Is the UN agency UNRWA complicit in Palestinian terrorism

May 30, 2002


[Note by Tom Gross]

For many years, those who care about liberal democracy have criticized UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency) for (1) directly or indirectly allowing Palestinian terrorists to plan and organize suicide and other murderous attacks from the so-called refugee camps it administers in Gaza and the West Bank, (2) allowing Palestinian children to be taught using schoolbooks with phrases like "Treachery and disloyalty are character traits of the Jews and one should beware of them."

No one did more to stoke blood libels against Israel during Operation Defensive Shield than UNRWA commissioner general Peter Hansen, who told his UN superiors that Israel had carried out "a human catastrophe that has few parallels in recent history," that "helicopters [were] strafing civilian residential areas," that "bodies [were] piling up" in "mass graves," and other such lies. Following widespread criticism of UNRWA's role in recent weeks, UNRWA's spokesperson has now responded.

I attach the following:

(1) A letter in the new issue of the American news magazine "The Weekly Standard" from Paul McCann, Chief, Public Information Office of UNRWA, defending his organization's work.

(2) A response by the magazine's editor David Tell, who writes: "Should The Weekly Standard remain a going concern for another hundred years, it is almost inconceivable that we will ever again have occasion to publish anything nearly so dishonest as the letter above."

I would suggest you try and read these first two items. I realize that many of you will not have time to read more, but for those of you who do, I then attach the following:

(3) The original three articles in The Weekly Standard to which UNRWA was responding: David Tell's The U.N.'s Israel Problem (May 6), Charles Krauthammer's Kofi's Choice, and Dov B. Fischer's The Overseers of Jenin (May 13)

(4) A press release pointing out the double standards that the UN applies to (a) Israel and (b) the rest of the world. For example, when it comes to camps in Africa, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, said: "Refugee camps and settlements must be kept free from any military presence or equipment including arms and ammunition" and must not serve as "launching pads for renewed attacks." Apparently this is not the policy when the camps are "launching pads" against the world's only Jewish state.

(5) An article from Ha'aretz, entitled "Lantos calls for probe of UNRWA."

-- Tom Gross



The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees writes in
Letters to The Weekly Standard
June 3, 2002 issue

In recent weeks the Weekly Standard has published a number of articles concerning the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). These have contained a large number of serious inaccuracies and misinterpretations. Among these articles were David Tell's The U.N.'s Israel Problem (May 6) and Charles Krauthammer's Kofi's Choice and Dov B. Fischer's The Overseers of Jenin (May 13). Please allow me to set the record straight.

1. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was set up in 1949 to provide humanitarian services to Palestinian refugees who had lost their homes during the war of 1948, pending a political solution to their problem. (Unlike the Jews who fled from Arab countries in the same period and the Muslims who fled India in 1947--the Palestinian refugees had no state of their own to go to.) This role is quite different from the mandate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which is mainly to ensure that states fulfill their obligations to protect refugees and asylum-seekers under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

2. Israel specifically requested that UNRWA continue to play its role in the occupied territory after 1967, and since then has frequently repeated that it considers UNRWA's humanitarian work a major factor for stability in the region. This is because UNRWA, far from keeping the refugees in a state of dependency as your writers have claimed, has given them health and educational indicators that compare very well with those in the region, and have thereby enabled the vast majority to support themselves and their families. UNRWA's micro-finance lending and other similar programs have won awards for helping refugees to help themselves out of poverty.

3. UNRWA does not "wholly fund" or "largely administer" Jenin or any other refugee camp. It simply provides services to refugees, some of whom live in "camps," the majority of whom, in the West Bank, do not. The so-called "camps" are in fact urban ghettos without any clear perimeter or central administration. Enforcement of law and order in them is the responsibility of the civil power which, in the West Bank and Gaza between 1967 and 1994, was the Israeli government. In the latter year, under the Oslo accords, the camps in "Area A" (including Jenin) were transferred to the Palestinian Authority (PA).

4. Likewise, it is the civil power that approves the textbooks and curriculum used in schools, including those run by UNRWA. Under the Israeli administration, the textbooks were old Jordanian ones, dating from before 1967. Since 1994, the PA has been replacing these with new ones which, according to a study by Prof. Nathan Brown of the George Washington University, published in November 2001, "make no mention of any location as Palestine outside the territories occupied by Israel in 1967," and "go to some lengths to avoid saying anything about Israel at all," the few exceptions being "hardly pejorative." Israeli academics have confirmed Prof. Brown's findings, and the Israeli representative to the United Nations has praised UNRWA's own initiatives towards promoting tolerance and non-violent conflict resolution in its schools.

5. UNRWA is scrupulous about protecting its installations against misuse by any person or group. Only once, in Lebanon in 1982, has there been credible evidence of such misuse by Palestinians, and it was promptly dealt with. Since then the Israeli authorities have made no specific allegations about abuse of UNRWA facilities. Nor have they lodged any complaint with UNRWA about the official or private activities of any UNRWA staff member though they have arrested hundreds of them, and in each case UNRWA immediately writes asking for information about the grounds for the arrest.

6. UNRWA employees stand for election to the staff union on their own merits (not on political slates), and UNRWA strictly enforces the rules which oblige employees to behave with integrity and impartiality in their official functions.

7. UNRWA has never hired buses to take refugees on tours of Israel.

8. The Weekly Standard's characterization of Peter Hansen, UNRWA's Commissioner General as an anti-Semitic "peasant-in-chief" is pure slander and an insult to the intelligence of the magazine's readership. When Hansen spoke about bodies "piling up," he was referring to overflowing morgues he had seen with his own eyes. The mass graves he described were created outside Ramallah Hospital by medical staff and were filmed by the international media, as were the IDF helicopter attacks on Jenin camp and other civilian areas. Peter Hansen's honest, humanitarian response to questions from an interviewer hardly merits the character assassination to which The Weekly Standard has stooped.

Paul McCann
Chief, Public Information Office
UNRWA Headquarters Gaza



Should The Weekly Standard remain a going concern for another hundred years, it is almost inconceivable that we will ever again have occasion to publish anything nearly so dishonest as the letter above.

With his first two complaints directed against Dov B. Fischer's capsule history of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency ("The Overseers of Jenin," May 13) that organization's top spokesman establishes a position too patently absurd to waste much ink on. UNRWA, he writes, cannot be held to the slightest degree responsible for the immiseration of those Palestinian refugees it has housed, fed, taught, doctored, and employed for the past 53 years. This, no less, because Palestinian refugees, flush with UNRWA's award-winning "micro-financing lending" and whatnot, aren't actually miserable at all. It's quite possible that Mr. McCann is the only human being on Earth who even pretends to believe such a thing; graphic evidence of abject squalor in UNRWA installations has been a regular feature of international television broadcasts for decades, after all. At very least, McCann's claim should prove surprising news indeed to his colleagues in UNRWA's Department of External Relations, which is at this very moment conducting a "Fourth Emergency Appeal" for donations on grounds that West Bank and Gaza refugees face a "stark and uncertain future," fully half of them having fallen into poverty.

Mr. McCann next turns his attention to my own recent editorial charging, among other things, that UNRWA must be considered complicit in Palestinian terrorism launched from within its compounds ("The U.N.'s Israel Obsession," May 6). That a U.N. official should decline to acknowledge the existence of such terrorism is unremarkable. That UNRWA should effectively deny the existence of its own refugee camps, however, is something else altogether. His agency neither funds, administers, nor exercises police authority in "Jenin or any other refugee camp," McCann insists. Instead, UNRWA merely extends "services" to Palestinians who live in "urban ghettos without any clear perimeter or central administration."

Here again, Mr. McCann has conveniently ignored what UNRWA itself, in every other circumstance, routinely describes as its mission. These purportedly indistinct neighborhoods McCann now airily dismisses as "so-called 'camps'" are called precisely that on UNRWA's website, for example: "official camps" and "recognized refugee camps," each of which the agency specifically identifies down to the exact number of quarter-acre section dunums it comprises. A "camp," according to the "working definition" McCann's front-office superiors have formally adopted and publicized, "is a plot of land placed at the disposal of UNRWA by the host government for accommodating Palestine refugees and for setting up facilities to cater to their needs."

True enough, the provisioning of hooligans to impose "law and order" on the streets of its camps is no longer among the catering services UNRWA offers; Palestinian Authority "policemen," whose salaries the agency previously paid, now perform their lynchings on someone else's dime. But it is also true, such technicalities aside, that a series of Security Council resolutions still in force oblige relevant U.N. representatives to take "appropriate steps to help create a secure environment" in all "situations where refugees [are]... vulnerable to infiltration by armed elements." Mr. McCann's letter explicitly defies this mandate. Only when the "armed elements" in question are Israeli, it would seem, does UNRWA become energetically "scrupulous" about protecting "its installations" from taint by violence.

McCann's account of the history of Palestinian schoolbook publishing is a farce. Israel's U.N. ambassador will no doubt be astonished to find his name invoked on its behalf. Professor Nathan Brown, on the other hand, clearly intends that his November 2001 "study" be put to such use; those passages in the document to which McCann here refers neatly complement the standard apologetics issued by Yasser Arafat's Ministry of Education. Trouble is, though they have concealed by omission all the genuinely essential facts of the case, neither the Palestinian Authority nor Professor Brown nor Mr. McCann has ever bothered to dispute those facts. Which are as follows:

From 1969 through most of 1995, while West Bank and Gaza schools were being administered by Israel, teachers and students employed Jordanian (and Egyptian) curricular material that had been cleansed of inflammatory political and racial content under a system sponsored by UNESCO. In October 1995, following the transfer of educational responsibilities required by the Oslo accords, UNESCO abrogated this system at the request of the Arab League, and the Palestinian Authority then immediately restored unexpurgated versions of the Jordanian and Egyptian textbooks to its classrooms. It is beyond serious dispute that these books, still widely in use, are violently anti-Semitic and shot-through with exhortations to "martyrdom" in the war against "Zionist oppression." For that matter, Prof. Nathan Brown to the contrary notwithstanding, it is beyond serious dispute that the newer, PA-commissioned textbooks gradually being introduced in UNRWA schools are... violently anti-Semitic and shot-through with exhortations to "martyrdom" in the war against "Zionist oppression" as UNWRA has itself previously admitted.

In 1998, directed to do so by Rep. Peter Deutsch and other concerned congressional appropriators, the U.S. State Department formally requested that UNRWA conduct an internal investigation of allegations that PA-generated curricular materials were infected with hatred of Jews. In response, UNRWA tried mightily to whitewash the problem. One of the books in question, for instance, turned out to include such evocative lessons as this: "Treachery and disloyalty are character traits of the Jews and one should beware of them"; UNRWA's researchers advised the State Department that the phrase could not fairly be considered offensive because it described actual "historical events." Nevertheless, certain aspects of the Palestinian curriculum proved too much even for U.N. functionaries to swallow. In January 1999, the State Department reported to Congress that "UNRWA's review did reveal instances of anti-Semitic characterizations and content in these host-authority texts."

The PA's education ministry, incidentally, freely acknowledges that it "has not mentioned Israel borders on maps" in those texts. The books have never been revised or withdrawn. And various reports posted on UNRWA's website boast about the fact that "UNRWA staff participated in the design and development of the Palestinian curriculum."

More than a thousand Israelis are dead as a consequence of hundreds of terrorist attacks originating in UNRWA refugee camps since 1982, but still Paul McCann has the gall to contend that not once in that 20-year period has there been "credible evidence" that Palestinians have "misused" his agency's facilities. Operation Defensive Shield, the Israeli army's most recent anti-terrorist sweep through those facilities, has just produced an enormous cache of hard evidence that UNRWA refugee camps are riddled with small-arms factories, explosives laboratories, and suicide-bombing cells. Prime Minister Sharon's office has just in the past few weeks asked the U.N. to "break the bond of silence regarding the misuse of the refugee camps," and Israel's U.N. ambassador has pleaded for the General Assembly, at minimum, to repudiate "the use of a U.N.-administered camp as a center for terrorist activity." But still Paul McCann is unimpressed. He has yet to see any sufficiently "specific allegations."

I have no idea what information appears on the printed ballots used in leadership elections for UNRWA's employees unions. But news accounts of those elections dating back at least 10 years in both the local Arabic press and the international media report the results exclusively in terms of political affiliation: this many seats for Hamas, that many for Islamic Jihad, and so forth. It cannot be a secret to UNRWA headquarters that many of its staff members are sympathizers or actual members of terrorist organizations. They are hardly shy about it. Last July, in the presence of dozens of journalists, the junior high school in UNRWA's Jabalya refugee camp hosted an open-air conference at which Hamas spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin urged hundreds of students to martyrdom only to be followed on stage by one Saheil Alhinadi, officially representing UNRWA's teachers' union, who led the crowd in a hymn of praise to suicide bombers.

"UNRWA has never hired buses to take refugees on tours of Israel," Mr. McCann tells us. I'm not sure what this business about who "hired" the buses is supposed to prove. What it cannot disprove, in any case, is the point I was trying to make by mentioning the phenomenon in the first place: that UNRWA actively and unapologetically abets and sustains the basic engine of Palestinian terrorism, the irredentist fantasy that refugee-camp residents will someday realize their "right of return" to property within Israel long ago "stolen" by "the Jews." Every year, during the May anniversary of Al-Nakba, what the Palestinians call the "disaster" of Israel's Independence Day, UNRWA-financed projects like the Union of Youth Activities Centers sponsor gigantic "right of return" rallies throughout the West Bank and Gaza. From which rallies, the state of the intifada permitting, buses then take refugees on tours of "their" Israeli villages. A first-person diary of one such trip is prominently featured on the Dheisheh refugee camp website. News footage of another such trip has been broadcast by the BBC World Service. Yet another such trip has been recorded for posterity in a video documentary nominated for one of this year's Academy Awards. Paul McCann protests too little.

A final word about Mr. McCann's boss, UNRWA commissioner-general Peter Hansen. No man has done more to circulate lurid fictions about an Israeli mass murder of unarmed civilians in the West Bank's Jenin refugee camp or done it with greater relish than Peter Hansen. As Paul McCann reminds us, Hansen once spoke of bodies "piling up" in Ramallah Hospital, site of an entirely separate, and equally fanciful, Israeli "atrocity." But Hansen has otherwise devoted the bulk of his imaginative energies to Jenin. The official transcript admits of no other interpretation: His reference to "incidences of mass graves," during an April 5 teleconference from UNRWA's Jerusalem office, involved not Ramallah but Jenin. Ditto for Hansen's report, to the Reuters news agency, that "armed activists who were there obviously slipped away before the Israelis moved in so the exercise of force was mainly vis-a-vis the civilian population." Ditto for Hansen's April 7 announcement that "helicopters are strafing civilian areas," something that simply never happened, though McCann now bizarrely suggests there is film of it.

Claiming to have "seen the reality with my own eyes," Peter Hansen, speaking for the United Nations, has called it "no exaggeration" that a "massacre was carried out" against the civilian population of Jenin by the state of Israel. There is nothing "honest" or "humanitarian" about this accusation. It is a lie a lie which, though long since thoroughly debunked, the dishonorable Peter Hansen and his dishonorable agency obstinately refuse to recant.



The U.N.'s Israel Obsession
By David Tell,
The Weekly Standard
May 6, 2002

In 1948, when the armies of five surrounding Arab dictatorships invaded tiny, newborn Israel in what the secretary general of the Arab League announced was a "war of extermination" against "the Jews" the United Nations sat on its ass. And did not send a fact-finding mission.

But, oh, how the U.N. has been making up for that oversight ever since. For more than 50 years now, the Jews have been its favorite subject.

Among the nearly 200 nations represented at the U.N., only Israel has ever been assigned special reduced membership privileges, its ambassadors formally barred, for 53 straight years ending only recently, from election to the Security Council. Meanwhile, and right up to the present day, that same Security Council has devoted fully a third of its energy and criticism to the policies of a single country: Israel. The U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which regularly and unreprovingly accepts delegations from any number of homicidal tyrannies across the globe, has issued fully a quarter of its official condemnations to a single (democratic) country: Israel.

There has been a genocide in Rwanda, an ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia, periodic and horrifying communal "strife" in Indonesia's East Timor, the "disappearance" of a few hundred thousand refugees in the Congo, a decades-long and culturally devastating occupation of Tibet by the People's Republic of China... but none of those U.N. member states has ever been subjected to the rebuke of a General Assembly "emergency special session." Israel has, though, repeatedly, simply for refusing to surrender in the face of terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds and injured thousands of its citizens murders that no U.N. resolution has ever so much as mentioned.

No fewer than four separate administrative units within the U.N. two of them directly supervised by Kofi Annan's governing secretariat do nothing but spend millions of dollars annually on the production and worldwide distribution of propaganda questioning Israel's right to exist. The "Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories," for example, "investigates" Israel's continued "practice" of "occupying" not just the territory taken in the 1967 war, but also the land within its internationally recognized, pre-1967 borders.

And then there is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, an operation originally established in December 1949 to assist those Palestinian refugees created by the Arab world's botched attempt at a second Final Solution. UNRWA, as it happens, is centrally relevant to its parent organization's latest outburst of naked Israelophobia. Because UNRWA wholly funds and largely administers the West Bank refugee camp in Jenin where the Israeli army is purported by various Palestinian militants and local U.N. officials to have just perpetrated a "massacre" of "unarmed civilians." It is to the site of this alleged "atrocity" that Kofi Annan now intends to dispatch a commission of inquiry chaired by Yasser Arafat's favorite European diplomat, former president Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, and seconded by Cornelio Sommaruga, retired chief of the International Red Cross, a man who once likened the Star of David to a swastika.

All by themselves, Annan's personnel choices here are a genuine scandal, and as this issue of The Weekly Standard goes to press, Israel's understandable objections, to Sommaruga in particular, have left it a still open question when and whether the secretary general's designees will ever be allowed to reach their destination. And if, at the end of the day, they aren't? That will be perfect justice, we think. The "world community" will howl, of course, and Israel's many enemies will believe the worst. But they believe the worst already. And they will continue to believe the worst no matter what. And, quite apart from the controversy over what its staff should look like, the whole idea of a U.N. fact-finding mission to Jenin is scandalous to begin with, it seems to us an assault on Israel's honor, even its basic legitimacy as an independent nation, that no similarly situated democracy would ever be expected to endure.

Assuming Annan's investigators do eventually make their way to Jenin, is it possible they might actually find the "facts" they are looking for? No, almost certainly not. Media accounts of Israel's incursion into a football-field-sized sector of the camp have bubbled over with lurid details worthy of a medieval peasant's worst anti-Semitic fantasies. And the peasant-in-chief has been a U.N. official, UNRWA commissioner general Peter Hansen, who has given dozens of lip-smacking interviews recounting "wholesale obliteration," "a human catastrophe that has few parallels in recent history," "helicopters... strafing civilian residential areas," and "bodies... piling up" in "mass graves." Some of this carnage Hansen even claims to have seen "with my own eyes." But he is a bald-faced liar. The Israelis have been out of Jenin and foreign journalists and other international observers have been back in for more than a week. And no evidence, literally nothing that would indicate the presence of a civilian "massacre," has yet emerged.

Quite the contrary, rescue workers in Jenin have so far recovered the bodies of six not the rumored six hundred, but six women, children, and elderly Palestinians. This, in a now ruined central area of the camp where countless armed gunmen rained days of nonstop sniper fire on Israeli foot patrols from the windows of still-occupied residences they had booby-trapped with high explosives. This is a "massacre"?

And why, even if its death toll had proved a hundred times higher, would it warrant a U.N. fact-finding mission? In 1993, just after the events lately made famous by Hollywood's "Black Hawk Down," a two-week U.S. bombing campaign against Mogadishu killed a thousand Somali civilians. During the whole of the present intifada, now six months old, far fewer Palestinians than that have died as Israel has attempted to rescue itself from a national security threat far graver and more immediate than any America faced in East Africa. But did it ever occur to the United Nations to convene an inquest into the "human catastrophe" that was Somalia? It did not.

Maybe the U.N. picks on Israel simply because it can. Or maybe, just maybe, there is a darker impulse at play.

Which would explain why the U.N. has spent decades, in the guise of refugee assistance, providing active, organized, and enthusiastic auxiliary services to the most delusional and violent strains of Jew-hating Palestinian irredentism. It bears mentioning, though one rarely hears it mentioned, that the UNRWA camp at Jenin has been for years what the Palestinians call a'simat al-istashidin, the "suiciders' capital," from which dozens of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah, Al Aksa, and Tanzim terrorist attacks have been launched, killing hundreds of Israelis.

UNRWA funds and staffs the schools of Jenin, where, from fall through spring each year, children are taught that all of "Palestine," from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, belongs to them. During summer vacation, those very same schools host training camps in which those very same students are instructed in the arts of kidnapping and rock-throwing and bomb-manufacturing and martyrdom. UNRWA rents the buses that regularly take residents of Jenin on tours of the Israeli countryside where "their" property, "stolen" by the Jews, is carefully pointed out. UNRWA allows its food warehouses in Jenin to do double duty as munitions dumps. UNRWA pretends not to know that explosives and counterfeit currency factories are housed in the public shelters it has constructed in Jenin. UNRWA cannot understand how it might be that its own administrative offices in Jenin are festooned with graffiti celebrating some of the world's most notorious terrorist organizations. Or how some of the world's most notorious terrorists might have found their way onto the agency's payroll to the point where the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, extreme even in the context of Palestinian extremism, now openly controls the UNRWA workers' union.

This same United Nations, the blood of Israeli civilians still wet on its hands, now dares to question the morality of a modest, defensive, and long-overdue Israeli reprisal?

In curricular materials published by the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Education, "Objective Five" for high school history teachers reads as follows: "The student will understand why the people of the world hate the Jews." It is a question for the ages. Zionism may no longer be racism at the United Nations. But anti-Semitism is forever.



Kofi's choice
The U.N. secretary general gets entangled in l'Affaire Sommaruga.
By Charles Krauthammer
The Weekly Standard
May 13, 2002

Kofi Annan has a problem. In his eagerness to nail Israel for the "Jenin massacre," the U.N. secretary general named an investigating committee of three, including one Cornelio Sommaruga, former head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

This was unfortunate for Annan, despite the fact that the committee was disbanded within days (a combination of Israel's insistence on conditions of fairness and emerging evidence that the entire massacre story was a fiction). In choosing Sommaruga, out of an entire universe of people who could have brought probity and impartiality to the investigation, Annan chose a man with a past.

The incident occurred in November 1999 in Geneva. Dr. Bernadine Healy, then head of the American Red Cross, had made a passionate speech questioning the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies for having denied entry to Israel for 50 years. Sommaruga confronted her in a private meeting shortly thereafter. Eyes bulging and furious, Sommaruga said to her, "If we're going to have the Shield of David, why would we not have to accept the swastika?"

I first cited this incident in a column two years ago ("Red Cross Snub," Washington Post, March 24, 2000). Now that it has come back to haunt Sommaruga and Annan, they have gone into high damage control. The result is a train wreck.

Edward Mortimer, Annan's director of communications, claims (Washington Post, April 29) that this statement was taken out of context. His witness is one Alan Baker, an Israeli diplomat. Nice touch. Baker, he says, "was present during this conversation." Mortimer then quotes the Jerusalem Post quoting Baker, calling any casting of aspersions on Sommaruga "a vile manipulation of something said in a different context."

I checked the statement that Baker made to the Jerusalem Post. It reads: "I know the context because I was there. When we were talking about adding additional emblems in the Red Cross movement, Sommaruga remembered that the old historic Indian symbol of the swastika, before it was used by the Nazis, was proposed as a humanitarian red cross symbol."

This is a howler. First, Baker was never at the meeting. I verified this with Bernadine Healy, who was. Her notes confirm her recollection, as does the colleague who was in the room with her during the meeting.

Second, it is obvious that Baker was not at the meeting because his account contradicts the account given by the very person he is trying to defend Cornelio Sommaruga. On the same page of the Washington Post that carries Mortimer's letter, there appears a letter from Sommaruga claiming that what he said to Dr. Healy was: "Would you be ready to accept the swastika as requested by Sri Lanka?"

The defendants cannot seem to get their stories straight. Baker said it was a discussion of pre-Nazi Indian religious symbols. Sommaruga says he was talking about Sri Lanka, a country that did not even come into existence until Nazism had been dead for three years, and did not change its name from Ceylon to Sri Lanka until 1972. So which is it, gentlemen?

This contradiction caused a problem for Annan's flack, Mr. Mortimer. So what does he do when Sommaruga says postwar Sri Lanka and Baker says prewar India? He does a beautiful East River straddle, offering his own compromise version "a conversation Mr. Sommaruga had with Bernadine Healy... in 1999, when he asked her rhetorically whether she would be ready to accept a red swastika, which had been requested by an Asian country...."

"Asian." Clever.

Third, the "context" alleged by Mortimer, Baker, and a previous defense of Sommaruga by Urs Boegli, ICRC head of media services (letter to the Washington Post, April 2, 2000), is pure invention. Baker, for example, says: "When we were talking about adding additional emblems in the Red Cross movement, Sommaruga remembered... the old historic Indian symbol of the swastika."

Nonsense. As Dr. Healy wrote the Washington Post (April 5, 2000), "Mr. Sommaruga's statement was... in essence, if Israel's humanitarian organization, Magen David Adom, was allowed to use the red shield of David as its symbol, what was to stop someone from using the swastika? Sadly, his statement was made without context. Only after I expressed my astonishment did he invoke an example of a country that might wish to use such a symbol (SriLanka...)."

Healy was so astonished by this statement that she asked the ICRC to tell her when Sri Lanka had asked to use the swastika. She was told vaguely that perhaps it had occurred sometime in the 1950s, but no documentation was produced.

In any case, you don't just front up to the ICRC window and ask for admission of your symbol. You have to show that the symbol has already been in humanitarian use. Palestinian Jews had been using the red Star of David for years even before the state of Israel came into existence. Did Sri Lankan ambulances sport the swastika?

In fact, the only country to use the swastika in its Red Cross emblem was Nazi Germany. Its (internal) humanitarian emblem was the black eagle with the swastika over its heart, and its talons clutching the Red Cross below.

The very idea of comparing the Star of David to the swastika is grotesque. The fact that Sommaruga blurted this out in a non-public setting is telling. It is precisely because it is telling that assorted public relations artists for him and for Annan are now running around trying to paper things over.

But surely they can do a better job. They would do better to meet in committee and coordinate their stories before spinning tales about swastikas--in context, of course.

(Charles Krauthammer is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.)



The overseers of Jenin
What exactly is the U.N. doing in its refugee camps (with our money)?
By Dov B. Fischer
The Weekly Standard
May 13, 2002

Among the main Mideast developments at this writing, it now appears that a United Nations commission will not be traveling to Jenin, but Yasser Arafat will be. The purpose of Arafat's Jenin visit is to draw public sympathy for residents of the United Nations refugee camp there, where fierce fighting occurred several weeks ago. For Americans, perhaps our attention should focus more on underlying questions: Why is the United Nations running refugee camps for people who claim to be living in their own land? How could a refugee camp under U.N. auspices become a world center for recruiting and training suicide bombers? And why is the United States essentially bankrolling these camps when wealthy Arab oil sheikhdoms barely contribute?

According to U.N. records, the United States finances more than one-fourth of the cost of operating the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In 2000, for example, the United States pledged $89,560,000 towards the $337,014,742 total that UNRWA raised from all nations and sources in the world. By comparison, Saudi Arabia pledged $2,500,000 less than 1 percent of the UNRWA total and a minuscule fraction of the American contribution. Oil-rich Kuwait pledged $2 million. Syria pledged $37,209. Egypt pledged $10,000. Iraq and Libya apparently had difficult years; they pledged nothing, although Iraq sends bounties of $25,000 each to the families of suicide bombers.

The UNRWA is a subsidiary of the United Nations. Its commissioner-general, appointed by the U.N. secretary general, is the only head of a United Nations body authorized to report directly to the General Assembly. The UNRWA was founded by Resolution 302(IV) of December 8, 1949, and to this day remains unique within the world body as a relief agency assigned to serve only one class of people. All the world's other refugees are served by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). UNHCR serves the needs of more than 21.8 million refugees in 120 countries ranging from the Balkans, Colombia, West Africa, and Chechnya to Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Timor, and the Horn of Africa. Palestinian Arabs alone are under the aegis of the UNRWA.

Locally recruited "Palestinian refugees" make up 99 percent of UNRWA's staff in the 59 refugee camps that UNRWA operates in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, and the disputed territories that Israelis call "Judea and Samaria" and that the Arab world calls "the West Bank." The majority of UNRWA camps and nearly 60 percent of their residents are in the three Arab countries, the remainder in the areas administered by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority. According to the UNRWA, it is the main provider of basic social services in all those camps.

The UNRWA's largest budget item is its school system, comprising half its budget and two-thirds of its staff. In all, the UNRWA operates 266 schools with 242,000 students in the area administered by the Palestinian Authority. In the aftermath of Israel's military incursion into the UNRWA refugee camp in Jenin, that agency has been under a microscope, partly because it has schooled four generations of Jenin children. According to the UNRWA, its schools use the same curricula and textbooks as do the host government schools. Palestinian Authority textbooks incorporate maps of the Middle East that omit Israel, and their texts delegitimize Israel, Judaism, and Jews.

Under the UNRWA's auspices, the number of refugees it serves has grown from 914,000 in 1950 to more than 3.8 million today. Thus, the overwhelming majority of its population are the children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren of those who first were placed in UNRWA camps in 1950. Between 1947 and 1950, approximately 750,000 Jewish refugees were driven from Arab countries in the Middle East. There was no United Nations agency to serve their health, educational, and social needs. So they were absorbed directly into the Israeli polity, and their offspring bear no indicia of refugee status. For example, the president of Israel, Moshe Katsav, is the child of Iranian Jewish refugees from that time.

Israel reports that approximately half the suicide bombers who have struck over the past 19 months were residents of the Jenin UNRWA camp or terrorists who were trained there. It also is odd that a "refugee camp" under United Nations auspices has emerged as a terror center where Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Tanzim, and Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade terrorists ran wild, stocking arms, building bomb-making factories, and recruiting and training children educated at UNRWA schools to detonate themselves. Perhaps oddest of all is the American role as chief bankroller.

With Washington now scouring its outlays in the face of projected budget deficits, it is remarkable that America continues to pump scores of millions into a U.N. program that has institutionalized dependency among four generations of Arabs while the oil princes barely contribute. It is remarkable, too, that the refugees and their descendants are still living in squalor half a century after the helping hand first was extended.

This makes no sense. In a time when U.N. fact-finding commissions are all the rage, here is a subject for congressional fact-finders to investigate: Why are we throwing away all those tax dollars?

(Dov B. Fischer is an attorney in Los Angeles.)



UNRWA's temporary mission has long been ignored by the U.N. and Arab states.
May 21, 2002

* Originally envisaged as a temporary organization, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) began operation in 1950. Today, UNRWA operates 27 refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza, home to more than 3.7 million Palestinians (Wall Street Journal, 4-18-02 and UNRWA). In a November 1951 report, UNRWA director John Blandford Jr. said he expected Arab governments to assume responsibility for relief operations by July 1952.

* As Ralph Garroway, a former UNRWA director, explained in August 1958: "The Arab states do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront to the United Nations and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don't give a damn whether the refugees live or die." (Jerusalem Post, 4-18-02)

U.N.-run camps are now primary bases for known terrorist groups.

* UNRWA camps have become the main operating centers for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and PFLP, terrorist groups responsible for the killing of hundreds of Israelis and the injuring of thousands. Twenty-three suicide bombers, responsible for killing 57 Israelis and injuring 1,000, came from the UNRWA camp in Jenin alone.

* While UNRWA is responsible for all aspects of the administration of the camps, the U.N. has ceded control to the terrorist elements operating within them. As former Ambassador to Morocco Marc Ginsburg explains, "The refugee camps indeed are not policed by anyone but the Palestinian Authority, with the United Nations Relief and Works Administration personnel administering the lion's share of the programs. But other organizations, including extremist Islamic organizations, operate freely in the camps." (Fox News 5-1-02)

* Israel, during recent searches of UNRWA camps, has uncovered illegal arms caches, bomb factories and a plant manufacturing the new Qassam-2 rocket, designed to reach Israeli population (Wall Street Journal, 4-18-02)

UNWRA runs schools that teach hatred toward Israel.

* UNRWA operates one of the largest school systems in the Middle East, with 266 schools and 242,000 students. The system comprises half its budget and two-thirds of its staff (Weekly Standard, 5-13-02) UNRWA uses and funds textbooks that incorporate maps of the Middle East that omit Israel and that delegitimize Israel, Judaism and Jews. (Weekly Standard, 5-13-02)

* U.N. abdicates its responsibility to act against terrorism. Several U.N. Resolutions and other documents reiterate the need to ensure that UNRWA camps do not become armed fortresses for terrorist entities. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, speaking about camps in Africa, said: "Refugee camps and settlements must be kept free from any military presence or equipment including arms and ammunition" and must not serve as "launching pads for renewed attacks." (U.N. Document A/52/871, April 1998)

* In a speech given July 6, 2001, UNRWA representative Saheil Alhinadi praised Hamas suicide attacks, saying: "The road to Palestine passes through the blood of the fallen, and these fallen have written history with parts of their flesh and their bodies (Israeli Government Special Report,

The United States funds 30 percent of UNRWA budget.

* In recent years, the United States has provided 30 percent of the UNRWA budget, while Saudi Arabia has given less than one percent, Syria just $37,209 and Egypt only $10,000. Meanwhile, countries like Iraq and Libya give no money to UNRWA. Instead, Iraq sends bounties of $25,000 to families of suicide bombers (Weekly Standard, 5-13-02).



Lantos calls for probe of UNRWA
By Shlomo Shamir
May 23, 2002

The ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, Tom Lantos, has asked UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to conduct a formal probe into the operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency in the territories prior to the June 30 scheduled renewal of its mandate.

"My concern is that, for too long, UNRWA has been part of the problem, rather than the solution, in the Middle East," Lantos wrote in a May 13 letter to Annan. "However initially well-intentioned, UNRWA camps have fostered a culture of anger and dependency that undermines both regional peace and the wellbeing of the camps' inhabitants."

The California congressman expressed his concern "that UNRWA officials have not only failed to prevent their camps from becoming centers of terrorist activity, but have also failed to report these developments to you."

Lantos concluded that "it is difficult to escape the painful conclusion that UNRWA, directly or indirectly, is complicit in terrorism."

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.