JERUSALEM—At least two teachers for the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza separately held captive Israeli civilians abducted on Oct. 7.
One of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency teachers used the agency’s facilities to smuggle a young boy around Gaza. The other shut an elderly woman in his mouse-infested attic and fed her a meager diet that included UNRWA energy bars. After about 50 days in captivity, both the Israelis were freed by Hamas as part of a truce deal with Israel.
The Washington Free Beacon agreed to withhold the released hostages’ names and other information in order to protect their privacy.
“I don’t really care who was holding my mother, Hamas or UNRWA,” the elderly woman’s son told the Free Beacon. “What matters is that she was kept in very harsh and unhygienic conditions.”
The revelations—elements of which were first reported by Israel’s Channel 13 news station—come as UNRWA faces a reckoning over its ties to Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian terror group that has ruled Gaza for 17 years. Hamas holds significant sway over UNRWA and makes use of the agency’s aid, schools, and hospitals to support its terror operations, according to a declassified Israeli intelligence dossier obtained by the Free Beacon.
Nearly half of UNRWA’s some 12,000 employees in Gaza either work for Hamas or its affiliate Islamic Jihad or have close relatives who do, Israeli officials said. At least 13 UNRWA workers, including seven teachers, allegedly participated in Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attack in southern Israel, and four employees allegedly helped take hostages.
The evidence convinced the United States and other major donors to suspend funding of UNRWA. The United Nations launched an investigation into the agency.
As Israel’s military bombarded Gaza in response to the Oct. 7 attack, an UNRWA teacher hid the young Israeli boy in the agency’s facilities, according to Channel 13. Like many other released hostages, the boy has said his captors psychologically tormented him—alternatively claiming he was about to be released and that Israel did not want him back.
Another UNRWA teacher held captive the elderly Israeli woman, who was abducted from the same kibbutz as the boy. The teacher, a father of 10, confined the woman to the unfinished attic of his three-story home. She had a bed and a view of the Mediterranean Sea but no running water to bathe or use the toilet. Mice and cats scurried amid exposed wires. Nights could be bitterly cold.
As the weeks passed, the UNRWA teacher brought the woman less and less to eat, until she was receiving just one small meal each day. When she complained of hunger, the teacher began giving her energy bars in UNRWA-branded packaging that read, “Not for retail sale.” She suspected the food was meant for Gazan school children. When the woman asked for writing materials, the teacher gave her a UNRWA-branded notepad.
The woman was also deprived of medications and medical care in Gaza—a major concern for the elderly Israeli hostages.
“That was our biggest fear while our mother was there,” said the woman’s son, speaking for his family. “We knew that she’s mentally strong. But she needs her medications.”
During nearly two months in the attic, the woman saw no one other than the UNRWA teacher and sometimes an armed guard. Her captors did not speak Hebrew or English, and the woman did not speak Arabic, so communication was limited.
Then, on the woman’s final evening in the house, she met one of the teacher’s daughters, who spoke some English. The daughter said her father had nine other children and worked as a teacher in an UNRWA school in Gaza.
Days later, at the end of November, the elderly woman and the young boy reunited with their families in Israel. Hamas freed a total of 105 hostages—including 81 women and children—while Israel released 240 female and teenage Palestinian security prisoners. More than 130 Israeli hostages are believed to remain in Gaza in dire conditions.
In a briefing on Tuesday, an Israeli government spokesperson cited a recent report by the nonprofit U.N. Watch about how teachers in a 3,000-member UNRWA staff Telegram group celebrated on Oct. 7.
“May Allah keep their feet steady and guide their aim,” Israa Abdul Kareem Mezher, an UNRWA elementary school teacher in Gaza, said of the Hamas terrorists as they killed, raped, and abducted Israeli civilians. “Pray for the mujahidin,” she added, and, “God protect them and bring them back safe.”
On Oct. 10, Mezher endorsed a call for Hamas to execute the Israeli hostages.