` `

Colonna Report: Israel Fails To Provide Evidence of UNRWA Staff’s Alleged Terrorist Involvement

Misbar's Editorial Team Misbar's Editorial Team
24th April 2024
Colonna Report: Israel Fails To Provide Evidence of UNRWA Staff’s Alleged Terrorist Involvement
The audit group noted UNRWA's efforts to ensure educational neutrality (Getty)

The Independent Review Committee on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has stated that Israeli authorities have not yet provided evidence to support their claims alleging the involvement of UNRWA employees with terrorist organizations.

The committee, which released its 54-page report yesterday, Monday, April 22, announced that Israel has accused a large number of UNRWA employees of being members of terrorist organizations. However, "Israel has yet to provide supporting evidence of this."

The report added that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency "is indispensable to Palestinians’ human and economic development."

Colonna Report

The "Colonna Report," named after former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, chair of the investigating committee, came in response to Israeli allegations that 12 UNRWA employees participated in Hamas attacks against Israel on October 7, 2023.

The United Nations Secretary-General called for the establishment of the Independent Review Committee last February, aiming "to assess whether UNRWA is doing everything within its power to ensure neutrality and respond to allegations of serious neutrality breaches when they are made."

Three Scandinavian research institutes supported the committee's work: the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Sweden, the Michelsen Institute in Norway, and the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

According to the report, UNRWA, which employs 30,000 people and serves 5.9 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and war-torn Gaza, has various mechanisms in place to ensure respect for humanitarian principles, including the principle of neutrality.

The final report also found that UNRWA, established by the General Assembly in 1949, has extensive tools to ensure its impartiality in its work, and routinely provides Israel with lists of employees, and "has not informed the UNRWA of any concerns relating to any UNRWA staff based on these staff lists since 2011."

In its review of existing mechanisms, which lasted nine weeks, the review group conducted over 200 interviews, met with Israeli and Palestinian authorities, directly contacted 47 countries and organizations, and made a set of 50 recommendations on issues ranging from education to new auditing procedures for existing mechanisms and staff appointments.

The report stated, "Neutrality breaches by UNRWA personnel often take the form of social media posts, particularly following incidents of violence affecting colleagues or relatives," and recommended that the agency make more efforts to create space for employees to discuss traumatic events.

Neutrality breaches by UNRWA personnel often take the form of social media posts

The group also pointed out that a lack of funding significantly hinders the organization's efforts to support neutrality.

Israeli Allegations Disrupted UNRWA Operations

According to the report, Israeli allegations against UNRWA led to the suspension of funding totaling around $450 million. The direct impact of these allegations was deemed to hinder UNRWA's ability to continue its operations, as it relies solely on voluntary donations.

In April, Washington suspended funding for UNRWA until at least 2025. However, other donors pledged additional funding, and other countries resumed their support.

The new report recommended increasing the pace and enhancing the transparency of UNRWA's communication with donors regarding its financial situation and allegations of neutrality and violations. The review group proposed regular updates and "integrity briefings" for donor parties interested in supporting UNRWA regarding integrity and related issues.

UNRWA Schools Have Worked To Ensure Neutrality in Education

According to the report, the United Nations agency upholds its commitment to ensure the neutrality of its 1000 facilities, including schools, healthcare centers, and warehouses. The report also noted that "security challenges and capacities may hinder" the current due care mechanisms.

The review group stated that UNRWA "continuously worked to ensure neutrality in education," providing primary and secondary education to approximately 500,000 students in 706 schools with 20,000 teaching staff, including in Gaza, where all children have been kept out of school due to the Gaza war.

UNRWA Schools Have Worked To Ensure Neutrality in Education

During the investigation into "ongoing criticism, mainly from Israel," regarding the alleged presence of hate speech, incitement to violence, and anti-Semitism in Palestinian Authority educational materials, the review group conducted three major international assessments and studies.

Two of them showed biased and non-compliant content with standards but did not provide evidence of anti-Semitic signals. The third report indicated the existence of two examples of anti-Semitic content, but it pointed out that one of them had already been removed, and the other had been significantly modified.

Thus, the report recommended several measures, including reviewing the content of all textbooks with the host countries, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli Media Claims Report Biased Against Israel

UNRWA Director-General Philippe Lazzarini welcomed the report's findings and recommendations in a statement on Monday. He stated that "UNRWA is developing an action plan, with a timeline and budget to take forward the report's recommendations."

He added that implementing some of the recommendations will require broad engagement with staff and partners, including member states, host countries, and donor countries. He also noted that the United Nations agency looks forward to collaborating with all stakeholders.

In response, Israel alleged, without evidence, that more than 2135 UNRWA employees belong to either Hamas or Islamic Jihad, and that "five UNRWA school principals are members of Hamas."

A statement issued by Oren Marmorstein, spokesperson for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that "the Colonna report ignores the severity of the problem, and offers cosmetic solutions that do not deal with the enormous scope of Hamas’ infiltration of UNRWA." Meanwhile, Hebrew media outlets claimed that the report is biased against Israel.

Colonna herself stated that "it is not within her mandate to examine evidence against individual employees regarding October 7." She considered it a "separate task" in her remarks to journalists.

She explained that she had requested Israel to take the report into account, stating, "whatever recommendations we provide, if implemented, will be useful."

It is worth noting that Secretary-General António Guterres appointed an independent review team, led by Colonna, to investigate the neutrality assurance process at UNRWA. At the same time, the Office of Internal Oversight Services has been tasked with investigating the validity of Israel's allegations against 12 agency employees.

Initially, investigators from the Office of Internal Oversight Services contacted the concerned member states and visited UNRWA headquarters in Jordan. They reviewed the preliminary information received by the agency from Israeli authorities and a variety of sources, including those published through media and other public outlets. The inquiry is still ongoing.

Read More

Report: Israel Funded Fake Accounts To Discredit UNRWA

International Organizations Publish Inaccurate Reports About UNRWA Aligning With the Israeli Narrative