Ayelet Samerano, whose murdered son Yonatan was kidnapped to Gaza by an UNRWA social worker in an UNRWA vehicle, with UN Watch director Hillel Neuer. "Mr. Guterres, where is my son?"

Lawmakers & Aid Experts Call to Replace UNRWA at Geneva Summit

GENEVA, February 26, 2024 — Lawmakers from UNRWA donor countries, senior former UNRWA and UN officials, aid experts, America’s former Middle East peace envoy, and the mother of a victim kidnapped by an UNRWA staffer convened today next to the UN to plan how to replace the failed agency.

The first-ever International Summit for a Future Beyond UNRWA, hosted in Geneva by the non-governmental human rights organization UN Watch, took place as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was next door defending UNRWA at the annual opening of the UN Human Rights Council.

In recent weeks, it was revealed that 42 UNRWA employees took part or assisted in perpetrating the atrocities of October 7th, and an estimated 1,400 belong to Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

As a result, an unprecedented worldwide movement has emerged to replace UNRWA. In the 24 hours preceding the summit, over 100,000 people signed UN Watch’s petition to replace UNRWA.

One of the employees who took part in the October 7th massacre was Faisal Ali Mussalem al-Naami, who was caught on video kidnapping the lifeless body of Israeli civilian Yonatan Samareno in an UNRWA vehicle, taken into Gaza.

Yonatan’s mother, Ayelet Samareno, spoke at the summit, demanding to meet UN chief Guterres as he was meeting next door with Iranian foreign minister Amir Abdollahian.

“Mr. Guterres, look me in the eyes and answer me now: Where is my son? Bring him back home. You are next door. You’re here, and you have the opportunity to meet me and tell me what are you going to do and how can you bring me back my son,” said Samareno.

Israel’s ambassador to the UN European headquarters, Meirav Eilon Shahar, told the summit that “there must be an alternative to UNRWA.”

“Mr. Guterres and Mr. Lazzarini need to ask themselves: 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?”

“I don’t see a way for Israel to continue to work with UNRWA in Gaza,” said the Israeli ambassador.

One of the most prominent calls for action came from Ambassador Dennis Ross, the veteran U.S. Middle East negotiator.

“One thing we should learn from this war: UNRWA, if not by design, certainly by consequence, effectively was a vehicle for Hamas. One thing that should not be the case in the aftermath of this war, is that UNRWA continues to play the role it did.”

Ross laid out a plan for transitioning UNRWA services to other UN agencies.

“Why not focus on having the World Food Program take its place? One thing that should not be the case in the aftermath of this war, is that UNRWA continues to play the role it did.”

Ross added that “if UNRWA maintains the same role, if UNRWA is given this kind of continuing responsibility, it will allow Hamas to come back in.”

The conference gathered lawmakers from UNRWA’s top donors, including the U.S., Canada, the EU, Norway, France, Switzerland, and the UK.

“UNRWA, long a purveyor of anti-Israel, and anti-Jewish hate, must be replaced,” said U.S. Congressman Ritchie Torres from the Democratic Party.

Republican Congressman Chris Smith, Chair of the House Subcommittee on the UN, and sponsor of H.R. 7122, “The Stop Support for UNRWA Act” which recently passed in the House Foreign Affairs Commmittee, briefed the assembly about bipartisan progress to permanently block U.S. funding for UNRWA.

Canadian MP Anthony Housefather of the Liberal Party said “there’s a deep cynicism amongst many of us about UNRWA’s past, and we would be better served to place the faith of the people of the world and the people of Gaza in a different organization.”

Likewise, Canada’s Deputy Leader of the Opposition, MP Melissa Lantsman, said that “there should be no more Western government funding for UNRWA.”

“That should be a clear promise from any government that chooses, frankly, civilization over barbarism,” added Lantsman.

UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer concluded the summit with a 5-point action plan to replace UNRWA, pledging a cross-parliamentary alliance, working groups to provide governments with detailed policy options, and pursuing criminal prosecutions of UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini and other officials for their complicity with terrorism.

“What did senior managers know about the UNRWA social worker who kidnapped the lifeless body of Yonatan Samerano? What did they know about the terror tunnels? What did they know about the 42 UNRWA officials who took part or assisted in the Hamas massacre? About the 1,400 who are operatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad?”

“We have to explore criminal accountability,” said Neuer. “We know there is UN  immunity for staff performing their proper functions, but not for murder and other criminal acts.”


Click below for speaker transcripts and videos:

• Ayelet Samareno, Mother of Yonatan Samareno, whose body was kidnapped to Gaza by an UNRWA employee
• Ambassador Dennis Ross, Counselor at Washington Institute for Near East Policy, former U.S. point man on Middle East peace process
• James G. Lindsay, Former UNRWA General Counsel
• Zlatko Zigic, Senior Official, United Nations Migration Agency, 1997-2017
• Bonnie Glick, Deputy Administrator and Chief Operating Officer of U.S. Agency for International Development, 2019-2020
• Einat Wilf, Former Member of Knesset, co-author of “The War of Return”
• Adi Schwartz, Fellow at the Misgav Institute, co-author of “The War of Return”
• Edward FlahertyExpert on UN investigations and legal proceedings
• Amb. Meirav Eilon ShaharPermanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations in Geneva
• José Garson, Former expert at United Nations Capital Development Fund, focusing on development projects with Least Developed Countries and anti-poverty strategies
• Hillel Neuer, Executive Director, United Nations Watch
 Hon. Chris Smith, Member of U.S. Congress, Chair of House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organization
• Hon. David Lega, Member of European Parliament, Committees on Foreign Affairs and Human Rights
• Hon. Assita Kanko, Member of European Parliament
• Hon. Caroline Yadan, Member of French National Assembly
• Hon. Alfred Heer, Member of Swiss Parliament
• Hon. Melissa Lantsman, Member of Canadian Parliament
 Hon. Ritchie Torres, Member of U.S. Congress
• Hon. Anthony Housefather, Member of Canadian Parliament


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