U.S. Senators are demanding an investigation into UNRWA, the relief agency for Palestinian refugees, where:
• Rockets were fired from its facilities into Israeli civilian centers,
• Rockets have been stored in its schools and
• A terror-tunnel was dug from one of its booby-trapped clinics.
What do you call a humanitarian organization that uses school textbooks that teach jihad against Israel and some of whose institutions have been taken over de facto by Hamas? What is the proper description for the Gaza branch of UNRWA, whose teaching staff has been infiltrated by terrorists and operatives of terrorist groups, and whose institutions served as launching sites for rockets and mortar shells that were fired at the State of Israel? What exactly is this refugee relief agency that the U.N. established decades ago, which maintains the refugee problem and provides the Gazans with “education and welfare,” but openly avoids rehabilitating them? Well, that depends on whom you ask.
The Center for Near East Policy Research, which just published an up-to-date report about the U.N. Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, believes that the time has come to tell it like it is. “Over the years, UNRWA has become a convenient surrogate for terrorist organizations, led by Hamas, which unrestricted dominates the UNRWA workers union, and its men (along with educators from the Islamic Jihad and other groups) are the ones who educate generations of descendants of Palestinian refugees about the values of jihad against Israel and all infidels,” the report states. The report’s two authors are David Bedein, the head of the Center for Near East Policy Research, and Lt. Col. (res.) Jonathan D. Halevi, formerly of the Israeli army’s Intelligence Directorate and a former diplomatic adviser in the Foreign Ministry, and now a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Government and military officials are also asking more and more questions about UNRWA’s conduct in Gaza over the years. UNRWA officials see the situation differently. Its spokesman, Chris Gunness, with whom the Israeli public only recently became acquainted when he wept openly over the terrible situation in Gaza during a live broadcast on Al Jazeera, claims that the accusations were a stack of lies. He believes that the Israeli media should be focusing on the suffering. “Why don’t you ask me about the many Palestinians that were killed, about those who were killed as they stayed in our buildings, about the injury and death brought about by the disproportionate Israeli response?”
This battle between Bedein’s organization and Gunness is not the first of its kind. Bedein and Gunness have been clashing for years over Bedein’s repeated reports, but this time the report — based mainly on Palestinian sources and on Israeli army sources regarding rocket fire — was published just a few weeks after rockets were fired in proximity to UNRWA property or from inside it, and after UNRWA itself issued statements about the discovery of rockets inside its buildings.
The situation on the ground does not lie
A reminder: On July 17, UNRWA officials said that they had found 20 rockets in an empty school building in Gaza. The officials did not say in which school the rockets had been found or the name of the Gazan to whom they were handed over. But they issued the following statement, which read in part: “UNRWA strongly and unequivocally condemns the group or groups responsible for this flagrant violation of the inviolability of its premises under international law.” The statement continued: “Palestinian civilians in Gaza rely on UNRWA to provide humanitarian assistance and shelter. At all times, and especially during escalations of violence, the sanctity and integrity of UN installations must be respected.” UNRWA issued two similar statements on July 22 and 30.
At the same time, rockets were fired from locations near UNRWA institutions or from inside them — both from launchers that were placed near the UNRWA shelter in Beit Hanoun and near one of its schools in Gaza. The IDF also documented the presence of a rocket launcher near the Al Mashtal Hotel in the Shati refugee camp, even as the U.N. flag flying on a nearby building could be clearly seen. According to Israeli army statistics, 30 rockets in total were fired from UNRWA compounds or places adjacent to them during the war in Gaza.
To this must be added two more descriptions that come from the military. The first is better known: On July 30, IDF troops discovered a terror tunnel that had been dug inside a UNRWA medical clinic in the Al Farahin section in eastern Khan Yunis. During an inspection of the area, Hamas detonated 12 explosive devices that had been embedded in the clinic’s walls, killing three soldiers: Matan Gotlib, Omer Hay and Guy Algranati.
The second incident is less known: Inside one of the terror tunnels that had been dug inside a private home in Gaza, troops discovered UNRWA equipment that had been used to dig the tunnel, together with flour sacks bearing UNRWA’s logo. The sacks had been used to conceal the sand that had been removed from the tunnel during the excavation.
Now Bedein and Halevi are telling a story that supposedly demonstrates that UNRWA and Hamas are often one and the same. According to Bedein, Hamas has been in control of UNRWA’s workers’ union for many years. The “Professional List,” led by Hamas operative Suhail al-Hindi, won the last union elections, which took place in September 2012. The voter turnout among UNRWA staff members was 11,500, most of whom voted for al-Hindi and his list, which is affiliated with Hamas. His list won all 11 of the seats that had been allocated to the teachers’ sector, six out of seven of the seats in the workers’ sector and eight of the nine seats in the service sector.
In the report, Halevi cites examples of terrorist operatives employed in high-ranking teaching positions in UNRWA schools. One of them — al-Hindi — served in the past as the head of UNRWA’s teachers’ sector, spoke throughout the second intifada in praise of suicide terrorists who had graduated from the Palestinian school system, explaining that “the road to Palestine passes through the blood of martyrs” and “the student martyrs shape history with their detonated body parts.” The report describes al-Hindi as having “a tremendous impact on the UNRWA education system and the contents taught in it.” While UNRWA officials claim that al-Hindi is not an UNRWA employee, Bedein says that he is still in the field, linked to the agency, and continues to have an influence. In any case, al-Hindi is not alone.
Issa Abd al-Hadi al-Batran, a graduate of the UNRWA school system in the Gaza Strip and a teacher of long standing in UNRWA schools in central Gaza, was dismissed by UNRWA in 2009 after being seriously wounded in a work accident that took place as he was working for Hamas’s military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam. Israel, which made several attempts on his life, succeeded in assassinating him in July 2010.
Awad al-Qiq, a teacher, educator and director of UNRWA schools in Rafiah who also worked as the head of an engineering unit that produced weapons for Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, was also assassinated in an Air Force attack on an arms workshop in Rafiah. Al-Qiq, one of the main operatives in charge of rocket development and production in Islamic Jihad, trained generations of “engineers” in the knowledge that he had gained. But his link to the rocket-production department is not the only reason why his history is relevant. In the summer of 2006, al-Qiq visited China, where he showed an interest in light aircraft, possibly to purchase and produce for use in terror attacks against Israel, as Hamas attempted during Operation Protective Edge.
Two other UNRWA workers whom Israel eliminated in recent years are Zuheir al-Qaisi and Said Siam. Al-Qaisi worked for years as a mathematics teacher in UNRWA’s schools while serving as a senior commander in the Popular Resistance Committees. The Israeli army killed him in March 2012. Said Siam, a former interior minister in the Hamas government and in charge of the military forces in the Gaza Strip, taught in UNRWA schools for 23 years. He was killed in an attack by the Israeli army in 2009.
Educating for the struggle
Halevi describes the pattern that typifies work in Hamas’ Al-Kutla al-Islamiyya, or the Islamic Bloc, which operates at all levels of the education system, from primary school to post-secondary education, in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. According to Halevi, the Islamic Bloc’s strategy “in elementary and middle schools focuses on an attempt to attract the students to the various activities conducted by the organization, and which are meant to strengthen ties with the students, their faith in Islam and gradually bring them closer to Hamas ideology until they become activists in the movement and in its military wing.”
Halevi continues: “In every school, including schools run by UNRWA, Hamas appoints a representative who heads the Islamic Bloc’s branch, and he serves as a liaison for the group and is responsible for enlisting the students to the Islamic Bloc and for organizing activities in the school and after school hours.
“An examination of the resumes of the Al-Qassam Brigades activists who were killed reveals a pattern that repeats itself. Dozens of activists in the Al-Qassam Brigades started out as activists in the Islamic Bloc in UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip, joined Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and later the military wing of Hamas, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades. All of them were involved in terrorist activities against Israel or in fighting against the IDF,” Halevi added.
Alongside the report by Bedein and Halevi, we would do well to take a look at the comprehensive study by Dr. Arnon Groiss, who has studied about 150 textbooks used in the first through tenth grades in UNRWA schools, which were published by the Palestinian Authority. Groiss, who has a doctorate in Islamic studies from Princeton University, found that those books teach the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to the territory of the State of Israel, and encouraged violent struggle against Israel as well.
Some of the textbooks contain poetry that emphasizes the refugees’ return and mentions the term “jihad” in that context by praising martyrdom as a noble death that should be striven for. These textbooks also contain expressions of hatred against Jews and Israel, false information that negates the Jewish and Israeli presence in Israel, portrays the Jewish holy sites as Islamic sacred sites that were stolen from Muslims, and ignores Israel’s presence almost completely.
Dr. Groiss’ information is detailed, documented and verified. “Tomorrow we shall return and the generations will listen to the footfalls during the return,” says one poem that appears in the seventh-grade level of the textbook series titled Our Beautiful Language. The series’s fifth-grade textbook contains a poem that reads: “Borders shall not exist, nor citadels and fortresses…./ Returning to the homes, to the plains, to the mountains/Under the flags of glory, Jihad and struggle….” Another textbook for Islamic education, for sixth-graders, contains the following: “The [refugee] camp is not considered an original home for the Palestinian refugee. Rather, it is a temporary place where he has been forced to live. All the Palestinians wait for the return of every Palestinian to his city or village from which he was made to emigrate.”
At a certain point, Bedein and the Center for Near East Policy Research hired Groiss and presented his findings in the Knesset, in the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and in the British parliament. Bedein says that the schools are hothouses for hatred. Gunness says that the findings are a stack of lies. The PA textbooks, he says, are the same ones that the Israeli Education Ministry approved for use in east Jerusalem schools, and asks rhetorically whether Bedein seeks to disqualify what the Israeli education system had approved.
Gunness says that UNRWA condemns all violence, definitely recognizes the existence of the State of Israel, does not preach jihad and even removes any anti-Israel posters that are placed in its schools or on its property. He denies the reports that the rockets found in UNRWA buildings were returned to Hamas (a claim not mentioned by Bedein and Halevi). Calling the accusation a “complete falsehood,” Gunness said that the rockets had been given to “bomb disposal experts who are answerable to the national unity government, which Hamas has left.”
Teachers or terrorists?
If Bedein were alone, his clash with Gunness might be written off as another chapter in the years-long battle between them. But similar claims were made by none other than James G. Lindsay, UNRWA’s former legal adviser, as part of a study he wrote for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Lindsay wrote that UNRWA took no measures to identify and dismiss terrorists from its staff or the recipients of its services, nor did it try to prevent members of groups such as Hamas from joining its staff. In his 84-page report from 2007, titled “Fixing UNRWA: Repairing the U.N.’s Troubled System of Aid to Palestinian Refugees,” he wrote, “As a practical matter, UNRWA does not conduct security investigations of its contractors, and the after-the-fact comparison of payees against the 1267 [Sanctions Committee] list has never produced a match.”
In the report, Lindsay wrote: “UNRWA’s failure to match UNHCR’s success obviously represents a political decision on the part of the agency, the UN General Assembly, and the donors, supported by the host countries and the refugees themselves — namely, that Palestinian refugees should retain their refugee status until there is, as the UNRWA commissioner-general recently put it, ‘a just and durable solution’ to the problem that ‘reflects the desires of refugees.'” He also wrote: “At the same time, UNRWA has gradually adopted a distinctive political viewpoint that favors the Palestinian and Arab narrative of events in the Middle East.” UNRWA, wrote Lindsay, even adopted the stance that the refugees should return to territory that is now part of the State of Israel and “encouraged Palestinians who favor refighting long-lost wars, discouraged those who favor moving toward peace, and contributed to the scourge of conflicts that have been visited upon Palestinian refugees for decades.” He quoted studies that dealt with UNRWA’s educational system and its content that found, exactly as Bedein found, that the maps contained in the textbooks did not include the State of Israel.
UNRWA’s leaders in Gaza over the years have taken a different approach to some of the facts in the reports by Bedein, Halevi and Lindsay. One of them, Peter Hansen, said in the past that he had no problem with the idea of Hamas operatives working in UNRWA, and that not every Hamas operative was a terrorist. By comparison, John Ging, who was interviewed in Israel Hashavua several years ago, did not absolve Hamas of responsibility for the situation in the Gaza Strip. He said that since Hamas came to power, “the economy of Gaza has collapsed during the period of Hamas governance creating unprecedented levels of impoverishment.”
Well aware of the “weaknesses” of the Palestinian textbooks that were used in UNRWA’s schools, he said, “That is why we enrich the curriculum with our human rights program, for all ages. We teach the children about the history of the human rights movement. We grounded our program in the universal declaration of human rights, which is borne out of the horrors of the Second World War. So we teach the children the horrors of the war, including the Holocaust.”
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness did not comment specifically on the report by Bedein and Halevi, which was submitted to the U.N. and shows the link between UNRWA and the terrorist groups. UNRWA’s statement read: “The Agency immediately informed the relevant parties and is pursuing all possible measures for the removal of the objects in order to preserve the safety and security of the school. UNRWA will launch a comprehensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding this incident.
“UNRWA has reinforced and continues to implement its robust procedures to maintain the neutrality of all its premises, including a strict no-weapons policy and regular inspections of its installations, to ensure they are only used for humanitarian purposes.”
He added that the report written by Bedein and Halevi was false and defamatory. People in Israel, he said, were unaware of the unprecedented human suffering that the war had caused to the population in Gaza, or of UNRWA’s humanitarian work there, and suggested that we focus on that. I tried to tell Gunness that the facts in the report appeared to indicate the work was accurate. Gunness answered quickly that he had no time and that it would take several months of groundwork to check the claims in the report and respond.
Halevi said this week that in the wake of the military coup in which Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip in June 2007, reports came from Palestinian human-rights agencies stating that armed troops of the Hamas government had taken over UNRWA’s institutions in the Gaza Strip and had even installed forces from its military wing in some of UNRWA’s buildings.
Parents of students who attended UNRWA schools even sent a letter to a high-ranking figure in the organization, claiming that dozens of teachers who belonged to Hamas’s military wing were teaching in UNRWA schools.
An absurdity of UNRWA’s practices
According to Halevi, Hamas’s partial takeover of UNRWA’s institutions should sound the alarm regarding the possibility that funds from the donor countries, including the U.S. and Canada, are being used to pay the salaries of Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives who teach principles of jihad against Israel to generations of descendants of Palestinian refugees. As if they had heard his statements, three members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — asked several days ago for the establishment of an independent committee to examine Hamas’ possible involvement in UNRWA.
This week, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center announced that some of the construction materials that had been used in the attack tunnels had been taken from the ruins of Gush Katif. Halevi said that the Palestinian leadership had turned down an offer to relocate the refugees to the land where the Gush Katif communities had been located “so as to preserve their right of return.” Indeed, while one of the U.N. High Commission for Refugees’ major tasks is to rehabilitate refugees, UNRWA, by its own definition, is responsible only for their education and welfare, and is not permitted to relocate them.
It is conventional in the world that those who receive citizenship in a new country are no longer considered refugees. But Palestinian refugees continue to receive aid from UNRWA even if they have received new citizenship, whether in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria or any other country. In violation of accepted custom, UNRWA expanded the definition of a Palestinian refugee to include the original refugee’s descendants. Any Palestinian baby born is considered a refugee. This is done deliberately. UNRWA’s mandate is to provide relief to the refugees — to wait for future talks about their fate, but not to rehabilitate them.
Former Knesset member Einat Wilf, a senior fellow of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute who has dealt extensively with the issue of UNRWA, says that five million refugees are registered with it. Wilf believes that the countries of the world must stop funding UNRWA. “The United States, Australia, Japan and the European Union do not realize that their financial support for UNRWA is not only support for a humanitarian organization, but also support for a non-neutral Palestinian group whose workers are Gazan, many of them supporters of Hamas, just like among the general population of Gaza,” she says. “The financial support given to UNRWA by the world’s countries will ensure that the two-state solution is never carried out. After all, the Palestinians continue receiving legitimacy for the right of return from UNRWA, so why should they agree to the two-state solution?”
Wilf believes that Israel, too, must change its positive policy toward UNRWA, saying, “UNRWA actually ensures that there will be more terrorists for generation after generation, that there will always be people who enlist in the terrorist groups. After all, they are raising and teaching people who were born in Gaza to dream about returning to Ashkelon. That is how they make sure that the refugee problem will exist forever.”
The absurd thing about UNRWA’s collaboration in the Palestinian refugees’ situation, in which refugee status is passed down genetically, was illustrated in recent years in the story of tens of thousands of descendants of Palestinian refugees, whose ancestors left Israel in 1948 and settled in Iraq. Their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were treated fairly by the Iraqi authorities and assimilated there, but formally they were still known as refugees. After all, according to U.N. policy, the dynasty of Palestinian refugees has no end, and endures from generation to generation.
Still, the descendants of the refugees who rebuilt their lives in Iraq never dreamed that one day they would resume refugee status for real, not just in theory. In the chaos that gripped Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, tens of thousands of descendants of the original Palestinian refugees found themselves being persecuted by local splinter groups and militias. Many of them fled to the Iraqi-Syrian border and lived in the Al Tanf refugee camp, with its harsh climate, in tents with no running water.
Fortunately for them, they had reached a region where UNRWA was not in charge. This enabled the UNHCR to reach an agreement with the Chilean government to absorb and resettle them in Chile, where the largest Palestinian community outside the Middle East — about 350,000 people — has been living for many years.
But refugee status cannot be annulled in Gaza. Instead, as the problem goes on, terror groups find their way inside UNRWA, the very organization that perpetuates it.
View original Israel Hayom publication at: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=19607