| The Explainer |

The UN’s Shame

The revelations have finally raised much-needed questions about UNRWA’s future

Photo: AP Images

Israeli operations in Gaza have laid bare a troubling reality — the extent of entanglement between Hamas and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), tasked with aiding Palestinian refugees. Shockingly, UNRWA employees took part in the October 7 massacre, its premises were used to store weaponry, and a massive Hamas intelligence center was constructed directly beneath its Gaza headquarters. The revelations have finally raised much-needed questions about UNRWA’s future.

What Is UNRWA?

UNRWA was established in 1949 to provide relief to Arab refugees displaced in Israel’s War of Independence. Nowadays, it also provides help in areas like education and health.

What Makes UNRWA Unique?

The UN basically sorts the world’s millions of refugees into two categories: Palestinian, and everyone else. UNRWA helps the world’s 5.4 million Palestinian refugees, and another body, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), helps the 70.8 million other refugees. Despite the huge disparity in populations served, UNRWA’s staff of 30,000 is nearly twice as large as UNHCR’s staff of 16,803.

Who Pays for UNRWA?

UNRWA’s budget ($1.19 billion in 2022) is funded through UN member donations. Western countries provide some three-quarters of the total, with the United States standing as UNRWA’s principal pillar of support.

What Is a Refugee?

UNRWA and UNHCR differ in another important way. The UNHCR defines a refugee as “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence.” UNRWA, though, extends that definition to the descendants of refugees — trying to ensure that there will be “Palestinian refugees” for eternity.

Thus, for instance, a famous fashion model, born in Washington, D.C., with a net worth of $25 million, is deemed a “Palestinian refugee” by UNRWA, because her father, a real estate mogul residing in Beverly Hills, fled from Nazareth.

2022 Funding in Millions

US — $343.9M

Germany — $202M

EU — $114.2M

Sweden — $61M

Norway — $34.2M

Japan — $30.1M

France — $28.9M

Turkey — $25.2M


The UNRWA Rap Sheet

UNRWA faces a lengthy list of accusations over its past activities, even before October 7.


Promoting textbooks in schools under its purview that incite students with strong anti-Israel and anti-Jewish biases.

Summer horror camps

Israeli media has published videos showing how summer camps sponsored by UNRWA promote hatred against Israel.

Lack of financial transparency

There have been numerous warnings about UNRWA mismanagement of funds since the early 2000s.

Since October 7

The list of UNRWA wrongdoing has only grown during the current war.

2 freed Israeli hostages say they were held in homes of UNRWA teachers.

12 UNRWA employees participated in the October 7 attack.

190 UNRWA employees have been linked to Islamic Jihad.

Discovery of tunnels and intelligence centers directly beneath UNRWA headquarters in Gaza.

The IDF discovered assault rifles, ammunition, grenades, and missiles of varying capacities belonging to Hamas, concealed in and underneath UNRWA facilities.

1,200 UNRWA individuals have links to Hamas, and over 6,000 have family ties to terrorists.

Cutting Off the Flow

Following revelations of ties between Hamas and UNRWA, most donors have suspended their contributions.

Donors Suspending Funds

The US, Germany, the EU, Sweden, Japan, France, Switzerland, Canada, UK, Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Austria, Finland, New Zealand, Iceland, Romania, and Estonia.

$667 million

Amount of suspended funding, pending investigation into UNRWA’s ties with Hamas. It represents nearly 60 percent of its annual budget.


What Other Options Exist?

The suspension of UNRWA funding raises the question: How can basic aid and support be provided to the over 5.4 million people classified as “refugees” scattered across Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria?

  1. Revamping and reforming UNRWA’s operations.
  2. Having the State of Israel take responsibility through the IDF and NGO involvement.
  3. Transitioning control to the Palestinian Authority.


“UNRWA did not know what was under its headquarters in Gaza.”

—Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, after the discovery of a Hamas intelligence center under his organization’s Gaza headquarters


“It’s not that you didn’t know, it’s that you didn’t want to know… We implored you to carry out a comprehensive search of all UNRWA facilities in Gaza. But not only did you refuse, you chose to stick your head in the sand. Take responsibility and resign today!”

—Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, responding to Lazzarini’s claim


Sources: UNRWA.org, UNwatch.org, Wikipedia, Al Jazeera, Reuters, Times of Israel, New York Times, X (Twitter) official accounts


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 999)

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