The End of the UNRWA? More Countries Refuse to Fund Agency After Staffers Took Part in Hamas Attack 

Anas-Mohammed /
Anas-Mohammed /

While investigations are still ongoing, it appears that more than a dozen United Nations employees working for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) played an active role for Hamas during its horrific October 7 attack on Israel. Among those aiding Hamas were teachers, a school counselor, at least two school administrators, and a social worker. 

UNRWA, established in 1949, was tasked to aid Palestinian refugees displaced during Israel’s founding. Originally meant to provide temporary assistance, it now manages long-standing refugee camps that have become permanent slums. Over the decades, the agency has assumed many state functions for a stateless population, but now, that trust has been severed.  

UNRWA has historically played a critical role in providing humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees across Gaza, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and the West Bank. The agency’s efforts extend to education, with approximately 30,000 children receiving schooling, and it employs 13,000 staff members in Gaza. 

Some of the accused UNRWA employees played active roles in the kidnapping of Israeli students, while others took part in the attack or spread chaos in the aftermath. Nine of the twelve were terminated, two have yet to be identified, and one was confirmed dead. 

Israel has long contended that UNWRA has maintained “mutual dependence” on Hamas. The revelations confirmed long-held Israeli accusations that UNRWA used its hospitals and schools to conceal Hamas’ terrorist activities, including hiding weapons and entrances to terrorist tunnels. 

More than ten countries immediately suspended support for UNRWA, including Australia, Germany, Britain, and the United States. Other countries have followed suit, with Canada, Finland, Switzerland, Italy, and the Netherlands withdrawing funding from UNRWA amid the allegations of its involvement in the October 7 massacre. Additionally, the European Union has voiced its concern and plans to evaluate its next steps following a thorough investigation. 

The UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) is investigating allegations against UNRWA staff, with UN Secretary-General Guterres prioritizing transparency and accountability within the agency. Nine UNRWA staff members have been dismissed over alleged involvement in a Hamas attack on Israel in October 2023. Guterres emphasizes that any UN employee engaged in terrorism will face accountability, potentially through criminal prosecution. 

Guterres is addressing the funding crisis surrounding UNRWA in Gaza, urging donor countries who have withdrawn funding from UNRWA to reconsider their decision. Guterres stresses that the agency’s vital work and the welfare of Palestinians in dire need shouldn’t be penalized due to “alleged misconduct by a few staff members.” 

The United States has been the biggest donor to UNRWA, with more than $344 million in contributions, but it has paused additional funding until the investigations are complete. Former National Security Council advisor and senior advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Richard Goldberg, describes the temporary stay of funding as a “PR move designed to preempt congressional action.” 

The United States will withhold around $300,000 in funding to UNRWA during the ongoing investigation into alleged staff connections with Hamas. The impact of this funding pause could vary based on Congress’s approved amount for the fiscal year. So far, the US has contributed approximately $121 million to UNRWA in the current year. 

Witnesses in a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing urged the Biden administration to cut funding for UNRWA, arguing that UNRWA’s educational system fosters anti-Israel sentiments, teaching negative stereotypes about Jews and glorifying violence against them. They suggested that the attack by Hamas on October 7 was a result of UNRWA’s “core mission and curriculum.” 

Critics claim that UNRWA, fueled by US taxpayer contributions, has been a persistent issue for decades. They argue that UNRWA’s mandate and educational materials fuel a hostile environment and say that the agency’s goal is to continue the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. There are demands to halt funding for UNRWA for its role in promoting anti-Israel sentiments and supporting Hamas’ terrorist activities. 

During the Trump administration, the United States took significant steps to distance itself from various United Nations (UN) bodies. During his term, the United States officially withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on June 19, 2018.  

After assuming office, President Biden promptly restored the relationship. He further enhanced funding for the organization, surpassing $1 billion in contributions. 

Amidst a floundering and rambling presidency, Biden grapples with his shortcomings and an unrelenting string of unfortunate incidents. The recent UNWRA revelations further compound his challenges at a pivotal point in his re-election campaign. As pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups across the United States scrutinize his administration’s response to the conflict, Biden emerges, once again, as the confused old man struggling with the consequences of his actions.