Congressman Says UN Agency Aiding Palestinian Terrorists

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

Capitol Hill ( - A U.S. congressman says the United Nations agency tasked with assisting Palestinian refugees is actually aiding Palestinian terrorists.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) says the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) has allowed refugee camps under its control to "become launching pads for terrorist activity against civilian populations."

"Buildings and warehouses under UNRWA's supervision are allegedly being used as storage areas for Palestinian ammunition and counterfeit currency factories," Cantor claimed.

"It is disturbing that millions upon millions of American taxpayer dollars are going to fund an organization that has allegedly looked the other way when terrorists operate under their supervision," he added.

Cantor's "Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare" has authored a policy paper detailing the accusations against the organization.

Maheer Nasser, chief of the UNRWA liaison office in New York, says that paper contains "many inaccuracies and false allegations."

"They are as far away from the truth as Washington is from Jerusalem," he said. "The agency does not run the camps and the agency has no responsibility over security or law and order."

Nasser said those responsibilities are shared between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, depending on the location of the camp in question. UNRWA provides food aid to less than six percent of the refugee population, he explained. The majority of its efforts are in the areas of education, health, and sanitation.

"Our staff in the camps are mainly doctors who treat 120 patients a day, teachers who work double shifts in schools teaching 45 to 50 kids per classroom, and sanitation laborers," he added.

Cantor believes, however, that UNRWA staff members are promoting terrorism.

"In UNRWA-funded and staffed schools, Palestinian children are taught that 'Palestine's' borders run from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea," Cantor wrote in the policy paper. "By failing to acknowledge the existence of Israel, UNWRA fosters hatred in children toward the people of Israel and the belief that Israel has no right to exist."

Cantor is demanding that the U.S. not provide money for such efforts. "If terrorist activity is thriving under UNRWA's control, all U.S. funding from that organization must be withdrawn," he said.

But Nasser asks rhetorically whether both the U.S. and Israeli governments would have supported funding for UNRWA in the last session of the U.N. General Assembly if the agency was really aiding terrorists.

"Wouldn't we have heard directly from the Israeli authorities about that?" he asked.

Indeed, U.N. regulations require employees to "avoid any active involvement in political activities or any other action that may call into question their integrity, independence and impartiality as United Nations officials."

Nasser suggests that the easiest way for Cantor and other critics to satisfy their curiosity about what is going on in UNRWA-sponsored programs is to travel to the area and see for themselves.

"We have taken a lot of people from Congress to visit the services we provide," he recalled. "We welcome anybody to come and see what we do and the conditions under which we operate."

The controversy surrounding Cantor's policy paper, Nasser hopes, won't damage the good working relationship the UNRWA has with the U.S. government.

"We are very grateful for the U.S. government's support," he explained. "It is crucial to our ability to continue providing those services."

E-mail a news tip to Jeff Johnson.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.