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The United Nations and Israel

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who's the UNfairest One of All?

by Bruce S. Ticker - December 11, 2002

United Nations officials could get more than they wish for if an investigation is conducted into the deaths of three UN workers at two refugee camps in Israeli territories.

The latest incident occurred December 6 when two UN workers were among 10 Palestinians killed during an Israeli raid of the al-Bureij camp in the Gaza Strip. Exactly two weeks earlier, senior UN aide Iain John Hook had been shot to death at the Jenin camp on the West Bank.

The UN's Peter Hansen was swift to blast the Sharon administration for Friday's fatalities. As quoted in The Washington Post, Hansen said, "This loss of civilian lives of people working for a humanitarian UN agency is completely unacceptable. I must condemn what appears to be the indiscriminate use of heavy firepower in a densely populated area."

Too bad he wasn't as swift to turn first to the mirror.

Hansen heads the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza and the West Bank, which administers the Palestinian refugee camps. Since last April there has been sporadic reporting that Palestinians at Jenin turned the camp into an armed fortress right under the noses of UNRWA.

Many of the suicide bombers who crossed the border to kill Jews in Netanya reportedly came from Jenin. It is too incredible to believe that UNRWA workers were unaware of the militant activities going on there.

Israeli authorities have not held UNRWA workers responsible for stopping these activities, but prior to the first Jenin incursion last spring the UNRWA workers had not even reported these developments to the UN, which should have taken firm action to stop them.

The Boston Globe reported last July that UN Security Council resolutions forbade the use of refugee camps for military training and the manufacture and storage of weapons.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan has referred to such camps as protected areas that should not be used for any purpose that could put the refugees at risk.

Those camps do put the refugees at risk - and they have apparently contributed to the deaths of many of the nearly 700 Jews murdered in the last two years. The negligence of the UN is far more scandalous than any transgressions of the Israelis or the Palestinians.

The UN's inherent role is to try to quell tensions, and UNRWA's specific job is to provide social services to the camp's residents.

UNRWA cannot be expected to eliminate military activities in its camps, but UNRWA officials sure have a responsibility to report this to their bosses so they can act on it.

Their failure to do so makes them complicit in every Israeli's death as a result of terrorist attacks which originated in Jenin or any other refugee camp.

Of course, such activity puts everyone at risk - Jews, Arabs and all others, including UNRWA workers themselves.

Whether UNRWA officials knew enough about militant activity at the Gaza camp is open to question, but an Israeli commander said troops were confronted by gunmen armed with rifles, grenades and anti-tank shells in close-range battles.

Hansen himself said earlier that UNRWA reported problems to the Palestinian Authority - but if UNRWA officials were genuinely concerned they would have notified not only the UN but any party that could take responsible action to nip it in the bud.

That includes the Israeli and American governments.

Though military action might have been necessary early on, the UN and interested governments could have pressured Palestinian leaders to stop it cold - if only they knew.

And couldn't the UN have directed UNRWA to report all significant problems the agency couldn't resolve on its own?

Meanwhile, news organizations have reported that US Rep. Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor who represents a district near San Francisco, is planning hearings about UNRWA in Congress.

The UN should not need to wait on congressional hearings to clean up its act.

The lives of both Jews and Arabs depend on it.

The writer, a former journalist, is a Philadelphia municipal employee. BRUCETIC@aol.com

©2002 - Jerusalem Post

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