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Israel Has Provided No Evidence Of UNRWA Employees' Ties to Hamas, Report Finds

An Israeli spokesperson claims the report ‘ignores the severity of the problem, and offers cosmetic solutions’

Israel Has Provided No Evidence Of UNRWA Employees' Ties to Hamas, Report Finds

Israel still has provided no direct evidence for its claim that staff with the United Nation’s agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) are connected to terrorists and participated in the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks and kidnappings, according to a new independent review.

The UN appointed former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna to lead an UNRWA neutrality review in February, weeks after Israel accused 12 UNRWA staff of participating in the Hamas-led Oct. 7 assault.

Israel’s allegations came during the same time the International Court of Justice (ICJ) determined that Israel was plausibly committing genocide — as defined by the 1948 Genocide Convention, to which Israel and the U.S. are signatories — in its treatment of the civilian Palestinian population.

Subsequently, Israel claimed another 30 UNRWA staffers assisted or facilitated the terrorist attack, while alleging that as much as 12 percent of UNRWA’s staff (more than 3,600 workers) is affiliated with terror organizations.

“Israel made public claims that a significant number of UNRWA employees are members of terrorist organizations. However, Israel has yet to provide supporting evidence of this,” according to the 54-page final report.

“Despite significant investment and efforts, UNRWA’s neutrality has been consistently questioned by Palestinian and Israeli stakeholders. In the past, several allegations of neutrality breaches have taken place and disciplinary measures were taken, but allegations of neutrality breaches were never as serious as the ones that surfaced in January 2024,” Colonna wrote.

“The review revealed that UNRWA has established a significant number of mechanisms and procedures to ensure compliance with the humanitarian principles, with emphasis on the principle of neutrality, and that it possesses a more developed approach to neutrality than other similar UN or NGO entities,” she explained.

There are tools in place to ensure the organization remains unbiased in its work and routinely provides Israel with employee lists and “the Israeli Government has not informed UNRWA of any concerns relating to any UNRWA staff based on these staff lists since 2011,” Colonna writes in the report.

The report did find evidence of some “neutrality-related issues” that persist, including instances of staff expressing political views, host-country textbooks with problematic content being used in some UNRWA schools, and politicized staff unions making threats against UNRWA management and causing operational disruptions.”

Israeli officials also made claims of antisemitic textbooks in Palestinian Authority educational material. However, the review showed that some content did contain bias, but there was no evidence of antisemitic references.

Despite the Israeli side failing to provide evidence that UNRWA staff are members of terrorist organizations and participated in the attacks on Oct. 7, critics blasted the report as a “rigged” effort to keep funding flowing.

According to a submission by United Nations Watch to Colonna’s review group, there were a large number of instances of UNRWA staff bias that the review group chose to overlook.

“UN Watch has no access to UNRWA staff activity inside UNRWA classrooms. Our reports are based solely on the public social media posts of individuals who self-identify as UNRWA employees,” the group said in its 24-page submission.

“Yet, despite all these limitations, UN Watch was able to identify over 180 cases of UNRWA staff incitement to terrorism and antisemitism,” the group continued. “If UN Watch had access to all UNRWA staff lists, social media profiles, and classroom activity, thousands of UNRWA employees would certainly be implicated in promotion of terrorism and antisemitism.”

The watchdog group concluded: “UNRWA’s humanitarian mandate masks its true purpose, which is to promote the ‘right of return’ narrative, effectively encouraging violent October 7th-style terrorism. Palestinians fervently believe that they have the right to this ‘bearing witness’ political function. Therefore, by definition, UNRWA is not neutral and cannot be reformed.”

Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson Oren Marmorstein immediately rejected the report.

"The Colonna report ignores the severity of the problem, and offers cosmetic solutions that do not deal with the enormous scope of Hamas' infiltration of UNRWA," he said in a press release. "This is not what a genuine and thorough review looks like. This is what an effort to avoid the problem and not address it head on looks like."

UNRWA was created in 1949 to provide support — food, healthcare, and education — to tens of thousands of Palestinians. In 1948, more than 700,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from land that would become Israel, turning nearly three-quarters of a million people into refugees overnight.

The agency is nearly entirely funded by voluntary donations aside from a limited UN subsidy to cover administrative costs. In 2022, UNRWA received $1.17 billion in total funding, with more than half provided by the U.S. ($343.9 million), Germany ($202.1 million), and the European Union ($114.2 million).

Following allegations of the organization’s ties to terrorist networks, at least nine nations announced funding cuts totaling more than $667 million.

“In the absence of a political solution between Israel and the Palestinians, UNRWA remains pivotal in providing lifesaving humanitarian aid and essential social services, particularly in health and education, to Palestinian refugees in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank” and is “irreplaceable and indispensable to Palestinians’ human and economic development,” the report states.

Colonna’s nine-week review was conducted with more than 200 interviews, including with Israeli and Palestinian authorities, along with 47 countries and organizations.

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