Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Israeli activists dressed as Hamas terrorists protest against UNRWA outside its offices in Jerusalem, April 3, 2024.

Israeli attorney Gavriel Mairone, founder of MM~LAW LLC, a law firm dedicated to advancing private human rights law, on Monday filed a class action suit representing 100 October 7, 2023 victims of Hamas atrocities in the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, against the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), suggesting that its funds were diverted to support Hamas’s military activities.

The financial diversion is central to allegations against seven high-ranking UNRWA officials, both current and former. They are accused of being aware that Hamas redirected more than $1 billion from the agency to finance various Hamas operations.


The lawsuit alleges that the attacks were not solely executed by Hamas, but were facilitated by various parties. It specifically names the current and former high-ranking UNRWA officials, as well as UNRWA itself: Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of UNRWA; Pierre Krähenbühl, the agency’s former head, who is now at the International Red Cross; Leni Stenseth, Sandra Mitchell, and Margot Ellis, who are former deputy commissioners-general; Greta Gunnarsdottir, director of the agency’s office in New York; and Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees.

The lawsuit claims these parties spent over a decade preceding October 7 assisting Hamas in developing its operational capabilities, knowingly providing Hamas with US currency, which the organization used to finance smuggling operations for weapons, explosives, and other materials used in militant activities.

UNRWA has faced multiple lawsuits since October 7, 2023. Some legal actions allege the agency’s cooperation with Hamas, while others seek to halt UNRWA’s funding. The lawsuit filed on Monday presents more extensive claims. It details the plaintiffs’ beliefs regarding how agency funds were transferred to Hamas and how the organization utilized UNRWA resources during the attack on Israel.

In 2016 attorney Mairone won Trial Lawyer of the Year by The Public Justice Foundation for his work as part of the team handling Linde v. Arab Bank. This was a mass tort consolidation case with 117 plaintiffs who were injured in suicide bombings and attacks in Israel, 40 wrongful death cases, along with 440 family members of those injured or killed. The plaintiffs claimed that Arab Bank knowingly provided financial support to terrorist leaders and the families of terrorist operatives, including suicide bombers. This case marked the first time that a financial institution has been brought to trial – and held liable –under the Alien Tort Claims Act. Also in 2016, Mairone was selected as one of the 100 top trial lawyers by The National Trail Lawyers.

The complaint Mairone filed on Monday says “Hamas did not carry out these atrocities without assistance,” and senior UNRWA officials who for over a decade “aided and abetted” Hamas by financing the terrorist group’s “terror infrastructure” and knowingly “providing Hamas with the US dollars in cash that it needed to pay smugglers for weapons, explosives, and other terror materiel.”

According to the NY Times, the civil action faces several challenges, notably the potential immunity of UN officials under international treaties. But if the case progresses past this hurdle, it may create a precedent for other individuals affected by Hamas’s actions to pursue compensation from the UN. Regardless of the outcome, the lawsuit could influence donor nations to re-evaluate yet again their financial support for UNRWA.

UNWRA spokesperson Juliette Touma on Monday insisted, citing a treaty between the United States and United Nations, “The United Nations, including UNRWA, enjoys immunity from legal process, as do United Nations officials, including those serving with UNRWA.”

Attorney Gavi Mairone thinks differently, saying, “We do not believe UNRWA has immunity for aiding and abetting” terrorism. He argues that the UNRWA officials can be sued in US court because UNWRA has a New York office, it raises funds in New York and uses New York-based banks.

He also noted that the Alien Tort Statutes allow non-Americans to sue in US federal court for injuries suffered via the violation of international laws.

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