Myths/Facts: Israel & the Middle East Mar/Apr 2005

MYTH: The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is purely a humanitarian organization that bears no responsibility for the terror and incitement that originates in the refugee camps.

FACT: Peter Hansen, commissioner-general of UNRWA, has admitted that the organization employs members of at least one Palestinian terrorist organization. “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 makes specious distinctions between members of Hamas, the United States and the European Union, the two largest contributors to UNRWA, have banned the military and civilian wings of the organization.

The chief of the UNRWA public Information Office, Paul McCann, asserted, “UNRWA is scrupulous about protecting its installations against misuse by any person or group. Only once, in Lebanon in 1982, has there been credible evidence of such misuse by Palestinians, and it was promptly dealt with” (letter to the editor of The Weekly Standard, May 28, 2002).

The fact is the 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.

Since 2001, 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,” The 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.” With regard to Africa, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said refugee camps should “be kept free of any military presence or equipment, including arms and ammunition” (Isabel Kershner, “The Refugees’ choice?” Jerusalem Report, August 12, 2002, p. 24). The same rule applies to the disputed territories.

Schools under UNRWA’s jurisdiction are also problematic. UNRWA takes credit for assisting 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 (PA) 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 “UNRWA review did reveal instances of anti-Semitic characterizations and content” in the PA textbooks (David Tell, response to McCann, The Weekly Standard, May 28, 2002).

Since the State Department’s report, several studies have shown that while there has been marginal improvement in Palestinian texts, they still contain troubling content. For example, one report found that Islamic Culture, a book produced by the Palestinian Authority ministry of Education, incites jihad and martyrdom, while another study of 35 books concluded that they lacked any commitment to peace and reconciliation with Israel.

From Myths & Facts Online—A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict by Mitchell G. Bard

Used by permission.

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