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The UNdoing of UNRWA?

So the question remains: is it a Kassam rocket or a mere stretcher?


I have explained why I believe it is, indeed, a Kassam. But at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter a great deal. Sure, if it is shown to be a stretcher, then Israel has some egg to wipe off her face (which is better than being wiped off the face of the Earth, which is what Hamas, not to mention many “civilized” countries want. And, of course, the UN).


But no matter what, this object represents the shovel with which Peter Hansen dug himself, and the UN, into a deeper hole. Hansen, and UNRWA, have been shown to be knowingly involved with terrorists. After all, Hansen admitted that Hamas members are on the UNRWA payroll. As reported yesterday, he had this to say:

“I am sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll and I don’t see that as a crime. 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 as against another.”

This is an unbelievable statement, on many levels. Hansen is openly admitting that members of a terrorist organization are on the UNRWA payroll, even after repeatedly denying that they have ever used UNRWA infrastructure for terrorism. And what’s more, he is denying that they are terrorists. By advocating the political wing vs military wing theory of Hamas, Hansen is, in effect, showing his allegiances.


Since yesterday’s statement, Hansen has, of course, tried to change his story: 

Hansen said that in speaking of Hamas members, he meant “a person who would have certain sympathies for Hamas. That would have to be expected in a staff of 8,000 people. I am not the thought police.”

But as David Bedein has shown in, this is not the first time that Hansen has admitted that actual Hamas members are part of UNRWA.

During a special UNRWA conference on the subject of Palestinian Arab refugees in Geneva last June, I asked UNRWA Director Peter Hanson about the fact that Hamas dominated his personnel. Hansen did not deny that fact. Instead, Hansen remarked that, “UNRWA does not check the religious affiliation of its workers” – as if the Hamas was some kind of religious denomination.

Bedein also provides further proof that Hamas has, indeed, infiltrated UNRWA.

The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Watan reported on June 11, 2003:


Hamas followers won a remarkable victory in the elections to the clerks union of UNRWA in the Gaza strip, gaining 23 out of the 27 seats. 6,780 from among the entitled 7, 616 clerks participated in the voting. Hamas followers achieved also 6 (out of 7) seats in the workers sector, 6 seats (out of 9) in the services sector and all 11 seats in the teachers sector. Their victory enables them to form the executive committee of the union comprising 9 members.


Lebanon’s Filastin Al-Muslima reported in July, 2003 (p. 5):


The Islamic Bloc affiliated with the Hamas movement won an overwhelming victory in the elections to the clerks [union] of UNRWA held on the 9th June, 2003. More than 8000 clerks from teachers, services and workers sectors participated in the voting. The Hamas organization which gained 23 seats out of 27 in the elections to the three mentioned sectors, considered this victory as a evidence to the ‘popular backing’ of the Hamas and its ideology advocating the continuous armed struggle against Israeli occupation.

Meanwhile, Hansen has once again responded to the Israeli allegations that a rocket was loaded into the ambulance.

Hansen told The Jerusalem Post Monday that the claim about the Kassam is untrue.


“We are very sure that the object placed in the ambulance could not have been a rocket. It was a stretcher and the ambulance staff have made the point that they did indeed place a stretcher in the car that evening.


“You can see the cloth wing waving as he is carrying it in one hand,” Hansen said.


He added that from the video he can see that the vehicle in question is a Chevrolet Savannah. Only a few such ambulances are used by UNRWA, making this one easy to identify.


“The staff have recognized their car and recognized each other walking to the ambulance,” he said.

There are problems with this latest incarnation of his “rebuttal”:


  • He has modified his story – once again: Unlike his previous response, which I analyzed yesterday, Hansen is once again mentioning the existence of cloth to show the object was a stretcher.
  • He has added a new component to his argument: the fact that the ambulance is clearly a UN ambulance, and the staff confirmed that they loaded a stretcher. So he should be sure that the rocket is not a rocket. Yet he says that the object could not have been a rocket, which sounds more speculative, than factual.

  • Given that he has admitted that he hires Hamas members (regardless of any subsequent attempts at “clarification”), relying on the testimony of the “ambulance crew” does not prove anything but Hansen’s feeling of invincibility. After all, if they are Hamas members, chances are they would not admit to abusing UNRWA infrastructure.

    Clearly, this episode shows abhorrent conduct by Hansen. It is indicative of his attitude that he believes he is untouchable, which is either a product of arrogance, or a knowledge that the UN is so entrenched with anti-Israel sentiment, that he knows he will emerge unscathed from any investigation. As I have already stated, he must, at the very least, be dismissed from his post. Then, if there is a prima facie case that he knowingly knew of the terrorist activities being planned and executed using UNRWA facilities, he should be charged.


    But this episode goes deeper than constituting a damning indictment against Hansen. It is a damning indictment against the UN.


    For a start, the higher echelons of the UN have been aware of previous Israeli allegations against UNRWA, including other damning footage. Given Hansen’s past openness about employing Hamas members, the UN has had a responsibility to pay more than lip service to these allegations. Yet this is all they have done in the past. And even now, the UN are once again showing their true colors:

    United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday agreed to investigate Israeli allegations that Palestinian terrorists are using its ambulances, even though he supports initial findings by his staff in the Gaza Strip that the claim is untrue.


    Speaking to reporters, Annan’s spokesman Fred Eckhard also addressed statements made by UNRWA director-general Peter Hansen that Hamas supporters were likely on its payroll.


    “We don’t hire terrorists,” said Eckhard.

    In my mind, this goes beyong incompetence. This is symptomatic of an anti-Israel culture within the UN. The UN is working against Israel. After all, we are not dealing just with UN infrastructure being used by terrorists. For instance, cast your mind back to this incident from over 3 years ago:

    Israeli and Lebanese authorities will soon be permitted to view a United Nations videotape, filmed the day after the Hizbullah kidnapped three IDF soldiers in October 2000. Despite original Israeli expectations that the videotape could shed light on the fate of the Israeli soldiers, or provide information about their abductors, the film to be released by the U.N. will be edited and the faces shown on it have been intentionally blurred.


    Israel had repeatedly demanded to receive a copy of the videotape, filmed by Indian soldiers serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Until recently, United Nations officials, including U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and U.N. Middle East envoy Terje Larsen, had denied knowledge of the tape’s existence. Some Israeli security officials believe that members of UNIFIL may have seen Hizbullah preparations or the abduction itself.

    Filming the abduction of Israeli soldiers and then launching a cover-up. That, in itself, is a damning indictment against the UN.


    Clearly, when it comes to the Middle East conflict, the UN are part of the problem and not the solution. What I want to know is: what can be done about this?


    Update: Here’s one suggestion: The US, Canada, and the other Western nations funding UNRWA salaries should suspend this funding effective immediately (according to the Bedein article, the salaries of UNRWA workers are paid through contributions that UNRWA receives from 38 contributing countries, with the US providing 30% of the budget, Canada 4%, and the European countries over 55%).


    Update: Signs that the IDF may be backing down from the rocket claim:

    The Israel Defense Forces is reevaluating its claim that Palestinian militants used a United Nations ambulance to transport a rocket – an apparent climbdown in a high-profile confrontation. 
    On Tuesday, the IDF removed from its Web site the military drone’s video footage showing a Palestinian carrying what Israeli intelligence professionals say is a rocket and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency says is a stretcher.


    Professionals from air force intelligence are adamant they have the expertise and the necessary equipment to properly identify images the Israel Air Force camera recorded. They have said a Palestinian was carrying a Qassam rocket, or at least an anti-tank missile, into an UNRWA ambulance in the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza.


    But in the wake of media pressure, the IDF has slightly modified its assessment, saying it still believes the object in the ambulance was a weapon but that it can’t completely rule out the possibility that it was actually a stretcher.


    “The Israel Defense Forces is reviewing the original analysis of the footage, in which UNRWA vehicles are seen involved in suspicious activity in the combat zone in Gaza,” an IDF statement said Tuesday.


    IDF officers said Monday night that “it’s impossible to swear” the object wasn’t a stretcher. 

    Israel should be modifying the emphasis of its message. What the IDF should be saying is: while we are not 100% sure that the object in question is a rocket and not a stretcher, we cannot rule out this possibility, given the past abuses of UNRWA ambulances and facilities by terrorists, coupled with the admission by the head of UNRWA that the organization knowingly hires members of Hamas. In any event, we demand an investigation into UNRWA and its head, Peter Hansen.


    And while they are at it, the IDF should investigate why exactly it went public with its allegations if it wasn’t 100% sure to begin with. Granted, the allegations have precipitated a chain of events and generated publicity that may work in Israel’s favor, but who could have predicted this?

    About the author

    Picture of David Lange

    David Lange

    A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
    Picture of David Lange

    David Lange

    A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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