OpinionWorld News

The rotten edifice of ‘humanitarianism’

UNRWA should be prosecuted for complicity with war crimes.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) building in Rafah, the southern Gaza Strip, July 26, 2018. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) building in Rafah, the southern Gaza Strip, July 26, 2018. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Melanie Phillips
Melanie Phillips
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for The Times of London, her personal and political memoir, Guardian Angel, has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, The Legacy, in 2018. To access her work, go to: melaniephillips.substack.com.

The United Nations was set up to promote peace and justice around the world. Instead of doing so, however, it has become a key weapon against peace and justice in the global armory of evil causes.

Nowhere has this been more baleful and done such appalling intergenerational harm than in the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which administers health care, education and welfare for the Palestinian Arabs of Gaza.

The U.N. maintains that its staff in Gaza merely deal with Hamas on an operational level as the authority in charge. This is disingenuous nonsense. Wittingly or unwittingly, UNRWA behaves as a Hamas tool.

Earlier this month, the monitoring group UN Watch revealed internal UNRWA group chats that took place on Telegram. They showed that more than 3,000 UNRWA staff and teachers celebrated the Oct. 7 Hamas pogrom in Israel and praised the murderers and rapists as “heroes.” Their comments included calls to execute Israeli hostages, expressions of joy and support for jihad, and cheers for video footage of the atrocities with messages such as “just wait, sons of Jews.”

When the U.N. tried to deny this, UN Watch started to publish on Twitter the names of the Telegram participants, at which point the U.N. suggested it might investigate. 

Meanwhile, as a result of Israel’s military operation in Gaza, the IDF has been uncovering copious evidence of UNRWA’s links to Hamas.

Jonathan Conricus, who until recently served as an IDF spokesman, told The New York Sun: “Every UNRWA school we entered had Hamas weapons in it. Each one was a place for Hamas to hide in and fight from.”

In these schools, the IDF found a number of books glorifying militancy and spreading antisemitism. Last March, a report by UN Watch and IMPACT-se—a research body that measures school curricula against UNESCO-defined standards of peace and tolerance—revealed that UNRWA teachers regularly call for the murder of Jews and create teaching materials that encourage terrorism, demonize Israelis and incite antisemitism.

UNRWA is itself complicit in Hamas’s activities. 

Adjacent to a school in Beit Lahia in northern Gaza, Israeli troops discovered a makeshift rocket manufacturing factory. The IDF has posted numerous pictures of guns and ammunition in classrooms and is said to have much more evidence of this nature that it intends to publish.

Since Hamas placed many of its missile launchers and ammunition dumps next to UNRWA schools, clinics and other buildings, it defies belief that UNRWA was unaware of how Hamas was using the agency’s structures to turn Gaza’s civilians into human shields and cannon fodder. Yet UNRWA not only said nothing about this but has always blamed Israel for striking so close to its facilities.

UNRWA has never held Hamas responsible for the war crimes it has committed against the Gazans for whom the U.N. body is responsible. Instead, UNRWA regularly disseminates Hamas disinformation, such as its misleading casualty figures that list terrorists killed by the IDF as civilian casualties.

The agency also blames Israel for difficulties in distributing aid in Gaza despite clear evidence that Hamas actively prevents such distribution and regularly steals aid supplies for itself.

Photographs on the Facebook page of the Hamas-run Rafah Governate of Police showed armed police on aid trucks being driven into UNRWA facilities. As David Patrikarakos reported in Britain’s Daily Mail: “The Arabic text that accompanies them is equally clear: ‘Maintaining order in Rafah ensures that humanitarian aid can be distributed to citizens inside the refugee shelters,’ it reads.”

Moreover, the vast network of underground tunnels uncovered by the IDF in Gaza included entrances dug inside UNRWA schools and clinics.

The U.N. claimed that it knew nothing about this. Yet Matthias Schmale, UNRWA’s former Gaza director who was forced out after Hamas turned against him due to comments Schmale made about the precision of Israeli bombing in 2021, not only described how the IDF had destroyed a tunnel underneath an UNRWA school but also said: “Many people told me through my four years, there’s tunnels everywhere, and it’s a safe assumption.”

More damning still, when the IDF asked UNRWA officials to help remove civilians to safe zones during the early stages of the war, the officials wouldn’t do so. “Not only did they refuse to cooperate,” said Conricus, “they actively prevented the creation of safe zones. They have blood on their hands.”

UNRWA’s very existence has a malign purpose. Set up in 1949, it bestows refugee status on all descendants of the Palestinian Arabs who were displaced during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.

This absurd categorization has had the risible consequence that, some seven decades after UNRWA’s creation, the number of “refugees” resulting from the 1948 war has increased by more than 800%.

No other refugees in the world are defined down the generations in this way. This unique designation was intended to turn the “Palestinian refugees” into a permanent weapon of war against Israel. Trapped in permanent statelessness, they were thus prevented from becoming citizens of other countries, as all other refugees have done, so that their plight would turn Israel into a global pariah.

In other words, UNRWA has always played an absolutely central role in the Arab war of extermination against Israel.

Some campaigners have tried for years to alert the world to UNRWA’s malign activities. The evidence that has emerged in the course of the current war leaves no more room for doubt.

Some eyes have been opened. In December, the National Council of Switzerland decided to cut its funding to UNRWA. In the same month, Germany announced that it would halt new aid commitments for long-term UNRWA development projects in Gaza—although after some back-and-forth it decided not to cut its funding altogether.

Nonetheless, many other countries continue to behave as if UNRWA is an honest broker. Although the Trump administration cut U.S. funding, President Joe Biden renewed America’s status as the agency’s top donor, contributing more than $371 million last year. This was followed by Germany with $202 million and the E.U. with $114 million. The U.K. gave $21 million.

The U.N. maintains that UNRWA will have a role in Gaza after the war. Given the agency’s record, this would once again be putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. Instead, UNRWA should be indicted as an accessory to war crimes.

The problem, however, isn’t limited to this agency. In a report for Bar-Ilan University’s BESA Center, the director of NGO Monitor, Prof. Gerald Steinberg, wrote that Hamas allies and enablers in Gaza include numerous U.N. agencies and officials, governmental aid organizations and diplomats, and NGOs claiming to promote human rights and humanitarian aid.

These bodies, he asserted, have allowed Hamas to devote all available resources to building its underground terror tunnel network while it relied on aid providers to supply the general population with food, water and essential above-ground services.

Steinberg wrote of these organizations:

Evidence of their involvement and behavior—specifically with respect to the large-scale theft (“diversion”) of aid for construction of the massive terror infrastructure beneath Gaza and tens of thousands of lethal rockets—is available in numerous photographs and videos from the IDF.

At least 12 other U.N. agencies are active in Gaza, including the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Food Program and the World Health Organization. A preliminary review of the history, wrote Steinberg, indicates that the officials and employees of these organizations also followed a policy of silence and, in some cases, direct collaboration with Hamas.

The problem isn’t just UNRWA’s complicity in genocidal terror, to which the so-called civilized world turns a blind eye. It’s the whole infrastructure of “human rights” and humanitarianism that the West regards as its conscience but has actually been doing the work of the devil.

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