Congress Should Stop Funding UNRWA
by DR. RACHEL EHRENFELD
January 25, 2011
UNRWA began its emergency food and shelter aid programs Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon in May 1950. Over the years, though its official mandate remained the same, UNRWA has been providing governmental and development services. UNRWA's former legal advisor and general counsel, James G. Lindsay, published in 2009 an important study: "Fixing UNRWA: Repairing the UN's Troubled System of Aid to Palestinian Refugees." Mr. Lindsay shows how UNRWA changed its function from status based (refugees) to need based (dependents). More than six decades later, and despite the establishment of an independent Palestinian governing body, UNRWA continues to operate in parallel with the government, both in the PA ruled West Bank and Hamas ruled Gaza.
The world community facilitated Hamas' victory in the 2006 Palestinian Authority election, when it allowed Hamas to run under the name “List of Change and Reform." In June 2007, Hamas took control over the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Since then, despite repeated promises to cut off funds to Hamas, international aid organizations and many countries have continued funneling money to Gaza, purportedly for humanitarian aid, but more recently to fund the “Gaza Administration.” Hamas’ rule over Gaza does not seem to be an obstacle to funding it.
Although the U.S. designation of Hamas terrorists (individuals) is insufficient, the organization and its various entities are designated by the Treasury Department on its Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN). But the UN does not list Hamas as a terrorist organization. The UN only lists the Taliban and al Qaeda as terrorists. The May 2009 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report includes UNRWA's admission that it does not screen prospective staff or aid recipients for ties to Hamas, Hezbollah, the Islamic Jihad (IJG), or other local terrorist groups.
"According to UNRWA, the UN Security Council has various working groups for terrorism-related issues, but the Sanctions Committee’s UN 1267 list is currently the only such UN terrorist screening list available….the list is limited to those individuals or entities affiliated with Al-Qaida and the Taliban and thus does not specifically include major regional groups, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, which the United States has designated as foreign terrorist organizations."
By the end of 2007, UNRWA employed more than 29,000, Less than 200 were listed as "international," the rest were Palestinian, organized in unions. UNRWA’s Arab workers union is controlled by Hamas. In 2003 Hamas won more than 90% of the votes. In 2005, UNRWA provided a large increase in salaries for its thousands of workers. Since HAMAS deducts 3%-5% of the UNRWA paid annual salaries as membership fees, the raise contributes directly to HAMAS’ coffers. Through another affiliate, the Islamic Bloc, Hamas also controls the UNRWA teachers union and UNRWA-funded schools in Gaza.
However this did not seem to disturb UNRWA’s former Commissioner Peter Hansen, who in October 2004 told the Canadian Broadcasting Cooperation “I am sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll, and I don't see that as a crime."
UNRWA facilities and personnel have also been tied to numerous terrorist attacks on Israel. Its schools have been used as meeting places for Hamas terrorists and weapons storage, and UNRWA’s Hamas affiliated staff members have used UNRWA equipment to transport arms for use in terrorist activities. For example, IDF captured documents and evidence during Operation Cast Lead in 2008, showed that the UNRWA school compound across from the Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis was used by Hamas to launch rockets into Israel, and that other UNRWA schools were used to store weapons and to hide Hamas operatives.
On January 12, 2009, Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter stated that Shifa Hospital, Gaza City's main medical center, has become the de facto Hamas headquarters, and that: "Shifa Hospital has long ago ceased to be just a hospital, just as the UN humanitarian and health services in Gaza long ago ceased to be just humanitarian services providing food and medical services." Still, UNRWA's response was: "Where any abuse of UN installations is discovered the UN carries out disciplinary action, including dismissals."
Not surprisingly, in January 2011, Hamas announced that it won 70.5% of Gaza’s Nursing Association’s representatives vote. Their competitors, another terrorist designated groups, the Islamic Jihad (IJG), won 29.5%. UNRWA pays their salaries.
PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad sends $120 million a month from its budget (most of which comes from foreign aid) to Gaza. In September 2010, he openly stated that he had sent Gaza $4.3 billion over the previous three years, part of which pays the salaries of Hamas municipal employees. According to Mr. Fayyad, 54% of the PA’s $3.17 billion 2010 budget went to Gaza.
In 2009, following Israel’s operation Cast Lead to stop Hamas & Islamic Jihad rockets attacks on Israel, the European Commission pledged at least $554 to Gaza in “humanitarian aid.” Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE promised billions more. But these wealthy Arab nations are known to renege on their financial aid to the Palestinians, including Hamas. Their promises get them lots of publicity, while they let the West foot the bill.
For example, an October 2010 Foreign Policy article reported that “Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, pledged $30 million for U.N. humanitarian operations in Gaza… the money has never arrived.”
However, UNWRA does not rely only on pledges. The UN agency raises money for Gaza through its web site, with payments going through WorldPay (part of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group), the Arab Bank PLC in Gaza and HSBC in Amman, Jordan. Those funds come in addition to UNRWA's annual budget of $400 million. How much of it goes to Hamas members?
Incredibly,UNRWA calls its own tune, while the U.S. pays for it. UNRWA have long violated and subverted U.S. principles and interests, but it will soon ask to renew its mandate that is about to expire in June.
It is time the House Foreign Affairs Committee recommends to end the wasting of U.S. taxpayers’ money on the terrorist supporting UNRWA.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld is the Director of the New York-based American Center for Democracy. She is an expert on terrorism and corruption-related topics such as terror financing and narco-terrorism. She has helped to change New York state law, when the Libel Terrorism Protection Act (pdf) was passed. Similar laws have been passed in other U.S. states, and a federal law known as the SPEECH ACT which was signed by the president in August 2010, follows the same principle - that First Amendment guarantees should protect authors and publishers against foreign libel judgments from countries with poor free speech protections.