Foreign Minister Penny Wong is kidding herself. Her warning to Palestinian Authority leaders that our aid must not fund terrorism will have no real effect.
Total Australian aid to Palestinians since October 7 last year is $46.5 million. But it’s the announced extra $6m to the UN Relief and Works Agency, on top of the $20 million we’ve already donated to the agency, that’s disappointing.
The majority of UNRWA’s $US1.6 billion budget promotes policies that support the “right of return” for Palestinians into Israel, in effect ending Israel as a Jewish state.
UNRWA is the largest aid body operating in Gaza and Gaza has been ruled by Hamas for years. During the current war, some UNRWA staff celebrated the massacre. That’s not surprising: nearly all its 13,000 staff in Gaza are Gazans. They and their families are heavily influenced by Hamas, and many are Hamas operatives. It’s difficult to believe that UNRWA’s leaders were completely unaware of Hamas activities near their residences and facilities.
Indeed, as Professor Gerald Steinberg at Bar-Ilan University has pointed out, the evidence is that “UNRWA international officials maintained a code of silence and cooperation with Hamas and associated terror groups, including promoting their propaganda and incitement and training of children for terror. Many UNRWA teachers have participated in antisemitic social media platforms, as documented repeatedly by UN Watch and other watchdogs.”
Weapons have been discovered in UNRWA facilities. An UNRWA teacher held a hostage captive in his house. And of course, by UNRWA doing things like running schools, that’s freed Hamas from any responsibility to do so, and from bearing the costs involved, leaving Hamas able to use to its funds to run its terrorist activities.
Funding Hamas even indirectly is more than bad practice. No one suggested channelling grant money into ISIS controlled areas and agencies when ISIS was at its height on the argument that ISIS was the only organisation that could deliver humanitarian assistance to those under its rule.
It’s commendable that Penny Wong requested the head of UNRWA to remove sections from its textbooks that contain incitement to violence against Israel and promote anti-Semitism.
But her justification that we should provide money to UNRWA because it’s the only entity able to deliver aid to Gazans is a pretty bad reason for giving to UNRWA.
Australia has no effective oversight or control mechanisms for UNRWA expenditures of our tax-paid dollars. Australia needs first to have mechanisms in place if the Minister’s gesture through UNRWA isn’t to be counterproductive. But UNRWA describes allegations of its malfeasance as smears, and it’s resistant to any reforms.
Australia would do far better by redirecting overseas grant money to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other agencies and modalities to assist victims of the conflict.
After the war, Australia might also consider assistance to select young Gazans to come to Australia for education and trade training. An equal number of scholarships could be offered to young Israelis impacted by the violence of 7 October. While in Australia, both groups might try to reach a shared understanding about the future.
Anthony Bergin is a senior fellow at Strategic Analysis Australia