U.S. Rep. Madeline Dean sits on the House committee that heard hours of excruciating testimony Tuesday about the United Nations Relief and World Agency (UNRWA) and its ties to the terror group Hamas. But unlike many of her fellow committee members, Dean doesn’t want to end the hundreds of millions of dollars going to that agency.
The hearing addressed recent reports that at least 12 UNRWA members participated in the Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, which killed some 1,200 people, injured thousands more, and resulted in more than 230 people taken hostage. More than 100 days later, Hamas still holds an estimated 132 hostages, believed to be in underground tunnels built by the terrorist organization.
“UNRWA is a horror show that is decades in the making, co-produced by the U.S. taxpayer,” Richard Goldman with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies told a House Foreign Relations subcommittee. “We’ve seen UNRWA schools used as rocket-launching platforms — and rockets even stored inside UNRWA schools.”
He added that one released hostage was held in the house of a UNRWA teacher. “We’ve seen the hotbed of terrorism that grows inside UNRWA’s communities — not just in Gaza but in the West Bank and Lebanon.”
“This is not a problem of bad apples,” Hillel Neuer with UN Watch added in his testimony. His organization just released details from a Telegram group of 3,000 UNRWA teachers in Gaza celebrating the Oct. 7 massacre as it happened. Among the messages from UNRWA employees as terrorists raped and murdered civilians:
- “O God, tear them apart.”
- “kill them one by one,”
- “leave none of them behind,”
- “execute the first settler on live broadcast.”
“Prominent people have said that … ‘It’s a few bad apples.’ We’re talking about 1,200 [UNRWA employees] who belong to the organization, 3,000 in this group, 6,000 whose family members belong to it.
“This is not a problem of bad apples,” Neuer said. “It’s rotten to the core.”
But the testimony wasn’t enough to get Pennsylvania Democrats like Dean or Rep. Susan Wild to abandon the U.N. organization. While they support the Biden administration’s decision to pause U.S. funding, they argue America’s long-term commitment should remain.
Despite saying UNRWA created an “unprecedented crisis of credibility,” Wild said the organization should be reformed, not shut down. “It is the only entity on the ground with the systems, and the personnel, and the capacity to deliver whatever little relief there is for the people of Gaza,” Wild said.
And she appeared to suggest Hamas violence was the consequence of poverty, not antisemitic rhetoric or ideals.
“We have to recognize that desperate childhoods often give rise to violence in adulthood, whether it’s here in the United States or elsewhere,” said Wild, who is Jewish. “I think we can all agree that we don’t want to create future generations of terrorists. Full stop on that.”
Dean, who last fall condemned the Hamas attack but expressed concern for the treatment of Palestinian civilians, pressed the issue of feeding the populace. “If the pause of funding to UNRWA is sustained, what is the outcome in Gaza?”
In response to testimony showing UNRWA teachers using Palestinian Authority-created textbooks that praised violent jihad and attacks on Jews, Dean wondered if there was a way to stop it.
“This is about UNRWA and UNRWA chose to teach the Palestinian Authority’s curriculum,” said Marcus Sheff, CEO of Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education. The Israeli non-profit analyzes textbooks in hopes of deradicalizing children and youth. “It didn’t have to. There are organizations around the world that do not [use these materials] because it is appalling.
“Not only that, Sheff added, “they [UNRWA] created their own material to go with those textbooks, which is equally bad.”
A visibly outraged Goldman said UNRWA continually avoids taking responsibility for the actions of its members. “When you ask why UNRWA schools use textbooks that teach Palestinians to grow up to massacre Jews like they did on Oct. 7 — talk to the host government,” he scoffed. “How convenient. Every problem UNRWA creates is someone else’s responsibility — and yet the requests for more money continue without any independent oversight.”
For Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Scott Perry, enough was enough.
“[UNRWA] is a terrorist-supporting organization,” Perry said. “American taxpayers pay for the absolute worst of it. They send over the money, they send over the material, and it gets used against America’s interests. It gets used against America’s national security interest…everyone in this room knows it.”
Perry introduced an amendment last fall to defund UNRWA. That amendment failed by five votes, but Perry suggested he might re-introduce it. “This absolutely must end and must end now.”