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A Few Minutes with… Gavriel Mairone

“The most senior authorities in UNRWA were complicit in the massacre of October 7”

Photos: Flash90

The tragedy of October 7 seems like a never-ending horror story, with new information about the extent of the atrocities coming to light all the time. One of the most chilling details that has emerged is the apparent collaboration of UNRWA, the United Nations aid agency dedicated to the Palestinians.
Although it was long known that there was an unhealthy relationship between the agency and Gaza’s Hamas overlords — which led to the Trump administration moving to defund UNWRA in 2018 — the full extent of the organization’s culpability only became clear on October 7. Videos have surfaced showing UNRWA vehicles involved in the attacks, rockets being fired from buildings belonging to the organization, and even Jewish hostages being held in homes of agency workers.
A large group of victims affected in various ways by Hamas’s crimes has decided to take action and is suing UNRWA in court. They have chosen Attorney Gavriel Mairone, founder of MM-Law LLC, a pioneering expert in representing victims of international terrorism, to represent them. Mairone’s record includes winning multimillion-dollar lawsuits against Arab banks for financing terrorism. After taking the case, Mairone asserts, “The most senior authorities in UNRWA were complicit in the massacre of October 7.”


Can you briefly explain the premise of this lawsuit?

We filed a lawsuit on behalf of our clients, who contend that the senior management of UNRWA, and the organization in general, aided and abetted Hamas in perpetrating genocide, crimes against humanity, torture, and weaponization of abuse against women. We are asking for accountability and compensation for the damages, deaths, and injuries to our clients.

There are 101 individuals signed on this lawsuit. Some of them are the estates of people who were killed, some are family members of those victims. Others litigants include former hostages, witnesses to the heinous assaults and attacks, people who were injured, and those who managed to survive by hiding either in fields or in their safe rooms while they were under attack.

What’s your case against the United Nations agency?

UNRWA demanded that all of their facilities be treated according to international law, so that the Israeli forces were not allowed access to them. This was how they created safe houses for Hamas terrorists, who stored ammunition and installed rocket launchers there. The intention was to protect the weapons and to conceal the rocket launchers from Israel, and to thwart Israel’s ability to destroy them before they were used in terror attacks. Many senior Hamas officials were on UNRWA’s payroll and given cover jobs that enabled them to work for Hamas while sitting in UNRWA offices.

You allege that UNRWA knew exactly what was happening.

Of course. They were aware of tunnels being dug around or under their facilities. In some cases, especially in buildings that housed their headquarters, they supplied electricity and other utilities for the tunnels, which served as senior command posts for Hamas in launching the attacks on October 7. They created an education system that spewed endless anti-Semitism, and indoctrinated and radicalized the children, generating a death-cult jihadist society, in which the children grew up thinking that their loftiest aspiration was to die in the name of Allah and for the sake of jihad.

To top all that off, they also provided the cash needed to run weapon smuggling operations. In other words, without UNRWA, Hamas would not have been able to purchase and smuggle such massive amounts of weapons and rockets into Gaza via smuggling channels in Sinai.

How much money did UNRWA funnel to Hamas over the last few years?

The sum is $1.3 billion, to be precise. It was deposited at a JPMorgan Chase Bank in Manhattan and transfers were made from there each month — $20 million a month, every month, since 2018. That cash was used by Hamas to purchase weapons. Cash in those amounts can only be used for criminal purposes.

I’m not saying that everything that was smuggled into Gaza was weapons. Some of it might have been building materials to build tunnels, electrical wiring, air conditioning or lighting systems for the tunnels. It may have been used for luxurious furnishings for Hamas leaders. I don’t know. But there was no way for them to buy weapons without US dollars, in cash.

How did you manage to compile all this information?

All the information comes from the United Nations documents, from audits that they conducted, investigations that the UN conducted on UNRWA facilities, newspaper reports, and reports published by organizations like IMPACT-se and UN Watch. It’s pretty much all based on documentation that’s available to the public.

The bombshell nature of your case is the allegation that it wasn’t just low-level employees involved in helping Hamas, but that the fish was rotting from its head. How did that work?

Each year, the senior management at UNRWA had to review an audited statement that was prepared by the United Nations internal auditors. They then had to present those audited statements to the General Assembly of the United Nations for approval. Those statements contained warnings that cash was being distributed by the United Nations without controls, and that it could be used for illicit purposes.

In addition, year after year, the European Parliament cut off funding for UNRWA following investigations that showed the incitement in its educational system and its use of Hamas materials. Each time this happened, the highest officials at UNRWA promised that they would clean up their act and stop the indoctrination, but they never did anything. There were press reports that weapons and other materials were found in UNRWA facilities. UNRWA’s director general was called to account for it and instead of destroying the materials, he had them returned to Hamas.

By nature of their role, UNWRA employs many locals in Gaza to run their operations, and many, as you say, were in dual roles for Hamas. Was there any official mechanism in place to ensure that things remained above board?

Although the United Nations official policy requires that all of their employees receive both professional training and training in UN values, the on-site inspections conducted on UNRWA facilities in Gaza found that guards at schools were the lowest paid workers and they were employed only with temporary contracts. They had not been given any training. They had no idea that they were supposed to stop anyone from storing weapons in schools. And even if they had wanted to report something, there was no chain of command or hierarchy. They didn’t know who to report to.

In addition, their official working hours were 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and after that time, there were no guards — not at night, nor on weekends. So if their intention was to prevent weapons from being stored in schools, then you can draw a couple of conclusions from this arrangement. Either they were extremely stupid and had no idea what they were doing, or they had every intention of allowing Hamas to do what they wanted, or they were extremely incompetent. Regardless of their competence or intentions, from a legal standpoint, they aided and abetted Hamas in launching the attacks.

Do the allegations implicate UNRWA’s directors as well?

Yes. UNRWA’s commissioner-general, Philippe Lazzarini, is being sued personally. But it’s not just him; the lawsuit names his predecessor, the deputy director and his predecessor…. We’re talking about the absolute highest level of UNRWA management. And the reason we are suing them in New York is because all the actions and decisions of policy and management, as well as funding decisions, were made in New York by the people named in the lawsuit.

Could Lazzarini and the other officials face prison time if they are found guilty?

This is a civil case that has nothing to do with punitive measures such as prison. We are suing them for damages. We are not a country or a police force. So we have nothing to do with punishing people for crimes. We are saying these people caused damages to my clients and they should pay compensation for that.

How much money are you seeking in compensation?

We didn’t stipulate amounts, which is standard practice in the United States. The families are asking for the United States court and jury to determine what they think would be the proper amount of damages. In America, you ask for compensatory damages. We have punitive damages, prejudgment, post-judgment, interest, and legal fees and expenses. The practice is to let the courts or the jury determine how much they think is appropriate.

The UN is a supra-national behemoth, and even after the events of October 7, it’s hard to see any court finding the UN liable. What gives you confidence that you can prevail?

They have lost cases in the past. We would not have filed this suit if we didn’t think we had grounds to win. We have seen other cases filed against other UN agencies where the UN lost.

A few weeks ago, you secured multimillion-dollar compensation for the relatives of Eitam and Na’ama Henkin, Shilo residents who were murdered by terrorists in 2015. What can you tell us about the Henkin case?

We sued the Central Bank of Iran and two of the largest banks in Iran, the Iranian government, the Syrian government, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. We went to trial a year and a half ago, and the case was based on whether these banks could be held liable for financing Hamas and transferring monies that that could also be used to purchase the guns and pay the salaries for supporting the particular terror cell that carried out the attack. The court accepted our proofs and ruled that all of those entities could be held liable. Again, we didn’t ask for a specific sum in damages, and the total judgment award was $179.4 million.

It’s the largest judgment that anyone has gotten per capita, on any case involving Iran in this context. These large banks all have subsidiaries in London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, and Vienna. So the next stage is for us to try to collect the money from the bank.

How did you decide to specialize in representing terror victims?

I made the decision to specialize in this field 23 years ago, and at the time no one had done it. Before that, I had been practicing law, mostly international tax law, for about 17 years. But then I decided to close the office and to do something different. That’s when I came up with this idea.

At first, people who heard about it thought I was crazy. No one thought it was a viable field. Some years later, people started saying, “Okay, I see the legal theories that you have, but how would you ever collect anything?” Once we succeeded in collecting hundreds of millions of dollars, a lot of other lawyers started doing it as well. I believe I created the niche.

What was your first case?

Our first case was against the Arab Bank on grounds of financing terrorism. We sued them in 2004 in the Eastern District in Brooklyn, in New York, on behalf of hundreds of clients. A few hundred of those were US citizens and the rest were Israelis. It was the first time a case was brought against the bank on these grounds.

Because we were representing both Americans and Israelis, the judge decided to break it up into two parts, because different laws had to be applied. Then she broke the American litigants down into two further groups, so that one group was victims of attacks perpetrated only by Hamas (there were many other terrorist organizations involved).

After a month-long trial, the jury came back with a verdict that the bank had financed each one of those attacks and was liable. And then we entered into a settlement agreement with the bank, and they paid a large amount of money to the 550 Americans we represented. In the interim, President Trump got elected and nominated new Supreme Court judges. And the Supreme Court threw out all of the non-American cases on ideological grounds. So we’re still fighting that case. We went back and filed it in Israel, and we have now been fighting that first case we took on for 20 years. But it is moving forward. —


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1018)

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