October 28, 2015 | Policy Brief

UNRWA’s Troubling Hamas Ties

October 28, 2015 | Policy Brief

UNRWA’s Troubling Hamas Ties

United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) spokesman Chris Gunness spoke Monday at an event for Interpal, a UK-based charity designated in 2003 by the U.S. Department of the Treasury for financing the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. The event, called “A Vision for the Future,” also featured remarks from Interpal’s chairman, Ibrahim Hewitt.

UNRWA, the United Nation’s Palestinian refugee assistance agency, is no stranger to controversy. While it provides some valuable services to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and the Palestinian diaspora, it is also the only U.N. agency that has failed to settle its population. In fact, UNRWA has bestowed refugee status upon the descendants of the original Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967, thereby increasing their numbers and making the problem more difficult to solve.

Last week, several members of UNRWA’s staff were suspended or otherwise disciplined for a series of Facebook posts inciting violence against Israelis. UNRWA also came under fire during last summer’s war between Hamas and Israel, when reports suggested that UNRWA provided military assistance in at least three instances to Hamas. In addition, Interpal (also called The Palestinian Relief and Development Fund) is a member of the Union of Good, a Hamas umbrella charity branch that was designated by the U.S. Treasury in 2008.

Thus, UNRWA’s cooperation with Interpal – a designated Hamas charity in the U.S., Canada, and Australia – is merely the most recent example of the organization’s ties to the Gaza-based terrorist group.

Interpal is not a designated terrorist organization in the United Kingdom. The U.K.’s Charity Commission announced in 2013 that while Interpal’s checks on where its funding was going had been “inadequate,” Interpal would still be allowed to operate in the U.K. – with restrictions. For example, one of Interpal’s trustees, Essam Mustafa, was ordered to resign from his post as the General Secretary of the Union of Good. And due to the banking restrictions that come with a U.S. Treasury designation, Interpal cannot accept credit card donations, or, according to the Telegraph, even have “regular banking facilities.”

Monday’s event appears to have been held at the Portcullis House, one of the office buildings for the U.K.’s Members of Parliament, which only reinforces the confusion.

While Interpal’s acceptance by the British government is an ongoing issue of concern, it is more troubling to see UNRWA working with the banned group. UNRWA’s largest donor is the United States. In 2014, it received $408 million from U.S. taxpayers. Legislators may wish to revisit this arrangement.

Kate Havard is a research analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


International Organizations Palestinian Politics