UNRWA Misinformation on Hamas-Israel War

As a supposedly neutral UN agency, UNRWA should be promoting peace pursuant to the UN Charter. Yet, time and again, we see the UN’s refugee agency for Palestinians doing the very opposite—spreading misinformation and fueling conflict—enabling Hamas terrorism.

Following October 7th, UNRWA teachers cheered the Hamas massacre on social media. When UN Watch exposed this in a new report, instead of addressing the issue, UNRWA dismissed our human rights organization as “extremists trying to undermine the agency.” When journalist Almog Boker of Israel’s Channel 13 reported that one of the released Israeli hostages had been held captive by an UNRWA teacher, UNRWA’s first reaction was to lash out at Boker, accusing him of spreading “misinformation” based on “unsubstantiated” information. Boker rejected the accusation, reaffirming that the report was the direct testimony of a survivor. 

In fact, it is UNRWA that is spreading misinformation. Since October 7th, UNRWA has repeatedly disseminated pro-Hamas propaganda that criticizes any Israeli military action—be it attacks on Hamas military assets or calls on the Gaza civilian population to evacuate—while at the same time refusing to hold Hamas accountable for any violations. For example, Hamas weapons and tunnels have been found in or under UNRWA schools, including under UNRWA crates and in UNRWA sacks and Hamas has attacked from inside UNRWA schools. Nevertheless, UNRWA always blames strikes on UNRWA facilities on Israel, either directly or by implication. UNRWA never holds Hamas responsible and almost never even mentions Hamas. 

UNRWA’s tweets are filled with outright lies and highly misleading information designed to generate international condemnation for Israel while giving Hamas a free pass. Naturally, this serves Hamas’s goal of increasing international pressure on Israel to stop its military campaign prematurely, before Hamas is destroyed so that Hamas can continue its campaign of terrorism against Israel.

Below is our response to a sample of UNRWA’s tweets in the twelve-days leading up to Christmas containing lies and misinformation that aid Hamas.

UNRWA Misinformation on Twitter from December 13-24, 2023

1. 20,000 Civilians Killed (@UNRWA, December 24, 2023)

UNRWA Tweet: @UNRWA mourns 142 colleagues killed in #Gaza, alongside over 20,000 civilians killed since the war began…

UN Watch Comment:

UNRWA relies on the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health for its casualty numbers, which does not distinguish between civilians and Hamas combatants, so it is misleading for UNRWA to label all 20,000 reported casualties as “civilians.” According to the IDF, at least 8,000 Hamas terrorists have been killed as of December 23rd, 2023.

Additionally, a close review of the UN’s official Gaza casualty count reveals that, unsurprisingly, the data is being falsified. The count of children and women casualties on some days increased more than the total casualty count. It is in Hamas’ interest to inflate children and women casualty numbers, blaming Israel to incite global antisemitism and to build diplomatic pressure against IDF operations.

Regardless of the veracity of the numbers, every civilian casualty is a tragedy. However, Israel does not target civilians and actively seeks to minimize civilian casualties. The IDF’s policy of Tohar HaNeshek, or “Purity of Arms,” enshrined in its Code of Conduct, explicitly forbids soldiers from targeting civilians. 

On the contrary, Hamas intentionally targets Israeli civilians every time it fires indiscriminate rockets into Israel with the goal of killing as many Israelis as possible, while at the same time endangering Palestinian civilians by using them as human shields—a double war crime. An estimated 10 to 20 percent of the 12,000 rockets fired at Israel since October 7th have fallen short within Gaza. While we do not know what percentage of the 20,000 reported casualties are due to the 1,200 to 2,400 indiscriminately fired Hamas rockets falling short on Gazans, or due to Hamas attacks on Gazan civilians evacuating south, or seeking humanitarian aid, one thing is clear: Every civilian casualty in Gaza is the responsibility of Hamas.

2. Only a Ceasefire Can Prevent Killing and Destruction in Gaza (@UNRWA, December 23, 2023)

UNRWA Tweet: “We need a ceasefire that will stop the killing of civilians & destruction of civilian infrastructure in #Gaza

UN Watch Comment: A ceasefire can be achieved immediately if Hamas lays down its arms and returns the remaining Israeli hostages. UNRWA has never called for this.

On December 25th, 2023, it was reported that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad rejected an Egyptian proposal for them to relinquish power in Gaza in exchange for a ceasefire.

3. Difficulty in Distributing Aid in Gaza is Caused by Israel (@UNRWA, December 23, 2023)

UNRWA Tweet: “We are not able to distribute as much food as we should – simply because it’s a sky full of airstrikes & there’s very little supplies we’re allowed to bring in”

@JulietteTouma @RTERadio1: It’s been 10 very long weeks of brutal, brutal war in #Gaza

UN Watch Comment: This tweet directly blames Israeli airstrikes for difficulties distributing aid in Gaza. It fails to mention that Hamas actively prevents distribution of aid. Specifically the tweet omits that Hamas gunmen stole humanitarian aid as they beat the Gazans attempting to get the aid and that Hamas operatives commandeered aid trucks carrying food, water, medicine, and fuel. UNRWA tweets never name or condemn Hamas. According to a Gazan civilian, Hamas itself controls UNRWA inside Gaza and steals humanitarian supplies for itself.

4. Israeli Evacuation Orders Put Gazans in Danger (@UNRWA, December 23, 2023)

UNRWA Tweet: Evacuation orders issued by Israeli authorities move people to areas where @UNRWA shelters are beyond capacity & there are ongoing airstrikes

UN Watch Comment: This tweet suggests that Israeli evacuation orders endanger Gazans. In fact, it is Hamas that endangers Gazan civilians by embedding itself in the civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, mosques, and homes. Not evacuating civilians from active combat zones would result in much higher civilian casualties. By providing advance warning to civilians of areas where its battles against Hamas will soon take place, the IDF is fulfilling its obligation under international law at the expense of its military edge.

5. High Number of UN Workers Killed in Gaza Implies Israeli Wrongdoing  (@UNRWA retweeting Antonio Guterres, December 23, 2023)

UNRWA Tweet: 136 of our colleagues in Gaza have been killed in 75 days – something we have never seen in @UN history.

UN Watch Comment: UNRWA retweeted Secretary General Antonio Guterres paying tribute to the 136 UNRWA employees killed in the war. The tweet expresses outrage at the fact that so many UN staff have been killed in Gaza, commenting “something we have never seen before.”

The reason for that, which is omitted from the tweet, is that of all the conflict-affected areas in the world (Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, Myanmar, etc.), only the Palestinians have their own UN agency that hires 30,000 mostly local people—more than 10,000 in Gaza alone—to provide basic government services like education and healthcare. Nowhere else in the world does the UN have that amount of staff on the ground, let alone local staff. By way of comparison, UNHCR has a total of approximately 30,000 employees covering the entire rest of the world.

The fact that so many UN employees in Gaza have been killed does not prove that this war is any more deadly than other wars around the world or that Israel is deliberately targeting UN staff. It is indicative only of the fact that the UN devotes far more resources to the Palestinians than to any other conflict-affected population. 

6. Gaza is Worse Than Other Conflicts (@UNRWA, December 20, 2023)

UNRWA Tweet: “All of this is unprecedented: the level of destruction, the displacement of people, the grief this has brought on the agency with the loss of colleagues, the hits on our own facilities”

UN Watch Comment:

What makes the situation in Gaza unprecedented is that a terrorist regime has had 16 years and billions of dollars of international aid to embed its terror operations into the civilian infrastructure for the purpose of attacking the liberal-democracy next door, Israel, from across the border. Hamas’s tactics are designed to achieve maximum levels of civilian casualties and destruction despite Israel’s best efforts to avoid that. The level and extent of Hamas entrenchment among the civilian population hasn’t been seen in any other conflict in the world. 

UNRWA’s choice of the very dramatic word—“unprecedented”—to describe the situation is clearly intended to generate condemnation of Israel, the party carrying out the strikes. The tragic reality is that millions of people in the region from Syria to Yemen are displaced and in dire need of humanitarian assistance due to conflict. 

7. Death of Gaza Children is Evidence of Israeli Violations (@UNRWA, December 19, 2023)

UNRWA Tweet: Nowhere, and no-one, is safe in #Gaza. The killing of thousands of children cannot be collateral damage.

UN Watch Comment:

The reason Gaza is unsafe at the moment is because Hamas has turned it into a war zone by embedding itself in the civilian infrastructure. Knowing how dangerous Gaza is, one has to wonder why UNRWA is intent on keeping Gaza’s civilians in Gaza instead of advocating for neighboring countries to temporarily host the displaced until these hostilities are over? Since Hamas refuses to surrender, continues to attack Israel, and hides behind the Gaza civilian population, Hamas is fully responsible for all civilian deaths in Gaza.

From a legal perspective, this tweet is also wrong. “Collateral damage” is a legal term that comes from the IHL proportionality rule, which the tweet suggests is violated based on the result of the Israeli military strikes, i.e., the number of casualties. However, as military law expert Professor Geoffrey Corn explains, “proportionality is not defined by attack outcome, but instead by asking whether the individual launching the attack made a reasonable proportionality assessment when the trigger was pulled.”

8. Percentage of Destruction and Displacement Make Gaza Situation Unprecedented (@UNRWA, December 19, 2023)

UNRWA Tweet: Over 60% of the infrastructure in#Gaza has been destroyed or damaged.

More than 90% of the Gazan population have been displaced.

This is a staggering and unprecedented level of destruction and forced displacement, taking place in front of our eyes.

UN Watch Comment: The reason there is a high level of destruction and displacement is because Hamas has spent its 16 years of rule of Gaza spending billions of dollars in international aid embedding its terror operations within the civilian infrastructure. It has built over 500 kilometers of subterranean tunnels running under homes, schools, hospitals, and mosques from which it conducts military operations.

9. Israeli Evacuation Orders Constitute Forcible Transfer (@UNRWA, December 18, 2023)

Since the war started, Israeli Authorities have forcibly moved 1.9 million Gazans from their homes- the largest forced displacement of Palestinians since 1948

UN Watch Comment: UNRWA falsely accuses Israel of the international crime of “forced displacement.” The rules of customary international law prohibit the deportation or forcible transfer of the civilian population of an occupied territory “unless the security of the civilians involved or imperative military reasons so demand.” Evacuation of civilians from an active war zone is not “forced displacement.” Suggesting otherwise is misleading and intended to demonize Israel. Moreover, Israel has not forced any Gazan civilians to evacuate, they have merely issued warnings as to which areas will soon see fighting. The decision of civilians to evacuate thereafter is voluntary.

The warnings are provided by the IDF as a courtesy to civilians, to give them ample time to flee the dangerous area, in the interest of saving innocent lives. These areas have been made dangerous because Hamas embedded its terror operations into civilian infrastructure, so Hamas is entirely to blame for the need for civilians to evacuate.

10. UNRWA Ensures Stability in the Region (@UNLazzarini, December 18, 2023)

UNRWA Tweet: UNRWA’s presence has been pivotal in preventing #Gaza, and the region, from descending into chaos. The high standard of @UNRWA‘s educational system has been widely admired globally.

Undermining @UNRWA undermines international efforts in #Gaza & beyond.

UN Watch Comment: UN Watch recently documented how UNRWA staff celebrated Hamas’s October 7th massacre on Facebook. Since 2015, UN Watch has exposed more than 150 UNRWA staff who posted antisemitism and incitement to jihadi terrorism on Facebook. Our March 2023 report also showed how UNRWA staff routinely incite against Israel in the classroom and encourage impressionable students to follow a path of violence and martyrdom. As it stands, UNRWA’s education derails future prospects for peace by raising another generation of Palestinian children on hate and false dreams. In fact, it is UNRWA that “undermines international efforts in #Gaza & beyond,” by ensuring the perpetuation of the conflict.

11. Gaza Becoming a Graveyard (@UNRWA, December 17, 2023)

UNRWA Tweet: #Gaza is becoming the graveyard of a population trapped between war, siege and deprivation.

UN Watch Comment: This type of exaggerated hyperbole and melodramatic language is intended to generate strong condemnation of Israel. While Gaza is now a war zone, it is not a “graveyard.” Moreover, every civilian casualty in Gaza is the responsibility of Hamas because Hamas’s strategy is to deliberately use Gazan civilians as human shields so that Israeli strikes targeted at Hamas will unavoidably cause civilian casualties, generating international condemnation and diplomatic pressure against IDF operations.

12. 2023 Israel/Hamas War is Worst Humanitarian Crisis in the Region (@UNLazzarini, December 15, 2023)

UNRWA Tweet: Reassured by the decision from the Council of States this morning to keep supporting @UNRWA during one of the worst humanitarian crises in #Gaza and the region.  

Critical that Switzerland expresses its solidarity to the victims of this brutal war.

UN Watch Comment: Without diminishing the seriousness of the humanitarian situation in Gaza, it is far from being “one of the worst humanitarian crises in…the region.” A quick survey of other ongoing conflicts shows this characterization is highly exaggerated. At least 306,000 Syrian civilians have been killed in the Syrian civil war and more than 14 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes. UNHCR describes Yemen as the world’s “worst humanitarian crisis” with 4.5 million people displaced and 21.6 million people “in dire need of humanitarian assistance” as of March 2023. In Iraq, more than 1.2 million people are currently displaced by conflict and 3 million are in need of humanitarian assistance. Moreover, the UN could end the humanitarian crisis in Gaza immediately by demanding Hamas unconditionally surrender and release all hostages.

13. UNRWA Collapse Would be Betrayal of Palestinians (@UNLazzarini, December 13, 2023)

UNRWA Tweet: Told @baysontheroad it is of utmost importance that the members of the @UN General Assembly realise if @UNRWA collapses in #Gaza, the Palestinian community will feel this ad the last betrayal of the International Community.

UN Watch Comment: Actually, by keeping UNRWA alive, the UN betrays the Palestinian people and the long-term prospects for peace in the region. The sole purpose of UNRWA is to perpetuate the conflict by giving Palestinians false hope that they will one day return to homes inside Israel. Thus, it prevents them from settling and developing productive lives where they are—which for more than 2.3 million so-called UNRWA refugees is territory designated for the future state of Palestine, either the West Bank or Gaza.

Moreover, despite its name, UNRWA acts as a welfare agency for the Palestinians, rather than a refugee agency. This encourages a culture of dependency that prevents the Palestinians from taking responsibility for their own future. The UN doesn’t provide long-term healthcare solutions, education, or cash assistance for one of the parties in any other conflict. If the General Assembly genuinely cares for the Palestinians, it should end UNRWA and start demanding accountability from the Palestinian leadership.

14. Israeli Attacks on UN Facilities Violate Laws of War (December 12, 2023)

UNRWA Tweet: Saw videos of an @UNRWA school in northern #Gaza blown up. It is outrageous. All public facilities, including hospitals & @UN schools are protected under international law. Parties to this brutal war have the coordinates of all our facilities in Gaza.

UN Watch Comment: Yes, civilian objects like hospitals and schools should be protected under international law. However, they lose their protection and become valid military objectives “when and for such time” as they are being used for military purposes. UNRWA should direct its outrage at Hamas which has used UNRWA facilities for military purposes, causing them to become valid military targets. With some 10,000 Palestinian Gazans on its payroll, many of whom have ties to Hamas, UNRWA cannot plead ignorance about Hamas misuse of its facilities.

During the current hostilities there have already been reports of Hamas operating from UNRWA schools, including through its tunnel network, weapons depots which have been found in UNRWA crates and in UNRWA sacks, and attacks from inside UNRWA schools. A released Israeli hostage recently testified that while in captivity she witnessed Gazan’s cheering Hamas with shouts of “Allahu Akbar” after it launched rockets at Israel from a school where they were sheltering. By failing to name Hamas, this tweet falsely implies Israeli responsibility for attacks on hospitals and schools even though Hamas is the party that converted them into military objects.

15. “There is nowhere for people to go.” (@UNRWA, December 23, 2023)

UNRWA Tweet: To expand ongoing military operations, Israeli authorities have issued MORE evacuation orders for people in Middle Area of #Gaza to move into areas where there are ongoing airstrikes.

More than 150k people impacted.

There is nowhere for people to go. Nowhere is safe.

UN Watch Comment: “Evacuation orders” from the IDF are merely warnings that the dangerous ground war against Hamas will soon expand into new territory. The warnings are provided by the IDF as a courtesy to civilians, to give them ample time to flee the dangerous area, in the interest of saving innocent lives. These areas have been made dangerous because Hamas embedded its terror operations into civilian infrastructure, so Hamas is entirely to blame for the need for civilians to evacuate.

The tweet also says that there is “nowhere for people to go.” It is true that the expanding battleground within Gaza has created a humanitarian crisis and leaves practically nowhere in Gaza safe for civilians. However, this is true for all war zones. If this were any other conflict zone in the world, the UN’s response would be to assist civilians in fleeing the war zone and finding refuge, either temporary or permanent, in a safe country. When war broke out in Syria, the UN never demanded that Syrian civilians remain in the line of fire. Instead, UNHCR assisted millions of Syrians in seeking refuge in 130 different countries. As of December 2023, there are 1.9 million Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon alone, and 3.7 million Syrian refugees registered in Turkey. 

This begs the question: Why isn’t the UN facilitating a temporary evacuation of Gazan civilians out of the war torn Gaza Strip? For one, Gaza borders Egypt, which has heavily fortified its border and refuses to allow Gazan civilians through. But instead of condemning Egypt for this, the UN has supported Egypt’s position that no Gazan civilians should leave Gaza.

The answer is that the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, has a mandate to assist and resettle refugee populations of all nationalities in the world except one: Palestinians.

Instead, Palestinians are serviced by UNRWA, which has a different mandate and a different definition for “refugee.” UNRWA’s mandate is explicitly not to resettle Palestinians. Rather, UNRWA holds them in “refugee camps,” which today are simply urban areas in Gaza, for generation after generation.

So when UNRWA says that “there is nowhere for [Gazans] to go,” the reason is because UNRWA’s mandate is keeping them trapped in a war zone.

In order to save Gazan civilians, UN Watch calls on UNHCR to intervene to assist in the temporary evacuation of Gazans, either by land through the Rafah Crossing, or if Egypt refuses to cooperate, then by sea. Israel should provide guarantees to all Gazan civilians evacuated that they will be able to return to Gaza once Hamas has been eliminated. In the long run, UNHCR should assist Palestinians who wish to voluntarily leave UNRWA refugee camps and resettle elsewhere in the world.

UN Watch