U.S. Non-Profit Supporting Palestinian Refugees Faces Baseless Lawsuit Aimed at Defunding UNRWA

Suit targeting UNRWA USA is part of a broad attack on humanitarian aid for Palestinians as famine spreads in the Gaza Strip

May 29, 2024, Wilmington, Delaware – A U.S. nonprofit
is asking a U.S. federal district court to dismiss a civil lawsuit that accuses it of aiding and abetting terrorism because of its support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the central component of its mission. In a motion filed late yesterday, UNRWA USA, which is independent from the UN agency, says the suit should not be allowed to proceed based on the unsupported allegations it contains.

UNRWA, the largest provider of humanitarian support in the Gaza Strip, is mandated by the United Nations (UN) to provide assistance, protection, and a range of essential direct services to millions of Palestinian refugees throughout the region. The Agency has long faced opposition and calls for defunding from the Israeli government and its supporters, which have intensified during Israel’s latest assault on Gaza.

Donations to UNRWA USA have been a prominent vehicle for the American people to articulate their financial support and solidarity for UNRWA’s life-saving work in Gaza, where the population is majority refugees, particularly as they face a man made famine, relentless bombardments, and no safe place to go. 

The UN Agency plays an irreplaceable role in the Gaza Strip, providing aid to over 2 million people amid a military campaign that has killed over 35,000, injured 79,000, and displaced an estimated 1.7 million. The impact of the ongoing assault has brought aid delivery, which UNRWA largely manages logistics for, to a standstill. Most recently, it forced UNRWA to suspend distribution efforts in the besieged city of Rafah due to the depletion of supplies and military operations. Despite being UN humanitarian workers, 189 of UNRWA’s 13,000 staff members in Gaza have also been tragically killed in Israeli airstrikes. At the same time, in the United States, the Agency has also drawn politicized attacks

Israel has accused 12 UNRWA employees of participating in the Hamas attack on October 7. In April, an independent review commissioned by the UN to assess whether UNRWA is doing everything within its power to ensure neutrality found that Israel has yet to provide supporting evidence of its public claims that a significant number of UNRWA employees are members of terrorist organizations. The report also found that UNRWA has a “more developed approach to neutrality than other similar UN or NGO entities.” The European Union and 14 of the 16 countries that had suspended funding after the initial accusations have resumed their contributions to UNRWA.

“The lawsuit against UNRWA USA aims to cut off support to the UN Agency when Palestinians need it most, as Israel continues to starve the Palestinian population in Gaza and decimate their infrastructure,” said Diala Shamas, Senior Staff Attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “This lawsuit emerges out of a decades-long pattern of using meritless charges of terrorism and a long history of specifically targeting the UN Agency. We know that anti-Palestinian animus has historically helped shape U.S. antiterrorism law, and this is another example of a push to expand it. 

UNRWA USA is represented by Beldock, Levine & Hoffman, J Pace Law PLLC, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Center for Constitutional Rights cooperating counsel Judith Chomsky and Beth Stephens. 

“We are proud to fight for UNRWA USA, a U.S.-based nonprofit that seeks to provide lifesaving support in the midst of a humanitarian catastrophe,” said Luna Droubi, Partner at Beldock Levine & Hoffman LLP. “Palestinian voices, and organizations that support them, should not be silenced through such baseless litigation.”

The motion to dismiss is available here.  

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.


Last modified 

May 29, 2024