Dr. Suhail al-Hindi is a man of many titles. He’s been the chairman of the Association of Palestinian Workers of UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) since 2012. He is the principal of an UNRWA elementary school.
This week, he was elected to the governing council of Hamas’ Gaza regime.
The Israeli Defense Ministry’s Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) is one of the sources cited in news reports of al-Hindi’s new position. “The name Suheil Ahmad Hassan al-Hindi has emerged as one of those selected for membership in the Hamas politburo,” says a report published on COGAT’s website.
UNRWA identified al-Hindi as their employee when it issued a statement that al-Hindi could not serve on the governing Gaza council, since UNRWA employees are not allowed to assume political office. In this way, after years of UNRWA denying that it employed members of Hamas on its payroll, UNRWA inadvertently admitted to that it has done so.
According to multiple news outlets, UNRWA has now suspended al-Hindi, pending further investigation.
U.S. law forbids financial allocations to any agency that employs members of Hamas, designated by the US as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO). The US also funds almost $400 million, or one-third, of the total annual UNRWA budget according to the institution’s website.
How effective the UNRWA removal of al-Hindi will be remains a question. In 2013, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness assertedthat Al Hindi had been fired by UNRWA; however, al-Hindi was only suspended by UNRWA for a total of three days. This revolving-door problem with al-Hindi was confirmed by IDF Col. (res) Reuven Ehlich, director of the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center.
Another senior official in Israeli intelligence warned that the election of Dr. Suhail al-Hindi to the Gaza governing council is an illustration of Hamas penetration into the Gaza school system and all UNRWA institutions in Gaza (the official spoke on condition of anonymity). Since Hamas is the ruling power in the Gaza Strip, its military training inside the educational system is not curbed by UNRWA.
The same official also noted that Hamas’ influence in the UNRWA schools in Gaza has enabled Hamas to train young children from the age of 11 in the art of operating all forms of heavy weaponry.
Despite all this, UNRWA has not asked that all members of Hamas employed by UNRWA be fired. An inquiry to the U.S. State Department on this issue has not yet been answered.
David Bedein is the director of the Israel Resource News Agency at the Center for Near East Policy Research in Beit Agron, Jerusalem.