This week, with funding from the Swiss government, UNRWA, the UN agency that is charged with handling refugee camps from the 1948 war, launched an international conference on what should have been a clear, innocuous and professional agenda: “Addressing the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian Arab refugees”.
67 nations, 34 relief organizations, the Palestinian Auhtority and the PLO were invited to attend the conference, held at the UN’s plush international conference center in Geneva
Yet Israel was not invited to attend. Nor was any Israeli reporter invited to cover the event. UNRWA spokespeople said that they would only recognize reporters with credentials from either the UN or from Switzerland.
I covered the conference anyway, since it would have been difficult for the UN to turn down press credentials which had been certified by a dues-paying UN member nation.
According to the UNRWA spokesman: Israel was not invited to this conference because Israel is not a contributing nation to UNRWA. Yet until a few years ago, Israel provided more than $750,000 dollars per annum to UNRWA and exceeded the contribution of many of the Arab countries.
So why not invite Israel to attend as an observer or a discussant? To that. UNRWA and the Swiss government had no answer.
After all, the PLO, which sent a senior delegation to the conference, can hardly considered to be a donor to UNRWA, even though it would have been logical for UNRWA to ask that the PLO dip into assets which are worth anywhere from two to nine billion dollars, depending on which financial expert you ask. Yet UNRWA never asks for any contribution from the PLO
Even though Israel was not invited to attend the UNRWA conference, the spokesman of the Israel Foreign Ministry reported that the Swiss government had assured Israel that the atmosphere of the conference would be devoid of any message against Israel,
Indeed, the UNRWA web site had proclaimed that the conference would be devoid of politics and not discuss the “right of return”.
However, the UNRWA conference, from its opening moment, was held in an atmosphere of invective against Israel.
As conference participants entered the hall, they were greeted by more than a hundred life size pictures of Palestinian Arab refugees who have suffered at the hands of Israel.
Pictures in the exhibit were interwoven of Arabs fleeing their homes in 1948, Arabs dwelling in tents and shacks, and portraits of Arab women and children facing Israeli police and the Israeli army, which would lead any participant at the conference to come to the visceral conclusion the total picture Palestinian refugee reality is oppression at the hands of Israel. And from the pictures in the hall, you would think that these refugees still live in tents
In the central open conference room as the participants walked in, UNRWA screened short movies, all funded by the Swiss government, and played them consecutively throughout the conference, designed to show different aspects of UNRWA’s services. You could not miss the invective against Israel in some of the films.
“Hoda’s Story” showed the medical treatment that UNRWA provides for an eleven year old girl who had been shot in the head, by the IDF while she was sitting in her classroom in Khan Yunis. Hoda is blinded as a result, and shown going through medical treatment at UNRWA health facilities. The film focuses on the children in Hoda’s school mates who discuss their fear that the IDF will kill more children and that Hoda’s fate may be their fate at the hands of the IDF. The film clearly hints that the IDF intentionally kills children. No mention of the fact that her school was caught in cross fire between the IDF and the Palestinian armed forces. Had Israel been invited to attend the conference, Israel could have shared its publicly available intelligence reports on how the Palestinian armed forces use UNRWA offices, UNRWA medical clinics and even UNRWA schools as a base of operations. A discussion would have ensued between UNRWA spokespeople and Israeli spokespeople as to the extent to which the Palestinian armed forces use UNRWA facilities as their base of operation. Yet Israel was not afforded the right to respond to allegations that it has a policy of killing children. For its part, Israel could have been afforded the chance to distribute the recent publications on the Palestinian Authority’s incitement of school children, and the recent booklets that tell the story of 113 Israeli school children who were murdered in cold blood by Palestinian terrorists.
Another movie screened by UNRWA showed the massive $27 million UNRWA project to repair demolished homes in Jenin.a noble undertaking in itself, as the film shows careful and diligent coordination with the rival camp committees to accomplish the goal. Yet laced throughout the film is blame and hatred of Israel, with films showing the tanks that knocked down houses in Jenin in April 2002. The film shows a crying woman complains how the Israelis had simply destroyed the home that she had built, brick by brick, over a period of 20 years. The visceral reaction that any conference participant who saw this film would be deep anger and resentment of Israel for what it did in Jenin.
The film does not mention how Fateh spokesman had referred to the UNWRA camp in Jenin as “the suicide capital”. No mention of how some of these homes had been used by snipers to kill 23 IDF troops. No mention of how the Palestinian armed forces had taken refuge in these homes. Had Israel been invited to attend the conference, Israelis would have shown their footage of the UNRWA camp in Jenin. Instead, conference participants were left with the impression that Israel destroys homes with no reason given.
Indeed, the commissioner general of UNRWA, Peter Hansen, held a press conference at the conference in which he complained that Israel had increased home demolitions from 65 a month in 2002 to more than 140 a month during this calendar year. Hansen could provide no explanation for the demolitions, and no one was there from Israel to say why.
Hansen could only say that he wonders if Israel will now demolish the new houses that UNRWA has built. Meanwhile, Hansen has never recanted his statement from April 2002 that Israel had conducted a massacre of “hundreds” of people in Jenin at the time. The Arab death toll at the time was 56, most of whom were armed.
Since the Swiss government paid for the movies, the spokesman of the Swiss government present at the showing was asked for comment on the one-sided nature of these films. His response was to shrug his shoulders and take no responsibility for their content,
Meanwhile, one of the films screened by UNRWA would have been appreciated by Israel, had an Israeli representative been present to comment. That was the film of the rehabilitation of the UNRWA camp in Nesirat. Located in northern Syria. The film showed how the Syrian government had cooperated with UNRWA to relocate people who had been in the stench of an overcrowded camp since 1950 into a much healthier facility in northern Syria, in a program financed with the help of the US and Canada.
This would have been Israel’s opportunity to share the approved policy of the government of Israel which calls for the rehabilitation of UNRWA camps and their transformation into decent and humanitarian living conditions.
That policy had been adopted by the Israeli government in 1983 and rejected by the UN in 1985, because of the UN commitment to not interfere with the “inalienable right of return” for Palestinian Arab refugees to go back to their homes from 1948.
Although UNRWA declared that the conference would not deal with the “right of return”, UNRWA allowed the PLO Refugee Affairs Department to put up a table in which it distributed its materials to promote the “right of return”. The PLO distributed precise maps of where and how the UNRWA camp residents could take back their homes from 1948.
Asked about the fact that the HAMAS terrorist organization had taken over the teacher’s union and workers council of UNRWA, Hansen did not deny it, but went on to
say that only one UNRWA employee had ever been arrested for terror activity.
Hansen went on to say that UNRWA could not discriminate against the religious affiliation of his staffers. invoking a new understanding of civil rights and religious liberty, with Hamas recognized as a religious denomination.
It is therefore not hard to imagine what message HAMAS teachers are conveying in an UNRWA classroom. Perhaps that it is for that reason that the UNRWA schools, as a matter of course, hold celebrations and marches in honor of HAMAS suicide bombers.
Had Israel been invited, Israel could have provided films of rallies for HAMAS inside the UNRWA schools.
The Conference on the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian refugees concluded with a unanimous resolution which called on all nations to protect Arab refugees and to protect UNRWA personnel, and to ensure the safe passage of UNRWA personnel to and from the UNRWA camps. Yet as conference was concluding, a news report blipped on the computers of the reporters that residents of an UNRWA camp in Gaza had fired mortar shells into the Israeli city of Shderot, located in the Negev. The UNRWA shells had hit a factory and injured five people. No resolution dealt with the question of who is supposed to protect the people of Shderot from the armed personnel who fire mortars from the UNRWA camps.
The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs was asked to react to Hansen’s insinuation that Israel demolishes homes for no reason, and that Israel may destroy new homes.
The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs was also asked whether it would file a complaint with the Swiss government to the one-sided films that UNRWA was distributing and whether the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs would raise any objections to he concluding resolution of the conference. The Foreign Ministry spokesman said that he was waiting for a report from the Israeli consulate in Geneva, except that the Israeli consul did not attend the conference, since he was not invited to do so.
The conclusions of the conference appear on the web site of UNRWA. Yet the Israel Foreign Ministry remains silent, perhaps hoping that all this will go away.
At the end of the conference US State Dep’t personnel emerged from the briefings. Perhaps this would provide a breath of fresh air for Israel, since the US often stands by Israel at the UN. The US State Department people were asked about the fact that Israel was excluded from this crucial UN conference. The US officials indicated that they they had concurred in the decision to exclude Israel, a member in good standing in the UN since 1949, from these discussions. So much for Israel’s ally at the UN.
What a shame for Israel that Micronesia wasn’t invited either. Then at least one nation would have objected to a crucial conference on the middle east in which Israel was excluded.