Norwegian fund blacklists Caterpillar over Gaza fears

NEW YORK: Israelis who were taken hostage or lost loved ones during an October 7 attack by Hamas are suing a United Nations agency that helps Palestinians, alleging it helped finance the militants by paying the agency’s staff in US dollars, and thereby bringing them money. changers in Gaza, who allegedly cut off Hamas.
But the agency, known as UNWRA, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the employees were paid in dollars of their choice. Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank do not have their own national currency and primarily use Israeli shekels.
The suit, filed Monday in US federal court in New York, is the latest challenge to the beleaguered UN agency, which has been the main supplier of food, water and shelter to civilians during the war between Israel and Hamas. The more than 70-year-old agency has long been under attack by the Israeli government, and scrutiny has intensified during the eight-month war, forcing UNRWA to fight back as it grapples with a spiraling humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
“UNRWA’s staff, facilities and ability to transport US dollar cash into Gaza formed a strong pillar of Hamas’ plan to launch the October 7 attack,” the lawsuit says, alleging that the UN agency “systematically and deliberately aided and abetted Hamas and its objectives.”
UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said on Tuesday that he only learned about the case from the media.
“I don’t know what the status of this lawsuit is, but for now I see it as another way to put pressure on the agency,” he told a press briefing in Geneva.
UNRWA has denied knowingly aiding Hamas or any other militant group.
Israel invaded Gaza after a Hamas attack on October 7 in which the militants killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped around 250. The war has left more than 37,000 Palestinians dead, according to Gaza’s health ministry, which did not say how many were civilians or fighters.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of many Israelis, including survivors of the October 7 attack, relatives of victims and rescued captives. It echoes some of the complaints raised by their government, from claims that UNRWA employs Hamas agents to complaints about the content of textbooks in UNRWA-run schools.
But the lawsuit also focuses on the agency’s practice of paying its 13,000 Gaza employees in US dollars. The money is sent from a bank in New York and imported into Gaza, according to the legal complaint, which says the wages totaled at least $20 million a month from 2018 to last September.
UNRWA staff use local money changers to convert their dollars into Israeli shekels, the complaint says.
Some Palestinians also use dollars or Jordanian dinars, seeing them as stable and trustworthy currencies.
The lawsuit alleges that Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007, “controls the majority” of the money changers and collects a 10-25 percent fee from the rest, “ensuring that a predictable percentage of UNRWA wages go to Hamas” in dollar terms. useful for black market gun deals.
“Hamas’ ability to carry out the October 7 attack would have been significantly and possibly fatally weakened without the cash provided by UNRWA,” the complaint said.
The complaint points to a 2018 report by UNRWA on the delivery of cash aid, which cited risks of misappropriation, fraud or other diversion from intended purpose.
UNRWA spokeswoman Juliette Touma said in a report to the AP that Gaza staff asked that they “be paid in dollars because Gaza does not have an official national currency.”
Touma said the UN, including UNRWA, and its officials are immune from lawsuits. She refused to comment further on the suit in question, saying that it had not been officially delivered to the agency.
One of the plaintiffs’ lead lawyers, Gavi Mairone, said in a statement on Tuesday that they do not believe the UN and the officials named in the suit are immune, “certainly not from these claims.”
UNRWA, formally called the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, was founded to help the estimated 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled from what is now Israel during the war surrounding the country’s creation in 1948. Their descendants now have nearly 6 million.
The agency runs schools, health clinics, infrastructure projects and aid programs in refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
More than 1.7 million people have taken refuge in UNRWA facilities since the start of the war in Gaza. At least 500 displaced people were killed in the attack on such facilities, according to UNWRA statistics released on Friday. The agency lost almost 200 employees.
Two UN officials said on Tuesday that the world body had warned Israel that aid operations in the Gaza Strip would be suspended unless protection for aid workers was improved.
Israel has accused UNRWA of letting Hamas use its aid and facilities, and Israel claimed this winter that a dozen UNRWA staff members took part in the October 7 attacks.
The allegations prompted the US and more than a dozen other countries to suspend hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions to the agency, although all but the US and Britain have restored their funding. Lazzarini said Tuesday that new donors have also come on board, but the agency still faces a year-end deficit of up to $140 million.

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