Much has been written about the impotence and uselessness of the United Nations and its various Middle East missions. Peacekeeping operations like those in Lebanon fail to keep any sort of peace, while refugee organizations like those in the the Gaza Strip fail to resolve refugee crises. But one thing has to be admitted: when they step up to help Israel’s enemies in times of war, they do so enthusiastically and even comprehensively. Because modern wars are fought both in the media and on the battlefield, UNRWA officials make a point of assisting Hamas in both arenas.
The documentation on how UNRWA tried to manipulate the media during Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead is extensive – a 43-page pdf study can be found here – but probably the most surreal example came when UNRWA Commissioner Karen Abu Zayd hastily called a video press conference to blame Israel for the war. Claiming that “it was obvious that Hamas was trying” to observe a truce and that “only one rocket… went out on Friday [before the operation],” she accused Israel of violating an “informal 48-hour lull.” The degree to which Abu Zayd just flat fabricated that story can’t be overemphasized. Suffice to say that not only had Hamas been firing rockets at Israel for months, but on that very Friday morning they had fired 25 shells. That’s a lot more than the 1 Abu Zayd counted, but global media outlets duly parroted her propaganda anyway.
In addition to helping Hamas in the media war, UNRWA also tried to shift the tempo of actual warfighting. On January 6, IDF troops hit a Hamas team that was firing rockets at Israeli civilians from outside an UNRWA school in the Jabalya refugee camp. Hamas had been launching rockets from the UNRWA school grounds since at least 2007, but UNRWA officials took the opportunity to accuse Israel of firing into the building and killing civilians inside. The idea was to create a Gaza version of “Qana,” the Lebanon II incident in which IAF planes targeting a Hezbollah rocket cell accidentally hit the apartment building the cell was using for cover, killing 28 of the human shields inside. The resulting international pressure forced Israel into a 48-hour ceasefire, allowing Hezbollah to regroup and allowing journalists to blame Israel anew when fighting resumed. UNRWA tried to do the same thing with the Jabalya school, mobilizing international calls for a ceasefire just as Hamas had become “desperate for a lull in the fighting.”
But Israel never hit the school. UNRWA just pretended it had. Called to account for their blatant fabrication, UNRWA officials blamed the demonstrable falsehood on – no joke – “a clerical error.”
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that UNRWA officials are old hands at pro-Hamas wartime propaganda and tactics. It’s who they are, it’s what they do, and now it’s happening again.
UNRWA Spokesman Chris Gunness just got called out for being a “terrorist stooge” after he contended that Israel’s current anti-Hamas operation is “sick sick sick.” Gunness is unapologetic about his personal affection for Hamas partisans, having proudly declared that he amplifies Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah because Abunimah “is smart, principled, and makes me giggle” (Hussein Ibish on Abunimah: “he has defended the most recalcitrant elements in Hamas… his admiration for Hamas leaders is often gushing.”)
So it makes sense that Gunness would lash out against Israel, even though the rockets falling on UNRWA schools right now are Hamas-launched Qassams that fall short.
It makes less sense for the United States to continue paying the salary of a guy who suggests that Israel is killing Palestinians for sport, but multilateralism is magic that way. At times like this I like to muse over the recent question presented by the Forward, once one of America’s great ethnic news outlets and now a shoddy proponent of neutrality about BDS: why must American Jews persist in their unfair “misconceptions” about all the good work UNRWA does?