As we mentioned last week, UNRWA claims to be a neutral organization, but has proven time and again to be a puppet of the Palestinian National movement and of terror. In this chapter, we will specify how UNRWA is linked to these dangerous groups.
UNRWA As a Support for the Palestinian National Movement
Even if UNRWA was not directly connected to terrorist groups, its existence would be enough to support Palestinian Nationalism. Since UNRWA does not rehabilitate refugees, it perpetuates the refugee situation, by providing many refugees with relatively comfortable conditions: housing in the camps, education, medical care and other welfare services.
The refugees are an essential part of the Palestinian National narrative; Palestinian leaders have insisted on the “right of return” since the movement’s inception. This card has been played to block Israeli attempts to bring peace time and again. As long as UNRWA is around to maintain the refugee problem, there cannot be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Palestinians can continue in their war against “the Zionist entity.”
UNRWA admits, and is even proud, that it identifies politically with the Palestinian National Movement. In 2004, former commissioner-general Peter Hansen said that, while UNRWA is supposed to be “above the fray” and not political, he found that in “good conscience cannot turn a blind eye” to his perceived infringement of the refugees’ human rights by Israel. According to Hansen, it comes down to “human rights” as opposed to “simple assistance.”
The current commissioner-general, Karen Abu-Zayd, has the same approach. She has spoken out in an unbalanced matter, which has generated negative PR, causing grave damage to Israel’s image. A recent example of UNRWA’s politicization is a one-man play written by and starring UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, in which he accuses the IDF of using illegal white phosphorus to bomb a warehouse in Gaza. This behavior moves UNRWA out of the realm of humanitarian aid and squarely in the political arena.
UNRWA and Terror Groups
UNRWA Camps Used to Train Terrorists
The UNRWA-terror link is not a new problem. Over 25 years ago, Lebanese ambassador to the UN Edward Ghorra complained that UNRWA camps in Lebanon had been taken over by terrorists. Soon after, UNRWA released a detailed report which described how its educational institute at Siblian, near Beirut, had become a military training base for PLO fighters.
In recent years, similar connections have been found in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. IDF incursions into camps as a part of Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, as a response to the second Intifada, revealed that UNRWA camps were filled with explosive labs, arms factories and suicide bombing cells.
One camp, Jenin, received more attention than others, when the IDF was met with strong resistance from terrorists located there in April 2002. A report to Marwan Barghouti, the head of the Tanzim, the military wing of Fatah, described the UNRWA camp as “characterized by an exceptional presence of fighters who take the initiative nationalist activities…They are ready for self-sacrifice by any means. It is not surprising that Jenin the suiciders’ capital ”
UNRWA administrators claim to be unaware of terrorist activities in the camps. Karen Abu-Zayd, for example, declared: “We just don’t see anything like this.” It is unfeasible that camps could become “suiciders’ capitals” without the knowledge of UNRWA personnel. These denials imply, at best, turning a blind eye, and at worst, implicit consent.
Terrorist Domination of UNRWA Labor Unions
It seems unlikely that UNRWA’s administration would not know about terrorist activities in their camps, when Hamas is the leading party in refugee-camp elections. The various UNRWA labor unions (teachers, civil service and general UNRWA workers) hold elections every three years to elect 27 representatives. The PLO, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine all run for seats; all of these parties, except for the PLO, are on the European Union’s and the United States’ list of terrorist groups. Hamas has dominated UNRWA’s unions in the Gaza Strip since 1990, often winning all 11 seats in the UNRWA teachers’ union, giving them complete control of education. Results for the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s parent organization, have been similar in Jordan and Lebanon.
Senior UNRWA officials have openly supported Palestinians’ armed campaign against the State of Israel. In 2008, Amir Al-Misehal, the head of the UNRWA civil service sector stated “what was taken by force will only be restored by force and not by peace or resolutions.” Karen Abu-Zayd attended and spoke at the same event. The UNRWA workers’ union in Jordan announced their solidarity with the Palestinian people, and decided that every worker would contribute one day’s salary to the families of suicide bombers. The funds were transferred through UNRWA’s Relief and Social Services department.
When UNRWA’s administration started monitoring workers, the unions issued a statement opposing these activities. Union heads refused to report on UNRWA teachers’ terrorist activities, and wrote letters calling on John Ging, then-director of UNRWA’s operations, to reinstate teachers who had been fired on suspicion of links to terror. In addition, in a 2005 event honoring 100 teachers from Khan Yunis (an UNRWA camp in Gaza) for academic excellence, an award was given to Dr. Yunes Al-Astal, who also happens to be a high-ranking Hamas official that openly preaches in favor of terrorist attacks against Israel. At the event, Khaled Madi, a teacher in UNRWA schools said “those worthy of being honored are the teachers who sacrificed their lives for the sake of Allah and the homeland,” and proceeded to list “shaheeds” (martyrs) who taught in UNRWA schools.
This is only a fraction of the examples of cooperation between UNRWA and terrorists. There are long lists of teachers and other workers for UNRWA that are active members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Fatah, Al-Qassam Brigades, Al-Aqsa Brigades, and other known terrorist groups.
UNRWA in Gaza and Terror Groups: The Connection. Center for Near East Policy Research, Ltd., Jerusalem. 3242009.
Kushner, Arlene, UNRWA: Overview and Policy Critique. Center for Near East Policy Research, Ltd., Jerusalem. November, 2008.
Yoav Sorek is manager of The Israeli Initiative. Find out more: www.israelinitiative.com