The United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) has come under increasing fire in recent weeks for aiding Hamas in the terror group’s war against Israel, with one advocacy group lodging a formal complaint against the organization. As evidence seems to continue to emerge of the use of the agency’s schools and clinics as Hamas storehouses, rocket launching sites and tunnel entrances, protest has grown in Israel and abroad that the organization, established to aid the Palestinian Arab refugee population, has far exceeded its mandate by aiding and sustaining the psychological and physical assault on Israeli civilians and infrastructure.
At the same time that evidence was mounting that the UN agency was allowing Hamas to use its facilities to launch attacks on Israel, a number of statements were issued by UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon criticizing Israel for use of disproportionate force. In response, the Legal Forum for Israel drafted a letter to Moon decrying his accusations and denouncing the lack of accountability by the international body for its role in the violence.
Several thousand attorneys from around the world signed the August 15 letter, which called Moon’s statements “shocking, deceitful and totally inaccurate” in light of the extraordinary efforts made by the IDF to minimize civilian casualties at the cost of its own soldiers’ lives, especially when compared to the continued appropriation of UN facilities by Hamas in its war on Israel.
“We are shocked at your utter disregard of the fact that the very UN premises of which you accuse Israel of attacking, have been cynically abused by Hamas and used as store-houses for ammunition, and launching pads for rockets,” read the statement.
“Rather than falsely accusing Israel,” the letter continued, “one might have expected that as the executive head of the UN, you would have admitted responsibility of the UN for such abuse of its facilities, and instituted a thorough inquiry as to how and why UNRWA facilities were placed at the disposal of the Hamas terror organization, how and why the UN officials responsible for such facilities permitted this situation to occur, and why those rockets and other weapons that were discovered in such facilities were transferred to Hamas, for their continued use against Israel’s citizens.
“In permitting the storage of weapons, and in transferring such weapons into the hands of Hamas,” the letter asserted, “the UN has in fact permitted itself to become accessory to the commission of war crimes.”
The statement concluded by calling on Moon to conduct a “high-level inquiry” of these infractions and to bring its perpetrators within the organization to justice, and charged that the Secretary-General’s “exaggerated, selective, biased and often false accusations against Israel and [his] total disregard of the truth have irreparably discredited [him] and the UN.”
Last Friday’s death of four-year-old Daniel Tragerman, killed in his home by mortar fire originating near a UNRWA school close to the Gaza-Israel border, capped a string of incidents involving UN facilities in Gaza. On July 30, IDF troops operating in Khan Yunis discovered a terror tunnel that had been dug inside a UNRWA medical clinic. Three soldiers were killed in the subsequent inspection when Hamas detonated 12 explosive devices they had embedded in the clinic’s walls as a booby trap.
The previous day, a stockpile of rockets was found in an UNRWA school in Gaza. The agency acknowledged the find but did not disclose the number of rockets found, the location of the school or which terror group the arms belonged to. Days earlier, an IDF investigation had found that Hamas terrorists fired anti-tank missiles at the army from within a different UNRWA school complex.
In addition, the IDF says at least 30 rockets have been fired at Israeli civilians from UNRWA compounds or places adjacent to them throughout the war.
On July 22, the UN agency found yet another cache of rockets stockpiled in one of its schools, which it said was “situated between two other UNRWA schools that currently each accommodate 1,500 internally displaced persons.”
This came just a week after some 20 Hamas rockets were discovered hidden in a different UNRWA school. Although the organization condemned the incident as a “flagrant violation” of international law, pledged an investigation, and later declared that the rockets had been removed, senior Israeli officials maintained that the rockets were simply returned to Hamas.
In another incident, while inspecting a terror tunnel in a private house in Gaza, IDF forces found UNRWA equipment that has been used to dig the tunnel, along with flour sacks bearing the UNRWA logo that were used for concealment purposes.
Admissions of malfeasance by at least one senior official of UNRWA bolstered the indictments leveled at the UN’s role in Gaza and its official conduct in the conflict. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official told Times of Israel that his agency has been suffering from “battered-wife syndrome” for years and continues to “ingratiate itself with Hamas.”
Another UNRWA official said that the organization gave rockets that it found to “local authorities,” which answer to Hamas.
There is also evidence that the terror group has infiltrated the agency’s labor unions and school system.
According to David Bedein, head of the Center for Near East Policy Research, Hamas has been in control of UNRWA’s workers’ union for many years. In the last union elections on September 2012, the “Professional List,” led by Hamas operative Suhail al-Hindi, won all 11 of the seats that had been allocated to the teachers’ sector, six out of seven of the seats in the workers’ sector and eight of the nine seats in the service sector.
A report issued by the Center also named a number of terrorist operatives holding high-level teaching positions in UNRWA schools, resulting in Hamas having a “tremendous impact on the UNRWA education system and the contents taught in it.”
The radicalization of UNRWA school curricula by Hamas, and its use of the schools as a platform for inculcating children with hatred towards Jews and a desire for martyrdom, has long been documented. Phrases like “the road to Palestine passes through the blood of martyrs” and similar imagery are part of the regular syllabus, says the report. Posters in UNRWA classrooms glorify suicide bombers, and Gazan television stations regularly broadcast shows in which children are prompted to boast of their devotion to killing Jews.
The results, according to the report, speak for themselves. “An examination of the resumes of the Al-Qassam Brigades activists who were killed reveals a pattern,” notes the paper, coauthored by Lt. Col. (res.) Jonathan D. Halevi. “Dozens of activists in the Al-Qassam Brigades started out as activists in the Islamic Bloc in UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip, joined Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and later the military wing of Hamas, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades. All of them were involved in terrorist activities against Israel or in fighting against the IDF,” Halevi added.
“By definition, UNRWA schools function as a supportive element of the Palestinian propaganda,” says Alan Baker, Director of the International Action Division of the Legal Forum for Israel and former Israeli Ambassador to Canada. Speaking about UNRWA workers, he noted that “it’s very clear what their orientation is—by day they may work in schools and clinics, by night go out and throw stones and commit other acts of terror.”
Baker went on to say that the situation vis-à-vis Hamas and UNRWA was “unbelievably inane” and perpetuated by deceit on all levels of the United Nations body. “Drastic change needs to take place in the way the international community funds UNRWA and the way it is run by its bosses and the United Nations,” he concluded.