By Edward Lawrence, Andrew Miller, Lauren Shank | FOXBusiness
FIRST ON FOX: The Biden administration has sent more than $1 billion in taxpayer dollars to a Palestinian relief organization that has previously been accused of providing safe harbor to terrorists in Gaza, drawing increased scrutiny amid Hamas' attacks on Israel.
In a report exclusively obtained by FOX Business, watchdog OpenTheBooks.com found that the taxpayer money was sent to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), whose schools were accused in a recent report of being complicit in teaching children to hate Jewish people and praised terrorism.
Critics and watchdog groups also say UNRWA resources may help Hamas with recruitment, storage for weapons, along with other support.
According to the UNRWA's website, the group works with Palestinians doing "human development and humanitarian services, encompass primary and vocational education, primary health care, relief and social services, infrastructure and camp improvement, microfinance and emergency response, including in situations of armed conflict."
However, U.N. Watch and IMPACT released a report in March 2023, uncovering 100 pages of evidence that schools built and run by the UNRWA taught hate toward the Jewish people and glorified terrorism.
The UNRWA Islamic education exam asks students whether "Liberating the Al-Aqsa Mosque and making sacrifices for it is an obligation for all Muslims" is true or false. The exam cited the statement as true and noted that violence and martyrdom to free Al-Aqsa are obligations for Palestinians and "all Muslims."
In 2014, the left-leaning New Republic described UNRWA as "effectively a branch of Hamas."
UNRWA acknowledged in 2014, and condemned, Hamas missiles that were found at one of its schools in Gaza twice in one week.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said in a GOP conference meeting Tuesday that the Biden administration "knew that sending U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Palestinians could bolster Hamas" after learning that President Biden's trip to Israel was intentionally unannounced until Secretary of State Antony Blinken received assurances from Netanyahu on the humanitarian aid package for "Palestine."
While former President Trump cut funding almost entirely to the UNRWA in 2018, OpenTheBooks.com noted that Biden reinstated the flow of taxpayer dollars to Gaza and the West Bank in April 2021, a few months after he took office.
Auditors found that $260 million more has been requested in the administration’s fiscal year 2024 budget. However, it has not yet been approved by Congress.
"I'll be introducing legislation to halt all funding for them until Iran is expelled from the U.N. and investigated for violations," Blackburn said.
A State Department spokesperson told FOX Business in a statement that it "has stringent policies and procedures in place to uphold neutrality and to prevent UNRWA funds and programs from benefiting terrorists."
The spokesperson went on to say that they complete background checks on potential employees, regularly check staff and beneficiary names against known terrorist entities on the U.N. sanctions lists, and share staff lists with host governments, including Israel. UNRWA staff are prohibited from political activities.
A senior State Department official said in a 2021 background call that Palestinians using U.S. aid to restock Hamas' arsenal is possible, stating that there are "no guarantees, but we're going to do everything that we can to ensure that this assistance reaches the people who need it most."
A March 2021 internal State Department document that was obtained by the Washington Free Beacon this year and verified by FOX Business shows officials privately communicating their concerns that a Biden administration plan to unfreeze more than $360 million in U.S. funds for the Palestinian Authority could risk benefiting terror groups, a trade-off that the officials argued was necessary for national security.
Despite those concerns, the Biden administration went on to pump hundreds of millions into UNRWA and said in a White House press release last year that a $201 million contribution "cements the United States’ status as UNRWA’s largest donor."
Fox News Digital recently reported that the Biden administration also sent $33.7 million from the American Rescue Plan, a spending bill meant to combat COVID, to UNRWA. The relief bill was pushed through Congress with unanimous support from Democrats in the Senate and almost unanimous support in the House.
During a ministerial-level meeting on the UNRWA last month, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield touted the $1 billion figure, saying "the Biden administration has contributed nearly $1 billion since 2021."
"I encourage other member states to step up and make the financial commitments needed to fund UNRWA through the end of the year," Thomas-Greenfield said. "Colleagues, the United States appreciates efforts to explore concrete options that will set UNRWA on a more sustainable funding path. I want to stress that these conversations must include hosts, donors and refugees."
Professor Anne Bayefsky, director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust, recently slammed the UNRWA while speaking with Fox News Digital.
"Facilities of UNRWA, the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency, have been repeatedly used by Hamas Palestinian terrorists for military purposes as staging grounds, weapons depots and hideouts," she said.
"They have also been used as shields, giving cover to nearby military assets. UNRWA officials have had all kinds of inappropriate relationships with Hamas itself. Whenever these facts – war crimes – are revealed, the U.N. does a quick ‘investigation,’ sometimes accompanied by a meaningless expression of regret, and carries on," added Bayefsky, who is also president of Human Rights Voices.
"The fallout from their past behavior is that it is impossible and unwise to take them at their word or to assume they are a neutral party, instead of serving as an enabler of Palestinian terrorism, today."
UNRWA and the White House did not respond to multiple FOX Business requests for comment.