The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which is tasked with caring for and resettling Palestinian refugees certainly could be excused for tilting slightly towards the Palestinian cause, but questions must be raised when they are openly working with known terrorist groups.
Questions have, indeed, been raised after UNRWA head Christopher Gunness spoke on October 26, 2015 to the UK group Interpal which, despite several investigations by the Charities Commission, has thus far escaped being labeled as a terrorist group and banned in the UK. The group was designated as a terror group by the U.S. Treasury in 2003 which found evidence that Interpal was the “principal charity utilized to hide the flow of money to Hamas.”
Interpal has a long history in the UK since it was founded in the wake of the Oslo Accords, around the same time as the first wave of Hamas-sponsored suicide bombings to strike Israel. In addition to the U.S. finding that it is at the center of terror financing and money laundering for Hamas, its leaders have also been banned from travelling to Israel, Canada and Australia.
Interpal has also been found at the center of a web of organizations that form the backbone of the Muslim Brotherhood’s organization in Europe. These organizations, amongst which Interpal is the first among equals, use the freedoms inherent to operating in the UK to fund and promote terror and extremism all over the world.
Gunness’ appearance at the most recent Interpal event prompted questions at the State Department briefing last week. Julia Mason, the State Department spokesperson, emphasized that the U.S. authorities were aware of the event and chose to not attend. Mason reiterated the U.S. endorsement for UNRWA’s “essential work in helping Palestinian refugees” and that Gunness had participated “to benefit wounded Palestinian children,” although she also emphasized the importance of maintaining UNRWA’s neutrality as a high priority of the U.S. “That includes” – Mason added – “raising concerns regarding any engagements with U.S.-designated terrorist organizations.”
In a surprisingly timely move on October 26 the U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen filed legislation – the so-called “UNRWA Anti-Incitement and Anti-Terrorism Act” – that would withhold U.S. funding to UNWRA until evidence to convincingly disprove the alleged connection between UNWRA and Hamas will be produced.
The bill urged the UN branch to adopt substantial reforms given its history of failed attempts to condemn Hamas publically as well as its series of precedents in supporting the terrorist organization. Among the most alarming cases that the bill brought to public attention is the pattern of Hamas weapons being stored in UNRWA facilities, along with the repeated incitements to anti-Semitism and violence through UNRWA platforms (social media in particular) in striking violation of the UN social media rules.
The bill recommended that UNRWA undergoes a comprehensive financial audit by an independent body and implements “an effective system of vetting and oversight to prevent the use, receipt, or diversion of any UNRWA resources by any foreign terrorist organization or members thereof.”
The recent meeting that Christopher Gunness addressed was apparently held in the Portcullis House that houses Parliamentary offices in London. Not only is this not the first time that Gunness has addressed Interpal but it is also part of a pattern of organizations that openly support Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood gaining entry to the British halls of power.
Interestingly, on October 29, 2015 another UN top official for Iraq reportedly met with Muthanna Harith al-Dari, who is on the sanction list of the UN Security Council for providing financial support as well as other services to al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Not only had Dari allegedly disbursed over $1 million in support of the AQI; the UN claims that Dari also provided operational guidance and training for AQI operatives.
Two things then are abundantly clear from both the historical patterns and the recent events discussed above. First of all, more attention needs to be paid in Britain and throughout the West to organizations that take advantage of these nations’ fundamental liberalism and decency to promote violence and hatred. Second, UNRWA has long been forgiven its proclivities, and its mission is a legitimate one that could not be accomplished without a certain degree of bias. That being said, the United States is the single largest funder of the United Nations and such a position should be leveraged to prevent or halt money laundering and terror financing. If UN agencies are cooperating with organizations that the U.S. has designated and banned as funders of terrorism, that calls the fundamental underpinnings of the relationship between the U.S. and the UN into question. The bill filed by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen sets an important precedent in this sense, and adds to the impact of international terrorist designations. In fact, calling organizations such as Interpal SDGTs is a good start, but its value is severely limited if U.S. taxpayers’ money is finding its way to this and similar groups.