Dutch minister Geoffrey van Leeuwen spread anti-Palestinian misinformation

The UNRWA affair: Dutch parliamentary disinformation and how it hit Palestinians

Nieuws

Dutch minister secretly deleted anti-Palestinian tweets shortly before assuming office

Former minister Geoffrey van Leeuwen disseminated tweets posted by islamophobic, anti-Palestian and extreme right accounts on X, formerly Twitter, after the 7th of October. A number of the messages contained disinformation about the Gaza war. Van Leeuwen did so before assuming his role as interim minister for Foreign Trade and Development in December 2023. Shortly before taking office, the tweets were removed from his account. Investico has obtained screenshots of the deleted messages, taken before their removal.

Van Leeuwen served as interim minister for Foreign Trade and Development from early December until mid-April. Van Leeuwen is known as Mark Rutte’s right-hand man: the former prime minister is set to bring Van Leeuwen along to Brussels when he assumes his role as NATO’s secretary-general later this year.

Multiple messages disseminated by Van Leeuwen contained disinformation about the war, such as tweets by the account ‘Imam of Peace’, run by the known right-wing and islamophobic thinker Mohammad Tawhidi. The interim minister also ‘liked’ messages posted by accounts such as Viségrad24 and Mario Nawfal. Both are ranked among the most influential sources of pro-Israeli disinformation on X, according to analyses by both Bloomberg and the University of Washington.

The former minister also ‘liked’ a message that peddled the infamous ‘Pallywood’ conspiracy theory, which holds that footage of Palestinian suffering is staged, and these fakes are used to incite hatred against Israel. In the particular message, the account ‘Imam of Peace’ shares a video of a Palestian mother rushing into a hospital to see her wounded son. Tahwidi writes: ‘He’s fine, it’s just an act mommy. It’s called Pallywood.’ An independent review by both AP News and Alt Media classifies the tweet as disinformation, as the man is in fact injured.

Another message ‘liked’ by Van Leeuwen shows a video of an Israeli military spokesperson giving a tour in a network of rooms below a Palestinian hospital. The man points out a list of ‘names of terrorists’ in Arabic, supposedly a work schedule for Hamas-terrorists guarding Israeli hostages. This, also, proved to be untrue: the document didn’t list any names, it was merely a calendar with the days of the week written on it, reporting by France24 showed.

In response to Investico’s questions, Van Leeuwen explains his social media activity. ‘When I see a message that I want to read more attentively at a later time, want to re-watch, or follow to see whether a broader story develops, I like it.’ According to the former minister, ‘there is no broader or deeper consideration’ that goes into it. The former minister does not respond to the question why the decision was made to secretly delete the tweets. He also does not address Investico’s questions whether he does or does not support the content of the messages, or whether he deems it fitting for a high-ranking government official or soon-to-be minister to publicly engage with disinformation in the way he has.

In his ministerial role, Van Leeuwen was responsible for the decision to suspend the funding for UNRWA, the UN organisation that provides humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. He did this after Israeli authorities alleged in January that 12 UNRWA employees had been involved in the October 7th attacks last year.

UNRWA disclosed the allegations in a press statement - shortly after being informed about them by Israel - and immediately fired all accused staff. The UN announced an internal review into the matter. In response to the allegations, 15 donor countries suspended their funding for the aid organisation.

Internal emails from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs show that, the day the allegations became public, expert advice on what course to follow was yet to be drafted within the ministry. Van Leeuwen, however, announced the Dutch funding suspension before receiving said advice, internal correspondence obtained through a Freedom of Information request by Al Jazeera shows. Several civil servants anonymously confirmed to Investico that Van Leeuwen took the decision single-handedly, without being consulted by his staff. ‘This is not how these things are supposed to go’, one civil servant says.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs states, in response to Investico’s questions, that they will not comment on whether or not Van Leeuwen received advice before taking his decision on UNRWA’s funding suspension. The ministry also stresses that they ‘have never in any way been involved in mr. Van Leeuwen activities on X’ before he took office. ‘After becoming minister, a social media team started managing his X-account, as is usual.’

Almost all donor countries resumed their funding of UNRWA in recent months, due to the crucial role the organisations fulfills in Gaza, and the fact that Israel has yet to provide any evidence supporting their allegations against the 12 UNRWA employees. The Dutch government has indicated that funding will not resume until UNRWA implements a set of fifty recommendations. The yet to be installed new government coalition, however, is expected to have the final say in whether or not aid to UNRWA will be resumed.

Verantwoording

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The UNRWA affair: Dutch parliamentary disinformation and how it hit Palestinians

Dutch minister Geoffrey van Leeuwen suspended funding of UNRWA - the UN aid Palestinians depend on. His decision follows years of disinformation—and suspicions about his personal view on Palestine.

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, there are only a few aid organisations that can still access Gaza, the most important of which is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The organisation is the main provider in the Palestinian territories of essential services1 ranging from food programmes, education, housing, health care to electricity, waste management and-especially during times of war-emergency aid. Since the outbreak of the war last October, UNRWA's services have become even more crucial to the Gazan population.2 In order to do its work, the UN-organisation depends almost entirely on international, voluntary donors.3 The Netherlands has been among those since 1951.4

But on the 26th of January,5 Israel levels serious allegations6 at UNRWA: 12 of UNRWA's employees were allegedly involved in the Hamas-attacks on the 7th of October. Western government officials are shocked and dismayed7-many of them deciding to immediately freeze all donations to the aid organisation.8 UNRWA, a 30.000-strong organisation,9 fires the accused workers the same day.10 The UN follows with another measure, announcing an internal investigation11 to establish what went wrong at UNRWA-and review any evidence that Israel has for the allegations.

One of the western government officials scrambling to respond to the news is Geoffrey van Leeuwen. The newly-installed interim minister for Foreign Trade and Development takes to X, formerly Twitter. Van Leeuwen announces that he's 'shocked' by the allegations.12 The next day, in a TV-interview,13 he adds: 'The accusation is that UN money, actually our money, was used to carry out the attacks on the 7th of October. Like I said yesterday, we'll wait for the investigation's findings. Depending on that, we'll reconsider possible future contributions. For now, no extra money is going to UNRWA.'

Van Leeuwen's decision to halt additional funding was one he took single-handedly, raising questions within his department, not in the least because the minister was viewed with suspicion by his civil servants. Just weeks before assuming his position, Van Leeuwen 'liked' anti-Palestinian tweets and engaged with disinformation about the Gaza war on X14. Investico has seen these messages, and spoken to roughly 20 (former) civil servants within the ministry of foreign affairs. Shortly before he started his interim-ministership, the tweets were removed from his profile, described by a member of the ministry's communications department as 'clearing the mess'.

The past months, Investico investigated the Dutch decision to freeze the UNRWA funding, and the role of the organisation in national politics in the years preceding the latest Gaza war. UNRWA has been a years-long target of an international slander and misinformation campaign. In Dutch politics, too, unfair allegations have structurally been structurally levelled at the aid organisation for at least fifteen years, our analysis of the parliamentary archives shows.

Disinformation about aid to the Palestinians was a phenomenon that took place mostly in the margins of parliament, but the structural accusations of alleged 'involvement in terrorism' appear to have finally had a tangible effect. Without the need for any supporting evidence, Israel's allegations have led to a Dutch funding freeze for UNRWA. The oft-repeated, seldom evidenced claims successfully eroded trust. In the words of interim minister Van Leeuwen, speaking shortly after the Israels allegations became public: 'I can't refer to this as an incident, as these terrible developments do not occur in isolation.'15

The 26th of January is not just the day that UNRWA publishes the allegations about their twelve employees,16 but also the day that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued its first Order in the genocide case between Israel and South-Africa, which the latter brought before the Court.17 ‘Israel must take all possible measures to prevent genocide in Gaza'18, the Court demanded in a preliminary ruling.

As the ICJ issues a landmark ruling five months into the war, UNRWA announces that it has dismissed all the staff members that Israel accused of Hamas-involvement19 (one employee had already died20) and the UN immediately launches an internal review.21 Nonetheless, fifteen countries halt their funding to UNRWA, among which Austria, Italy, the UK and Canada22. Some nations-Norway, Spain, Belgium and Ireland- emphasise the aid organisation's crucial role and continue funding it.

That afternoon, civil servants at the ministry of foreign affairs circulate a bullet point summary of the situation in an internal email. ‘Through the formal channels, a proposal will follow about whether or not to freeze any additional funding pending the internal review', one civil servant writes.23 That's to say: an in-house expert on the issue will draft advice to the minister on the question whether or not the Netherlands should continue funding UNRWA,

But interim minister Van Leeuwen decides on the spot to halt the funding, a decision he takes single-handedly-confirmed to Investico by multiple anonymous sources within the ministry. 'Even the directorate for Humanitarian Aid wasn't consulted by the minister, despite that being protocol in cases like this. He wanted to stay ahead of any formal questions raised in parliament, ahead of any political discussions', one staff member said. 'Many of us were shocked by this-this isn't how this is supposed to go.'

At that moment, Geoffrey van Leeuwen is halfway through his stint as interim minister of Foreign Trade and Development. From the 4th of December onwards, he observed Liesje Schreinemachers duties as she went on maternity leave.24 Earlier in his career, he worked as a national security advisor at the prime minister's office25, and is known to be Mark Rutte's confidant-so much so, that the latter is bringing Van Leeuwen with him as a right-hand-man at NATO later this year.26 []{.mark}

When Van Leeuwen decides to freeze the UNRWA funds, the annual, standard sum of €19 million had already been transferred.27 His decision, however, means that no additional funds will be given to the aid organisation-even though that's the case in most years, especially during humanitarian crises.28

It isn't until the 2nd of February, a week after Van Leeuwen's funding freeze, that civil servants within the foreign ministry circulate a memo about when and why aid to UNRWA should be resumed.29 The confidential document, published after a Freedom of Information request by Al-Jazeera, details essential facts on UNRWA, the allegations and what scenarios might ensue in the near future. The main conclusion: there are grave concerns about the Israeli allegations, but there is currently no viable alternative capable of organising aid at scale in Gaza. The memo also emphasises that UNRWA 'operates in an extremely polarised context', facing 'numerous allegations, daily cyber attacks, mis- and disinformation campaigns.'

The memo does not only contain the formal advice, it also shows handwritten notes in the document's margins. The handwriting belongs to Hanke Bruins Slot,30 who is the first minister at the foreign ministry, in charge of the core 'foreign affairs': diplomatic and political ties. Van Leeuwen, formally the secondary minister, is charged only with responsibilities related to trade and development. Both of the ministers received the advisory memo,31 but only Bruins Slot's handwritten comments are legible - the others have been redacted.

Where the memo notes that 'pausing or suspending already committed funding could lead to severe disruptions in UNRWA's operational capacity, with considerable human suffering as a result'. Minister Bruins Slot, who holds a senior position over Van Leeuwen, writes 'Agreed!!' in the margins. Elsewhere in the memo, where the authors stress that UNRWA's emergency relief services must be protected as they're the only adequately competent organisation in Gaza, minister Bruins Slot notes: 'Agree! Affects the entire region, which is unstable already.'

In the meanwhile, other donor countries resume their funding one by one. Within a few weeks, Canada32, Sweden33, Australia34 and the European Union35 commit financial support to UNRWA again. On the 4th of March, the aid organisation alleges that some of their employees who made statements to the Israeli authorities about ties to Hamas, did so under torture.36 At that point, five weeks into the affair, Israel has yet to provide any evidence to support their allegations.37

The reports of torture and the continued absence of evidence causes discomfort among civil servants at the foreign ministry about the decision to freeze UNRWA's funding. The discomfort extends beyond the recent allegations, however. The servants are concerned about minister Van Leeuwen his personal views on the matter.

Those concerns arose due to Van Leeuwens activitity on X, formerly Twitter. After the 7 October attacks, the minister spread disinformation about the Gaza war on his private account.38 For example, he 'liked' a message that peddled the infamous 'Pallywood' conspiracy theory39, which holds that footage of Palestinian suffering is staged, and these fakes are used to incite hatred against Israel. In the particular message, an account called 'Imam of Peace'40 - run by known extreme right and islamophobic thinker Mohammad Tahwidi41 - shares a video of a Palestian mother rushing into a hospital to see her wounded son. Tahwidi writes: 'He's fine, it's just an act mommy. It's called Pallywood.' An independent review by both AP News and Alt Media classifies the tweet as disinformation, as the man is in fact injured.42

Another message 'liked' by Van Leeuwen shows a video of an Israeli military spokesperson43 giving a tour in a network of rooms below a Palestinian hospital. The man points out a list of 'names of terrorists' in Arabic, supposedly a work schedule for Hamas-terrorists guarding Israeli hostages. This, also, proved to be untrue: the document didn't list any names, it was merely a calendar with the days of the week written on it.44

Remarkably, Van Leeuwen also liked a tweet that implies the Dutch state broadcaster is not an objective news source on the Gaza war45 - echoing a wider campaign by the Dutch extreme right to discredit the broadcaster, targeting its reporting on migration, climate and other policies central to extreme right ideology.

Right before Van Leeuwen assumed office, at least 15 of his 'liked tweets', posted between October 21st and November 13th, were deleted from his account. Investico has seen screenshots of the deleted messages.

Van Leeuwens decision to freeze UNRWA's funding is received warmly by certain parties in Dutch parliament, who have been campaigning to defund the organisation for years. One those is the ChristianUnion, a conservative reformed party. Don Ceder, one of their MPs, travelled to Jerusalem last March for an award ceremony.46 In the audience were lawmakers from all over the world-Liberia, Sweden, Brasil, Slovakia, among others-watching Ceder as he was honoured with a 'Friends of Zion' award, reserved for Israel's most loyal friends. That night, all attendees went home with the statuette.47

Ceder was in Jerusalem on invitation48 of the Israel Allies Foundation (IAF), a lobby group of US origin that recruits pro-Israeli allies among parlementarians worldwide.49 Each year, the IAF invites their 'best ambassadors' to Jerusalem, as a part of their strategy to 'equip' them in their fight for Israeli interests. The most critical strategic goals are moving national embassies to Jerusalem, fighting Iranian influence, and countering 'anti-Israeli instituions like UNRWA.'50

The latter is ceremoniously formalised during the conference of 'ambassadors' in March. In the middle of a tour through a kibbutz,51 the 24 delegations sign a pledge,52 scribbling their signature below national flags printed on a huge placard. Below, written in bold print and awkwardly capitalised, their promise reads: 'NO more funds for TERROR. Defund and Dismantle UNRWA now.'

The call for the dismantlement of UNRWA is far from new: it's a long-cherished wish of Israel itself, not in the least as the country deems it an obstruction to a 'solution' of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Last December, a leaked memo from the Israeli foreign ministry revealed a calculated, detailed plan to delegitimise the aid organisation and strive for its abolition.53

UNRWA fulfills an important, bureaucratic role besides its life-saving, state-like social and health services. The organisation registers Palestinian refugees, keeping a tally of how many Palestinians maintain 'the right of return' to their former homes, a right that applies equally to later generations-even if they never set foot in the homes their ancestors left behind in 1948.54 It's this right of return that Israel sees as a direct, existential threat, and UNRWA is crucial in documenting who is theoretically eligible.

The leaked Israeli details how the campaign against UNRWA should start with preparing 'a case detailing UNRWA’s cooperation with Hamas', building on the years-long campaign of slander and disinformation against the aid organisation. Embezzlement of aid money, collaboration with Hamas, glorification of suicide bombers, rampant anti-semitism in textbooks: for years, a steady stream of reports from organisations like UN Watch55, Palestinian Media Watch56 and IMPACT-SE57 levels grave accusations at UNRWA. In most cases, as soon as the UN-organisation counters one set of allegations, a new report is already on its way.

The online archive of Dutch parliament only spans the past fifteen years, but even the earliest available records show UNRWA was a target already in 2009. Investico analysed all instances where the aid organisation was mentioned - in debates, motions, formal questions - and found a structural campaign of slander and disinformation, rife with baseless accusations and a seemingly wilfull reliance on disinformation.

In at least 41 separate cases, serious allegations were made against UNRWA, either without any supporting evidence, citing unconfirmed sources, or even repeating long-refuted claims. The allegations follow a clear pattern, and regularly cite sources such as UN Watch, a nominally independent NGO which in practice mostly acts against perceived unfairness in the UN its treatment of Israel. According to a report by the University of Bath, UN Watch was initially funded by charities that finance a wider 'network of right-wing pro-Israel organisations', but in recent years no public information is available UN Watch its funding58.

Not only do the allegations against UNRWA follow a clear pattern. Throughout the years, the cabinet's responses do too. 'This article is incorrect',59 ‘These allegations turned out to be unfounded',60 'There are no tangible indications for involvement with Hamas'61 and: ‘It would behove the members of the PVV [Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom] to focus on the facts, and not speak of "an antisemitism-inciting organisation like UNRWA."'62

In 25 of the 41 cases that Investico found, the PVV was responsible for the allegations against UNRWA. The SGP and ChristianUnion, both relatively marginal christian reformed parties, were behind 8 cases each. Lawmakers regularly insinuated ties between UNRWA and Hamas without any supporting, credible evidence whatsoever. Take, for example, formal questions submitted in 2017 by Raymond van Roon (PVV) and Danai van Weerdenburg (PVV). The extreme right parlementarians mention reports alleging that Palestinian children 'in terror camps', (meaning UNRWA's annual summer camps) 'are being poisoned by hate, violence and antisemitism.' The minister answers: 'The cabinet emphasises a clear distinction should be made between the summer camps run by Hamas and those run by UNRWA.' And: 'The cabinet has received no indications whatsoever of ties between the UNRWA summer camps and terrorist activities or the dissemination of terrorist ideologies.'63

Or take ChristianUnion-member Joël Voordewind his contribution to a plenary debate: 'I have to note that UNRWA regularly shares anti-Israel cartoons on Facebook and websites and I've brought along a few examples of it. I received that information from the ngo UN Watch, that concerns itself with such things.' The minister replies that the noted accounts do not belong to UNRWA at all-and that the organisation even requested Facebook to remove the cartoons64. Three years later, Voordewind repeats the allegation in a round of formal questions. This time, he doesn't cite any sources.65\
A third pattern in the campaign against UNRWA is the regular calls to defund the organisation. The SGP went as far as to include it in their 2017 election manifesto, stating that UNRWA 'can safely disappear.'66 Throughout the years, a total of 24 calls for defunding UNRWA have been submitted in parliament.

'Since the very start there's been a steady stream of accusations levelled at UNRWA', Liliane Ploumen confirms.67 Between 2012 and 2017, she served as minister for Foreign Trade and Development. She emphasises that it's possibe that there are serious issues at hand at the aid organisation: 'If there are grave and substantiated allegations, you have to investigate. UNRWA itself also knows strict procedures.' However, she says: 'Most of it you have to understand within a context of an unrelenting smear campaign against the organisation.'

After Hamas launches the 7 October attacks on Israel, the pace of allegations against UNRWA in Dutch parliament picks up. Four days after the attack, Don Ceder of ChristianUnion is the first one to cast doubt on Dutch aid to the Palestinians. Roelof Bisschop, of the conservative reformed SGP, mentions UNRWA and describes it as 'a club that finances a whole host of dubious, bad things like inciting hate against Jews.' The accusations are left without any supporting evidence, and in the months afterwards at least 15 such instances will follow, ranging from allegations of antisemitism in UNRWA's textbooks68 to insinuations that the average UNRWA-employee in Gaza is paid €150.000 annually.69

This concerted effort aimed at the aid organisation makes for a soft landing in parliament for Van Leeuwen's UNRWA decision. In a parliamentary debate a few days after his announcement, the interim-minister, in notable contrast to his predecessors, appears receptive to the systematic allegations. Don Ceder: 'The minister says he'll await the results of the investigation [the UN's internal review], but is he willing to seriously scrutinize the organisational structure, the senior staff, and questions one could ask in their regard?' Van Leeuwen responds: 'Absolutely, absolutely. That's also a part of the conversation we're having right now'. And: 'I can't call this an incident, as these terrible developments do not occur in isolation.'70\
Dennis Ram, a newly installed MP for Geert Wilders' party, intervenes with a claim that perhaps 1200 UNRWA staff were involved in Hamas, without presenting any evidence or a source. 'Are these things also being included in the investigation?' Van Leeuwen confirms: 'This is the input we're giving them. This has to be investigated broadly now, finally (…) also any rumours and Telegram channels.' Another MP asks: 'Are there no alternative organisations that can provide ordinary citizens with aid?' The minister replies: 'That's exactly what we are trying to figure out right now.'

Danielle Hirsch, MP for the left-green alliance, is the first to critically interrogate the minister. 'Has the government received any evidence from Israel yet? And, if the minister does not have any evidence to support the allegations, how can he make such serious claims in this situation?’ Van Leeuwen admits: 'I haven't seen any evidence yet.'

Still, unfounded allegations ultimately bear fruit: 'Simply endlessly repeating accusations pays off eventually', says Peter Burger, expert on fake news and teacher at the University of Leiden.71 'It causes trust to erode over time, and can eventually even affect a minister's decisions.'

Even if allegations are refuted and proven unfounded, the harm has already been done, says Burger. 'The issue with fact-checking and reviewing claims after they've been made is that it's always too late and reaches a far smaller audience than the initial claim.'

'It's the smearing of an organisation and the refusal to face the urgency of the humanitarian situation in which this organisation can make the difference. You have to conclude that the Netherlands unconditionally supports Israel', says Erwin van Veen, Middle-East expert at the foreign affairs research institute Clingendael.72 'First demanding that UNRWA implements a range of measures before resuming aid afterwards - as is the case now - is a chronological order that'd suit a time without humanitarian crisis, without famine, without war and without thereby disabling the only organisation capable of providing aid. It seems the fate of Palestinians hardly interests the Dutch government.'

The ministry of foreign affairs writes in response to Investico's questions that they will not comment whether Van Leeuwen received any internal counsel on his decision to freeze UNRWA's funding. About the initial decision - and the fact that the Netherlands has yet to resume funding - the ministry states that it was 'important to give off a political signal.' The ministry emphasises they were 'in no way involved in Van Leeuwens use of X before he assumed his position as minister.' After he became minister, however, 'a social media team, as is usual, started to manage his X-account.'\
Van Leeuwen explains his social media activity via email. 'When I see a message that I want to read more attentively at a later time, want to re-watch, or follow to see whether a broader story develops, I like it.' According to the former minister, 'there is no broader or deeper consideration' that goes into it, and it doesn't 'automatically mean that I condone or support the content of the message.' He does not answer any of Investico's questions about whether he does or does not support the content of the messages. He also does not answer the question whether he deems it fitting for a high-ranking government official or soon-to-be minister to publicly engage with disinformation in the way he has.

Don Ceder of ChristianUnion disagrees with Investico's findings that his party has been involved in a smear campaign against UNRWA. He states that his allegations and arguments are 'at the very least plausible', at least 'in the absence of more information from the UN about the allegations.' He also writes: 'Formal questions are a means to submit questions and request information on things you do not know the answer to, or to confirm something. Otherwise you wouldn't ask questions.' The SGP writes: 'All parties base their positions on reports and investigations and facts that support their own standpoint.' And: 'Just like you rely on certain studies and researchers, we do too.' The PVV and UN Watch were not available for comment.

Late April, the first, independent UN-report by the Colonna commission is published.73 One of the conclusions is that Israel has yet to provide any evidence for the alleged ties between UNRWA staff and members of Hamas. According to the report, UNRWA regularly provided Israeli authorities with lists detailing staff information, and 'the Israeli Government has not informed UNRWA of any concerns relating to any UNRWA staff based on these staff lists since 2011.'\
By then, minister Schreinemacher has returned from her maternity leave and relieved Van Leeuwen of his interim duties.74 Shortly after the Colonna report's publication, she says in parliament: 'We have to properly study these results before we take the serious decision to resume funding or not.' Several opposition members insist that Schreinemacher makes haste with her decision, given the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. 'In the end, it doesn't matter whether I resume funding today or on Friday', she responds.75

But that doesn't happen-not that day, nor the Friday that follows. Late in the evening, on the 26th of April,76 Schreinemacher informs parliament of her decision77 to halt funding until UNRWA has implemented the fifty recommendations from the Colonna report - and also notes she wishes to await the results of a second, yet-to-conclude investigation into the UNRWA affair. In doing so, she markedly differs from Germany78 and Italy,79 who emphasised their concerns and the need for UNRWA to implement the recommendations, but also resumed funding or even committed extra financial support.

In her letter to parliament, Schreinemacher makes her decision seem like a simple adminstrative affair: if the organisation implements the required improvements-something the organisation has promised to do-any future funding can go ahead. A month and a half later, in early June, the minister even specifies an amount: three million is reserved for UNRWA, but the original conditions remain. 'If the aforementioned efforts [by UNRWA] sufficiently reassure the cabinet, the Netherlands will proceed to transfer the reserved amount.'80 Meanwhile, the financial situation is 'precarious': UNRWA's funds will only last it until the end of the month.

But the administrative issue has become a political one, as the final decision on UNRWA is left to the new cabinet. For the past fifteen years, that cabinet's largest party-also slated to provide the minister of Foreign Trade and Development-has left no doubts about their view on funding humanitarian aid to Palestinians. This was re-affirmed in May, during a plenary debate on the crisis in Gaza.

Raymond de Roon, long-time parlementarian for Geert Wilders' PVV, put it bluntly: 'And finally, speaker of the house: "The Palestinians", that's a fake people. It's never existed and doesn't exist now either. It's a hodgepodge of all kinds of Arabs from other countries, who thought they could take control just as the Jews had started to finally develop the place. That's what happened. They aren't a people, and will never be a people.'81


  1. See [this page: UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp, infrastructure and improvement, microfinance, and emergency assistance. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions. As well as UNRWA's own [website

  2. January 29, 2024, ‘[VN-hulporganisatie ‘is niet zomaar te vervangen”, NOS 

  3. ’[[UNRWA is volledig afhankelijk van vrijwillige bijdragen van donoren om het door de AVVN verleende mandaat uit te voeren in de regio.’ Minister Schreinemacher]{.mark}, 10th of May 2024. 

  4. ‘Nederland draagt sinds 1951 jaarlijks financieel bij aan de organisatie’, then-minister Kaag [responding to parliamentary questions, 5th of February 2018 

  5. January 206th, [UNRWA publishes a statement on having received the Israeli allegations 

  6. [Statement by UNRWA: ‘“The Israeli Authorities have provided UNRWA with information about the alleged involvement of several UNRWA employees in the horrific attacks on Israel on 7 October."’ 

  7. 28th of January 2024, [VN-Hulporganisatie in opspraak: dit is er aan de hand, NOS 

  8. ‘As of 31 January 2024 , 15 states had announced the suspension of funding to UNRWA. These are: Austria, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Romania, Sweden, USA, Iceland, UK, Japan, Canada and Australia.’ [Amnesty, 29th of January 2024 

  9. [" UNRWA is one of the largest United Nations programmes, with over 30,000 personnel working across five areas of operations, and is unique in that it delivers services directly to beneficiaries.", website [UNRWA]{.mark} 

  10. ‘[To protect the Agency’s ability to deliver humanitarian assistance, I have taken the decision to immediately terminate the contracts of these staff members and launch an investigation in order to establish the truth without delay’, [statement by UNRWA-chief Philippe Lazzarini.]{.mark} 

  11. ‘I can tell you that our colleagues at OIOS, the Office of Internal Oversight [Services], have been seized of the matter and will be conducting the investigations that UNRWA requests.’ [Press statement UN, 26th of January 2024. At that point, a [different internal review was already underway, presided by the Colonna commission. 

  12. See tweet [here

  13. View [here

  14. Zie [HIER]{.mark} voor een overzicht van de tweets 

  15. See parliamentary debate (31-01-2024) [here

  16. “The Israeli Authorities have provided UNRWA with information about the alleged involvement of several UNRWA employees in the horrific attacks on Israel on 7 October.", website [UNRWA 

  17. See [website ICJ. 

  18. The preliminary ruling [reads: The State of Israel shall, in accordance with its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, in relation to Palestinians in Gaza, take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts within the scope of Article II of this Convention, in particular:

    - 25 -

    (a) killing members of the group;

    (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

    (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; and

    (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group. Zie ook de [website van Human Rights Watch. 

  19. See [statement on UNRWA's website - 26th of January 2024. 

  20. See e.g. the [De Volkskrant, 27 & 28 January 

  21. ‘I can tell you that our colleagues at OIOS, the Office of Internal Oversight [Services], have been seized of the matter and will be conducting the investigations that UNRWA requests.’ [Press statement UN, 26th of January 2024. At that point, a [different internal review was already underway, presided by the Colonna commission. 

  22. As of 31 January 2024 , 15 states had announced the suspension of funding to UNRWA. These are: Austria, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Romania, Sweden, USA, Iceland, UK, Japan, Canada and Australia.’ [Amnesty, 29 januari 2024 

  23. Evidenced by internal documents published as part of a [Freedom of Information-request by Al Jazeera on 27th of May, 2024. 

  24. Geoffrey van Leeuwen replaced Liesje Schreinemacher from December 4th 2023 until 12th of April 2024 - see government [website

  25. See Van Leeuwen's [CV

  26. 30 november 2023, ‘[Buitenlandhavik wordt minister van ontwikkelingssamenwerking, waar hij weinig mee heeft’, NRC 

  27. Evidenced by internal documents published as part of a [Freedom of Information-request by Al Jazeera on 27th of May, 2024 

  28. Since the outbreak of the Gaza war, this happened twice: in [October & [December 

  29. Evidenced by internal documents published as part of a [Freedom of Information-request by Al Jazeera on 27th of May, 2024 

  30. The MFA stated in response to Al Jazeera's FOI-request that the handwriting in question is that of minister Hanke Bruins Slot. 

  31. See document 1514059 dated 2 February 2024, accessible via Al Jazeera's [FOI request

  32. March 8th, 'Canada lifting freeze on UNRWA funding after weeks of protests, criticism', [Al Jazeera 

  33. March 9th, ‘Sweden and Canada resume funding the U.N. aid agency for Palestinians’, [NPR 

  34. March 15th, ‘Australia resumes funding for UNRWA and pledges more Gaza aid’, [AP News 

  35. March 1st, ‘EU to continue funding UNRWA as it probes alleged staff involvement in Oct 7 attacks’, [EuroNews 

  36. March 4th, ‘UN agency accuses Israel of detaining, coercing staffers into false confessions about ties to Hamas’, [CNN 

  37. See [Colonna report and later [confirmation by former UNRWA-director Matthias Schmale June 20th in Dutch parliament. 

  38. [Zie hier het overzicht van tweets]{.mark} 

  39. 5th of November 2023, ‘"[Pallywood": de complottheorie die Palestijnen ervan beschuldigt acteurs in te huren om oorlogsslachtoffers te spelen’, VRT 

  40. See [tweet

  41. 25th of June 2019, ‘[How a fringe muslim cleric from Australia became a hero to America’s far right’, The Intercept 

  42. AltMedia: We reached out to journalist Mohmmed Awad for further clarification regarding the video. He said: “This happened when a house was targeted. I was standing in front of Al Nasser Hospital and I heard a woman shouting. It turned out that her son had a head injury and was in the ICU. She thought he wouldn’t make it. So to reassure his mom, he sat up and removed the bandage around his head. He was really injured and is still in the hospital, but I can’t reach him.” See Alt Media, ‘[Injured man comforting his mother: Yet another video from Gaza falsely given ‘Pallywood’ label’ and AP News, ‘[No, video doesn’t show a Palestinian ‘crisis actor’ admitting to his mother his injuries are fake’, both 14th of November 2023 

  43. See [tweet

  44. 16th of November 2023 [‘IDF found a calendar in Arabic, not a Hamas ‘names list’ at hospital’, France24 

  45. See [tweet

  46. Watch video [here. The event was at the [Friends of Zion Museum

  47. ‘[The “[Friends of Zion Award” is the FOZ Museum’s highest honor and is presented to world leaders who have gone “above and beyond” for the Jewish state.’, Friends of Zion Museum]{.mark} 

  48. As documented in [this travel register detailing parlementarian's political travel activities. 

  49. See IAF [website

  50. See [video

  51. See Don Ceder's [travel diary

  52. See [photo

  53. 31st of December 2023, ‘[Israel wants UNRWA out of Gaza’, Jewish News Syndicate 

  54. See UNRWA [website

  55. From the 2015 [report by The University of Bath: How Israel attempts to mislead the United Nations: Deconstructing Israel’s campaign against the Palestinian Return Centre, and an interview with researcher Nicola Perugini on June 20th, 2024. 

  56. See formal questions dated [11-04-2011

  57. See [analysis of Palestinian textbooks by the German Georg Eckert Institute, conducted for the EU, where IMPACT-SE its reports are described as 'marked by generalising and exaggerated conclusions based on methodological shortcomings.' 

  58. [Marusek, S & Miller, D 2015, How Israel attempts to mislead the United Nations: Deconstructing Israel’s campaign against the Palestinian Return Centre. Public Interest Investigations. 

  59. Parliamentary questions, [11th of April 2011

  60. See second set of parliamentary questions dated [11th of April 2011

  61. Ministerial reply to written questions, [19th of November 2014

  62. Transcript of plenary debate, [23rd of January 2018 

  63. Parliamentary questions, [26th of September 2017 

  64. Transcript of commission debate, [8th of October 2015 

  65. Parliamentary questions, [5th of February 2018 

  66. See election manifesto [here

  67. Interview with Lilianne Ploumen, 23rd of May 2024 

  68. Parliamentary questions, [23rd of February 2024 

  69. Ministerial reply to written questions, [12th of February 2024 

  70. Transcript of plenary debate, [31st of January 2024 

  71. Interview with Peter Burger, 6th of June 2024. 

  72. Interview with Erwin van Veen, 12th and 13th of June 2024. 

  73. 20th of April 2024, [‘Independent Review of Mechanisms and Procedures to Ensure Adherence by UNRWA to the Humanitarian Principle of Neutrality 

  74. Liesje Screinemacher returned from maternity leave to resume her minsterial duties on April 15th. 

  75. Transcript of plenary debate, [23rd of April 2024 

  76. 26th of April 2024, 21:30u ‘[Geen nieuwe bijdrage kabinet aan UNRWA, maar sluit hulp via organisatie niet uit’, nu.nl 

  77. See [letter to parliament, 26th of April 2024. 

  78. See NRC [article, 24th of April 2024. 

  79. May 25th, 'Italy to Resume UNRWA funding', [Al Jazeera 

  80. See [letter to parliament, 10th of June 2024. 

  81. Transcript of plenary debate, 16th of May 2024. 

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