The Spectacle Blog

A Few Words About the UN Relief Works Agency

By on 7.16.14 | 11:50AM

Micah Meadowcraft is absolutely correct to say that it is Hamas that bears responsibility for the deaths of civilians in Gaza. This is illustrated by Hamas' refusal yesterday to accept an Egyptian brokered ceasefire which Israel accepted.

But what struck me about Micah's post was the fact that he cited the UN Relief Works Agency and quoted Pierre Krahenbuhl, its Commissioner General.

The UN has two agencies which deals with refugees - the aforementioned UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA)which deals exclusively with Palestinian refugees and the UN Refugee Agency (a.k.a. the UN High Commissioner for Refugees) which deals with the rest of the world's refugees.

Suffice it to say what constitutes a "Palestinian refugee" is different from what constitute every other refugee in the world. Palestinian refugees are defined not only as those who were displaced from their homes and livelihoods during "1948 conflict" (i.e. Israel's War of Independence in which the Jewish State was simultaneously attacked by five Arab countries two days following its independence) but the descendants of Palestinian refugee males. In other words, someone born and raised in the United States and living comfortably whose grandfather or great uncle was displaced back in 1948 is considered a Palestinian refugee. For its part, the UNRWA states there are 5 million eligible Palestinian refugees. In 2012, Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk persuaded the Senate to amend the foreign appropriations bill to require the State Department to keep tabulations on how many people were actually displaced in 1948 and how many people are their descendants.

With this in mind people should be aware that the UNRWA isn't an impartial actor. Over the years, the UNRWA has been notorious for employing Hamas members as teachers in its schools. So while Micah rightly place responsibility on Hamas for the deaths of civilians in Gaza, the UNRWA plays the moral equivalence card. Robert Turner, Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, stated on July 10th:

The United Nations has condemned indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza on civilian areas in Israel and I do so again now. I also condemn use of force by Israeli security forces on Gaza that cause civilian casualties in violation of international humanitarian law.

While Turner specifically condemns "Israeli security forces" he does not condemn Hamas by name much less condemn Hamas for using its civilian population as human shields. As for Commissioner General Krahenbuhl, while he has called on upon Israeli security forces "to put an end to attacks against, or endangering, civilians and civilian infrastructure which are contrary to international humanitarian law", he does not call upon Hamas to stop launching rockets much less implore them to stop storing rockets in civilian areas. Like Turner, Krahenbuhl never mentions Hamas by name.

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adroitly put it, "We are using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they're using their civilians to protect their missiles."

While Hamas is the main villain here organizations like the UNRWA aid and abet them and minimize their misdeeds while maligning Israel. As with the UN in general, the words and deeds of the UNRWA should not be taken at face value.

 

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