At a time when the EU, Israel and the US are considering a policy decision to cut funds to the Hamas dominated Palestinian Authority, it has been suggested that Israel and the US simply allocate the funds through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that administers 59 refugee camps for Palestinian Arab refugees from 1948 and for their descendent. All told, UNRWA cares for three million Palestinian Arabs, one third of whom actually live in the camps, with the rest of the UNRWA clientele living contiguous to the camps.
However, the Hamas connection to UNRWA is pervasive and deep.
Last week Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF) engaged in house-to-house search operations for wanted Hamas terrorists in the UNRWA camp in Balata, near Nablus. The problem is Hamas’s infiltration into UNRWA operations, which has been an ongoing issue for some time.
There have been a number of chilling reminders of this systemic problem over the last few years. For instance, at the memorial ceremony for Sheikh Yassin which was held at the UNRWA boys’ school in that same Balata refugee camp on April 3, 2004, veiled operatives held mock Kassam rockets; the families of “martyrs” were given gifts and certificates of gratitude.
In an earlier incident, according to the Israeli prime minister’s web site, Hamas convened a conference in a school in the Jabalya refugee camp, in which the school’s administration, teachers and hundreds of students participated. Representing the UNRWA Teachers Association, Saheil Alhinadi praised UNRWA pupils who carried out suicide attacks against Israel.
That Alhinadi was speaking for the teachers should not be surprising, since Hamas-affiliated officials dominate the teachers’ union of UNRWA in Gaza and control its executive committee. This is particularly worrisome because of the terrorist influence on young refugees studying in UNRWA schools.
Hamas has influenced the UNRWA schools through The Islamic Bloc, which refers to itself as a “Jihad” organization dedicated to the “Islamization” of the Palestinian cause and the necessity of liberating all of the land of Palestine. The Bloc has been charged by Hamas with furthering its goals within the schools.
IDF Colonel (ret.) Yoni Fighel observed that as “long as UNRWA employees are members of Fatah, Hamas, or PFLP, they are going to pursue the interests of their party within the framework of their job… Who’s going to check up on them to see that they don’t? UNRWA? They are UNRWA.”
Meanwhile, Israel’s former UN Ambassador, Dr. Dore Gold, visited the UNRWA camp in Jenin in April 2002 and witnessed the presence of shahid (martyr) posters on the walls in the homes of UNRWA workers. “It was clear,” he says, “that UNRWA workers were doubling as Hamas agents.”
It should be noted that, for political reasons, UNRWA does not do adequate vetting of prospective employees in Judea and Samaria, while such vetting of prospective employees does take place in the UNRWA camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
At UNRWA’s international conference held in Geneva in June, 2004, I asked Peter Hansen, then the UN Commissioner General for UNRWA, how he could account for the fact that Hamas members were on the payroll of UNRWA. Hansen then admitted that “We do not check the religious affiliation of our staff members.”
A week later, in a CBC radio interview, Hansen stated that he saw no problem with having Hamas members on his staff.
Employee involvement with Hamas should not come as any surprise, since the employees of UNRWA are themselves Palestinian Arab refugees, and the evidence that the refugee population is supportive of, and affiliated with, Hamas is quite considerable.
UNRWA has never denied beneficiaries aid or relief because of Hamas (or other terrorist) associations. This is because UNRWA has a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on the matter. Inevitably, funds given to UNRWA recipients ends up paying the salaries of Hamas officials.
This week, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed UNRWA of its great displeasure with the fact that Hamas officials remain on the payroll of UNRWA.
Such censures, unfortunately, fall on deaf ears, for Hamas has managed to firmly plant itself as a beneficiary of UN funding and this is unlikely to change anytime soon.