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Fact Sheets: UN “Impartiality” in Gaza

(Updated January 2009)

Who killed the Palestinian driver of an aid truck and wounded two others as their convoy made its way into the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing during the January 8, 2009, “humanitarian cease-fire?”

Predictably, the UN immediately blamed Israel and the media reported the allegation that IDF tank shells blasted the truck. According to the Magen David Adom medic who said he took the Palestinians to an Israeli hospital, the truck actually came under Hamas sniper fire. A spokeswoman for the hospital treating the injured Palestinians supported the Israeli account when she confirmed that the two surviving Palestinians were being treated for gunshot wounds (Jerusalem Post, January 8, 2009).

United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) spokesman Chris Gunness unequivocally asserted that UN personnel were “coming under deliberate attack by the Israeli army” and specifically cited the shooting of the truck driver as an example (The National, January 9, 2009). The following day, however, he backtracked, saying the agency had not accused Israel of deliberately targeting its personnel and had based its account on reports from truck drivers at the scene, who saw an Israeli tank nearby and “were in no doubt they had been fired upon” (Reuters, January 10, 2009). He also claimed the UN “was careful to source its information from eyewitnesses on the ground,” but then said he was keen to “clear the fog of war” and was still trying to get to the bottom of the incident (Jerusalem Post, January 10, 2009).

Israel denied it was responsible for the death of the United Nations worker and it is absurd to suggest that Israel would have any interest in targeting UN officials. On the contrary, Israel is ensuring that humanitarian aid is transferred into Gaza and has ordered a three-hour cease-fire every day to facilitate the safety of aid workers and transport drivers traveling in and out of Gaza. Hamas, however, refuses to stop its terror attacks during this period, fires on the convoys and does not recognize civilians in Gaza as anything but shields for their activities.

On January 9, for example, terrorists broke the three-hour humanitarian truce, during which Israel let in vital aid to the Strip via the Kerem Shalom border crossing. While the supplies were being transferred, Gaza gunmen fired several mortar shells at the terminal. The terrorists also fired three Grad-type rockets at Ashdod after the truce was supposed to begin (Jerusalem Post, January 9, 2009).

UNRWA meanwhile provides for many of the Palestinians’ needs and is primarily staffed by people sympathetic to their cause who have allowed UN facilities to be used by terrorists and looked the other way while Palestinians have victimized each other and attacked Israelis. Reuters reported, for example, that “by day, Awad al-Qiq was a respected science teacher and headmaster at a United Nations school in the Gaza Strip. By night, Palestinian militants say, he built rockets for Islamic Jihad” (Reuters, May 5, 2008). Some UNRWA employees have also had prominent roles with Hamas, such as teacher Saeed Seyam, who was interior minister in the Hamas-led government.

“UN schools in Gaza long ago stopped being just schools,” Public Security Minister and former Shin Bet head Avi Dichter noted in a report on how Hamas was also using hospitals as bases. “All these services and places are refuge for Hamas terrorists and commanders” (Jerusalem Post, January 12, 2009).

In 2004, Peter Hansen, commissioner-general of UNRWA admitted that the organization employed members of Hamas. “Oh I’m sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll and I don’t see that as a crime,” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (October 4, 2004). “Hamas as a political organization does not mean that every member is a militant and we do not do political vetting and exclude people from one persuasion against another.” Although Hansen made specious distinctions between members of Hamas, the United States and the European Union, the two largest contributors to UNRWA, banned the military and civilian wings of the organization.

That same year, an Israeli television station aired footage of armed Arab terrorists in southern Gaza using an ambulance owned and operated by UNRWA. Palestinian gunmen used the UNRWA emergency vehicle as getaway transportation after murdering six Israeli soldiers in Gaza City on May 11, 2004.

In a 2002 report, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) reported how “buildings and warehouses under UNRWA supervision are allegedly being used as storage areas for Palestinian ammunition and counterfeit currency factories.” Cantor’s 2002 report also noted that UNRWA hosts summer camps in martyrdom for young terrorists-in-training. What is happening in Gaza now also should come as no surprise given Cantor’s finding that “while UNRWA claims to be a humanitarian organization, it allows terrorist organizations in Jenin to use local civilians as human shields. While terrorists launch attacks against the Israeli army out of occupied houses and apartment buildings, UNRWA turns its head” (Task Force on Terrorism & Unconventional Warfare, May 22, 2002).

Palestinian refugee camps have long been nests of terrorism, but the evidence was not publicized until after Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield in early 2002. The UNRWA-administered camps in the West Bank were found to have small-arms factories, explosives laboratories, arms caches and large numbers of suicide bombers and other terrorists using the refugees as shields. Here are two specific examples of UNRWA employees helping terrorists (Asaf Romirowsky, “How UNRWA Supports Hamas,” inFocus, Fall 2007):

Nidal Abd al-Fattah Abdallah Nazzal, an ambulance driver for UNRWA from Kalqiliya in the West Bank, was arrested by Israeli security services in August 2002 and admitted that he was a Hamas activist. He had transported weapons and explosives to terrorists in his ambulance, taking advantage of the freedom of movement afforded to UNRWA vehicles by the Israelis.

Nahd Rashid Ahmad Atallah, a senior official of UNRWA in the Gaza Strip, was also arrested by Israeli security in August 2002. He provided support to families of wanted Fatah and PFLP terrorists and used his UNRWA car to transport armed members of the “Popular Resistance Committees,” a militant faction of the Fatah movement, to carry out attacks against Israeli troops at the Karni Crossing.

Alaa Muhammad Ali Hassan, a Tanzim member affiliated with Fatah, confessed during interrogation that he had carried out a sniper shooting from a school run by UNRWA in the al-Ayn refugee camp near Nablus. He also told his interrogators that bombs intended for terrorist attacks were being manufactured inside the UNRWA school’s facilities (Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies, February 2002).

Since 2001, at least 17 Palestinians employed by UNRWA have been arrested for alleged involvement in terrorist activities. Among them is the agency’s director of food supplies for Gaza refugees, who admitted using his UN vehicle to transport arms, explosives, and people planning terrorist acts. A Hamas activist employed as an UNRWA ambulance driver admitted using his vehicle to transport arms and messages to other members of Hamas. (Matthew Levitt, “Terror on the UN Payroll?,” Peace Watch, DC: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, October 13, 2004; Greg Myre, “Israel Feuds With Agency Set Up to Aid Palestinians,” New York Times, October 18, 2004).

UNRWA’s failure to report on these activities, or to prevent them, violate the UN’s own conventions. Security Council resolutions oblige UNRWA representatives to take “appropriate steps to help create a secure environment” in all “situations where refugees [are]…vulnerable to infiltration by armed elements.”

Schools under UNRWA’s jurisdiction are also problematic. UNRWA takes credit for assisting in the development of the Palestinian curricula, which, among other things, does not show Israel on any maps. The schools are also filled with posters and shrines to suicide bombers. In 1998, the State Department requested that UNRWA investigate allegations that Palestinian Authority curricular materials contained anti-Semitic references. One book taught that “Treachery and disloyalty are character traits of the Jews,” but UNRWA said this was not offensive because it described actual “historical events.” The State Department ultimately reported to Congress that the “UNRWA review did reveal instances of anti-Semitic characterizations and content” in the PA textbooks. (The Weekly Standard, May 28, 2002).

UNRWA also plays an indirect role in supporting Hamas. As Asaf Romirowsky noted, “Hamas can continue to divert international monies that should be earmarked for food or electricity to the stockpiling of weapons and the creation of anti-Israel or anti-American propaganda as long as UNRWA provides the services that the negligent Hamas government should fulfill. In this way, UNRWA is undermining the Western strategy of weakening the Hamas government in Gaza to encourage the return of Palestinian Authority rule under President Mahmoud Abbas” (Asaf Romirowsky, “How UNRWA Supports Hamas,” inFocus, Fall 2007).

History shows that UNRWA has in many cases been an enabler for terrorists and is not a credible source of information about events in Gaza.