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UNCLASSIFIED//FOUO 16 May 2012

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Report

West Bank and Gaza Strip -- HAMAS Unlikely To Restrict UNRWA Despite Growing Tension During the past year, HAMAS officials and media have grown increasingly critical of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), accusing it of bowing to alleged US and Israeli pressure to suspend a HAMAS-affiliated employee, to reduce services to Gazans, and to introduce Holocaust studies in UNRWA-run schools in Gaza. This criticism has appeared to reflect growing popular anger among Gazans with the UN body. HAMAS has, nevertheless, avoided restricting the organization's activities, suggesting that it probably will not significantly curtail its operations in Gaza, an outcome that would almost certainly create a humanitarian disaster for which HAMAS would blame the United States. HAMAS criticized UNRWA for suspending HAMAS-affiliated employee Suhayl al-Hindi on 8 September 2011, arguing that UNRWA was bowing to US and Israeli pressure. According to HAMAS's Palestinian Information Center (PIC) website, HAMAS Prime Minister Isma'il Haniyah criticized UNRWA's suspension of Al-Hindi as an "injustice" and warned that HAMAS "cannot stand by idly" in the face of what he said was growing public anger at UNRWA (5 October 2011). HAMAS's Filastin daily reported that the "Gaza government" considered the suspension a "blatant interference" that "shows the extent to which the agencys decisions are politicized, its interference in Palestinian democracy, and its capitulation" to the United States and Israel (2 October 2011).

HAMAS media commentators echoed official criticism of the suspension. Commentator Mustafa al-Sawwaf, also a HAMAS Culture Ministry official, accused UNRWA of seeking to "strip its Palestinian employees of their patriotism and national affiliation to Palestine." He charged that UNRWA was "operating according to a USIsraeli agenda" and was "complying with the direct orders of global intelligence agencies, and primarily the CIA and the Israeli Mosad" (Filastin, 5 October 2011).

HAMAS Criticizes UNRWA Cutbacks This most recent HAMAS-UNRWA tension followed an official HAMAS statement accusing the UN body of unspecified malicious intent in response to reports that UNRWA was planning to cut services to Gazans. A statement by HAMAS's Department of Refugee Affairs charged that the diminished services indicated "malicious intentions" and called UNRWA's curtailing of services "unacceptable" (PIC , 10 July 2011).

Filastin also publicized allegations of UNRWA corruption.


This OSC product is based exclusively on the content and behavior of selected media and has not been coordinated with other US Government components.

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Ramadan al-Umari, a former financial manager in UNRWA, wrote in a guest commentary that the agency "is always trying to mislead its employees and the refugees and is even misleading the donors." He accused the agency of embezzlement by fiddling with the numbers" (10 October 2011).

Palestinian Media Report on UNRWA Financial Difficulties Palestinian media have reported on apparent UNRWA financial difficulties that have caused the organization to reduce its aid to Palestinians. A 13 February statement by UNRWA published in the independent Palestinian news website Ma'an News Agency said that UNRWA would "not be able to continue cash allowances for impoverished families in the Gaza Strip." On 10 July 2011, Filastin al-Yawm, a news site affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), cited an unnamed "credible source in UNRWA" as saying that the agency would suspend its social and aid services in Gaza due to "financial difficulties."

HAMAS Criticizes Introduction of Holocaust Studies in UNRWA Schools This incident also followed HAMAS criticism of UNRWA's decision to introduce Holocaust studies in its Gaza schools in February 2011, which the UN body later apparently retracted. HAMAS's Safa website cited a statement by HAMAS's Department for Refugee Affairs as saying that it would not allow UNRWA to engage in "the conspiracy of teaching the Holocaust in Palestinian schools." The statement added that "UNRWA surprised us with its shameful and unacceptable schemes, through which it aims to poison our children's minds by taking measures that serve no one but the [Israeli] occupation" (27 February 2011). In statements to the Jordanian daily The Jordan Times, UNRWA Commissioner General Filippo Grandi later announced that UNRWA was "reviewing and developing" its "human rights curricula" in response to the "sensitivity" among Palestinians on this issue (18 August 2011).

Signs of Growing Palestinian Public Anger With UNRWA HAMAS media have reported on apparently growing public anger with UNRWA in response to these three incidents. According to Filastin, more than 7,000 Palestinian teachers staged a sit-in at the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza to protest the agency's decision to cut back on services and to suspend Al-Hindi because of his HAMAS affiliation (5 October 2011).

This OSC product is based exclusively on the content and behavior of selected media and has not been coordinated with other US Government components.

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On 4 September 2011 and in a number of subsequent issues in the following months, Filastin published an advertisement on behalf of the "UNRWA Watch" organization. The group described itself as "a popular Palestinian independent organization that aims to monitor the conduct of UNRWA in order to safeguard the rights of Palestinian refugees." It remains unknown whether this group is affiliated with HAMAS.

Further suggesting at least some degree of public resonance of this HAMAS criticism, at least one independent, prominent Gaza-based blogger also criticized the UN body for bowing to alleged US and Israeli pressure. Saying that UNRWA's funding was reduced after HAMAS took control of Gaza in 2007, Mustafa Ibrahim argued that "those providing the funding, and especially the United States and Europe, want to make HAMAS pay a political price because of its rise to power in the Gaza Strip."

"UNRWA Watch" advertisement as it appeared in Filastin on 4 September 2011.

Ibrahim added that these apparent financial difficulties have also advanced Israel's goal of "dissolving the agency" so as to remove the refugee status of Palestinians and thereby "override the Palestinian refugees' right of return" (3 October 2011).

HAMAS Unlikely To Restrict UNRWA Activity Despite its mounting criticism and apparently growing public anger, HAMAS seems unlikely to restrict UNWRA's activities significantly, as it appears to recognize the vital role of the UN body in Gaza. A PIC report paraphrased Muhammad Miqdad, an economist of unknown affiliation, who noted "that the Palestinian government cannot constitute an alternative for UNRWA for poor people because of the financial crisis the government is going through" (13 February). According to UNRWA's website, 80% of Gazans are dependent on international assistance and, of the over 70% of Gazans classified as refugees, over 80% are dependent on UNRWA health services (31 January).

In the event of declining popular support for HAMAS among Gazans, the movement could seek to exploit public anger with UNRWA by restricting some UNRWA activity and blaming the United States and Israel for the negative humanitarian consequences. However, substantial restrictions against UNRWA activity would risk a public backlash against HAMAS if they significantly affected the UN body's provision of services to Gazans.

This OSC product is based exclusively on the content and behavior of selected media and has not been coordinated with other US Government components.

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