Congress Unveils Ban on Funding for UNRWA After Allegations of Role in Terrorism

(Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters)
March 21, 2024

The U.S. Congress is expected to soon ban funding for the U.N. agency responsible for providing humanitarian aid to Gaza in the wake of allegations that employees of the agency participated in Hamas's terrorist attacks on Israel.

The funding ban for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees is part of a massive spending bill that Republican and Democratic officials recently negotiated and are looking to pass in Congress by Friday to avoid a partial government shutdown this weekend. The United States has been the largest financial supporter of the agency, providing it with $370 million in 2023 alone.

The ban, which would remain in effect through March 2025, extends the funding pause the United States imposed after Israeli officials in late January said at least 12 UNRWA employees were involved in Hamas’s Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel. "Not a single taxpayer dollar should go to UNRWA after the serious allegations of its members participating in the October 7th attacks," Sen. James Risch (R., Idaho) told the New York Times.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.), however, condemned the funding ban, saying Wednesday it would be "misguided" and "unconscionable" for the United States to "punish over two million innocent people in Gaza and UNRWA beneficiaries throughout the region" because some of the agency’s employees participated in the Oct. 7 attack.

The White House, meanwhile, emphasized the agency’s contributions in the region but acknowledged the allegations. "There is no other organization that has the reach, the tentacles, and the distribution capabilities that UNRWA has in Gaza. That’s just a fact," White House spokesman John Kirby said. "Obviously UNRWA is going to have to reform itself, clearly, because that’s just unacceptable behavior by anybody."

In response to Israel’s allegations, U.N. officials fired 10 of the 12 involved employees and said the other two had died, asking the United States and other nations that suspended funding to reconsider. Canada, Australia, Sweden, and Iceland have since announced they would renew their funding.

The U.N. agency has faced other accusations of ties to Hamas terrorists. Last month, the Israel Defense Forces said it uncovered a Hamas data center underneath UNRWA's Gaza City headquarters. A Wall Street Journal report in late January found 10 percent of the agency’s workforce—about 1,200 employees—with ties to Hamas. "UNRWA’s problem is not just ‘a few bad apples’ involved in the Oct. 7 massacre," an Israeli official told the Journal. "[UNRWA] as a whole is a haven for Hamas’s radical ideology."