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Victims of 7 October massacre sue UNRWA



JTA – More than 100 victims of Hamas’s massacres in Israel on 7 October are suing United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the main relief agency for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, saying it effectively laundered money for the terrorist group, the latest in a spate of lawsuits launched in United States courts since the Israel-Hamas war started.

The lawsuit filed on Monday, 24 June, in federal court in the Southern District of New York alleges that the UNRWA assisted Hamas in, among other ways, building the infrastructure it required to launch the war; in subsidising Hamas by paying its activists as employees; and in relaying Hamas propaganda through its schools.

“The terrorist who held me hostage for 53 days worked as a school teacher for UNRWA,” Ditza Heiman, one of the hostages, said. “The fact that Hamas controlled Gaza wasn’t an excuse for UNRWA to hire and fund terrorists, but instead should have ensured that UNRWA took extra precautions.”

UNRWA didn’t respond to requests for comment. Its spokespeople have previously accused Israel’s government and its allies of seeking to dismantle the agency.

Notably, however, the litigants in this case include families who have been critical of how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has handled the war and the negotiations for hostages.

“There’s no pain in the world that compares to burying your children and grandchildren who were murdered and suffocated in their own home,” said Gadi and Reuma Kadem, whose children and grandchildren were killed in the 7 October attacks. “All funders of Hamas – UNRWA and its directors are major players – are fully complicit in the murder of my children and family.”

The plaintiffs are represented by MM-Law, an outfit that has for years sued, often successfully, institutions accused of profiting from terrorism, torture, genocide, and other human-rights abuses.

There have been multiple lawsuits filed by 7 October victims against US and international organisations alleged to have been profited from the attacks or to have colluded with banned terrorist groups.

In January, 67 people including some former hostages and people injured on 7 October filed a federal lawsuit accusing Iran of masterminding the attack on Israel.

A federal lawsuit filed in Florida in February accuses Associated Press of paying for photos by photographers who knew of the planning of the attacks.

Also last month, 7 October victims filed a federal lawsuit in Delaware against UNRWA-USA, an independent non-profit organisation that raises money for UNRWA.

In the 2000s, victims of Palestinian terrorism during the second intifada seized on the strategy of suing institutions based in the US or that have US ties, with mixed success. In one case, a jury ruled that the Arab Bank must pay damages to hundreds of victims of terrorism in Israel. The verdict was later overturned, although some payments were disbursed.

In another case, a US court ruled in 2017 that Iran and Syria must pay nearly $180 million (R3.2 billion) to the family of an American-Israeli infant killed in a Hamas attack in 2014 in Jerusalem.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, an attorney who heads the Shurat HaDin Israeli Law Center, was instrumental in that case and others. In December, she said she was working on a possible lawsuit in response to 7 October, against North Korea, for allegedly indirectly supplying weapons to Hamas.

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