Yesterday three young Israeli soldiers, all in their early twenties, were killed by an explosion in one of Hamas’s many booby-trapped tunnels. This is just one example of the terrible price Israelis are paying as part of their efforts to keep their families safe from Islamist terrorism. But there is more to yesterday’s tragedy.
The booby-trapped tunnel in question had its opening situated in a small health clinic run by UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees. That fact alone should be shocking enough. But it comes just days after a cache of rockets was discovered at one of UNRWA’s schools. Worse still, this was the third such discovery since Israel’s operation Protective Edge began. The UN’s personnel in Gaza can no longer plead negligence; anyone considering the facts must inevitably conclude that UNRWA is actively collaborating with Hamas.
As Evelyn Gordon noted, in the case of the first stockpile of rockets, the United Nations staff simply handed the rockets over to the “Gaza authorities”—read: Hamas. In the case of the second stockpile we were told that the rockets “went missing.” They had vanished as mysteriously as they had appeared, and supposedly the UNRWA staff knew nothing about what had happened in either case. Of course the UN’s secretary-general Ban Ki-moon expressed his deepest concerns. But who knows where any of these rockets ended up? For all we know they could have already been fired at civilians in Israel by now.
Israel has long accused UNRWA of being mixed up in Palestinian extremism, that UNRWA projects are used for the purposes of incitement and radicalization against Israel. But it has been during the course of this latest explosion of violence that the extent of UNRWA’s complicity with terrorism has been exposed. And of course, it is quite possible that we have not yet seen the full extent of UNRWA’s entanglement with Hamas’s terror infrastructure. These four recent examples of UN sites being used for terrorist purposes could well prove to only be the tip of the iceberg.
The fact that a UN agency would so actively collaborate with terrorist organizations is appalling, but there is a still more sickening point to be considered here. Not only does it now seem clear that UNRWA has assisted militants who target Israeli civilians, but by permitting schools and medical sites to be used for any kind of military purpose, they have apparently joined with Hamas in its vile strategy of using human shields to protect its weapons and tunnels. Not only is this the most appalling breach of UNRWA’s primary duty to see to the welfare of civilians in Gaza, but it is also illegal as a war crime under international law.
Of course, UNRWA employs many of the local people in Gaza and it would not be at all difficult for those sympathetic to Hamas to infiltrate the lower echelons of the organization. But even if we grant this benefit of the doubt to those coming from outside to oversee UN work in Gaza, that does not absolve them of all culpability. Given that Palestinian militants are known to use ambulances as their preferred means of transportation and that Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital has previously been exposed as teeming with Hamas combatants, any genuinely well-meaning person coming to direct UNRWA’s work should have been all the more on their guard against this kind of thing.
In the end it just isn’t credible for UNRWA’s staff to plead ignorance. After all, the construction of a tunnel and the booby-trapping of the walls of a clinic with large amounts of explosives isn’t the kind of thing just discreetly undertaken overnight. We have already seen how Hamas has harassed journalists in Gaza and prevented them from reporting freely. It is possible that UNRWA’s senior figures, finding themselves caught between a dreadfully difficult task and the tyrannical rule of Hamas, reached the conclusion that they had no option but to make a pact with the devil, so to speak. Whatever the calculation, the human cost of these actions has already been horrendous.
Wherever responsibility lies, the fact is a UN agency has clearly had wide-scale involvement with both terrorism and the use of human shields. It stands to reason that these outrageous breaches should be prosecuted, but as we have seen before, the UN has awarded itself the kind of diplomatic immunity that has made legal action essentially impossible in the past. The only option now is for the world’s decent nations to embrace a policy of divestment against UNRWA, just as the Dutch parliament recently voted to halt funding to the Palestinian Authority. Some may argue that this will have harsh consequences for the local population. But if UNRWA is collaborating with the terrorists, then it is no friend of the people of Gaza.