UNRWA Terror Support Widespread, Not “A Few Bad Apples”

UNRWA’s top officials and its apologists have been asking why the whole agency is being punished because of a few “bad apples.” Over the weekend, fourteen UNRWA donor countries—the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Finland, France, Switzerland, Japan, Iceland and Estonia—suspended funding to the agency in light of evidence provided by the Israeli government that several UNRWA employees were involved in the October 7th attacks.

Below we provide examples of those making the “bad apples” argument and explain why the opposite is true—the poison is pervasive.

The Bad Apples Argument

  • Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General: “The abhorrent alleged acts of these staff members must have consequences. But the tens of thousands of men and women who work for UNRWA… should not be penalized.”
  • Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA: “I am shocked such decisions are taken based on alleged behavior of a few individuals and as the war continues, needs are deepening & famine looms.”
  • Jan Egeland, Norwegian Refugee Council: “UNRWA has rightly terminated the contracts of those alleged to violate our neutrality principle. Donors, do not starve children for the sins of a few individual aid workers.”
  • Ken Roth, Former HRW:UNRWA says cutting funding to it (because a dozen employees allegedly aided Hamas) is ‘collective punishment’ of Palestinian civilians.”
  • Sarah Leah Whitson, Former HRW: Let’s be perfectly clear: punishing the entire UNRWA organization for potential wrongdoing of a dozen employees is effectively collective punishment against Palestinians…”
  • Claudio Francavilla, HRW: But allegations about 12 people (immediately fired) out of 13000 UNRWA staff suffice to stop funding the organisation”
  • Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International: Sickening heartless decision of the richest countries in the world to punish the most vulnerable population on earth because of the alleged crimes of 12 people.
  • Owen Jones, Guardian: There’s 13,000 Palestinians working for UNRWA. There are allegations against 12 staff members – or 0.092% – and that’s what they are, allegations based on Israeli ‘interrogations’ of prisoners.”
  • Khaled Elgindy, Middle East Institute: “So the US can instantly cut off funds for UNRWA’s life-saving work in Gaza based on unproven allegations against a tiny handful of its employees…”
  • Helen Clark, Former PM of New Zealand: Serious as allegations around a tiny % of now former UNRWA staff may be, this isn’t the time to suspend funding to UN’s largest relief & development agency in #Gaza”
  • Ayman Safadi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Jordan: “UNRWA is the lifeline for over 2m Palestinians facing starvation in Gaza. It should’t be collectively punished upon allegations against 12 persons out of its 13000 staff.
  • Espen Barth Eide, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway: “We should not collectively punish millions of people. We must distinguish between what individuals may have done and what UNRWA stands for.”
  • Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, U.S. Congresswoman: “Among an organization of 13,000 UN aid workers, risking the starvation of millions over grave allegations of 12 is indefensible.”
  • Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur for the Palestinians: “The day after @ICJ concluded that Israel is plausibly committing Genocide in Gaza, some states decided to defund UNRWA, collectively punishing millions of Palestinians at the most critical time, and most likely violating their obligations under the Genocide Convention.”
  • Yonah Lieberman, Co-Founder If Not Now: “It is morally indefensible to cut off humanitarian funding from UNRWA because of the actions of 12 staff members… Shameful collective punishment.”
  • Hugh Lovatt, European Council on Foreign Relations: “UNRWA has 13000 staff members in Gaza. Israel alleges 12 employees (0.09% of total workforce) participated in the 7 Oct attack. The agency has fired them and is investigating. The suspension of funding at such a critical time by the US, IT, CA & AU is completely disproportionate.”
  • Omar H. Rahman, ME Council and Baker Institute: “The ICJ has ruled that Israel is plausibly carrying out genocide and the arms/support still flow from the same countries now cutting aid to a UN agency for refugees after mere allegations against a few employees (out of a staff of 30,00). Just incredible.”
  • Nathan J. Robinson, Current Affairs: “Even [if] Israel can prove its allegation that 12 people out of the 13,000 on the UN relief payroll in Gaza were involved in Oct. 7, how on earth would that justify decimating the aid organization?”
  • Chris Doyle, Council for Arab-British Understanding:Told @bbcnews that the decision to suspend funding to @unrwa was disgraceful. It is collectively punishing Palestinian refugees in Gaza and across the region, including the most vulnerable who are being bombed and starved to death in Gaza. Serious allegations were made against 12 UNRWA staff.”
  • Caitlin Johnstone, Journalist: “Defunding UNRWA over a handful of alleged Hamas members who don’t even work there anymore makes no sense from a humanitarian perspective or a military perspective, but it makes a ton of sense from a genocidal perspective.”

Why The Problem Is Not Just A Few Bad Apples; UNRWA Is Rotten To The Core

1. 11 reports by UN Watch since 2015

Since 2015, UN Watch has exposed more than 180 perpetrators in 11 reports. Just the fact that UN Watch continues to find UNRWA teachers who endorse jihadi Hamas terrorism on social media proves that the problem is deeply rooted and that UNRWA is not seriously addressing it.

2. Over 180 perpetrators exposed based on public posts only

UN Watch reports address only public social media posts by individuals who self-identify as UNRWA employees and yet we still found over 180 perpetrators. This indicates that if we had access to all staff activities in and out of the classroom, including on Facebook, we would find many more examples of UNRWA staff celebrating and glorifying jihadi terrorism.

3. 30,000 UNRWA teachers and other staff never condemned colleagues’ hate on Facebook

We are not aware of a single member of UNRWA’s staff of over 30,000 that has publicly criticized the hateful content posted by their fellow staff members which we exposed in our reports.

4. 2,000-member UNRWA Lebanon staff union rallied behind terror-supporting UNRWA teacher Riad Nimr

When Riad Nimr was suspended in wake of our March 2023 report for posting support for terrorism, the nearly 2000-member UNRWA staff union embraced him instead of condemning him. They declared a three-day strike, pulling students out of class and shutting down most UNRWA services in the camp. The teachers, unions, schools, and staff glorified Nimr and turned him into a TikTok hero, staging mass protests for nearly three weeks until Nimr was reinstated. This shows that UNRWA’s staff condones the kinds of views expressed by Nimr.

5. UNRWA students brandish real-looking weapons at Lebanon protests

During the mass protests in support of UNRWA teacher Riad Nimr, children were seen holding real-looking weapons. This shows that UNRWA students know their teachers support the kinds of views expressed by Nimr on Facebook.

6. UNRWA staff and students endorse violent content

Worse than the lack of condemnation, UNRWA teachers and students affirmatively endorse their colleague’s hateful posts, confirming that the problem goes far beyond the 180 teachers identified in our reports. For example, our March 2023 report contained a violent post by an UNRWA student who tagged his UNRWA teacher Ayman Dlash, apparently knowing the teacher would approve of it. That report also contained a post praising Hitler by UNRWA staff member Labibeh Iskandarani which was endorsed by other UNRWA employees. In our February 2017 report, we showed how UNRWA students praised UNRWA teacher Ghanem Naim Ghoneim’s post venerating Hitler; and how UNRWA principal Ahmad Nasser endorsed a similar post celebrating Hitler by UNRWA teacher Omar Asaad.

7. None of 3,000 UNRWA Staff in UNRWA Terrorgram group objected to celebrations of October 7th

Not a single one of the 3,000 UNRWA teachers in the UNRWA Staff Telegram group objected to their colleagues’ joyful celebrations of Hamas’s October 7th atrocities. The opposite is the case. They liked and amplified their colleague’s joyous posts. On October 12th, one teacher in the group, known as “Abu Omar,” confirmed the close relationship between Hamas and UNRWA when he said that more than 30 of his “brothers and friends” had become martyrs since October 7th. He also sought to protect those close to these terrorists’ by advising other group members how to avoid being targeted by the IDF in case “one of your relatives or friends becomes a martyr.”

8. 1,200 UNRWA Gaza staff are Hamas & Islamic Jihad “operatives”

On January 29th, The Wall Street Journal reported that according to Israeli intelligence reports it had reviewed, some 1200 of UNRWA’s Gaza staff are “operatives” of Islamist terror groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. These include an UNRWA Arabic teacher / Hamas commander who took part in the October 7th massacre at Kibbutz Be’eri in which 97 people were killed and an UNRWA social worker who absconded to Gaza with the body of an Israeli soldier killed on October 7th and aided Hamas with munitions distributions. The report also said that some 49% of UNRWA employees had relatives with official ties to Hamas and other terrorist groups. The ties between UNRWA Gaza staff and Hamas were already well known. UN Watch detailed some of them in its November 2023 blogpost titled Fact Checking UNRWA Claims About Teachers and Education.

UN Watch