

For example, applications for refugee status are submitted to UNRWA digitally, not in person, contrary to U.N. refugee protocols.

The U.N. agency also counts refugees who have left the camps it runs as if they were still there. For example, out of some 490,000 “registered refugees” in Lebanon, only about 250,000 actually reside there.

UNRWA is the second-largest employer in the Gaza Strip, after Hamas. According to the U.N. Charter, the agency is to implement the policy of the local government wherever it operates, which in the Gaza Strip means Hamas. According to the report, this makes UNRWA a de facto subcontractor for Hamas.

Working for UNRWA is lucrative; agency employees are entitled to free education, health care, dental care, food distribution and welfare services. These favorable conditions have caused many Hamas terrorists to register themselves as agency employees, according to the report.

This may partly explain why the number of UNRWA employees has skyrocketed—currently, some 30,000 staff care for 5.9 million “reported refugees.” By comparison, at the U.N. Refugee Agency, 20,000 employees care for 108 million refugees and displaced persons worldwide.

According to Kobi Michael, a senior researcher at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), “All the workers of UNRWA in the Gaza Strip—something like 13,000—all of them are approved by Hamas.”

However, terrorists have another motive for joining the agency: gaining access to its infrastructure.

The Israel Hayom report notes for instance that UNRWA’s health system extensively serves Hamas’s terror activities. UNRWA clinics and hospitals have become weapons caches and headquarters, both above and below ground. Tunnel shafts have been found in very close proximity to agency institutions.

UNRWA medical equipment, including international humanitarian aid, is used by Hamas fighters. It is known in Israel that Hamas officers, together with UNRWA employees, manage the distribution of medical resources while prioritizing Hamas affiliates. 

Since the start of the Israel Defense Forces ground operation in Gaza on Oct. 27, many terror tunnels and sites for storing combat equipment have been exposed in UNRWA schools, kindergartens and playgrounds.

3,000 celebrated

The UN Watch NGO also recently exposed the fact that 3,000 of the agency’s teachers celebrated the massacre in a secret Telegram group. Some 130 staff members were caught promoting terror and incitement online, and at least one UNRWA teacher held an Israeli hostage in his home.

Indeed, much of the curriculum taught in UNRWA’s 380 schools (284 of which are in Gaza) involves anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incitement.

While Israeli officials believe all of these things are occurring with the knowledge of the agency’s management in Gaza, Israel itself has been funding part of the agency’s $1.6 billion budget via its membership dues to the United Nations. Furthermore, even under Israel’s current right-wing coalition, UNRWA benefits from VAT exemptions and additional tax breaks.

The agency’s other major donors are the United States, Germany, the European Union, Sweden, Norway, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and Turkey—many of whom have now suspended their support following the revelations on UNRWA staff complicity in the Oct. 7 massacre.

The New York Times on Sunday published details regarding the involvement of 12 UNRWA employees in the Oct. 7 attack—10 Hamas operatives and one affiliated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

One of the UNRWA workers is accused of kidnapping a woman, another of participating in the Kibbutz Be’eri massacre in which nearly 100 people were murdered, and a third of distributing ammunition, according to the Times.

Seven of the accused were teachers at UNRWA schools, according to the dossier. Six were inside Israel on Oct. 7, based on tracking of their cell phones, while others were overheard in Gaza discussing their involvement in the terrorist attack.

Three received text messages ordering them to report to meeting points on Oct. 7, and one was told to bring a rocket-propelled grenade stored at his home.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has put together a classified report calling for the removal of UNRWA from the Gaza Strip in the long term, noting that the U.N. relief agency works against Israel’s interests.

The report is said to set out a three-stage process for shrinking and eventually eliminating the agency: 1) Prepare a case detailing UNRWA’s cooperation with Hamas, 2) Reduce UNRWA’s field of activity and find replacement service providers and 3) Transfer UNRWA’s responsibilities to another entity.

Though in the past sharply critical of the U.N. agency, in 2018 calling for it to be shut down, in his recent statements Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been more circumspect.

Ministry spokespersons, as well as the IDF, defer to other agencies when questioned about the matter.

A version of this story was originally published by Israel Hayom. 

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