Is the US Complicit in UNRWA-Hamas Cooperation?
Last week, officials of World Vision, an internationally known humanitarian organization, were indicted for secretly abetting military activities of Hamas, designated by the US as a foreign terror organization (FTO).
This week, Israeli security officials began to swoop down on a much larger humanitarian organization, which openly operates Hamas military activities. That organization is UNRWA, the agency that hosts descendants of Arab refugees from the 1948 war in refugee facilities for perpetuity.
Knesset Member Avi Dichter, former head of the Shin Bet Israeli Security Agency, who now chairs the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, pointed an unusually harsh finger at UNRWA, warning from the rostrum of of the Knesst that “almost 100% of UNRWA workers in Gaza are active in the Hamas terrorist organization.”
UNRWA operates with a budget of more than $1 billion, provided by more than 40 western nations. The US is the leading donor, paying it$400 million each year.
Working with an Israeli-Palestinian team of journalists over the past few years, I have documented and filmed how UNRWA allocates cash from donor nations to conduct military training for children in the UNRWA classroom and camps which Hamas organizes for UNRWA children.
Al-Kutla al-Islamiya, a division of Hamas, runs UNRWA military activities, which attract UNRWA’s younger students, recruiting them to the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas.
UNRWA “education” teaches children how to fight, shoot lethal weapons, use hand grenades and climb through various spaces — all in preparation for war against Israel.
After exposure to al-Kutla, elementary and middle schoolers join a week-long war games program, held in a military encampment, where they study “jihad, determination, trusting Allah and other Islamic values,” in addition to military tactics.
Here is a case where a UN agency actually violates the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which states “children… should not be forced or recruited to take part in a war or join the armed forces.”
Yet all this is occurs in the public domain, without a peep from 38 nations that donate huge sums each year to UNRWA, with the notable exception of Canada.
Ottawa suspended aid to the UNRWA general fund in 2008, in response to a report commissioned by the European Parliament, which documented how Hamas was elected to run the UNRWA teachers association and the UNRWA workers association. Now there is a move in the new Canadian government to restore Canadian tax dollars to the general fund of UNRWA.
Yet binding legislation — passed by the US Congress and requiring UNRWA to vet personnel to determine if there are terrorists on its payroll — is ignored. UNRWA simply refuses to vet personnel in its facilities, which operate in the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority, and no one, including the US, is asking it to do so.
After the March 2009 election, when Hamas was again elected to run the UNRWA workers union and UNRWA teachers association in Gaza, Congress asked newly appointed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for comment on whether she would demand the removal of terrorists from the organization’s payroll. Amazingly, Clinton told Congress that there was no evidence of Taliban activity in UNRWA – even though Taliban have never played a role in that part of the Middle East.
In her four years as secretary of state, Clinton did nothing to impede Hamas domination of US-funded UNRWA facilities. The US Congressional Research Service reports that the US has never asked if UNRWA humanitarian funds wind up in the hands of Hamas, or if Hamas is present in UNRWA. Yet UNRWA remains in violation of US penal code § 2339B — providing material support or resources to a designated FTO.
The Hamas Minister of Religion told us on camera, “Hamas’ relationship with UNRWA is good, very good! We assist UNRWA, and Hamas cooperates with UNRWA on many levels. Now a direct connection exists between UNRWA and Hamas.”
David Bedein, who runs the Israel Resource News Agency and the Center for Near East Policy Research, is the author of “Roadblock to Peace – How the UN Perpetuates the Arab-Israeli Conflict: UNRWA Policies Reconsidered.” He has been active in efforts to reform UNRWA for the past 28 years.