Testimony by UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer in U.S. Congress
Delivered, January 30, 2024, before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Global Human Rights and International Organizations, U.S. House of Representatives, Hearing on Examining UNRWA’s Mission and Failures.
Chairman, Ranking Members, and Members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me to testify today. For years we’ve been told by UNRWA and its supporters that the agency performs life-saving work and that its teachers offer Palestinian students an education that promotes human rights, tolerance, equality, and non-discrimination. Today, more than ever before, and I mean literally today, in light of the bombshell news reports in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and elsewhere, we now know this has been a lie.
From these and other revelations of the past few days, we know that in Gaza, at least 12 UNRWA employees personally participated in the massacre of October 7th, which involved the murder of 1,200 Israelis along with mass rape, torture, and mutilation. Secretary of State Blinken said yesterday, “These intelligence reports are highly, highly credible.” The world also learned yesterday that 1,200 UNRWA employees in Gaza are part of Hamas or Islamic Jihad, meaning actual operatives within the political and military organizations. Finally, an estimated 6,000 UNRWA employees, being half of the UNRWA workforce in Gaza, have close family members in these terrorist organizations.
Now, UNRWA’s top donors, the United States, Germany, Britain, Canada, and many others have just announced they’re freezing funds. Now, accordingly, I’ve come here from Geneva to bring before the Congress our case against UNRWA. I’ve come here to ask the Congress of the United States, which is the largest donor to UNRWA at over $300 million a year, to not just suspend, but to end the funding for good, and to take the lead in dissolving an organization that is riddled with incitement to hate, involvement in terrorism, and the perpetuation of war. Members of the committee will find all of the evidence that I present here on our website at unwatch.org under “The Case Against UNRWA.”
Now, on Friday, Secretary-General Guterres announced that he was, “horrified” to learn that members of his UNRWA staff were implicated in terrorism. Members of the committee, I’m here to bear witness and testify that Secretary-General Guterres, the head of UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini, their predecessors, and their senior colleagues, could not possibly have been shocked that UNRWA employees are implicated in terrorism because for the past nine years, and Chairman Smith knows this very well, we’ve been uncovering, publishing, and submitting to the UN, to UNRWA evidence of widespread and systematic incitement to jihadi terrorism, the praise of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, calls to slaughter Jews on the part of UNRWA teachers, school principals, and other employees.
These reports range from 10 to 200 pages. For example, just in November, we sent a report on 20 teachers who celebrated the October 7th massacre. In March, together with IMPACT-se, we identified 133 UNRWA teachers and staff who promoted hate and violence in social media. In June 2022, we released a report called UNRWA’s Teachers of Hate. It included the following Facebook post by Elham Mansour, an UNRWA teacher: “By Allah, anyone who can kill and slaughter any Zionist and Israeli criminal and doesn’t do so, doesn’t deserve to live. Kill them and pursue them everywhere. They are the greatest enemy. All Israel deserves is death.” This is an UNRWA teacher’s statement on Facebook. We sent it to the UN. They did nothing.
We sent them reports in 2021, 2019, 2017, 2015 numerous reports. They never contacted us for information. They refused our repeated written requests to meet to discuss the problem. They cannot say they didn’t know. Mr. Guterres knew. The head of the UNRWA knew. The United Nations knew. They simply chose not to act.
But it’s much worse than that. From the beginning, their response to our reports was to attack us for doing the work they failed to do. If we look at Christopher Gunness, the longtime UNRWA spokesman, he’s now come back as a surrogate, giving interviews on Al Jazeera. He said on Twitter the following in response to our reports: “Appeal to journalists: please don’t turn UN Watch’s baseless allegations about antisemitism into a he-said-she-said story. It’s a non-story.” “UN Watch makes a fool of itself again. Credibility dead in the water. Will anyone believe them again?” “Interested, to find out more about UN Watch’s political and financial affiliations since its establishment. Can anyone advise?” This was their response, to smear the messenger. They are not interested in finding out the root problem of incitement to terrorism.
In June 2022, when they had to suspend six out of 10 of their employees under pressure from the U.S., UNRWA Deputy Commissioner-General Leni Stenseth, who’s now the Director General of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry informed donor states and put it on her website, that “the real intent of UN Watch, is to destroy and not build and to invite conflict, not build a lasting peace.” Now, the U.S. and other donors have asked UNRWA to investigate and to ensure accountability. I can tell you, for a decade, UNRWA has shown itself to be unwilling, unable, and unfit.
Today, I wish to present our new report, called “UNRWA’s Terrorgram” which I’ve handed to each of the members and it’s on our website unwatch.org. In this report, we document a telegram chat group of over 3,000 UNRWA teachers in Gaza that is replete with messages, photos, and videos cheering and celebrating the massacre of October 7th.
It includes, for example, Safaa Mohammed Al-Najjar, on the morning of October 7th, she’s an UNRWA teacher of computers in Gaza, an administrator of this telegram group, she celebrated the massacre, posting videos. She praised the Hamas mujahideen, the holy warriors, as they massacred, mutilated, and raped Israelis.
UNRWA English teacher, Abdallah Mehjaz, shared a message from Hamas urging Gazans to stay put, to ignore Israeli messages, asking them to evacuate for their safety, effectively doing the work of Hamas, to ask Gazans to be human shields. This is an UNRWA teacher.
Abdul Kareem Mezher, in our report, an elementary school teacher celebrated the Hamas terrorists saying: “May Allah keep their feet steady and guide their aim.” When a group member wondered what these “heroes,” the terrorists, as they were perpetrating the massacre, were brought up on, Mezher replied, “They imbibed jihad and resistance with their mother’s milk.” And a few days later, this UNRWA teacher asked Hamas to execute their Israeli hostages.
When Stéphane Dujarric, the UN spokesman, was asked about our information, he replied on January 11th: “I mean, UN Watch, they have a track record. And I think from our end it speaks for itself.” He tried to disparage us.
Just to conclude, we have massive incitement to terrorism. Prominent people have said that “bad apples.” “It’s a few bad apples.” We’re talking about 1,200 who belong to the organization, 3,000 in this group, 6,000 whose family members belong to it. This is not a problem of bad apples, it’s rotten to the core.
We’ve talked about incitement. We’ve talked about acts of actual violence. And finally, let’s get to the core problem. And with that I conclude. The core problem of UNRWA, the very purpose of the agency, is to perpetuate the war of 1948, to send the message to Palestinians that the war of 1948 is not over. Don’t use cement to build homes, hospitals, and schools here in Gaza. Use it to build hundreds of miles of terror tunnels, to tunnel into Israel, to invade Israel, to go back to what your homes are. That is the message of UNRWA.
We should not be surprised by what happened on October 7th because that is the message that these Palestinians got for more than 70 years in UNRWA schools.
UNRWA is a failure. We have to recognize what the Swiss Foreign Minister Ignacio Cassis said. This is a country that historically supports the UN. He said the following: “UNRWA has become part of the problem. It supplies the ammunition to continue the conflict. By supporting UNRWA, we keep the conflict alive. It’s a perverse logic.”
And I’m here to say, if the United States and other governments that fund UNRWA truly care about helping Palestinians and Israelis, it’s time to put an end to this perverse logic. We’re asking Congress to take the lead in dissolving this agency. Thank you very much.