When Karen AbuZayd succeeded Peter Hansen as Secretary-General in June 2005, Israelis who interfaced with her (from the Foreign Ministry and relevant offices of the IDF) expressed hopes that her style of functioning would be substantially different from that of her immediate predecessor, Peter Hansen. During his tenure as Secretary-General of UNRWA, Hansen had routinely pointed a finger at Israel for military actions taken without acknowledging the Palestinian violence that generated the necessity for those actions.
And, indeed, in the early months of AbuZayd¡¦s tenure there was evidence that this was the case: she was perceived as being more reasonable and more approachable.
However, as 2006 wore on and the situation in Gaza heated up, AbuZayd became increasingly intractable. Her statements, seen by Israel as severely lacking balance, were of concern because UNRWA is viewed as a venerable agency in certain quarters; that is, her words generated unfair and negative PR for Israel. PR is one facet of the war being fought between Israel and the Palestinians; by speaking out in a manner that was severely lacking in balance, she was (and is) capable of doing damage to Israel¡¦s image. This moves her beyond the realm of attending to humanitarian concerns ¡V to which UNRWA is limited by its mandate ¡V and puts her squarely within the political arena. A number of incidents require mention here:
ƒâ On June 26, Palestinian gunmen, crossing from Gaza into Israel via a deep tunnel dug near the Keren Shalom Crossing. Two soldiers were killed and Corp. Gilad Shalit was kidnapped. By June 28, the IDF had mounted an operation in Gaza, taking great care to avoid civilian damage.
For the next two months, UNRWA followed a consistent pattern of registering complaints to the media regarding the IDF. AbuZayd spoke in terms of ¡§abuses,¡¨ and registered distress at the fact that the IDF was doing targeted killings of ¡§suspected militants.¡¨ This was a loaded term. First, referring to terrorists as ¡§militants,¡¨ and then implying that Israel was acting on suspicion that certain individuals were involved in terrorist activities, and not on solid intelligence. Why it should be of concern to UNRWA if terrorists was being targeted was not made clear.
But this was hardly the last of it. For AbuZayd also began to refer to an impending ¡§human catastrophe.¡¨ On July 12 referring to the Israeli bombing of an electrical transformer early in the operation, she said: ¡§The residents are living without water or electricity for more than two weeks¡K¡¨
That transformer never supplied all of Gaza¡¦s electricity. A good part of its power comes from the Israel Electric Company, and once the transformer was down, it was shared via feeds across Gaza. Generators were in extensive use there, as well, and, according to Col. Nir Press, Head of the Israeli Coordination and Liaison Administration for the Gaza Strip, Israel had brought in more. A week after the transformer had been taken out, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert had said that 70% of Gaza had electricity. As to Gaza¡¦s water, a solid percentage comes from Israel by pipeline and was being supplied daily.
As UNRWA staff works in the field, this information was surely available to AbuZayd. Her statements, designed for dramatic effect, were deliberate exaggerations.
ƒâ Yet another concern of AbuZayd has been the matter of the closing by Israel of crossings into Gaza ¡V most notably the Karni Crossing, which is what UNRWA utilizes for bringing in its supplies. Karni Crossing has been a frequent target of terrorist attacks and Israeli soldiers have died at that location. When Israel receives intelligence that an attack is imminent, the crossing is closed. It was in part in connection with this fact that AbuZayd referred to an impending humanitarian crisis. In fact, Reuters had carried a charge from an anonymous UN source that UNRWA had stockpiles of food and humanitarian supplies that could not be utilized because of the closing of Karni Crossing.
There were several factors at play here, however, that require closer examination.
For humanitarian reasons, when the Karni Crossing has been closed, Israel has taken pains to open another crossing so that goods might be brought in; there are several agencies that have taken advantage of these alternate routes. UNRWA, however, has declined to do so: It has been Karni Crossing or nothing, and if Karni Crossing was closed, AbuZayd was quick to let the media know that Israel¡¦s policies were causing humanitarian suffering.
(It must be noted that in order to utilize the other crossings, which have entry gates of a different design, repackaging of goods would have been required. But UNRWA¡¦s charge was not that movement of goods had been made more difficult, but that movement of goods was not possible.)
Of particular concern to persons working with the office of the Coordinator of Israeli Government Activities in the Territories was absence on AbuZayd¡¦s part of public acknowledgement that there was a legitimate reason why Israel had to close the crossing. Certainly AbuZayd never publicly charged terrorists with responsibility for creating the problem.
At the height of AbuZayd¡¦s charges of impending humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Shlomo Dror, spokesperson for the Coordinator of Israeli Government Activities in the Territories, directly refuted her claims. There was hardship, he acknowledged, but nothing approaching a ¡§humanitarian crisis.¡¨ It was possible to state this because of knowledge of the quantity of basic goods inside of Gaza, and because of Israeli awareness of what was coming through the crossings. Following the kidnapping, the Karni Crossing was opened on the average of every other day, and during one week in July alone 92 trucks of supplies went through. The supplies that are carried conform to requests made by Palestinians inside of Gaza. One major shipment contained thousands of boxes of cherries. On other trucks there was furniture.
ƒâ At a press conference on September 7, AbuZayd openly criticized the UN directive to all staff not to have any contact with Hamas: ¡§We should engage with them and encourage them, discuss with them. This is a movement that has been more or less underground and had little contact with the outside world. It needs to hear from other people and we are discouraged from doing that.¡¨
This directly contravened efforts by the international community to isolate Hamas.
ƒâ At that same press conference, AbuZayd made a statement about introducing an ¡§international force¡¨ of unspecified nature into Gaza. While this was somehow to be connected to keeping the crossings open, it was not at first clear whether she thought that the international presence would discourage Israel from closing the crossings even if there were terrorists threats, or would discourage terrorists from making such threats.
To emphasize what she had in mind, she referred to the ¡§success¡¨ of the EU observers who had been placed at the Rafah Crossing between Egypt and Gaza: ¡§It allowed people to move. It was very exciting… ¡¨ It should be noted that the EU observers at Rafah are only observers, without jurisdiction to stop anyone from going through the crossing; they observe terrorists who are able to move through.
In response to a question about tunnels, she responded that there would be no need for tunnels if people were permitted to move back and forth freely. And to this it must be noted that the tunnels are used only by terrorists and smugglers of weapons and other goods.
With this AbuZayd¡¦s position was made clear: She is not concerned about the movement of terrorists into Israel, and the lives that might be taken, as long as crossings are open so that UNRWA can move goods into Gaza.
ƒâ On November 21, in the midst of Israel¡¦s on-going efforts to halt Kassam rockets launched from Gaza into Israel, AbuZayd made a public statement referring to ¡§homemade rockets.¡¨
The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs put out a statement in which it ¡§utterly rejects the use of such unfortunate and misleading terminology, whose purpose is to dwarf the danger and threat faced by Israeli civilians by the daily firing of Kassam rockets and mortar shells from the Gaza Strip. ¡§At the very hour when the UNRWA commissioner-general found it appropriate to employ such an ostensibly naive concept as “homemade rockets” — a concept that reflects a forgiving attitude toward the firing of Kassams — an Israeli civilian was killed by such a rocket in Sderot. ¡§The commissioner-general would do well to remember to insist that the Palestinian Authority honor the demands of the international community, which are anchored in a decision of the UN Security Council: to renounce terrorism, to recognize Israel, and to honor agreements signed with Israel. ¡§The commissioner-general’s words do not contribute to the cessation of terrorism, which is the key to improving the living conditions of the Palestinian population.¡¨ Extended Involvement as a Service Organization
UNRWA¡¦s mandate is clear: It is to provide humanitarian services to those defined by UNRWA as refugees. For some years prior to the current situation, quietly and off the record, UNRWA had stopped requesting that persons to whom it provided assistance present ID cards. When Hamas won the PA election at the beginning of 2006, and the international community source to isolate the PA, needs within the population of Gaza increased. At that point UNRWA began to assume an informal but more public role as a conduit for broader humanitarian relief services.
A look at UNRWA¡¦s website — http://www.un.org/unrwa/english.html — confirms this, as money is sought to address the conditions in the territories, and not exclusively for refugees.
AbuZayd has gone on record as not wishing to assume full responsibility for relief operations, as this would overwhelm the agency. However, UNRWA¡¦s complex and growing role in the field requires assessment.
Terrorism in the Camps
It is clear on the face of the situation that some percentage of the activity involving Kassam rockets ¡V their manufacture, their storage, their launching ¡V occurs directly within the refugee camps. Additionally planning and recruiting for other sorts of terrorism occurs in the camps.
A sampling of news items relating to this can be found at the end of this report.
UNRWA, originally received land for its camps from host countries; the camps were defined in UNRWA records to the precise dunam. UNRWA also constructed the buildings in which the refugees were permitted to live; at least one UNRWA official is on record as saying that all of these residential buildings belong to UNRWA.
In recent years UNRWA has reversed itself. The agency now claims to have no jurisdiction over the camps, and to be simply a provider of services. This new policy was designed to circumvent charges of responsibility for what transpires in the camps. It does not, however, absolve UNRWA completely of responsibility. There are two issues that remain:
One is with regard to the enormous likelihood that a good number of terrorists are recipients of UNRWA assistance. During a time when ostensibly only those registered with UNRWA were receiving assistance, it was shown that no checking was done with regard to terrorist associations of those receiving aid. Today this matter is more pertinent than ever.
The second is the question of use of UNRWA facilities ¡V schools, clinics, etc. ¡V for terrorist purposes. Whether or not it is responsible for what happens in the camps, UNRWA cannot claim to be without responsibility with regard to what happens in its facilities. In previous years, terrorist use of such facilities has been documented. With Israel having withdrawn from Gaza, and with the situation generally more volatile, it becomes increasingly difficult to monitor these facilities. It must be stated for the record, however, that such monitoring is in order, and that there is every reason to believe that some UNRWA facilities are utilized.
At present solid indication of what is transpiring within the camps can be gleaned from IDF operations. Determining precisely which UNRWA facilities were involved is more problematic.
A sampling of relevant news items:
¡§Ramiz Abdel Rahman Jabber Salah of the Jebaliya refugee camp, was a member of the Al Aksa Martyr’s Brigade and had been recruited with others who were to stage simultaneous bombings in various sites¡K¡¨ (Jerusalem Post, January 2, 2006).
¡§2 children were injured while they were handling a locally manufactured explosive device located in Nuseirat refugee camp¡¨ (a-mother-from-Gaza blogspot.com, March 3, 2006)
¡§Four Israelis, including a couple and a young woman, were killed Thursday evening when a terrorist blew himself up inside the couple¡¦s vehicle. Palestinian sources reported that the terrorist, identified as 24-year-old¡KMahmoud Masharka from the El Bureij refugee camp near Hebron, was wanted by the IDF¡K¡¨ (YNet March 31, 2006)
¡§Terrorists are holed up in the areas in & around that refugee camp [Rafah] and they’ve dug in¡K¡¨(The Hashmonean, June 2006)
¡§IDF soldiers from the Golani Brigade’s elite Egoz anti-guerilla unit track down a bomb-laden car in the Jenin refugee camp. The bomb comprised 24kg of explosives and two gas cylinders.¡¨ (Haaretz, July 4, 2006)
¡§IDF forces withdraw from the Mughazi refugee camp in Gaza after a two-day operation in which at least 15 people were killed, most of them terrorists.¡¨ (Haaretz, July 22, 20006)
As a result of intelligence information about the operative, Mahmoud Jaberi from the Fatah, the special unit and infantry forces surrounded his house in the Ein Sultan refugee camp in Jericho and demanded that he come out and surrender. The terrorist tried to escape, after which the Israeli forces shot at him and killed him. A search of his house uncovered a bag containing explosives. Jaberi was responsible for the terror attack in 2000 in which [a] taxi driver¡K was killed. (Boker tov, Boulder, July 2006)
¡§an Israel Air Force helicopter fired a missile at a two-story house at the entrance to the Shati refugee camp next to Gaza City, causing damage but no casualties, Palestinians said. The house belongs to a Hamas activist. The military said the target was a storage facility for rockets and weapons of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. (Haaretz, July 23, 2006)
¡§the IAF struck two Hamas-owned structures in the Jabalya refugee camp¡¨ (Jerusalem Post, November 16, 2006)
¡§Palestinian militants launched four rockets from northern Gaza on Wednesday morning and hit the Israeli town of Sderot, killing one woman and wounding a man, Israeli police and medical sources said. In the subsequent Israeli attack, helicopters fired two missiles into a Palestinian refugee camp in Gaza City, according to Palestinian security sources. ¡KAbout 30 minutes after the first strike, an Israeli aircraft fired missiles at the home of Nehru Masoud, a member of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigade — the military wing of Hamas — in a different refugee camp. (CNN, November 16, 2006)
¡§IDF troops and Shin Bet officers arrested Khaled Salim – a senior member of Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades military wing, who had been on the wanted list for four years – in Ramallah’s Qalandiyah refugee camp.¡¨ (Haaretz, November 26, 2006).