January 29, 2024
Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong ignored a warning by Jewish community and business leaders last month to halt funding for a UN aid agency in Palestine because of "mounting evidence" that it aided Hamas in the October 7 massacre of Israelis.
Just weeks after receiving the written warning, the government approved a further $6m in funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East on January 16. But it has now been forced to pause payments after allegations 12 of the agency's staff were directly involved in the October 7 attacks.
The Israeli military said it had also uncovered "evidence pointing to the use of UNRWA facilities for terrorist purposes". UNRWA commissioner-general Philippe Lazzarini has launched an urgent investigation into the allegations, which Foreign Minister Penny Wong described as "deeply disturbing".
Only three days after the funding was announced on January 16, Senator Wong brought up allegations about UNRWA staff directly Continued on Page 5
Labor ignored warning of UNRWA links to Hamas Continued from Page 1 with Mr Lazzarini during her tour of the Middle East and welcomed his launching of an independent review of his staff's links to Hamas.
But a month earlier, on December 19, 30 Jewish community and business leaders had written to both the Prime Minister and Senator Wong warning there was "mounting evidence" the UNRWA "has been aiding and abetting Hamas, including during the horrific October 7 attacks".
The letter said the UNRWA "has allowed Hamas to utilise its buildings to launch rocket attacks into Israel, store weapons and build tunnels", and that agency officials had "openly celebrated the October 7 attacks".
"In light of UNRWA's complicity with Hamas, a listed terrorist organisation, we call on the Australian government to suspend its significant annual funding to UNRWA until urgent reforms of the organisation are implemented," it states.
The letter also advanced allegations at least one UNRWA teacher was involved in the detainment of Israeli hostages. "The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) reported that some UNRWA officials openly praised the October 7 terrorist attacks, highlighting social media comments made by 14 Gaza and West Bank-based members of UNRWA describing October 7 as 'a splendid sight'; 'an unforgettable glorious morning'; and 'the first real victory', as well as inciting further violence against Jews," it states.
"The IMPACT-se report also found that at least 100 Hamas members who carried out the terror attacks against Israel on October 7 were graduates of the UNRWA education system.
"According to the reported testimony of an Israeli child hostage who was recently released, he was held in the attic of a UNRWA teacher's house.
"All those who teach hate and violence, celebrate and harbour terrorists are . complicit in the deaths and harms suffered in both Israel and Gaza since October 7." The 30 signatories include Jewish Community Council of Victoria president Philip Zajac, National Council of Jewish Women Australia president Melinda Jones, Victor Smorgon Group chair Peter Edwards and Besen Family Foundation chair Debbie Dadon.
Opposition home affairs spokesman James Paterson said the government had been reckless to ignore the warnings about UNRWA.
"The Albanese government was repeatedly warned about the risks of funding UNRWA, and yet they recklessly proceeded with an extra $6m of taxpayer funding weeks after allegations of involvement in Hamas's atrocities on 7 October," Senator Paterson said.
"Concerns about UNRWA's activities have been well publicised for some time, and to ignore this appeal for caution from Jewish community leaders only compounds their error of judgment.
:Let's not forget that Hamas is a listed terrorist organisation in its entirety - it is a serious criminal offence in Australia to support or fundraise for them.
"It would be deeply concerning if the Australian government was violating the spirit of its own laws through carelessness." Australia has joined the US, Britain, Canada and Finland in suspending aid for the UNRWA although Senator Wong has described it only as a "temporary pause".
"Australia will engage closely with UNRWA on investigations and is consulting with international partners," she said. "While we do this, we will temporarily pause disbursement of recently announced funding." During her visit to the Middle East this month, Senator Wong defended the extra $6m in funding for the UNRWA, as part of a $21.5m humanitarian aid package for the region, saying the UN agency was the only one to provide health and education services in Gaza and for Palestinians in the region.
"We want services to be provided, we want health services to be provided, we want children to be educated. And UNRWA is the only entity which is able to do that for Palestinians, and that is why we support them," she said.
However, she also said she had raised with the Palestinian Authority Australia's "continued expectation" that the extra funds would be "used appropriately" and with "transparency" to ensure they were used correctly.
The suspension of much of the international funding for the UNRWA could not come at a worse time for Gaza, which is already reeling from a major humanitarian crisis arising from Israel's war on Hamas.
The agency, which employs around 13,000 mostly Palestinian workers in Gaza, has long been suspected of engaging in direct, or indirect, support for Hamas but Western governments have continued to fund it.