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UNRWA places 6 staffers on leave for incitement in social media posts

Pro-Israel watchdog says some employees posted pro-Hamas propaganda, called to kill Jews; UN agency for Palestinian refugee welfare employs over 30,000 across the Middle East

Philippe Lazzarini, center, Commissioner-General of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), talks during press conference af at the Balakhiya area in Shati refugee camp, Gaza Strip, on October 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Philippe Lazzarini, center, Commissioner-General of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), talks during press conference af at the Balakhiya area in Shati refugee camp, Gaza Strip, on October 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency placed six employees on leave this week after the pro-Israel advocacy group UN Watch published a report showing they had written posts in support of violence and the Hamas terror group.

The organization, largely known by its acronym UNRWA, is responsible for providing services to the more than 1.5 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. It employs over 30,000 people.

The report featured examples and screenshots drawn from publicly viewable Facebook profiles belonging to people who identify themselves online as UNRWA workers.

According to the report, UNRWA teacher Hana Daoud in Jordan called on Muslims to “fight against the Jews and kill them” and UNRWA teacher Elham Mansour in Lebanon called to “slaughter Zionists.” Others posted photos and clips in support of Hamas terrorists.

“Following the Agency’s review of all the social media posts referenced in the report, six staff members were put on administrative leave,” UNRWA Deputy Commissioner-General Leni Stenseth said in a briefing on Monday.

The organization urged UNRWA’s donors, including the United States and the European Union, to withdraw funding in light of the findings and maintained the UN agency has failed to take action against the offending workers since it began to bring the information to its attention seven years ago.

“We have now exposed more than 120 UNRWA teachers and other staff who praise Hitler, glorify terrorism and spread antisemitism, and UNRWA has not given the name of a single one who has been fired,” said UN Watch head Hillel Neuer.

Hillel Neuer of UN Watch (photo credit: Michal Fattal/Flash 90)
Hillel Neuer (Michal Fattal/Flash 90)

According to UNRWA, the UN body has repeatedly taken action against those who violate its principles, including fines and bans on future employment in UN organizations.

“UNRWA faces a financial crisis that, if unaddressed, could easily negatively impact regional stability. The actions of this organization and the coordinated comments by satellite organizations demonstrate yet again the real intent. They seek to destroy, not build, to invite conflict, not build a lasting peace,” said Stenseth.

Under the administration of previous US president Donald Trump, Washington largely ended funding for the Palestinian Authority and for UNRWA, which runs a network of educational and medical programs for Palestinian refugees around the Middle East.

But the Biden administration has resumed funding the agency, adding $150 million in economic aid.

Refugee school girls watch as UNRWA’s commissioner-general, Pierre Krahenbuhl, gives a press conference to launch a global campaign to support UNRWA, at the UNRWA Rimal Girls Preparatory School in Gaza City, Janurary 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Israel has long pushed for UNRWA’s closure, arguing that it helps perpetuate the conflict with the Palestinians since it confers refugee status upon descendants of those originally displaced around the time of Israel’s War of Independence.

Pro-Israel advocates have also long criticized UNRWA for its textbooks, which they say promote incitement. Israeli monitoring groups have charged that UNRWA curricula promote violence and deny Israel’s right to exist.

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