The mandate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), while highly controversial, is widely perceived as relating to humanitarian and educational objectives. UNRWA’s website lists “primary and vocational education, primary health care, relief and social services, infrastructure and camp improvement, microfinance and emergency response.”

However, beyond its core role in fueling the conflict for the past 74 years, as well as severe problems with terror links, antisemitism (discussed briefly below) and corruption, UNRWA also engages in extensive politicized anti-Israel “advocacy work in response to the needs of Palestine refugees affected by the Israeli occupation,” such as “in-person protection briefings to external partners including the donor and diplomatic community.” This activity often involves partnerships with international and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as other UN agencies.

In this regard, UNRWA is part of the UN-NGO network dedicated to campaigns to demonize and delegitimize Israel, in contrast to humanitarian principles and promoting peace. Post-October 7, this entire system must be reviewed and reconsidered.

Moreover, UNRWA’s failure to engage in due diligence and to safeguard its aid from diversion by Hamas, as well as its intense involvement in political advocacy, demand a comprehensive independent audit and reform process. If the UN is unable to take these steps, donors should pull their funding.

Background: Funding

The United States is the single largest donor to UNRWA, having pledged $344 million in 2022 (29% of all commitments). Major funders also include Germany ($202M), the EU ($114M), and Sweden ($61M).

Background: UNRWA’s Terror-links

UNWRA, as part of the UN system, does not consider Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) to be terror groups. As such, it does not hesitate to partner with these groups, which are proscribed by UNRWA’s main donors. Nor does it screen employees for ties to Hamas et al, which is particularly concerning as, according to UNRWA’s 2022 Annual Report, 99.77% of staff in Gaza and the West Bank – 15,589 out of 15,624 – were local Palestinians.

Hamas’ and other terror groups’ exploitation of UNRWA and its facilities is well documented:

  • A study published by IMPACT-se (November 2023) documents the Antisemitism, Encouragement of Martyrdom and Violent Jihad, Violence in Math and Science, and Erasure of Israel in textbooks used in UNRWA schools.
  • A joint study by IMPACT-se and UN Watch (March 2023) found “compelling evidence of UNRWA’s gross and systematic violations of neutrality and other UN rules in their hiring of teachers and in their use of curricula inside UNRWA schools that constitute incitement to hatred, antisemitism and terrorism.”
  • Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups have repeatedly and systematically abused UNRWA school grounds for terror tunnels and ammunition caches.
  • As noted above, UN agencies, UNRWA included, do not acknowledge that Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and PFLP are terrorist groups. Hence, UNRWA claims to prevent aid diversion and cooperation with proscribed organizations are façades. (For instance, at an October 2023 press conference, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini stated, “All our vendors and partners are vetted against the sanctions list…. UNRWA does not and will not divert any humanitarian aid into the wrong hands.”
  • The PFLP has an official unionized body of UNRWA employees, The Democratic Assembly of UNRWA Workers.
  • In 2021, UNRWA’s Gaza Director was forced to flee and resign after he admitted in an interview that previous IDF strikes appeared to be “precise” and “sophisticated.”

Since October 7, these phenomena have been confirmed:

Advocacy through UN-OCHA “Clusters”

A primary channel for UNRWA’s cooperation with NGOs and other UN agencies is through the UN’s OCHA-oPt branch. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the “humanitarian arm of the United Nations Secretariat,” is tasked with coordinating “the global emergency response…in humanitarian crises.” OCHA-oPt acknowledges that its involvement in intense political warfare against Israel – as documented by NGO Monitor – is “unique as compared to other OCHA country offices globally.” While other OCHA missions in conflict identify critical humanitarian interventions such as “saving lives” as the top priority, OCHA-oPt’s Strategic Objective 1 is “The rights of Palestinians living under occupation, including those living under the blockade and other restrictions, are protected, respected and promoted … while duty-bearers are increasingly held to account” (emphasis added).

OCHA-oPt activities are implemented through Clusters – “groups of humanitarian UN and non-UN organizations [i.e. NGOs] in each of the main sectors of humanitarian action.” These “clusters” focus on issues such as food security, health and nutrition, education, sanitation, and protection.

UNRWA is an implementing partner in all OCHA-oPt clusters (see UN document from 2021) and participates in their political advocacy. For instance, according to OCHA-oPt’s 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan, “In 2023 UNRWA will seek to address the acute needs of the Palestine refugees [in the West Bank]… [by] monitoring and documentation of protection incidents to advocate…including persuasion, mobilization and denunciation – targeting duty bearers as well as international and national interlocutors.” In other words, UNRWA will level accusations of “war crimes” and “violations of human rights,” and seek condemnations of Israel from international bodies and various governments.

Lawfare and partnerships with terror-linked NGOs

UNRWA activities under the heading of “Monitoring and documentation” and “targeting external actors and duty bearers” are central to the NGO-led “lawfare” campaign against Israel.

UNRWA partners with the main NGOs behind anti-Israel lawfare, Al-Haq, Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), and Al Mezan. For instance, UNRWA was listed as an implementing partner on their joint project titled “Advocacy, monitoring and documentation of HR and IHL violations and related trends (with focus on grave violations against children across the oPt; IHL violations in Gaza; and settler violence and excessive use of force in the West Bank).”

The three NGOs have ties to the PFLP terror group:


  • On October 22, 2021, the Israeli Ministry of Defense declared Al-Haq a “terror organization” because it is part of “a network of organizations” that operates “on behalf of the ‘Popular Front’.”
  • Al-Haq’s General Director Shawan Jabarin has been linked to the PFLP.
  • On October 8, Al-Haq signed a joint statement describing the October 7 massacre as: “Palestinian armed groups engaged in an operation in response to escalating Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people.”
  • On October 12, Al-Haq Legal Researcher and Advocacy Officer Aseel Al-Bajeh tweeted, “We don’t need to speak of our right to resist, for it is not a right, but a way of being & survival for Palestinians. We don’t demand our right to narrate. Our ability to narrate was never out of our hands & resistance doesn’t need the pre- approval of static int’l law codes. Its not ‘our duty to expose the bloody barbarism of zionism, their actions as a fascist state & a ruthless army are more than sufficient to undertake this task. We remain attached to our land & in our humanity, as Pal Arabs no need to prove our humanity to those who have lost it.”

Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR)

  • PCHR has multiple links to the PFLP terror organization. For details, see NGO Monitor’s report “Palestinian Centre for Human Rights’ Ties to the PFLP Terror Group.”
  • Founderand director Raji Sourani served “a three-year sentence [1979-1982] imposed by an Israeli court which convicted him of membership in the illegal Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine…” He was also denied a US entry visa in 2012.
  • In February 2014, the PFLP organized a ceremonyin Gaza honoring Sourani. Rabah Muhana, a member of the PFLP Political Bureau, delivered a speech at the prize ceremony. During the ceremony Sourani stated that “I was in the ranks of the Popular Front, and there were comrades who taught us with their own hands. This organization has given us much more. We hope that the direction and the sense of belonging that were planted inside us will remain in our minds. We don’t apologize and don’t regret our past, we are proud that once we were members of this organization and we fought in its ranks” (emphasis added).

Al Mezan

  • A number of Al Mezan board members, officials, and employees appear to have direct affiliations with Hamas and the PFLP.
  • Additionally, Al Mezan officials and board members speak at PFLP events, and many have posted material on their social media accounts promoting terror groups or utilizing antisemitic imagery and rhetoric.
  • For details, see “Al Mezan Center for Human Rights’ Ties to the PFLP Terror Group.”

Two of the other implementing partners, Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCIP) and Addameer, also have established links to the PFLP. See NGO Monitor reports, “Defense for Children International – Palestine’s Ties to the PFLP Terror Group” and “Addameer’s Ties to the PFLP Terrorist Group,” for more details.1

Islamic Relief Worldwide

According to UNRWA, “Partnering with Islamic Relief’s chapter in the US has opened opportunities for UNRWA to engage with Islamic Relief chapters in the UK and France, and with the umbrella organization Islamic Relief Worldwide.”