AOC, Bernie Sanders call US decision to halt UNRWA funding ‘unacceptable’

10 percent of UNRWA employees are linked with terrorist groups such as Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

By Jack Elbaum, The Algemeiner

Progressive lawmakers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders demanded the U.S. restore funding for UNRWA — the UN agency dedicated to Palestinian refugees — after the State Department paused certain funding for it due to allegations some of its members took part in Hamas’s October 7 terrorist attack.

The congresswoman reacted to the decision to pause funding on X, writing “Cutting off support to @UNRWA – the primary source of humanitarian aid to 2 million+ Gazans – is unacceptable. Among an organization of 13,000 UN aid workers, risking the starvation of millions over grave allegations of 12 is indefensible. The US should restore aid immediately.”

Sanders agreed, releasing a statement reading: “Obviously, it’s not acceptable for any of the 13,000 UNRWA employees in Gaza to be involved with Hamas, and allegations against the 12 people charged must be investigated. However, we cannot allow millions to suffer because of the actions of 12 people. The U.S. and other countries must restore funding to stave off this humanitarian catastrophe.”

After Israel had presented evidence that 12 UNRWA employees, including teachers, took part in Hamas’s October 7 attack — doing everything from helping to abduct an Israeli to distributing ammunition to stealing a soldier’s body to infiltrating Israeli territory — more than a dozen countries paused funding to the agency.

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The State Department said in a statement: “The United States is extremely troubled by the allegations that twelve UNRWA employees may have been involved in the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel. The Department of State has temporarily paused additional funding for UNRWA while we review these allegations and the steps the United Nations is taking to address them.”

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that approximately 10 percent of UNRWA employees are linked with terrorist groups such as Hamas or Islamic Jihad. With a staff of about 12,000, it means the estimate is that around 1,200 UNRWA employees in Gaza are terrorist-linked. Among male employees, 23 percent are believed to have ties to terrorist groups — which is higher than the general male population.

Democratic Majority for Israel wrote that the revelation demonstrates a “complete disregard for the UN principle of neutrality” and that “UNWRA is an obstacle to major peace that requires the top-to-bottom reform”

Additionally, about half of UNRWA employees are estimated to have a close relative who is part of such terrorist groups — and a telegram group of 3,000 UNRWA employees was recently found by UN Watch to have celebrated Hamas’s October 7 attack.

The additional information suggests the problem is much more widespread than Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders let on when explaining their stances.

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Many of Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders’s colleagues disagreed with their assessment. Republican Senator Pete Ricketts from Nebraska wrote “The time to permanently ban U.S. taxpayer funding of UNRWA is NOW. When Biden took office, he reversed Trump’s policy ending UNRWA aid. Since then, Biden has given UNRWA more than $730 million. Not a penny more! We must pass @SenatorTimScott and my Stop Support for Hamas Act.”

However, others claim that cutting off funding to an organization that provides such a significant portion of aid to Palestinians qualifies as collective punishment — especially at a time when millions face food insecurity, displacement, and lack of access to medical care.