UNRWA staff stealing aid from Gazans

The agency must be replaced by a new organization, its handpicked staff determined to abide by the anti-corruption rules.

By Hugh Fitzgerald, Frontpage Magazine

There are 13,000 UNRWA employees in Gaza. We already know, thanks to the relentless investigations conducted by Hillel Neuer of UN Watch, that some of those UNRWA members joined Hamas operatives on October 7, taking part in the atrocities inflicted that day, joining in the fun of rape, torture, and murder of Israeli men, women, and children.

Other UNRWA members in Gaza have subsequently expressed support for Hamas’ actions. UNRWA schools still use textbooks full of antisemitic passages.

UNRWA’s European and American donors have repeatedly demanded that such material be excised from the schoolbooks; UNRWA solemnly promises that it will comply, and then never does, and the farce continues.

UNRWA never objects when Hamas hides its rocket launchers and weapons in UNRWA schools and other facilities.

Some Palestinians working for UNRWA may be afraid to raise that issue with the agency, but many more approve of aiding and abetting the terror group.

Unlike Palestinians, the Europeans who head UNRWA need not fear reprisals from Hamas if they were to demand that it remove its weapons and fighters from UNRWA schools.

They have chosen not to do so; worse still, some of them have denied that Hamas hides weapons in those schools, when everyone in Gaza knows the truth.

Now comes another blot on UNRWA’s escutcheon.

Senior UNRWA employees have been stealing food and other humanitarian aid meant for all the people of Gaza, keeping some of what they steal for their own extended families, and selling the rest of the stolen items (food, medicines, diapers) at inflated prices, to fellow Gazans who were supposed to have such aid delivered to them for free.

This has become such a widespread practice that the people of Gaza are now complaining — no longer afraid to do so — on chatrooms about UNRWA members’ grand theft.

UN Watch provides the latest news on this long-running scandal here: “UNRWA staff stealing and selling humanitarian aid, Gazans report,” UN Watch, May 8, 2024:

UNRWA staff are stealing aid and selling it for profit, while those who report it face reprisals, according to numerous reports published by Palestinians in an UNRWA-related chatroom.

“The posts expose a deep frustration by employees that senior UNRWA employees are engaged in the abuses, and that the agency is doing nothing about it. This comes amid a recent call by UNRWA Commissioner-General Phillipe Lazzarini for countries to increase direct cash assistance to Gazans because, although “there is more food available… it still does not mean that the food is accessible.”

Lazzarini recognizes that there is “more food available,” but that the problem is one of maldistribution — meaning the food is not readily accessible to all, for too much of that aid is taken by senior UNRWA staff, for their own use and for resale.

That is exactly what the Israelis have been maintaining all along — that not enough of the food aid now entering Gaza is getting through to its intended recipients.

The chatroom is run by a former UNRWA employee, Haitham al-Sayyed, who was removed from UNRWA in 2016 after he publicly called out the agency for hiding an UNRWA school map that denied the existence of Israel, covered up with a white cloth to hide it from the cameras while UN chief Ban Ki-moon was holding a press conference in June 2016.

In the 17 years he worked for UNRWA, al-Sayyed created several chat rooms for staff and educators to share posts, many of which feature antisemitism, incitement to hatred and Jihadi terrorism.

Al-Sayyed is no friend of Israel or of Jews, but that hasn’t stopped him from raging against the corruption within UNRWA.

Today, al-Sayyed continues to operate these chat rooms where he disseminates information about UNRWA salaries and other agency news relevant to employees….

A key recent topic is the stealing and reselling of free humanitarian aid by UNRWA employees.

While Haitham al-Sayyed was supposedly fired from UNRWA, he is still considered by many in the chat rooms as an important figure in the organization who holds sway with the senior administration.

UNRWA staff, frustrated by inaction and even complicity of senior staff in these thefts, have thus resorted to sharing their grievances to Haitham in the hope that he can get UNRWA’s top officials to listen.

On January 6th, Haitham posted the following message, as sent to him by an UNRWA employee which outlines these allegations in detail (names have been redacted by Haitham):

“I am an agency employee working in the emergency at a shelter school… In fact, out of honesty and speaking the word of truth, I agreed with my colleagues to tell the truth, I am completely dissatisfied with the school administration and its honesty in distributing aid due to the thefts, perhaps this was the fault of the official who had the responsibility of choosing a good man to manage the center, unfortunately, the center is managed by a teacher… the displaced people in the external shelter do not get their right to food and non-food aid, but rather it is distributed at night and sold in front of our eyes, for example with baby pampers, which we were surprised the next day that 150 bags were distributed at night and some of the displaced people did not get their right to it, and everyone who speaks is transferred, including Mr. A. Raed Al … And A. Awad…

On March 8th, in another discussion about rampant theft one group member named ‘Mohammed al-Azeeb’ claimed:

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“Employees of the shelters stole and sold from underneath the shelters, and district officials rummaged through the aid cartons and stole the items, and their brothers sold them to the poor… Corruption is widespread…

Since the start of the war, many in the chat rooms have denounced the profiteering that some merchants were engaging in at the expense of a desperate population.

Shockingly it seems many have witnessed UNRWA staff engaging in the same despicable behavior, except worsened by the fact that the aid was given to them for free. Furthermore, they all attest that this is a widespread problem in the agency….

These eyewitness testimonies have been posed by numerous Gazans, both despairing and enraged, who have seen with their own eyes the theft of humanitarian aid by UNRWA staff members.

This latest lament offers one more reason for Western donors, currently withholding aid from UNRWA because of staff members who participated directly in the Hamas atrocities of October 7, to shut UNRWA down and begin afresh.

Donor states should call for a new aid agency to be created, one that will be subject to constant oversight by representatives of the donor nations, to ensure that these thefts do not continue.

The rot in UNRWA, with its antisemitic schoolbooks, its staff members cheering for Hamas, and now, with the exposure of the grand theft of aid by its senior staff, is too deep to be repaired.

The agency must be replaced by a new organization, its handpicked staff determined to abide by the anti-corruption rules, its facilities off-limits to Hamas weapons and combatants, and its schoolbooks emptied of their antitsemitic content.

The Gazans who have suffered from that diversion and appropriation of aid by senior staff at UNWRA, will at long last receive the aid they deserve from this new agency.

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