Ambassador Meirav Shahar at the International Summit for a Future Beyond UNRWA

Ambassador Meirav Shahar, Permanent Representative of Israel to the U.N. in Geneva

Full remarks:

Thank you very much Hillel, and thank you for gathering us – to you and your team – for this very timely conference, I have to say. And also thank you for the work that you and your team have been doing for the last decade on UNRWA, exposing many of the things that you’ve just referred to and bringing them to light.

Unfortunately, not many listened, as they should have, and especially not the United Nations.

Indeed, I am coming right now from the opening of the Human Rights Council, where the president of the General Assembly himself said that UNRWA is an “indispensable lifeline”. And of course, Secretary-General Guterres said that UNRWA is the “backbone of assistance” to the Palestinians. So indeed, as you’ve mentioned, there is a closing of ranks among the different agencies of the United Nations to make us believe that there is no alternative. 

But I’m here to say that there is an alternative, and there must be an alternative to UNRWA.


If there’s anything that October 7th showed us – and I don’t think that too many were surprised – but showed us very clearly and very vividly, it’s that workers of UNRWA itself were involved in the massacre of October 7th. Directly involved. UNRWA workers held hostages in their homes. We know this from returned hostages, and soon we will hear also from Ayelet. 

We know that Hamas has exploited UNRWA facilities for years and years, and they were shielded by UNRWA facilities, like the database that was found under the UNRWA headquarters. But this is just one example.

The fact that Hamas diverted the aid supplied by UNRWA that was supposed to go to Palestinian civilians was evident. But what the IDF has found in the last four months, it’s evident for everyone who wants to see it, who really wants to look in and see it and acknowledge it. The data is there. The pictures are there. The information is there.

So even if there was any debate before October 7th as to whether the intelligence is correct, whether it’s just rumors – which it wasn’t, because we had evidence from over the years as well – I think that the argument and the disagreements should stop. 

And the international community, and the United Nations itself, must acknowledge that Hamas is actually, together with UNRWA, basically interlinked, because you have such an infiltration of Hamas into the UNRWA workers that, in a sense, what UNRWA is allowing Hamas to do is to shield them, to embed them.

The international community is paying UNRWA, and UNRWA is allowing Hamas to do what they do best: to embed themselves among the civilian population. And this must stop. 


I can tell you from my own experience that I was the director of the UN Political Affairs in Israel between 2009 and 2012, and I dealt directly with UNRWA. In 2011, we already wrote an official letter to UNRWA indicating names of people that we suspected were terrorists. 

We never got a response.

I can tell you that two of the people that are on this list are still employed by UNRWA today. No surprise. A teacher and a principal.

The same in 2012. We wrote another letter. No surprise there, no answer there. And also some of the people later on – it was discovered in 2017 – that one of them became a leader of Hamas. He couldn’t keep his day job in UNRWA as well.

But it’s not something that started only on October 7.

We already alerted UNRWA officially, and that’s only from my own experience. I can’t say what happened after I left.

I will not touch on the refugee definition of UNRWA because I know that both Einat and Adi probably will touch on it at length, but there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s also perpetuating the conflict itself. 

What is being taught in the schools has been discussed for years. Very little was done about it.

But, at the end of the day, what Mr. Guterres and Mr. Lazzarini need to ask themselves is: How many of the attackers on October 7 were not only directly employed by UNRWA, but educated by UNRWA schools? We are talking about thousands of terrorists that infiltrated into Israel. How many were educated by UNRWA schools? And certainly, it seems that the schools of UNRWA have cultivated a culture of hate, and not a culture of peace that we were all hoping for over the years. 


To me, it’s clear that Israel will not be able to continue to work with UNRWA in Gaza. To me it’s clear. We do welcome the countries that have suspended their assistance to UNRWA, and we welcome the two investigations that were opened.

I do want to say about the international review group that is headed by the former foreign minister of France, Catherine Colonna, that they have included certain institutions, indeed Nordic ones, but what we would expect is also to include experts on security, counterterrorism, and vetting process, because the vetting process obviously has failed completely. Completely.

And this is the responsibility of the employer. When the United Nations employs someone, they should have a clear vetting process – which they don’t have. You cannot put the blame onto someone else. You are the employer.

So we would expect this inquiry also to include experts, not only humanitarian experts, but also to include experts on counterrorism, security, and vetting, as I said.


And also the TOR, the terms of reference, of their commission, needs to be more concise. Not too broad, but more concise. What are we looking at? We are looking to see: How do you actually prevent the employment of terrorists? It sounds as simple as that, but that’s not in the TOR. That’s not in the terms of reference. How do you make sure that in the future you won’t employ a terrorist? How do you ensure that Hamas or Islamic Jihad will not infiltrate your organization and use your infrastructure to their benefit?


So it remains to be seen how they will deal with all this. Indeed, it’s a very short time of investigation that they have allocated themselves.

But I have to say, for me, representing Israel, knowing what we know today about October 7th, about the direct involvement of UNRWA employees in the massacre, I don’t see a way for Israel to continue to work with UNRWA in Gaza.


Thank you very much.

UN Watch