Operation Protective Edge has put a significant spotlight on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) after munitions were found in one of the agency's schools.
Following the discovery, UNRWA came out, "strongly condemn[ing] the group or groups responsible for placing the weapons in one of its installations. Such an infiltration is a flagrant violation of the inviolability of its premises under international law. The discovery, which is the first of its kind in Gaza, endangered civilians including staff and put at risk UNRWA's vital mission to assist and protect Palestinian refugees in Gaza."
However, none of this is new and seemed only to be surprising to UNRWA itself. The group has a long-documented history of terrorist ties, something UNRWA's former Commissioner General Peter Hansen openly admitted in 2004 to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation stating, "I am sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll … and I don't see that as a crime."
There have been examples relations between UNRWA schools and staff with dubious affiliations. In 2008, Awad al-Qiq, a headmaster of a top prep school in Gaza, was discovered to also be the chief rocket-maker for Islamic Jihad. He was also a science teacher who worked for an UNRWA school.
In 2002, Nidal Abd al-Fattah Abdallah Nazzal, an ambulance driver for UNRWA from the West Bank town of Qalqiliya, admitted that he was a Hamas member and that he transported munitions in his ambulance, taking blatant advantage of the freedom of movement afforded to UNRWA vehicles by Israel.
UNRWA's involvement in Palestinian society is unique. Its role as serving the Palestinian refugee population has made it one of the most important and influential Palestinian institutions. The agency now employs nearly 30,000 people, most of whom are Palestinian. This makes UNRWA the single largest employer in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and indispensable to the Palestinian economy. As such, there is a strong economic incentive to keep the organization afloat.
It cannot be said that the agency is penny-pinching its clientele. When the world hears words like "refugees" and "refugee camps," it instinctively pictures desperate people living in tents or shantytowns. This generates automatic sympathy and financial support for organizations like UNRWA, which regularly receives monetary contributions amounting to millions of dollars. All this is due to the belief that these funds provide humanitarian aid and help with the assimilation of Palestinian refugees.
In many cases, however, the reality is entirely different. UNRWA-administered refugee camps are often permanent communities at the edges of Palestinian cities, with concrete buildings and supply of water, electricity, and even satellite television. In countries like Syria and Lebanon, the refugee camps exist on the fringes of society. Assimilation seems to be either not possible or desirable. In any case, it has not been realized.
Yet, despite UNRWA's historic links with terrorists, the Obama administration has committed an additional $15 million in aid to UNRWA services.
It is UNRWA itself that has thrived as the internationally funded health, education and welfare provider for Palestinian refugees. It has become sacrosanct and permanent rather than transitional to provide communities with a better future. By embracing its role as provider to generations of Palestinian "refugees", UNRWA has forestalled the Palestinian encounter with reality.
UNRWA demonstrates how NGOs and UN agencies have abandoned their humanitarian integrity in favor of a distinct anti-Israel bias. And despite their own internal transgressions, the UN does not hesitate to call for inquiries into Israeli conduct - in 2002 (Jenin), 2006 (Second Lebanon War), and 2008-2009 (Gaza War). Once again, we are hearing calls for a formal UN inquiry into Israel's use of military force in the current Gaza operation. Agencies including UNRWA, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty, and others have stepped forward to highlight Israel's "aggressiveness" and inhumane war.
The actions of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which has conducted prior inquiries into Israeli conduct, are driven by the UN member states from the Islamic bloc and other tyrannical regimes. The leading NGOs working in cooperation with the UN feed the inquiry commissions information from left-leaning Israeli groups that call the Israel Defense Forces out on "violations". The allegations are mostly based on fiction rather than reality.
Even Judge Richard Goldstone, author of the infamous Goldstone Report on the 2008-2009 Gaza War, recanted his findings and called on the UNHRC to reject the document. In an op-ed on the topic, Goldstone wrote, "If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document. That the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional goes without saying; its rockets were purposely and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets."
While Goldstone's retraction is unlikely to make any serious waves during the current operation in Gaza, it exemplifies the multitude of problems with such independent commissions that seek to demonize Israel rather than understand its motives and actions. This is all the more frustrating when Israel is battling a known Islamist group like Hamas.
Given the politically charged environment in the UN, where honesty is replaced by NGO bias, Israel has good reason to be cautious of such inquiries, which do more harm than good.