Survivors sue UNRWA USA for funding Hamas terrorism

The plaintiffs seek damages and a determination that UNRWA USA breached its legal obligations under federal anti-terror laws.

By Etgar Lefkovits | | Topics: United Nations
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) building in Rafah, the southern Gaza Strip, July 26, 2018. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) building in Rafah, the southern Gaza Strip, July 26, 2018. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

A lawsuit has been filed in a US district court against the American fundraising arm of UNRWA, in the first direct legal case against the UN Palestinian refugee agency for its role in the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre.

The legal action taken on behalf of a group of survivors comes amid a diplomatic standoff over the future of the organization following revelations of its ties to terrorism and as Canada and Sweden have joined the EU in lifting a funding freeze on UNRWA imposed by nearly 20 nations in late January.

The federal lawsuit was filed Friday in the US District Court for the District of Delaware by the National Jewish Advocacy Center, Inc. (NJAC), against UNRWA USA, a 501(c)(3) charity that is the largest private donor to UNRWA in the United States, according to the court papers.

The complaint describes how UNRWA USA, which has contributed $3.8 million to the UN agency to date, “materially supported terrorism by knowingly, actively and systematically using their ‘charity’ to operate a terrorist-financing scheme in violation of federal law.”

The lawsuit, which comes five months after the Oct. 7 massacre that trigged the war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, follows mounting evidence directly implicating Palestinian UNRWA employees in the attack, as well as allowing their facilities to be used as Hamas command and control centers.

“This case is long overdue,” said David Finger, of Finger & Slanina, a Delaware law firm. “Delaware should not tolerate its corporations being used to facilitate violence, terror and savagery.”

Plaintiffs in the case include survivors of the attack in which 1,200 people, mainly civilians, were murdered; relatives of those who were slain in the massacre; and displaced families whose homes were destroyed in the rampage. They seek unspecified damages and a determination that UNRWA USA breached its legal obligations under federal anti-terror laws.

“Disgracefully, UNRWA has been granted immunity and so it acts with impunity,” said David Schoen, attorney for the plaintiffs. “This case is vitally important in the effort to bring some measure of justice to these victims, by cutting off one source of funding—hopefully an important first step towards the elimination of UNRWA.”

“The underwriting of terrorism by NGOs under the guise of philanthropy and altruism is a particularly pernicious form of material support,” said Ben Schlager, senior counsel at Goldfeder & Terry.

“UNRWA USA and the world at large have long known of the significant intersection between UNRWA and Hamas and the willful denial of those relationships is not a shield from liability under our anti-terrorism statutes.”

An UNRWA spokeswoman did not immediately return a request for comment on the lawsuit.

 

Bombshell intelligence report

A bombshell Israeli intelligence report, shared with the US administration and other governments, showed that dozens of UNRWA employees actively participated in the Hamas onslaught on Oct. 7, while some 10% of the agency’s 13,000 employees in Gaza are Hamas members. The revelations prompted multiple countries, led by the United States 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.

Israel’s military subsequently said last Monday that the UN aid agency in Gaza employed over 450 “military operatives” from Hamas and other terrorist groups.

“UNRWA has become an inseparable arm of Hamas and a systematic incubator of hate, incitement and terror,” said Arsen Ostrovsky, CEO of the International Legal Forum, which is working with the National Jewish Advocacy Center in this case.

“As their primary non-governmental fundraising platform in the United States, UNRWA USA must be held accountable for helping underwrite the mass slaughter, rape and abductions by Hamas on October 7.”

Mark Goldfeder, director of the National Jewish Advocacy Center, said, “Charities generally do good work which is why they often fly under the radar. But on some very rare occasions, a so-called ‘charity’ is really a front to help finance an international terrorist plot that kills thousands of innocent people. This case involves one of those rare occasions, and that so-called charity—UNRWA USA—must be held accountable.”

A separate lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia last week directed at US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and State Department officials demands permanent American defunding of UNRWA. Congressional legislation bans renewing such funding.

 

Canada and Sweden join EU in lifting freeze on funding

Meanwhile, in a setback for Israel, Canada and Sweden on Friday joined the EU in lifting the freeze of funding for UNRWA, drawing swift condemnation from the Israeli Foreign Ministry amid concern of a snowball effect caused by the EU decision.

“The decisions by Canada and Sweden to restore funding to UNRWA – after having received the intelligence-based information about the organization’s employees who participated in the 7 October massacre and prior to the completion of the work of the investigative bodies and the publication of their findings is a serious mistake that constitutes tacit agreement and support by the governments of Canada and Sweden to ignore the involvement of UNRWA employees in terrorist activity,” the Foreign Ministry said in a rare Saturday night statement.

The ministry added that the renewed funding will not change the fact that UNRWA “will not be part of the solution” in the Gaza Strip.

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