UNRWA critics deeply skeptical as review panel set to present final recommendations

Though evidence shows enduring glorification of terrorism and intolerance at UN’s agency for Palestinians, an interim report failed to recommend substantive measures for change

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Activists protest against United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) outside their offices in Jerusalem, March 20, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Activists protest against United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) outside their offices in Jerusalem, March 20, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An independent review into severe allegations against the United Nations agency for Palestinians is set to release its findings on Monday, and is widely expected to call for merely cosmetic changes to the organization’s functioning.

The review process was set up in February, after at least 15 countries froze their funding for UNRWA over Israeli allegations that at least 12 of the agency’s employees were directly involved in the October 7 atrocities perpetrated by Hamas, another 30 assisted or facilitated those crimes, and as much as 12 percent of the organization’s staff were affiliated with terror organizations.

An interim report by the review panel produced back in March, which was not made public but a summary of which has been seen by The Times of Israel, did identify some key problems with UNRWA’s operations in general, and in Gaza more specifically.

But it did not call for the termination of some 1,500 to 2,000 UNRWA staff members in Gaza who Israel says are members of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, did not recommend solutions for the repeated abuse of UNRWA facilities by terror organizations in the territory, and did not provide answers to ongoing incitement in its educational institutions.

The final report, which will be published around noon in New York on Monday, is similarly expected to skirt these most problematic issues and recommend bureaucratic and administrative solutions to staffing issues, while calling for increased funding to facilitate such measures.

The review panel is led by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna, and is being conducted in collaboration with three research organizations: the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Sweden; the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Norway; and the Danish Institute for Human Rights, all of which have been accused by the UN Watch organization of seeking to exonerate UNRWA in order to preserve its international funding.

The picture of Palestinian terrorist Dalal Mughrabi who carried out the Coastal Road Massacre is featured on a classroom chalkboard in the Al-Zaytun Elementary School in Gaza run by the UNRWA Palestinian humanitarian aid agency. (Courtesy IMPACT-se)

Within the current review process, the IMPACT-se research and policy institute, which analyzes analyzes educational curricula around the world for compliance with UNESCO benchmarks, submitted an extensive 245-page dossier detailing the glorification of terrorism and antisemitism that is apparently still rife within UNRWA educational facilities, and was the only NGO to testify to the panel.

The organization said that the large body of evidence it presented to the panel contradicted statements and promises made by UNRWA to donor nations that it works to prevent hate teaching and the glorification of terrorism in its schools, that its “neutrality officers” prevent such teachings, and that its own textbook reviews have identified and addressed problematic content in its schools curricula.

IMPACT-se also noted that the review panel’s interim report ignored visual evidence from within UNRWA schools and classrooms across all Gaza districts that showed violent and antisemitic teaching materials produced by UNRWA’s education departments themselves. This evidence included highly problematic materials bearing the agency’s logo, the names of problematic schools, and lists of contributing UNRWA administrative staff who signed off on the inflammatory materials.

“This includes school principals, vice principals, educational experts, [and] content supervisors involved in drafting, supervising, approving, printing, and distributing hateful content to students,” IMPACT-se said.

One such example was an Arabic-language study card produced by UNRWA’a Al-Maghazi Middle School for Boys in Gaza that contained a reading comprehension story that celebrated an attack on Israeli passengers traveling on a bus, describing it as a “barbecue party.” It remained present in the school’s educational materials as of 2022.

IMPACT-se’s dossier also included documentation from UNRWA’s Al-Zaytun Elementary School in Gaza showing how infamous Palestinian terrorist Dalal al-Mughrabi was glorified in class, with her picture posted on the classroom chalkboard alongside text celebrating her as “the fighting leader,” and referring to her terrorist accomplices as “heroes.”

Al-Mughrabi and eight accomplices perpetrated the Coastal Road Massacre in 1978, in which they murdered 38 people, including 13 children.

In a further example glorifying violence, UNRWA-produced sixth grade Arabic study material in use at the Asma Middle School for Girls in western Gaza included an exercise titled, “Loving the Homeland,” which promoted sacrificing one’s life — “the most precious thing” a person has in order to “nourish the homeland with his blood.”

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, 2023. (Screenshot)

Grammar exercises in the same textbook included the sentences “I will commit jihad to liberate the homeland,” “We Palestinians resisted the Occupation,” and “I will not give up a centimeter of my land.”

Furthermore, educational material in use at the Tel Al-Hawa Middle School accuses Israel of infecting Palestinians with cancer and polluting the Palestinian environment by dumping toxic waste in the West Bank and Gaza.

IMPACT-se also submitted its November 2023 report, which found that at least 100 Hamas members who have carried out terror attacks against Israelis in recent years were graduates of the UNRWA education system, and exposed UNRWA school events that celebrated the October 7 atrocities, as well as UNRWA teachers and staff who applauded the massacres on social media.

“The devastating evidence presented by IMPACT-se on institutional hate-teaching in UNRWA textbooks and schools would convince any fair-minded investigative panel of the agency’s unacceptable complicity in terror,” the organization’s CEO Marcus Sheff said in a statement summarizing the evidence submitted to the independent review panel.

“Should the UN’s internal review fail to reach this conclusion, an independent, external investigation must immediately be set up to ensure that UNRWA no longer continues in its role.”

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