Republican lawmakers are investigating whether U.S. aid for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank has made its way into the hands of Hamas, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.
According to records obtained by Republicans on the House Oversight Committee, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) cut its funding for the Palestinian regions from about $286 million in fiscal year 2017 to about $18 million in fiscal year 2020. Under President Donald Trump’s leadership, USAID also discontinued its funding support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
After President Joe Biden took office in 2021, USAID reversed the trend, and foreign aid for the Palestinian regions began to grow once again. But, the renewed funding was not without its problems. According to records produced through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, a 2021 draft memo by the U.S. State Department raised concern that Hamas and other U.S.-designated terrorist organizations could stand to gain from this renewed U.S. aid spending.
“Due to its overall strength and level of control over Gaza, we assess there is a high risk Hamas could potentially derive indirect, unintentional benefit from U.S. assistance to Gaza. There is less but still some risk U.S. assistance would benefit other designated groups,” the 2021 draft memo reads.
The concerns raised in the 2021 draft State Department are in line with warnings raised in a March 2021 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). The GAO report stated that prior to the Trump-era cutoff of USAID to the Palestinians, the agency had managed to ensure its direct funding awards did not go to organizations linked to terrorism but could not say the same for the program’s sub-awards.
The House Oversight Committee reiterated the concerns about USAID spending after Hamas gunmen breached the Israel-Gaza barrier on Oct. 7 and proceeded to kill hundreds of people and take around 200 hostages back to Gaza.
In a Tuesday letter to USAID Administrator Samantha Power, the Republican majority on the House Oversight Committee asked for any risk assessments the USAID may have conducted regarding its humanitarian efforts in Gaza and the West Bank and any evidence the agency may have gathered indicating foreign terrorist organizations benefitted from these projects.
“The scale and complexity of the barbaric Hamas atrocities that commenced on October 7th in Israel make it clear that significant financial resources were used for these attacks,” the letter reads. “Public reports state that the Islamic Republic of Iran provides Hamas with direct funding, amounting to tens of millions annually. We also know that the Biden Administration dramatically increased funding to Gaza and the West Bank and on October 18th, he publicly announced an additional $100 million in U.S. aid to the area. It is vital to fully account for U.S. funds intended for humanitarian purposes to ensure they do not directly or indirectly fund terrorism.”
The Oversight Committee Republicans called on USAID to turn over their relevant documents by Nov. 7.
In an emailed response to an NTD News request for comment, a USAID spokesperson did not specifically address the House Republicans’ investigative efforts or the 2021 documents they cited but stressed that the agency remains committed to ensuring U.S. humanitarian aid in Gaza and the West Bank goes to its intended purposes.
“We take every precaution to safeguard all U.S. taxpayer-supported humanitarian assistance for its intended purpose and support Palestinian civilians directly. To that end, USAID utilizes safeguards for assistance to Gaza to ensure that aid is delivered without Hamas influence and Hamas does not receive direct or indirect benefit,” the agency spokesperson said.
Republicans Investigating Whether Hamas Used US Weapons
Earlier this week, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) and committee member Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) also raised concerns that Hamas members may have used American-made weapons during the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel. In a Monday letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the two Republican lawmakers noted media reports of Hamas members carrying M4A1 carbines during the attack.
Mr. Comer and Ms. Greene described the M4A1 as having been “specially designed for U.S. Special Operations Forces.” The M4 carbine and its sub-variants like the M4A1 do indeed owe their origins to U.S. military weapons contracts going back decades, but the M4 rifles have since been adopted by a variety of other countries, including Israel and the now-defunct U.S.-backed Afghan government.
M4 rifles may indeed have found their way to Hamas from stockpiles U.S. forces left behind as they withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021. Mr. Comer and Ms. Greene also noted a June 2023 Newsweek report raising the possibility that weapons the United States has sent to Ukraine could have made their way to Iran and then Hamas after having been captured by Russian troops or resold by Ukrainian arms smugglers.
Republican lawmakers have also raised claims Iran could have financially supported the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, though U.S. and Israeli intelligence assessments have yet to identify specific evidence of such Iranian support.