UNRWA’s History of Violence and Indoctrination

Jan 30, 2024

To: Interested Parties
From: The 10/7 Project
Re: UNRWA’s History of Violence and Indoctrination 
Contact: [email protected]

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has faced international backlash and seen more than a dozen countries suspend funding for its operations following reports that at least 12 UNRWA staff participated in the October 7th massacre. Founded in 1949 to aid Palestinian refugees, UNRWA has long been accused of “perpetuating the 76-year-old Palestinian refugee crisis,” by allowing the agency to be corrupted by Hamas’s influence. One of the oldest U.N. agencies, UNRWA is unique among the United Nations’s refugee efforts in that it exclusively serves Palestinians and has remained separate from the U.N.’s larger refugee agency, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The connection between UNRWA and Hamas has been a subject of concern for years, and the 12 UNRWA employees found to be connected to the October 7th attack are not the only agency staff members who have been linked to Hamas. In 2004, footage emerged showing Hamas using an UNRWA ambulance to transport armed terrorists after killing six IDF soldiers. In 2005, the acting UNRWA chief, Peter Hansen, admitted that it was likely the UNRWA staff included Hamas members and supporters. Hamas has also repeatedly made use of U.N. facilities for its military campaigns. In 2009, Israeli forces returned fire after “Hamas militants attacked them from inside, or in the vicinity of, the UN facilities.” In 2012, a pro-Hamas bloc took 25 of 27 seats in an UNRWA union, further emphasizing Hamas’s influence over the agency’s staff. In 2021, UNRWA reassigned the agency’s Gaza director, Matthias Schmale, after Hamas criticized his comments noting the sophistication of an Israeli strike on Hamas during a conflict that year. Earlier this month, a U.N. Watch report revealed that thousands of UNRWA employees praised Hamas’s October 7th massacrein a Telegram group, sharing videos and photos of the victims, and encouraging the execution of hostages. According to the Wall Street Journal, intelligence reports suggest that around 10 percent of UNRWA’s 13,000 employees in Gaza have ties to Islamist militant groups.

In the classroom, UNRWA teachers have long faced founded allegations of indoctrinating students and promoting anti-Israel propaganda. UNRWA, historically spending most of their funding on education, runs schools for half a million children. Images from a UNRWA classroom in 2011 show a student wielding a knife and reciting a poem entitled “The Martyr,” a clear example of the violent ideology that has proliferated in UNRWA schools. In 2021, UNRWA admitted to using grammar books that taught students that “Jihad is one of the doors to Paradise,” and a math lesson which told kids to count “martyrs.” A year later, Israeli watchdog organization IMPACT-se reported that UNRWA’s curriculum taught students that Israel wanted to “erase Palestinian identity, steal and falsify Palestinian heritage, and erase the cultural heritage of Jerusalem.” The European Commission criticized UNRWA materials as anti-semitic and “[inciting] violence.” The indoctrination has extended beyond the classroom; of the 12 UNRWA employees implicated in the October 7th attack, seven were teachers, and two released hostages reported being held captive by an UNRWA teacher.

UNRWA has come under attack for Hamas’s use of their schools to facilitate terrorist plots.  A 2015 U.N. investigation found that Hamas stored and fired rockets inside of UNRWA schools, using the agency’s education system as a cover to move weapons. Hamas has been known to use UNRWA schools—and the children in them—as shields, constructing elaborate tunnel systems beneath the facilities. In November, the IDF destroyed a tunnel adjacent to an UNRWA school, verifying allegations that the terror group intentionally operates near and beneath schools.

Given recent allegations against the U.N. relief group, Israel has questioned whether UNRWA’s aid is truly delivered to Palestinian civilians. Since the October 7th attacks, the Israeli government has accused Hamas of stealing UNRWA aid for terrorist activities and using U.N. facilities for military purposes. In December, IDF Spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Cornicus highlighted how “Hamas goes into UNRWA facilities and takes food” intended for civilians. Earlier this month, members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee sent a letter demanding answers to reports claiming that Hamas is “diverting food, fuel, and supplies” from UNRWA.


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