October 7 victims sue UNRWA for $1 billion, claiming it aided and abetted Hamas

Lawsuit, filed in New York, alleges UN Palestinian aid agency’s compliance in letting terror group use its facilities, says payment of its workers in US dollars helped fund Hamas

A screenshot of drone footage released by the IDF on May 14, 2024, shows Palestinian gunmen next to UN vehicles at a UNRWA logistics center in Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah. (Israel Defense Forces)
A screenshot of drone footage released by the IDF on May 14, 2024, shows Palestinian gunmen next to UN vehicles at a UNRWA logistics center in Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah. (Israel Defense Forces)

More than 100 victims of the devastating October 7 Hamas assault on Israel and their families filed a lawsuit Monday claiming $1 billion in damages from UNRWA, the UN aid agency for Palestinians, accusing that it aided and abetted the terror group’s assault.

The 167-page lawsuit named as defendants the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, as well as seven of its past and current leaders, including head Philippe Lazzarini.

It said UNRWA, which coordinates nearly all aid to Gaza, let Hamas use its facilities for weapons storage, allowed tunnels and command centers to be built under its sites, and funneled cash into the terror group’s coffers by insisting on paying employees in US dollars.

“Hamas did not carry out these atrocities without assistance,” the lawsuit said. “Defendants were warned repeatedly that their policies were directly providing assistance to Hamas,” it asserted. “In the face of those warnings, Defendants continued those very policies.”

On October 7, Hamas led 3,000 terrorists in a massive cross-border attack on Israel that killed over 1,200 people in southern Israel, mostly civilians, amid numerous atrocities. Terrorists also abducted 251 people of all ages as hostages to Gaza.

Chicago-based law firm MM-Law LLC and New York firm Amini LLC filed the suit in the Southern District of New York on behalf of 101 victims or their families.

Commissioner-General of the UN agency for Palestinian Refugees, Philippe Lazzarini speaks during a press conference in Beirut, Lebanon, May 27, 2024.(Bilal Hussein/AP)

Aside from Lazzarini, the other defendants are former or current UNRWA top officials Pierre Krähenbühl, Filippo Grandi, Leni Stenseth, Sandra Mitchell, Margot Ellis, Gréta Gunnarsdóttir.

Krähenbühl is currently director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross and Grandi is the current United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The lawsuit highlights that UNRWA insisted on paying its employees in US dollars, amounting to $1 billion in the period covered by the claim. Employees were unable to spend the dollars directly in the Gaza Strip, which uses the Israeli shekel, needing instead to convert the cash at Hamas-controlled money changers who took a commission.

UNRWA, the plaintiffs said, “knowingly providing Hamas with the US dollars in cash that it needed to pay smugglers for weapons, explosives, and other terror materiel.”

Hamas money changers took a 10%-25% spread on transactions, “ensuring that a predictable percentage of UNRWA’s payroll went to Hamas.”

Video showing an UNRWA worker driving a white UN jeep, and abducting the body of Jonathan Samerano, who was killed by Hamas terrorists on October 7. (Screenshot)

In addition, the lawsuit said UNRWA “knowingly provided material support to Hamas in Gaza” by allowing the terror group safe harbor in its faculties, including schools and other buildings used for weapons storage or command centers, based on the assumption that its premises “were inviolate” and thus immune to attack by Israel.

“The resulting atrocities were foreseeable, and the defendants are liable for aiding and abetting Hamas’ genocide, crimes against humanity, and torture,” the lawsuit said.

It also accused UNRWA of using Hamas-approved textbooks in its schools that “indoctrinate children from a young age into a death-cult ideology of hatred and genocide” and produce new recruits for the terror group.

The lawsuit included firsthand accounts of abuse that some hostages suffered during their abduction and imprisonment in Gaza,

The plaintiffs stressed that they are not seeking in court “a forum to air political grievances,” but rather “seeking monetary compensation for their injuries from parties who are liable for those injuries on traditional tort principles.”

UNRWA did not respond to requests for comment from UK’s Jewish Chronicle or Fox News, which first reported on the lawsuit.

Ditza Heiman, 84, held hostage since October 7, is transferred by Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists to the Red Cross in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 28, 2023. (AFP)

One of the plaintiffs is Ditza Heiman, who was abducted by terrorists on October 7 and then released in an exchange deal 53 days later. She has reported that the man who kept her captive was a teacher in an UNRWA school and that she was fed food rations that were issued by the UN agency, and marked not for sale.

“The fact that Hamas ruled Gaza was not an excuse for UNRWA to hire and finance terrorists, but it should have ensured that UNRWA took additional precautions,” Heiman told Ynet.

Other plaintiffs are Gadi and Reuma Kedem, whose daughter Tamar, son-in-law Yonatan, and three grandchildren Shahar, Arbel, and Omer were all murdered by Hamas in their home in Kibbutz Nir Oz. Yonatan’s mother, Carol, was also slain that day.

“There is no pain in the world that compares to burying your children and grandchildren who were murdered and strangled in their own home,” Gadi Kedem told Ynet.

“All that remains is to fight so that those responsible for strengthening Hamas are held accountable. UNRWA strengthened Hamas and transferred funds and financed the murders, while being a full partner in the growth of Hamas terrorists. UNRWA and its managers are completely complicit in the murder of my children and my family.”

A subterranean Hamas data center underneath UNRWA’s headquarters in Gaza City, February 8, 2024. (Emanuel Fabian/ Times of Israel)

Separately Monday, UNRWA Director Lazzarini called to push back against efforts by Israel to have the organization disbanded.

“Israel has long been critical of the agency’s mandate. But it now seeks to end UNRWA’s operations, dismissing the agency’s status as a United Nations entity supported by an overwhelming majority of member states,” Lazzarini said at a meeting of the agency’s advisory commission.

“If we do not push back, other UN entities and international organizations will be next, further undermining our multilateral system.”

Israel has also accused UNRWA, the largest employer in the Palestinian territories, of turning a blind eye to Hamas activities and employees of actively aiding terror groups.

In February, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant claimed that of the 13,000 UNRWA employees in Gaza, at least 12 percent were affiliated with the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror groups, including 1,468 employees active in Hamas and PIJ. Of those, 185 UNRWA workers were active in the military branches of Hamas, and 51 in the PIJ military branch, he said.

Gallant also alleged that at least 12 UNRWA employees took an active part in the October 7 massacre and that at least 30 more assisted by facilitating the taking of hostages and looting from Israeli communities overrun by Hamas terrorists.

The IDF, which launched an offensive against Hamas following October 7, has also uncovered several tunnels running under UNRWA compounds in Gaza and documented terror operatives in UN facilities. It also uncovered a Hamas data center under the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City.

Numerous reports have found that UNRWA schools and teachers continue to teach hatred of Jews and glorify terrorism.

An electrical room serving an underground Hamas data center, beneath the UNRWA headquarters, uncovered by the IDF in Gaza City, February 8, 2024. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

Israel’s accusations prompted many governments, including top donor the United States, to suspend funding to the agency, threatening its efforts to deliver aid in Gaza.

An independent review of UNRWA, led by French former foreign minister Catherine Colonna, found some “neutrality-related issues,” but said Israel had yet to provide evidence for its main allegations.

Some governments, including Italy, Germany, and Austria have resumed their funding.

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