Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), has announced that he decided to fire several employees of his agency after Israeli authorities provided information about their "alleged" involvement in Hamas's massacre of Israelis on October 7, 2023.
"To protect the Agency's ability to deliver humanitarian assistance, I have taken the decision to immediately terminate the contracts of these staff members and launch an investigation in order to establish the truth without delay," Lazzarini said. "Any UNRWA employee who was involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution."
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was "horrified" by the Israeli accusations.
Guterres asked the UNRWA chief to investigate the involvement of the employees in the Hamas atrocities and "ensure that any UNRWA employee shown to have participated in what transpired on October 7 or any other criminal activity be terminated immediately and referred for potential criminal prosecution," said UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric. "An urgent comprehensive review of UNRWA will be conducted."
The UN, which has long ignored or denied the involvement of its employees in anti-Israeli terrorism and incitement, is now feigning shock and horror by the participation of some of its employees in the Hamas atrocities, during which 1,200 Israelis were killed, thousands more wounded and more than 240 kidnapped to the Gaza Strip for use as hostages. During the October 7 carnage, Israelis and others (here and here) were brutally murdered, beheaded, mutilated and burned alive.
The UN does not need to launch an investigation "to establish the truth" about the involvement of its employees in terrorism and incitement against Israel.
There is no reason why the UN and its heads should be "horrified." For years, there has been ample evidence regarding the close connection between UNRWA and Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. It is now clear that the UN heads were lying when they said they were unaware of the involvement of their employees with terror groups. In fact, they knew but did their utmost to appease Hamas.
Former UNRWA head Peter Hansen openly conceded that Hamas members were likely employed by the agency. "Oh, I'm sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll and I don't see that as a crime," Hansen told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in October 2004. He added:
"Hamas as a political organization does not mean that every member is a militant and we do not do political vetting and exclude people from one persuasion as against another."
In recent years, there have been several instances of Palestinian terrorists employed by UNRWA or using its facilities, equipment and vehicles to carry out terror attacks.
Between 2003 and 2004, 13 Palestinians employed by UNRWA were arrested for alleged involvement in terror attacks on behalf of a variety of terrorist groups, including Hamas. In one example, Nahed Rashid Ahmed Attalah, director of food supplies for UNRWA refugees, used UN vehicles and his UN free travel permit to aid the terrorist activities of the Popular Resistance Committees, a group consisting of several terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip. Attalah admitted to using his UN vehicle on multiple occasions to transport arms, explosives, and terrorists to carry out terror attacks against Israel.
Since the beginning of the current Israel-Hamas war, Israeli troops have located dozens of explosive devices in UNRWA bags, as well as assault rifles and 15 explosive belts. Hamas terrorists have also been shooting from UNRWA schools at Israeli soldiers.
In a recorded call, a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip told an Israeli officer in December 2023:
"Hamas is involved in everything. Hamas has their hands on UNRWA administration workers. Hamas manages UNRWA. They are those in charge in the agency. From the day Hamas came to power, they took control of everything. The UNRWA employees are from Hamas. The heads of the departments and the senior staff are Hamas members."
In a moment of rare honesty, in 2021 the UN acknowledged that UNRWA's school curriculum referred to Israel as "the enemy," taught children mathematics by counting "martyred terrorists," and included the phrase "Jihad is one of the doors to paradise" in Arabic grammar lessons.
Despite the acknowledgment, the UN did not take substantial measures to end the anti-Israel incitement, and despite the revelations, Hamas terrorists disguised as teachers have continued to work for UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip.
Recently, the Israel Defense Forces discovered copies of letters from Hamas's armed wing to the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Education, requesting that teachers be excused to participate in "military training" exercises. The result: many Palestinian teachers were employed by UNRWA.
One letter read:
Lenient Work Schedule
With regard to the matter mentioned above, we ask of you to provide the brother Nur-Aldin Naim Mahmoud Siam, who works at the Aljanan high school (as a math teacher), with a flexible work schedule, as the nature of his position with us requires constant follow-ups."
Another letter by the Hamas armed wing to the Ministry of Education read:
With regard to the matter mentioned above, we ask of you to release the brother Moataz Abed-Alrazk Muhammad Alfara, who works at the education administration in west Khan Yunis, as we need him for military training on the date 28/09/2023. This date is not flexible."
UN Watch, a non-governmental organization whose mandate is to monitor the performance of the UN and its agencies, revealed on January 10 that UNRWA-employed teachers in the Gaza Strip celebrated the Hamas massacre and praised the murderers as "heroes." The teachers also glorified the "education" the terrorists had received, gleefully sharing photos of dead or kidnapped Israelis and urging the execution of the hostages.
According to UN Watch, a Telegram group of 3,000 UNRWA teachers in the Gaza Strip included thousands of hateful posts. These 3,000 are in addition to 133 UNRWA educators and staff who were exposed for promoting hate and violence in UN Watch's last report on March 2023.
In the Telegram group, UNRWA teacher Waseem Ula, who regularly posts information on salaries, shared a photo of a suicide bomb vest wired with explosives, with the caption: "Wait, sons of Judaism." He also glorified Hamas terrorist Akram Abu Hasanen as a "friend" and "brother" and prayed to God to "admit him to paradise without judgement."
UNRWA teacher Shatha Husam Al-Nawajha said of the Hamas terrorists: "They breastfed Jihad (holy war) with their mother's milk. May Allah grant them victory."
UNRWA teacher Abdallah Mehjez: "He does Hamas' work urging Gaza civilians NOT to heed warnings to move out of harm's way, and instead to serve as human shields. Before UNRWA, this terrorist accomplice worked for the BBC..."
"This is the motherlode of UNRWA teachers' incitement to Jihadi terrorism," said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch.
The Telegram chat group, meant to support UNRWA teachers, contains dozens of files with staff names, ID numbers, schedules and curriculum materials. Yet, the UNRWA teachers regularly share videos, photos and messages inciting to Jihadi terrorism, and openly celebrating the Hamas massacre and rape of civilians.
When UN Watch exposed the social media group, UN officials denied that the teachers work for UNRWA.
"Five days ago, we exposed a Telegram group of 3,000 UNRWA teachers in Gaza replete with praise of the Hamas massacre of October 7th. UNRWA cast doubt that they work for them. The UN spokesman disparaged us," wrote Neuer.
"[T]he group admins and members are indeed part of UNRWA..
"Group admins include Safaa Mohammad Al Najjar from Rafah (UNRWA ID#30026166). She often shares administrative information about UNRWA to the group, including UNRWA employee lists...
Now recall that UNRWA's position, in the words of [its spokesman] @Adnan_Hasna, is that 'We don't know who's in this Telegram group.'"
"Over the course of my military career I worked extensively with UNRWA in both the West Bank and Gaza," commented Lt. Col. (res.) Peter Lerner.
"My role as a senior humanitarian liaison officer was to facilitate the humanitarian operations. I was an advocate in the defense establishment and over the years on social media for the importance to support the organizations activity... Now is the time for reform. Reform for rehabilitation - so that the minds of Palestinian children can no longer be poisoned. So that there can be a shared vision of peace in this land. So the Palestinian leadership, step up to their responsibilities (and don't defer them to the UN). So the term refugee will not be exploited to erase the connection to this land by one or the other."
The US, the UK, Canada, Australia, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Finland are countries have so far paused funding for UNRWA in response to the revelations of involvement of UNRWA employees in terrorism against Israel. Western taxpayers should not be funding terror groups disguised as humanitarian organizations. These organizations have long served as flunkies of antisemitic regimes and Islamic extremists seeking to destroy the world's only Jewish state. It now remains to be seen if these countries will refuse to submit to pressure from the Palestinians to renew funding to UNRWA.
The notion that members of UNRWA staff were involved with, celebrated, advocated, and assisted with imprisoning Hamas's hostages is revealing. One of the hostages released in November 2023 was held for 50 days in the attic of an UNRWA teacher. The teacher locked the victim away, barely provided food, and neglected his medical needs.
The dismissed employees are just the start.
UNRWA was established to support the relief and human development of Palestinian refugees, not to support the development of terrorism. It is shameful that it took the world so long to take a stand when what was going on was plain for all to see.
The UNRWA teachers who celebrated the massacre of Israelis were simply acting on what they have been teaching their students for years. The teachers are complicit in promoting and teaching Hamas's ideology. They demonstrated how UNRWA has become an arm for terrorism and Jihad against Israel.
One can only hope that the Biden administration now realizes the grave mistake it made in 2021 when it announced the resumption of US assistance to UNRWA. The Trump administration had halted funding to UNRWA after accusing it of being "riddled with waste, fraud and concerns of support to terrorism."
It is time to dismantle UNRWA and end the farce of Palestinian "refugees." There are no real refugees. There are millions of Palestinians living -- often in unspeakable conditions (so that Israel can be blamed) -- under the control of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, and in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
It is the UN that enables and perpetuates this human rights abuse. These Palestinians live under Palestinian and Arab regimes that should long ago have absorbed them instead of keeping them in "refugee camps" with the cheery "humanitarian" promise that they will one day flood Israel, turn the Jews into a persecuted minority in their own country, then bring about its demise.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.