Inside Israel’s allegations against UNRWA in Gaza



The UNRWA allegations mark a new low in a fraught relationship between Israel and the U.N. that has further deteriorated since the start of the war.

Israeli officials have long campaigned for UNRWA to be disbanded. A recent UNRWA report also alleged Palestinian detainees were physically and sexually abused in Israeli custody, while a separate U.N. report found “convincing” evidence that Israeli hostages in Gaza have been raped.

NBC News takes a look at the UNRWA allegations:

Israel’s allegation: Staffers participated in Oct. 7 attacks

In late January, Israel accused 12 UNRWA staffers of involvement in the attacks, according to UNRWA and Israeli officials’ public statements. In the following days, UNRWA said two of those 12 were confirmed dead, although it’s not clear how they died.

The number later grew to 13, according to a diplomatic memo known as the “UNRWA File,” first referenced by Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz during the Munich Security Conference in February.

According to a copy of the 13-page document, Israel alleges that six staffers infiltrated Israel on Oct. 7, while another four are said to have helped kidnap Israelis. The memo alleges three employees were summoned by text message the day before the attacks to “arrive armed at the assembly point.” 

In addition to those 13, the memo says that “at least one UNRWA employee supplied logistical support to the infiltration attack and an additional employee was directed to establish an OPS room on Oct. 8,” referring to an operations room.

Israel’s defense minister later raised the number of those allegedly involved further, saying more than 30 UNRWA employees either killed Israeli civilians, kidnapped soldiers or helped detain them.

What Israel says: 

In mid-February, Israel’s military identified the 12 staffers initially accused of involvement, including their photos, dates of birth and job titles. Israel named two that it said were found or arrested inside Israel.

The disclosure included a photo and CCTV footage Israel said showed one of the staffers, an UNRWA social worker, inside Kibbutz Be’eri on Oct. 7 helping move the limp body of an Israeli into a Jeep.

NBC News verified the location of the CCTV footage as Kibbutz Be’eri, but can’t independently confirm the identities of the staffers named by Israel.

An intelligence dossier containing what Israel says is additional evidence was also transmitted to the U.S. and other allies, but has not been made public.

Last week, Israel’s military also released two phone recordings it says further prove UNRWA staffers’ involvement.

In one, a man Israel says was an UNRWA teacher says in Arabic, “We have female captives” and “I captured one.” In the other recording, another man also identified by Israel as an UNRWA teacher says, “I’m inside with the Jews.” 

NBC News can’t independently confirm who is speaking in the recordings, or whether these were edited.

What the U.N. says:

On Jan. 26, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “horrified” by the allegations and immediately launched an investigation.

UNRWA said it immediately fired 10 of the 12 staffers initially accused by Israel who were still alive. It has promised that anyone involved in terrorism “will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.” 

UNRWA said Israel hadn’t presented it with any evidence substantiating that more than 30 staffers were involved. It noted that this number would be a tiny fraction of the agency’s roughly 13,000 staffers in Gaza.



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