Watchdog Accuses UN Agency Staff of Stealing Gaza Humanitarian Aid, Selling It for Profit
Watchdog Accuses UN Agency Staff of Stealing Gaza Humanitarian Aid, Selling It for Profit

By Tom Ozimek

An international watchdog has accused staff at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) of stealing humanitarian aid meant for residents of Gaza and selling it off for profit.

Switzerland-based UN Watch said in a May 8 report that it had reviewed numerous allegations—including some made in an online chatroom by UNRWA employee whistleblowers—that staff at the UN agency have been stealing and selling off humanitarian aid that’s freely provided to help struggling Palestinians.

The watchdog also said that Palestinians who report the UNRWA staff abuses face reprisals and that UNRWA Commissioner-General Phillipe Lazzarini is turning a blind eye.

“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,” the UN Watch said in a statement.

Juliette Touma, UNRWA director of communications, told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement that the agency is aware of the report and is investigating the claims. She added that the agency would issue a response in due time.

This isn’t the first time UNRWA has faced embarrassing allegations.

Some UNRWA staff have been accused of being involved in the murderous Oct. 7, 2023, rampage by the Hamas terrorist group that resulted in at least 1,200 Israelis dead and hundreds more kidnapped, prompting the U.S. State Department to pause funding to the agency.

More Details

The online chatroom that is the source of the UN Watch claims is run by Haitham al-Sayyed, a former UNRWA employee who was dismissed after publicly calling out the agency for hiding an UNRWA school map that denied the existence of Israel.

During the 17 years he worked for the agency, Mr. al-Sayyed created several online chatrooms where staff and educators shared posts, “many of which feature antisemitism, incitement to hatred and Jihadi extremism,” according to UN Watch.

He continues to operate these chat rooms, with some of them featuring messages from UNRWA employees who are blowing the whistle on what they say is malfeasance at the agency.

“I am completely dissatisfied with the school administration and its honesty in distributing aid due to the thefts,” reads one message, per UN Watch.

“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,” the message continued.

The whistleblower claimed that anyone who speaks out about the theft and selling off of aid is removed from their post and transferred. 

“They did not tolerate what happened in the school, especially the theft of diesel, as our school remained for more than a month without electricity or it came for a few minutes under the pretext that the motor was in another school,” the whistleblower continued, adding that “the thief was exposed and the principal was informed, but to this day he is still working with us so that I feel like vomiting when I see him.”

Other messages cited by UN Watch claim that boxes filled with food along with non-food items like tarps have all been stolen by UNRWA staff and then sold to the needy.

Overall, the posts paint a picture of a widespread problem of misuse of aid on the part of the agency.

Asaf Romirowsky, a Middle East historian and co-author of “Religion, Politics, and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief,” recently told Epoch TV’s “American Thought Leaders” program that UNRWA had become compromised and aligned itself with Hamas, a group that the State Department has designated as a terrorist organization.

“UNRWA has been proven to be exactly synonymous to Hamas,“ he said. ”The fact that they had Hamas servers under their headquarters, the fact that they had individuals who were part of the perpetrators of the attacks on October 7—UNRWA is no longer a legitimate organization.”

“It’s an obstacle to peace, rather than a solution to peace,” Mr. Romirowsky added.

Palestinians pass by the gate of an UNRWA-run school in Nablus in the West Bank, Aug. 13, 2018. (Abed Omar Qusini/Reuters)

UNRWA was established in 1949 to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees.

Its area of operations includes the Gaza Strip, where Israel has been carrying out a military campaign to neutralize Hamas, whose operatives use the area to stage attacks against Israel.

Some see UNRWA as a critical provider of services to beleaguered Arab populations in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, while others see it as an enabler of the crisis and an obstacle to peace—many say it’s both.

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