Photo by Yehonatan Valtser/TPS on 23 December, 2019

‘Every War is Ultimately Reflected in the Banks’: Israeli Bank Freezes UNRWA’s Account

Public By Pesach Benson • 5 February, 2024

Jerusalem, 5 February, 2024 (TPS) -- The embattled UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees was notified that its Israeli bank account was blocked over unusual activity as an expert explained to the Tazpit Press Service that “every war is ultimately reflected in the banks.”

Bank Leumi, one of Israel’s largest and oldest banking institutions, alerted UNRWA to suspicious financial transfers, but the UN agency did not provide satisfactory explanations, prompting bank officials to freeze the account, the Israel Hayom daily reported on Sunday.

In particular, the bank said it was unable to trace the source or final destination of several money transfers, and is concerned money is being used to fund terrorism, the report said.

Officials from Bank Leumi and UNRWA did not respond to the Tazpit Press Service’s requests to comment.

Israel demands that UNRWA be stripped of its authority in Gaza amid revelations that members of the agency’s staff participated in Hamas’s October 7 attacks on Israel. The US and 14 other countries have suspended funding for the agency.

Israel provided intelligence incriminating 12 staffers of their participation, including using UNRWA vehicles and facilities as 1,200 Israelis were massacred. The New York Times received leaked information incriminating 12 UNRWA employees of participating in the attack and even using agency vehicles.

The Wall Street Journal subsequently reported that one in 10 UNRWA employees is either an active member or has ties to Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

We Had the Information ‘For Years’

“The basic idea says that when there is a war beyond weapons, there is the economic weapon, and every war is ultimately reflected in the banks,” Dr. Alex Coman told TPS. Coman is a senior financial analyst and a professor at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo.

Banks monitor transactions as part of their anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing efforts. These measures are in place to detect and prevent the illicit flow of funds. Banks that don’t comply can be cut off from the SWIFT network, which enables banks and other financial institutions worldwide to send and receive standardized, secure messages, such as payment orders, fund transfer instructions, and other financial information, Coman explained.

“This mechanism worked very well when the accounts of many Russian oligarchs abroad were blocked” after Russia invaded Ukraine, he noted.

Regarding UNRWA, Coman said its ties to terror were known for years.

“The bit with UNRWA is ironic. We have had information about UNRWA for years — we know they are scoundrels. What suddenly happens is that under the auspices of the war, this information is leaked,” he said.

Coman said he doesn’t foresee the US intervening to unblock the account.

“If the US told Israel that because most of UNRWA’s money is American money, it would demand that the account be unblocked, Israel would probably do so,” Coman noted. “But I don’t see that happening. After we have seen the organization’s level of involvement in atrocities of October 7, there’s no way they’ll demand it.”

UNRWA Under Fire

Since October 7, the agency has been under fire numerous times, prompting Knesset lawmakers to reassess Israel’s relationship with UNRWA.

Reports released by IMPACT-SE and UN Watch documented UNRWA employees expressing support for the attacks on social media.

Soldiers found missiles hidden among UNRWA relief supplies while sacks belonging the agency were filled with dirt and used in the lining of tunnels.

Palestinian refugees are the only refugee population with its own dedicated UN agency. The rest of the world’s refugees fall under the mandate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Israeli officials have called for UNRWA to be closed and for Palestinian refugees to be brought under the responsibility of the UNHCR.

The UNRWA’s definition of refugees not only includes the original refugees, but also their descendants in perpetuity, including those who have citizenship in other countries. The UNHCR definition does not confer refugee status on descendants.