JNS: Christian lawmakers at Israel’s ‘Ground Zero’ call to dismantle UNRWA

A group of 20 parliamentarians from around the world on Sunday visited an Israeli agricultural community on the border with Gaza hard hit in the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre and called on their governments to defund and dismantle the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees because of its ties to Palestinian terrorism.

The unequivocal declaration by the lawmakers from 19 countries comes on the weekend after the E.U. announced it will pay UNRWA €50 million ($54 million) despite heightened international concerns over the terror-tainted U.N. agency.

A bombshell Israeli intelligence report, shared with the U.S. administration, showed that dozens of UNRWA employees actively participated in the Hamas onslaught, while 10% of the agency’s 13,000 employees in Gaza are Hamas members. The revelations prompted nearly 20 countries, led by the U.S. and Germany, UNRWA’s biggest donors, to suspend contributions to the agency totaling $438 million, or more than half of this year’s expected funding.

While American funding to UNRWA is being stopped for good in the wake of congressional legislation, the decision by the E.U. to resume funding was made after the agency agreed to allow E.U.-appointed experts to audit the way it screens staff to identify extremists.

Scenes of Oct. 7 carnage

Walking through the “Ground Zero” of the Hamas massacre on the grounds of Kibbutz Kfar Aza, where the neat rows of burned-out and blackened homes still illustrate the slaughter that took place here nearly five months ago, the delegation of lawmakers signed a declaration that read: “No more funds for terror: Defund and dismantle UNRWA.”

“The declaration by members of parliament from around the world to stop funding UNRWA that was made in Kfar Aza is a moral statement that countries need to take responsibility for where their funding is going,” MK Sharren Haskel, one of the heads of the Knesset’s Christian Allies Caucus who led the tour, told JNS.

“More than anything else it is a sign that they are not turning a blind eye anymore and that there is zero tolerance to funding terror,” she said.

Swedish MP Magnus Berntsson from the Christian Democratic Party, a member of the governing coalition in the Scandinavian nation, said, “There are so many problems with the organization and the aims of the organization that they should have been dealt with long ago.”

He added that while the short-term solution was complicated by the humanitarian situation in Gaza, “UNRWA can never be part of a long-term solution to the conflict because at its core it seeks to perpetuate the conflict.”

Hungarian MP Tamas Harangozo, from the center-left Social Democrat Party, said, “The average person in Europe doesn’t even realize that there are other organizations, U.N. organizations, that deal with refugees.

“Hungary is known for its political division but there is one issue on which there is consensus in the country among right and left—standing with Israel,” he added.

Legislators from Brazil, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Guatemala, Liberia, Latvia, Malaysia, Moldova, the Netherlands (two, one of them a member of the European Parliament), Sierra Leone, Slovakia, South Sudan, Venezuela and Wales also participated in the event.

With their own eyes

“We have brought the largest delegation of legislators to Kfar Aza since Oct. 7 because we believe that until you see it yourself it is hard to understand the brutality and carnage,” said Josh Reinstein, president of the Israel Allies Foundation, which kicked off its annual Chairman’s Conference in Israel with the tour in southwestern Israel.

“But it is also not enough just to see, we need to do something. We all know that UNRWA took part in this genocide and now our parliamentary allies will take the fight to them,” Reinstein said.

Founded a decade and a half ago, the Washington-based Israel Allies Foundation has emerged as a faith-based powerhouse, with a global network of more than 50 caucuses that mobilize political support for Israel based on shared Judeo-Christian values.

Perpetuating the conflict

Israel has long argued that UNRWA was created to perpetuate the conflict by granting Palestinians hereditary refugee status, a status afforded no other global population.

Established by the U.N. in 1949 to carry out relief and work programs for the hundreds of thousands of Arabs who fled their homes during the 1948 War of Independence, UNRWA grants refugee status to those refugees’ descendants in perpetuity, including those with citizenship in other countries. As a result, the number of Palestinian refugees registered with the organization has mushroomed from 750,000 in 1950 to nearly six million today.

The main U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, which cares for the rest of the refugees in the world, has no such policy. Citing decades of hate and terror indoctrination, the Trump administration cut U.S. funding to UNRWA in 2018, a move President Joe Biden reversed shortly after taking office in 2021.

Last summer, the U.S. State Department allocated more than $200 million for UNRWA despite the glorification of violence and terrorism in its schools contrary to an agreement conditioning funding on the prevention of teaching hate and antisemitism. The U.S. has been UNRWA’s largest donor; total assistance to UNRWA during the Biden administration reached more than $600 million.

The Oct. 7 massacre has placed renewed international focus on UNRWA’s terrorism ties and led to calls from across the Israeli political spectrum to cut all ties with the organization, while the heads of the agency, backed by the E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borell, seek to rescue the agency by means of an investigation into the wrongdoing.

But after decades of on-again off-again criticism of UNRWA, the wealth of intelligence information uncovered during IDF operations in Gaza has called the continued existence of the organization in question as never before.

Amid a groundswell of national and international concern over the U.N. agency’s connection to Palestinian terrorism, the Israeli Foreign Ministry is proposing to redirect aid to the Palestinians through the World Food Program, an organization within the U.N. that provides food assistance worldwide.

Another option under consideration, pending American support, is funneling the support through USAID, an independent American agency primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid and development assistance that has carried out smaller aid activity in Gaza.

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