How NOT to Win Friends and Influence People

What do we do with a UN refugee agency that appears to be in cahoots with a jihadi organisation?

This piece first appeared in The Epoch Times Canada on January 29, 2024.

There are lots of good causes out there which ask for financial and material support. Think military veterans’ associations, services for the homeless, various medical fundraising outfits (cancer, heart disease, etc.) and many of these do indeed receive positive responses from the public. In all, this is a positive aspect to our societies as governments cannot do everything and the average citizen can step up and feel good at the same time.

Agencies seeking help craft different ways of making their appeals. I am sure most people get unsolicited letters on a regular basis asking for money (I know I do!). I am not so sure this is the best way to conduct a fundraising campaign as most of these letters get tossed into the recycle bin unopened.

Some people who have been directly affected by the issue in question—say, someone who lost a family member to cancer—are probably most likely to want to contribute in the hopes that others may not have to endure the same loss they did. It is also probable that these would become regular donors over time.

What, then, do we do with agencies that purport to be in the business of “doing good” but engage in the precise opposite? For illustrative purposes let us look at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, better known by its acronym UNRWA. It has been around since 1948, a child of the creation of the state of Israel and the concomitant displacement of Palestinians from their lands. It employs some 30,000 people, mostly Palestinians, and claims to provide employment, relief, education, health care, and social services to its target population.

We can apparently add support for Hamas to that list.

Recent reporting has dropped the bombshell that UNRWA members were involved in the Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas terrorist attack on southern Israel that killed at least 1,200 people, led to the sexual assault and horrid mutilation of Israeli women, and the sequestering of hundreds of hostages.  These allegations are yet to be proven to the best of my knowledge, but have already resulted in several countries deciding to cease sending funds to the agency, among which are the Netherlands, Finland, the UK, United States, Australia, Germany, Italy and even Canada (finally, some spine from the government!).

For its part, the U.N. itself has promised to “punish” those in UNRWA who were involved, while begging the world to keep funding it. That appeal may fall on deaf ears.

In addition, the Israeli foreign minister has called UNRWA the “civilian arm” of Hamas and says it should play no role in post-conflict Gaza. Given that there will be a tremendous need for funds to reconstruct the damage caused by the Israeli invasion aimed at “destroying” Hamas, so that it can never again inflict the kind of damage it did last October, what does this mean?

The bottom line is that trust is earned and needs to be consistent to continue. UNRWA was built on a solid principle 75 years ago but has morphed into something much bigger and perhaps not germane to its original mandate. Now that staff may have actually assisted in a terrorist attack will invite distrust from Israel, already a reluctant partner, but make other nations think twice before re-investing in its works.

We will have to wait and see whether senior levels of UNRWA were aware of the acts of members or whether this was truly an independent decision by a handful for reasons only they know (I very much hope it is the latter and not the former). Whatever the outcome, the days of UNRWA may be over and the subsequent gap in aid and assistance will likely lead to more suffering, more grievances, more radicalization, and more acts of terrorism by Palestinians who will justify violence as the sole solution left.

I fear the seemingly never ending Israel-Palestine conflict will soldier on and we can expect more deaths on both sides. It would be nice to think that an outside body could make some progress on this front as the actors themselves—and here I am referring to both the Netanyahu and Palestinian governments (in Gaza and the West Bank)—have shown themselves incapable of doing so. UNRWA has now demonstrated that it too may be out of the running for any future peace.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.