The United Nations’ agency that provides services to Palestinian refugees is operating as a mouthpiece for Hamas and repeating propaganda that attacks Israel, a report by an Israeli watchdog organization concluded recently.
Far from being a neutral humanitarian agency that steers clear of controversial political positions, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) often repeats Hamas talking points. Its spokespeople have accused Israel of a disproportionate response to Hamas rocket attacks and exaggerated the damage done by Israeli attacks, stated the report, UNRWA: Its Role in Gaza.
David Bedein, who heads the Center for Near East Policy Research, which published the report, said “UNRWA played a role in lying and exaggerating about the situation in Gaza.” UNRWA employs numerous Palestinians who are represented by a union dominated by Hamas, he said. “UNRWA employees are beholden to and are constitutionally controlled by Hamas. They’re running an agency that’s dominated by organized crime.”
The report, written by Arlene Kushner, senior analyst for the centre, claims UNRWA spokespeople who are not Palestinian have become advocates for the Palestinian side in the Israeli-Arab conflict. They have accused Israel of unjustifiable retaliation for Hamas attacks and explained away the Palestinian rocket launches into Israel as a case of resisting occupation – “saying precisely what Hamas says for PR purposes.”
The report also examined one of the most incendiary claims that came out of last winter’s Cast Lead operation in Gaza – that the Israel Defence Force hit an UNRWA school in Jabaliya that was sheltering civilians, killing 40. The report found that Israel’s own investigation revealed 10 Hamas gunmen were killed near the school, which was never hit.
Kushner, who has written other reports detailing terrorists’ control over UNRWA camps, said UNRWA “has a predisposition for covering for Hamas….It takes my breath away, what they say.” Statements by Karen AbuZayd, UNRWA Commissioner-General, clearly indicate “she has a bias in a particular direction.”
The report cites several AbuZayd statements, including one it termed the “most egregious” in which the UNRWA official told an audience at DePauw University earlier this year that, “‘the saddest thing is that all the private sector – every single factory and workshop – was destroyed.’”
“This is a patently ridiculous attempt to present the damage done by Israel in the course of the war in the worst possible light,” Kushner stated in the report.
Bedein said UNRWA, as a UN agency, “has tremendous credibility and that’s what Israel is fighting, the misinformation promulgated by Hamas. Hamas propaganda operation is sanctioned and organized through the UNRWA camps.”
The agency has adopted the Palestinian “Right of Return” narrative, which argues Palestinians should be allowed to return to pre-1948 homes in Israel. That is not consistent with the treatment of refugees anywhere, said Bedein, saying Palestinians should be integrated into host communities.
“They’re fomenting discontent and anger instead of trying to end the conflict,” Kushner added.