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YEARS OF EVIDENCE

UNRWA’s Terrorism Ties

Foreign Minister Penny Wong announced on Saturday Australia has suspended a $6 million Palestinian aid package she announced only last month during her Middle East visit.

Palestinian militants move towards the border fence with Israel from Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 7, 2023. Photo: Said Khatib/AFP
Palestinian militants move towards the border fence with Israel from Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 7, 2023. Photo: Said Khatib/AFP

Local Jewish leaders have expressed their disgust at the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) and called for its dismantling, after reports that 12 of its staff connived in the October 7 attacks in which some 1200 Israelis were massacred and hundreds of hostages were abducted to Gaza.

Intelligence provided by Israel’s Shin Bet and the IDF that UNRWA employees joined in the Hamas onslaught – the worst on Jews since the Shoah – emerged last week, prompting agency chief Philippe Lazzarini to announce an investigation and sackings of “several” staff.

The explosive revelations led to several countries, including Australia, announcing a pause in funding to UNRWA.

The Wall Street Journal reported that at least 12 UNRWA employees had links to the October 7 attacks and around 10 per cent of its staff have ties to terror organisations.

It reported that two UNRWA staff helped abduct Israelis, while two others were at locations where Israelis were murdered and maimed. Some UNRWA staff helped with logistics, including procurement of weapons. Media reported text messages on phones of UNRWA officials, showing they took part in the terrorism.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong announced on Saturday Australia has suspended a $6 million Palestinian aid package she announced only last month during her Middle East visit. The US, UK, Canada, Japan, Germany, Italy, Finland, the Netherlands and Switzerland announced funding suspensions.

Wong stated, “Australia is deeply concerned by allegations UNRWA staff may have been involved in the abhorrent October 7 terror attacks. We welcome UNRWA’s immediate response, including terminating contracts and launching an investigation, as well as its recent announcement of a full investigation into allegations against the organisation.

“Australia will engage closely with UNRWA on investigations and is consulting with international partners. While we do this, we will temporarily pause disbursement of recently announced funding.”

However, Australia will not seek to retrieve $20 million in Palestinian aid payments already made under the 2023-24 federal budget allocation – despite cautions from local Jewish community leaders over many years and a letter to Wong and PM Anthony Albanese in December by 30 Jewish leaders.

Australia, as the 16th-largest UNRWA funder, has already paid $190 million to UNRWA.

Wong said last month she told Palestinian Authority officials to ensure “that any funds Australia provides are used appropriately”.

Contacted this week, a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson told The AJN, “Our humanitarian agreements with partners include strict counterterrorism, anti-fraud and anti-corruption obligations which are closely monitored and applied. We demand prompt and rigorous investigations by UNRWA if and when there is evidence of misuse of funds, and that anyone found responsible is held accountable.”

The Australian Palestine Advocacy Network urged the government to reinstate the funding “to prevent genocide in Gaza”.

The Australian Greens opposed the funding pause, with leader Adam Bandt posting, “Labor still refuses to condemn Israel’s invasion & bombing of the people of Gaza, but did not blink when they followed the US in suspending critical UNRWA aid funding for the millions of starving people of Gaza.”

Deputy leader Mehreen Faruqi, who led last year’s Greens walkout from Parliament over Israel’s response to Hamas, described the pause as “blatant hypocrisy”. “People in Gaza are desperately dependent on UNRWA for their very survival, but Minister Wong has chosen to look away while Israel continues to bomb people to death with full cover from western governments,” Faruqi said.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Alex Ryvchin called Faruqi’s remarks “shocking, even by the low standards we expect from the Greens”.

Describing UNRWA as “rotten to the core”, he said, “We have for a long time known of UNRWA’s corruption and role in glorifying violence and antisemitism. But the direct hand of its staff in the October 7 horrors and in holding hostages has to lead to its dismantling. UNRWA cannot continue – and aid to Palestinians has to be directed through other means, most logically the UNHCR.”

Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler observed, “The problems with UNRWA go far deeper than a handful of its staff participating in the October 7 massacres. We are calling on the Australian government to desist from resuming funding until UNRWA removes all glorification of terrorism from its school textbooks, fires all teachers that have praised terrorism and commits to a transparent, third-party audit of all its finances.

“UNRWA knew about Hamas’s genocidal conduct but said and did nothing. All those who want a peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians must hold UNRWA accountable. Australia must ensure that any further aid provided to Gaza does not end up in the hands of terrorists or its supporters.”

Describing the revelation as “appalling but not surprising”, and “just the tip of the iceberg”, Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein said, “UNRWA in Gaza appears to have been thoroughly infiltrated by Hamas. Its aid is stolen by Hamas, its facilities are used to hide weapons and tunnels, and its schools incite hatred of Israel in the next generation. It perpetuates the refugee problem rather than solving it.

“We welcome our government’s pause in UNRWA funding,” he said. “It should be doing everything in its power to ensure our taxpayer money does not go to terrorists.”

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