One in ten workers at UN agency given $1.3BN of cash every year to provide assistance to Palestine is a member of Hamas or Jihad group – and half have a close relative who’s a militant, Israeli intelligence claims

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Written By Maya Cantina
  • Six employees of the UN’s Palestine agency were allegedly among the thousands of Palestinians and Hamas militants who entered Israel on October 7
  • An Israeli intelligence report, cited by the Wall Street Journal, claims that one in ten of the 12,000 staff in Gaza are affiliated or have membership in Hamas
  • Membership could mean association with the political wing, not necessarily the militia: the same report says half of UNRWA staff has a militant close relative 

One in ten members of the UN’s Palestinian agency in Gaza are affiliated with Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad, according to an Israeli intelligence report.

The Wall Street Journal on Friday published an expose of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which for decades has provided healthcare, food, infrastructure and education in Gaza, with an annual budget of $1.3 billion.

Israeli intelligence now believes that six members of UNRWA’s staff in Gaza were among the thousands who participated in the October 7 attack, running across the border into Israel.

Several of the six worked in UNRWA schools, including an Arabic teacher and a math teacher, according to Israeli intelligence reports viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The same sources are calling for UNRWA to be disbanded, estimating that half the employees have a close relative with an active membership in the militant groups.

Workers of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) hand out flour rations and other supplies in December 2023

A child picks up food on his bike

A child picks up food on his bike

Flour is distributed by the UN agency in the southern Gaza Strip on November 21, 2023

Flour is distributed by the UN agency in the southern Gaza Strip on November 21, 2023

Benjamin Netanyahu, the embattled Israeli prime minister, on Wednesday told a gathering of UN ambassadors in Jerusalem that UNRWA needed to be shut down.

‘UNRWA is totally infiltrated with Hamas,’ he said, adding that it needed to be replaced by an organization that would operate in a neutral fashion.

Israel has long accused the United Nations of being biased against it, and the condemnation has increased after the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, called for the bombardment of Gaza to stop. Israel’s UN ambassador said Guterres must resign.

Netanyahu continued: ‘We need such a body today in Gaza. But UNRWA is not that body.’

Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State, said the US has not evaluated Israel’s claims about UNRWA, but called them ‘highly, highly credible,’ and the US has stopped funding UNRWA.

Children are seen lining up for UNRWA meals in Rafah refugee camp on February 1

Children are seen lining up for UNRWA meals in Rafah refugee camp on February 1

A child waits outside a UNRWA health center at  refugee camp

A child waits outside a UNRWA health center at  refugee camp

A Palestinian man carries bags of flour distributed by UNRWA on February 1

A Palestinian man carries bags of flour distributed by UNRWA on February 1

The United States is the biggest financier of the United Nations as a whole, contributing about $12.5 billion to the United Nations in 2021, the most recent fiscal year with full data available. The sum is just under one-fifth of funding for the body’s collective budget.

American officials have also said the actions of individuals should not invalidate the vital work of the entire organization.

Tamara Alrifai, a spokesperson for UNRWA, said Israel needed to be more specific in their accusations, and provide details.

‘What qualifies an alleged involvement?’ she said. ‘Since when is someone accountable for what their cousin does?’

Phillipe Lazzarini, director general of UNRWA, pointed out that those alleged to have been involved in the attack were fired.

He said the West’s funding freeze amounted to ‘collective punishment.’

The United States has, under Donald Trump, ended the funding of both UNRWA and the UN Population Fund, which was funding schemes offering abortions.

But Joe Biden reinstated UNRWA’s funding.

The agency has, throughout the decades, been accused of either turning a blind eye to Hamas’ activities; supporting it; or being forced to go along with their schemes.

Weapons have been found hidden in UNRWA sites, and tunnels dug beneath.

The level of willing cooperation with the ruthless rulers of Gaza, if any, is unknown.

‘I can’t from personal knowledge say how entwined Hamas is with UNRWA,’ said James Lindsay, the legal counsel for UNRWA from 2000 to 2007.

He told The WSJ: ‘UNRWA minimizes the problem, and Israel tries to maximize it. The truth is probably somewhere in between.’

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