Western aid is paying for Palestinian terrorism

There is growing evidence that Western aid is being used to undercut and endanger Israel, against the will of the voters and basic morality.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which administers aid to Palestinians, is being investigated after Israel accused 12 UNRWA members of working with Hamas in its Oct. 7 terrorist attacks that killed over 1,200 children, women, and men inside the Jewish state. 

Documents allege that seven U.N. staff members physically infiltrated Israel with the terrorists, two took part in kidnappings, and two were “tracked to sites where scores of Israeli civilians were shot and killed.” According to the Israeli dossier, 10% of UNRWA staffers are members of Hamas or its associated terrorist group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The revelations triggered outrage, and 16 donor states, including the United States, paused their flow of funds to UNRWA. This has worsened conditions for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, who face shortages of food and fuel and are no longer being taught in UNRWA schools.

This might not have happened if donor states had listened to years of warnings from watchdog groups that the U.N. agency was fomenting hatred of Jews. Decades of failure to track the aid to its ultimate beneficiaries or to seek reform of UNRWA have made Western democracies complicit in stoking deadly regional conflict and increasing hatred of Jews worldwide. It is a scandal that parallels the prominence of some of the world’s most vile tyrannies in such U.N. bodies as its Commission on Human Rights and the Security Council.

The case against UNRWA

In January testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, a nonprofit organization, noted that he had spent the past nine years “uncovering, publishing, and submitting to the U.N. … evidence of widespread and systematic incitement to jihadi terrorism, the praise of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, [and] calls to slaughter Jews on the part of UNRWA teachers, school principals, and other employees.”

Neuer told the Washington Examiner that U.N. Watch reports were sent directly to U.N. members’ secretaries of state and ambassadors. “None … ever called us,” he said.

(Illustration by Thomas Fluharty for the Washington Examiner)

Egregious violations led at most only to temporary consequences for UNRWA teachers, Neuer said. In 2022, after a U.N. Watch report showed UNRWA staff “calling to murder Jews,” the agency suspended six teachers. The watchdog noted that after teachers were suspended, there was “a sharp response from Palestinian groups, which falsely portrayed the teachers’ open calls to slaughter Jews as ‘instilling Palestinian national pride.’”

In January, 30 prospective and current UNRWA teachers celebrated Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre in a 3,000-member Telegram group entitled “UNRWA-Gaza Daily Vacancies.”

When asked about the report, Jonathan Fowler, UNRWA’s senior communications manager, told the Washington Examiner that UNRWA is “following up” with the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services about the group, which he said was not authorized by UNRWA and “misuses the U.N. logo.” It was “highly unlikely” that the Telegram group is “made up of [UNRWA] staff,” Fowler asserted, adding that previous U.N. Watch reports “misidentified [people] as UNRWA staff.”

But U.N. Watch has UNRWA contract numbers for seven of the Telegram administrators and has evidence of group members sharing UNRWA documents, staff memos, and links to an iLearn portal accessible only to those with a UNRWA email address.

One user, whose UNRWA contract number is identified, praised Hamas terrorists, asking on Oct. 7 that “God keep their feet steady and guide their aim.” He later wrote that “Israel’s time is over,” and he shared a photo of an Israeli civilian “stripped to their underwear and lying face down on the ground.”

A group administrator, whose UNRWA contract number is also identified, called on Hamas “to execute the first settler on live broadcast.” Another group member identified as a UNRWA teacher in Palestinian Authority forms shared to the Telegram account said she “want[s] one of the mothers of these heroes to teach me how I should bring up my children.”

An anti-UNRWA protester in Jerusalem,
Feb. 5, 2024. (Debbie Hill/ UPI via Newscom)

This terrorism-supporting culture among teachers is reflected in the content of UNRWA textbooks with which Palestinian children are taught. The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, or IMPACT-se, has been issuing reports about Palestinian Authority teaching materials since at least 2007. Because UNRWA is mandated to teach Palestinian Authority curriculum throughout Gaza, anti-Israel and antisemitic indoctrination is universal, not sporadic.

In January testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Marcus Sheff said IMPACT-se, of which he is CEO, has found “a systematic promotion of violence, martyrdom, overt antisemitism, and jihad across all grades and subjects” in Palestinian Authority textbooks. The group found “materials branded with UNRWA’s logo that contained incitement to violence, demonization of Israel, endorsements of jihad and martyrdom, the promulgation of libels and antisemitic conspiracies, and failure to promote peace-making.”

In response to COVID-19 pandemic learning challenges, IMPACT-se found that UNRWA created distance learning curricula sometimes “more extremist than PA material.” An IMPACT-se report demonstrated that children were asked to identify the number of martyrs in the First Intifada and claimed Israel “deliberately dump[s] radioactive and toxic waste in the West Bank.” In UNRWA material, “Israel is omitted from maps” and is referred to as “the enemy” or the “Zionist occupation.”

Israeli soldiers guard a crater exposing a tunnel entrance beneath the UNRWA compound in Gaza, Feb. 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

In 2017, UNRWA proposed changes to its curriculum to “tone down praise for Palestinian prisoners” and update maps to “exclude references to cities inside Israel as Palestinian cities.” But Hamas blocked those changes because they would help Israel and somehow hurt Palestinian youth. The Palestinian Authority announced it would sever ties with UNRWA if it changed the inflammatory curriculum. No changes were made.

Asked whether UNRWA teaching perpetuates conflict, Fowler said utterly implausibly that UNRWA has “zero tolerance for hate speech and incitement to discrimination or violence.” The same obvious falsehood was trotted out in response to a European Parliament 2021 censure of UNRWA for “hate speech and violence … in Palestinian school textbooks.”

UNRWA’s entanglement with Hamas is increasingly revealed to be total. Israeli soldiers discovered a Hamas tunnel directly beneath UNRWA’s Gaza City headquarters. Wires in a UNRWA room “stretch[ed] down into the ground,” ending in “a room in an underground tunnel complex.” UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini said UNRWA “did not know what is under its headquarters in Gaza.”

Yet two Israeli hostages claim they were held captive by UNRWA teachers. IMPACT-se identified 118 Oct. 7 participants as graduates of UNRWA schools. Sheff told Congress that Hamas notes the UNRWA educational backgrounds of fighters “as if [UNRWA education] were valued … as a stage in the development of each terrorist.”

Despite this mass of evidence that UNRWA is a key enabler of terrorism against Israel, the restoration of its funds appears to be inevitable. In January, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby warned against “impugn[ing] the good work of a whole agency because of the potential bad actions here by a small number.”

Neuer rebutted this, saying, “Support for terrorism is not a bug at UNRWA. It’s a feature.”

Funding terrorism beyond UNRWA

Many Palestinian refugee organizations have been revealed as aiding terrorism over the years. Some have responded by making their works more opaque.

Global research institute NGO Monitor publishes information about nongovernmental organizations that maintain ties to designated terrorist organizations. NGO Monitor legal adviser Anne Herzberg told the Washington Examiner her organization was particularly concerned when the Norwegian Refugee Council began requesting that its donors “weaken [their] counterterror regulations.” She explained that the decision came after the Aug. 23, 2019, murder of Israeli teenager Rina Shnerb. 

Several employees of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, a nongovernmental organization found in a U.S. Agency for International Development-engaged audit to be an arm of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, were arrested for Shnerb’s murder. The UAWC employees were found to have roles in the PFLP, a designated terrorist organization that may be participating in hostage operations in Gaza.

After the Dutch government admitted paying the UAWC salaries of two of Shnerb’s killers, it cut off the money supply. But France, Italy, and the European Union continue to support UAWC. Believing that the timing of NRC’s frenzy for its donors to downgrade vetting requirements might implicate it in subcontracting aid funds through UAWC, NGO Monitor submitted a freedom of information request in 2021 to NRC’s largest donor: the United Kingdom.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, meeting with UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini in Amman, Jordan, Nov. 4, 2023. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool photo via AP)

The request was denied, but the NGO Monitor secured an appeal with the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office that began in January. During this appeal, Herzberg said a British official admitted under oath that the development office did “no vetting of NRC subcontractors.”

Herzberg also spoke of documents in which the British government said it “continue[s] to engage with” some of the six nongovernmental organizations Israel has designated as terrorist organizations. Among them are UAWC and Palestinian prisoner support group Addameer, which also has ties with the PFLP. Herzberg said the U.K. government is “essentially admitting” its funding of groups affiliated with terrorist organizations.

This is illegal under U.K. law, Herzberg said: “Partners … affiliated with terrorist organizations do not support a two-state policy and promote antisemitism. These are all issues that run counter to U.K. laws and policies.”

NRC told the Washington Examiner that the urgent humanitarian situation in Gaza precluded it from providing information about vetting, transparency, and subcontractors’ identities.

American organizations have also been implicated in funding terrorist operatives. On April 6, 2018, NRC contractor Yasser Murtaja was killed by Israeli forces during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border. Murtaja had been scheduled the following day to begin documenting “the bitter prolonged struggle faced by Palestinian refugees in Gaza” for NRC, which decried his killing. On Apr. 10, Israeli officials claimed Murtaja had “a double role as a media man and Hamas operative.”

A month prior to his death, Murtaja’s media company, Ain Media, had been selected for a $11,700 grant from USAID. In 2018, a State Department spokesperson said the department was investigating Murtaja’s involvement with Hamas and that Murtaja had been vetted before he was chosen as a grantee. The State Department told the Washington Examiner the grant Murtaja was selected for under the USAID Compete Project “did not move forward” and that the Compete Project itself was paused at the end of 2018. The State Department did not respond to questions about Murtaja’s ties to Hamas. An Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said questions about Murtaja would have to be addressed later due to operations against Hamas.

An Israeli soldier walks through one of the tunnels under the UNRWA headquarters. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Whether USAID’s support to Murtaja might have enriched Hamas, it has certainly supported terrorism. In 2018, USAID won a $2.025 million settlement from the nonprofit Norwegian People’s Aid for violations of the False Claims Act. In one four-year project, Norwegian People’s Aid supported a youth leadership initiative attended by senior officials of PFLP and Hamas, “prohibited parties under U.S. law.” The gatherings were meant to help the groups “become more attractive to youth.”

In 2022, a World Vision employee was sentenced to 12 years in Israeli prison in 2022 for siphoning $43 million in aid to Hamas. Israeli officials told the New York Times that the money, 60% of World Vision’s donations in the region, was used to build tunnels, construct a Hamas base, and transfer food aid to militants. USAID gave the organization $491 million in 2022.

USAID did not respond to questions about support to NRC, World Vision, UAWC, or Addameer. A USAID spokesperson said it works with “trusted humanitarian organizations” and “holds … implementing partners to the highest standards to help guarantee U.S. funds are used effectively and for their intended purpose.” Aid “does not go through or to Hamas,” the spokesperson said, adding that partners are “subject to our due diligence” and “enforce their own risk mitigation strategies.”

A way forward without terrorism

In a Feb. 21 press briefing, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the U.S. seeks “a durable agreement … that brings about peace and security for both Israel and Palestinians through the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, with real security guarantees for Israel.”

Peace is impossible if Western dollars promote conflict and support terrorism.

In the aftermath of Oct. 7, Herzberg is advocating a “complete reevaluation of the humanitarian aid structure in Gaza” that includes transparency about partner agencies and vetting practices.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER

On Feb. 26, U.N. Watch hosted an international summit to argue for replacing the agency with trusted humanitarian actors. Because UNRWA “is in essence about dismantling Israel,” Neuer argues that funding the agency goes against donor states’ efforts to support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

It also goes against the U.S.’s moral commitment to Israel’s survival.

Beth Bailey (@BWBailey85) is a freelance contributor to Fox News Digital and the co-host of The Afghanistan Project, which takes a deep dive into the tragedy wrought in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

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