Photo Credit: UN Watch
Dina Rovner

Demonstrating that the ties between the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (known as UNRWA) and Hamas are even closer than we thought, UN Watch has presented evidence that some UNRWA workers participated in the attacks of October 7 while others cheered the attacks on social media. UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer recently testified before Congress about the agency’s relationship with terrorist groups.

To better understand the latest developments, The Jewish Press spoke to the watchdog organization’s legal adviser, Dina Rovner.



According to UN WATCH, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres knew about this problem and was not being truthful when he said he was surprised. Should he resign?

Yes. Antonio Guterres could not have been shocked by these revelations. It is widely known that UNRWA employees in Gaza are affiliated with Hamas. We’ve published 11 reports on this issue since 2015. Our newest exposé concerns a 3,000-member UNRWA Telegram group in which UNRWA teachers cheered the Hamas October 7th massacre. Not one person in the group objected. When we first published that expose on January 10th, Guterres’s spokesperson disparaged us, saying, “UN Watch has a track record.” Until today, no one from the UN has contacted us for the data which we have downloaded and saved. In the public group, a lot of that data is already deleted. So if the UN was seriously investigating, why have they not contacted us?

We recall that Guterres said that October 7th didn’t happen in a vacuum, but then he referred to Palestinian grievances. Actually, it didn’t happen in a vacuum because the UN, through UNRWA, has been teaching Palestinian children for 70 years to hate Jews and to pursue jihadi terrorism. The whole purpose of UNRWA is to continue the 1948 war by telling Palestinians that they are forever refugees and giving them false hope that they can one day go back to homes in sovereign Israel. Guterres has been defending and justifying all of this. He should resign.

Your organization has reported 3,000 UNRWA teachers in a Telegram chat in which some praised the October 7 terrorist attack. Why would this surprise anyone when Hamas is part of the fabric of everything [in Gaza]?

Of course, we are not surprised by this. UN Watch has been sounding the alarm on this issue for the last nine years. But the UN, UNRWA, and Western donors have chosen to turn a blind eye, to sweep the problem under the rug, even though they clearly were aware. We’ve sent our reports to the UN, but instead of taking action, they’ve ignored and disparaged us. It is no secret that Hamas controls everything in Gaza. Twenty years ago, UNRWA’s then Commissioner-General Peter Hansen admitted this. Three years ago, UNRWA’s Gaza Director, Matthias Schmale, was swiftly taken out of Gaza when he went against the Hamas narrative and admitted on Israeli TV that the Israeli missile strikes on Gaza during the May 2021 war were “very precise.” Last March, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad pressured UNRWA to reinstate a terror-supporting teacher in Lebanon, Riad Nimr, who had been fired after being exposed in our report. Over the years, nothing has changed, and no one should be surprised.

Do you have any verification that UNRWA fired the 12 workers who reportedly took part in the October 7 attack?

All we have is [Commissioner General of UNRWA] Phillippe Lazzarini’s statement.

Some have called it “bad apples,” but your executive director, Hillel Neuer, has said “This is not a problem of bad apples – it is rotten to the core.” Do you fear that as long that as long as Hamas is in power, it will be difficult to set up any organization that will not be infiltrated by Hamas?

Yes, UNRWA is “rotten to the core,” as Hillel Neuer said. It is infiltrated with Hamas and has a malign political agenda to continue the war of 1948 and end the State of Israel. However, this does not have to be the fate of other humanitarian agencies. The UN has a slew of humanitarian and relief agencies that work in conflict zones around the world from Sudan to Yemen to Ukraine, and elsewhere and that are not infested with jihadi terrorism.

There are Palestinians that need the humanitarian aid that is supposedly given through UNRWA. There is money in the organization now – in the report on your website it says that America gave UNRWA $344 million and Germany gave $200 million in 2022, along with money from other countries. Would the idea to be to allow UNWRA to run in the short term so as not to harm civilians who need assistance and perhaps set up a new mechanism with oversight in the long run?

Certainly, the civilians in Gaza are in need of humanitarian relief and we understand that UNRWA is the agency on the ground there right now. We are not calling for UNRWA to be shut down overnight. However, UNRWA must be replaced in the near term, and now is the time for donors to start putting together a humanitarian plan for Palestinians for the day after UNRWA.

You have reported for nine years on UNRWA employees praising Adolf Hitler and calling for the murder of Jews, yet former UNRWA chief spokesperson Christopher Gunnis said not to listen to UN Watch due to a lack of credibility. Does he now owe UN Watch an apology?

It’s not just Chris Gunness. It’s the top leadership at the UN and UNRWA – Phillippe Lazzarini, Leni Stenseth. And the UN spokesperson who denigrated us when our Telegram exposé first came out on January 10th, saying, “UN Watch as a track record.” Of course, they owe us an apology, but what we really want is to see them taking action.

We saw a report that Hamas stole fuel from the aid that was given, but then that report was taken down. The logical conclusion is that it was taken down due to threats. Do you expect in coming days the UN will say its workers were under threat of violence if they acted in a way to supervise educators?

UNRWA is very good at finding excuses to justify its inaction on this issue – the main one being that it’s just a few bad apples. That argument has now been completely eviscerated. It’s not a secret that UNRWA is subject to pressure from Hamas. We’ve seen that with Matthias Schmale and the teacher in Lebanon last year. But this is not an excuse; it gets to the heart of the problem. UNRWA itself has a politicized mandate to perpetuate the conflict by giving Palestinians a false dream and hope of return to sovereign Israel and it has been infiltrated by Hamas. The bottom line is that UNRWA needs to be replaced.

There was a previous claim that an UNRWA worker held an Israeli hostage in their home, but some dismissed it. Do you know if this will now be investigated?

According to the recent intelligence reports, more than one UNRWA employee was involved in kidnapping and holding hostages. UNRWA has generally stated that it will “launch an investigation” but we don’t know what the scope of that will be. We have no confidence in any UNRWA investigation. Lazzarini said that UNRWA would commence criminal prosecution. Under what jurisdiction? Under Hamas in Gaza? Will they extradite the employees to Israel? UNRWA has proven that it is unable and unwilling to take any real action.

UN Watch has reported on UNRWA’s connections to terrorism. Could the actual numbers be greater?

According to the recent Israeli intelligence, 1,200 UNRWA workers are actual Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives. And around 6,000, nearly half of the UNRWA workforce in Gaza, have immediate family that are members of these terrorist groups. We found a 3,000-member Telegram chat group for UNRWA teachers to discuss their salaries and working conditions and to share teaching materials, in which the members celebrated the October 7th Hamas attack and prayed for the terrorists’ victory. We don’t know how many people in the chat are actual members of Hamas, but they clearly have close ties with people who are. One of the group members, who goes by the nickname “Abu Omar,” said that 30 of his friends and family were martyred on October 7th. Another group member, who goes by the nickname “Ebtesam,” wrote, “They think that Hamas are separate people. Most of Al-Qassam are our brothers and children.”

Do you fear that the indoctrination of students by UNRWA teachers over the years made it possible for a large number of terrorists on October 7 to be willing to kill brutally, commit and record horrific acts, including taking hostages, and to be what they call a martyr if killed?

Without a doubt, the indoctrination in UNRWA schools breeds terrorism. This is not new. Mohammed Deif, the head of Hamas’s Al-Qassam Brigades and the mastermind of October 7, was educated in UNRWA schools, the perpetrators of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre were educated in UNRWA schools, the murderer of Lucy Dee and her daughters last April came out of an UNRWA school. When you teach children to hate Jews and Israelis and to glorify and aspire to martyrdom and jihad, you will get murderous terrorists.

Should there be a federal investigation into what has taken place?

Definitely. The U.S. is UNRWA’s top donor, with nearly $350 million in donations annually. U.S. taxpayers deserve to know if their tax dollars are funding jihadi terrorists.


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Alan has written for many papers, including The Jewish Week, The Journal News, The New York Post, Tablet and others.