Palestinian schoolchildren protest outside a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school in the West Bank in 2018. The U.S. suspended funding to the UN agency for Palestinians after Israeli authorities alleged that some employees were involved in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack. (Photo by Hazem Bader via AFP)

The UN’s Terrorism Teachers

American taxpayers have been subsidizing educators who call for the murder of Jews. Suspending these funds isn’t enough. UNRWA must be abolished for good.

Many who watched the October 7 massacre likely wondered how a man’s mind can become so warped that he not only commits heinous acts of murder, rape, and mutilation, but proudly films this carnage for the world to see.

It is a complicated question. But one of the primary answers is found in the schools that mold the minds of young people in their formative years. In Gaza, the organization that does much of the molding is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA. That organization pays the salaries of teachers who call for the murder of Jews. 

On Friday, UNRWA said it had fired some employees accused of participating in Hamas’s October 7 invasion of Israel. Over the weekend, in an unprecedented rebuke of the agency, more than a dozen of its donor states, including the U.S., Germany, France, Japan, Canada, and the Netherlands, announced their suspension of funds to UNRWA. The latest revelations follow numerous other reported cases of UNRWA’s entanglement with Hamas terrorism. 

This agency was chartered after the 1948 war that established the state of Israel. Since 1950, UNRWA has provided the bulk of social services at Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza, including the crucial task of teaching Palestinian children and adolescents. 

But the notion that it is primarily an agency for the relief of refugees is a front. UNRWA’s main task is political. Palestinians who work for UNRWA call it “the main political witness to our cause.”

UNRWA exists to perpetuate Palestinians as refugees. Unlike the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which since World War II has been responsible for the welfare of all refugees in the world, and has worked toward their resettlement and relocation, UNRWA deals only with the Arabs from Palestine and has a completely different objective.

Millions of Palestinians who attend UNRWA schools in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza are taught that the war of 1948 is not over, and that they have a “right of return”—meaning, to dismantle and take over Israel. 

The UN betrays its mission by signaling to the Palestinians that the war is not over, and to keep fighting. 

UN Secretary General António Guterres said he was “horrified” to discover that UNRWA employees participated in the invasion and massacre of October 7. But in reality, their actions merely translated UNRWA’s core message into action.

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to what thousands of UNRWA teachers in Gaza say among themselves.

Earlier this month, Middle East analyst Eitan Fischberger discovered a Telegram chat group of UNRWA educators in Gaza. “Let me tell you,” he quipped on X, “they sure do love Hamas and October 7th.” Saying he didn’t have the time to examine the material, he tagged me to ask if we could take it on. 

We did. What we found was a chat group of 3,000 UNRWA teachers with discussions about when to expect their next UNRWA salaries mixed together with messages, photos, and videos celebrating the Hamas massacre of October 7 and other acts of terrorism. 

My colleagues at UN Watch worked diligently with professional Arabic translators to sift through more than 249,000 user posts in the chat group.

Tomorrow I will present our findings before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, at a joint hearing of its subcommittees on oversight and international organizations. It’s not pretty. UNRWA teachers routinely encourage and promote Hamas terrorism. 

Here’s a sneak preview: 

Safaa Mohammad Al Najjar, a computer teacher at UNRWA’s Moghraqa Prep Girls School in Rafah, Gaza, is a highly active administrator in the Telegram group, and routinely praises terrorism against Jews. On the morning of October 7, at 6:33 a.m., Al Najjar excitedly celebrated the Hamas massacre. Sharing video footage of the attacks, she exclaimed, “Resistance on the roof of settlers’ houses,” and she added a red heart emoji. She praised the Hamas “holy warriors” (Mujahideen) as they massacred, mutilated, and raped Israelis. 

Another administrator of the Telegram group is UNRWA English teacher Abdallah Mehjez. According to his LinkedIn profile, he previously worked for the BBC. On October 13, Mehjez shared a message from the Hamas Interior Ministry, urging Gazans to stay put and ignore Israeli messages calling on them to evacuate for their safety. In other words, a UNRWA teacher was doing Hamas’s work urging Gaza civilians not to leave harm’s way, and instead to effectively serve as human shields. 

Despite all their required “neutrality” training, other UNRWA teachers serving as administrators in the group also have no compunction about declaring their support for the murder of Jews. 

On the morning of October 7, admin Israa Abdul Kareem Mezher, an elementary school Arabic language teacher in Gaza, posting under the username “Sun of Sunshine,” ecstatically celebrated the Hamas terrorists: “May Allah keep their feet steady and guide their aim”; “pray for the Mujahidin”; “God protect them and bring them back safe.” As news of the Hamas atrocities began to spread, Mezher cheered, “God is the greatest.” 

When a group member wondered what these “heroes” were “brought up on,” Mezher replied: “They imbibed jihad and resistance with their mothers’ milk.” At 7:17 a.m., commenting on a photo of a dead Hamas terrorist, he wrote: “Our martyrs are in heaven, and their [Israeli] dead are in hell.” A few days later, on October 10, this UNRWA teacher endorsed a call for Hamas to execute their Israeli hostages. 

American audiences are regularly assured by UNRWA officials that the agency operates “on the principles of neutrality, impartiality, independence and humanity.” So wrote Elizabeth Campbell in The New York Times, in April 2019, when she served as UNRWA’s chief lobbyist in Washington. Today, she’s the Biden administration’s deputy assistant secretary of state dealing with refugees.

But as the Telegram group shows, this is simply not the case. In my report before Congress, I will identify more than 25 other UNRWA teachers in the chat group who celebrated jihadi terrorism and the murder of Jews. 

Promoting and encouraging terrorism is bad enough. In the UK, praise and celebration of the October 7 attacks got the organization Hizb ut-Tahrir declared as terrorists.

But UNRWA’s entanglement with Hamas violence goes much deeper. For example, UNRWA employees have held Israeli hostages captive in their homes, using UNRWA facilities to move them from place to place. 

From the protection of UNRWA schools, Hamas shoots at IDF troops and fires rockets at Israeli towns. The floor above a UNRWA kindergarten in Gaza was booby-trapped with explosives by Hamas. UNRWA facilities are routinely used to conceal weapons.

UNRWA resources have been used to build and supply Hamas attack tunnels, many of which are constructed underneath UNRWA facilities. UNRWA bags have been used to conceal Hamas military vests in a medical clinic, and to hide explosive devices, AK-47 rifles, and a rocket-propelled grenade. The IDF located dozens of rockets hidden in a home under boxes with UNRWA markings. A Hamas rocket launching site was positioned in a UNRWA warehouse, and another very close to a UNRWA-run school. 

The UN almost never speaks out, however. “It would put our staff in jeopardy to call out Hamas for use of our buildings or schools,” a UN official told CBS News.

In October, this fear apparently caused UNRWA to delete its announcement that Hamas had stolen fuel, medical supplies, and other humanitarian aid intended for Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Gunmen are routinely seen commandeering aid trucks entering UNRWA facilities in Gaza, or carrying off sacks of UNRWA food.

The reason UNRWA has become an unofficial arm of Hamas is that for too long, the UN and the U.S. government have turned a blind eye to the rot inside the agency. 

It was only after Israel’s government provided evidence that 12 of the agency’s employees were actually involved in the October 7 massacre that UNRWA and the Biden administration took some action. 

Israeli investigators have shared evidence with the UN as well as with top U.S. officials “incriminating several UNRWA employees for their alleged involvement in the massacre, along with evidence pointing to the use of UNRWA facilities for terrorist purposes,” said the Israeli military.

The United Nations has so far declined to reveal the details of the accusations against the UNRWA employees, but a senior UN official described them as “extremely serious and horrific.”

The Biden administration should have seen this coming. The State Department, which has doled out nearly $1 billion to UNRWA since 2021, has never contacted my organization UN Watch to request information about the 150 cases of incitement to terrorism that we have previously exposed, perpetrated by the teachers and other UNRWA staffers who are funded by U.S. taxpayers. 

In 2022, UNRWA received $344 million from the United States. But other Western states are also major donors: $202 million from Germany, $114 million from the European Commission, $61 million from Sweden, $34 million from Norway, $29 million from France, $25 million from Switzerland, $24 million from Canada, $21 million from the UK, and $21 million from the Netherlands. Our taxes are funding teachers of terrorism, and our elected officials are too slow to take this problem seriously. 

What happened in the UNRWA teachers’ Telegram chat group on October 7 was not a surprise for anyone familiar with the agency. For nearly a decade, we have documented the genocidal antisemitism that is widespread among UNRWA’s teachers in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. 

Until now, we had repeatedly called on UNRWA and its donor states to take remedial measures, including creating an independent inquiry and firing the teachers of hate. None of these measures has ever been pursued, let alone implemented. 

What I will tell Congress on Tuesday is that we have now reached the conclusion that UNRWA and its donors are clearly not interested in pursuing genuine reform. 

As Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said in 2018, “UNRWA has become part of the problem. It supplies the ammunition to continue the conflict. By supporting UNRWA, we keep the conflict alive. It’s a perverse logic.” 

Over the weekend, 13 countries, including the world’s G-7 industrial democracies, announced that they were freezing funds to UNRWA. Never before have UNRWA’s leading donor states sent the agency such a powerful rebuke, sparking outrage from Hamas and its supporters abroad, who have demanded a restoration of the funds.

That would be a terrible mistake. Now is a historic opportunity to end the cycle of Palestinian victimhood and hate perpetuated by a UN agency that claims to be humanitarian. If we care about building a better future for Palestinians and Israelis alike, now is the time to abolish UNRWA for good.

Hillel C. Neuer is the executive director of UN Watch, a nongovernmental human rights organization in Geneva. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @HillelNeuer.

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